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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar (original 1963; edition 2006)

by Sylvia Plath

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Title:The Bell Jar
Authors:Sylvia Plath
Info:Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2006), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)

1960s (91)
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English (298)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (2)  Catalan (2)  English (1)  All languages (305)
Showing 1-5 of 298 (next | show all)
I first read Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" when I was in high school and quickly read by Plath I could get my hands on. I recently read her unabridged journals and figured it would be worthwhile to read this again.

The semi-autobiographical story follows Ester Greenwood, through a nervous breakdown. She is battling the pressure of being the person she wants to be, and the person she is expected to be.

The book is really well-written, and reading it after reading Plath's journals was eye-opening. I recognized most of the characters as take-offs on people she knew. While this novel isn't Plath's finest work -- which is certainly her Ariel poems, it still, all these decades later, makes for an interesting read. ( )
  amerynth | Feb 2, 2016 |
Not as bad as I feared, but I don't know that I'd ever reread it, and I still can't forgive Sylvia Plath for her poetry, in particular "You're". "My little loaf" indeed. Blegh. ( )
  thebookmagpie | Jan 30, 2016 |
Not as bad as I feared, but I don't know that I'd ever reread it, and I still can't forgive Sylvia Plath for her poetry, in particular "You're". "My little loaf" indeed. Blegh. ( )
  hoegbottom | Jan 30, 2016 |
Not as bad as I feared, but I don't know that I'd ever reread it, and I still can't forgive Sylvia Plath for her poetry, in particular "You're". "My little loaf" indeed. Blegh. ( )
  hoegbottom | Jan 30, 2016 |
The semi-autobiographical The Bell Jar is a first-person account of college student Esther Greenwood's descent one summer into mental illness, culminating in a serious suicide attempt and an extended stay in a mental institution. (That sounds awfully bleak, but while I'm not claiming it's a laugh a minute, there is a strong thread of dark humor throughout.) Throughout this feminist classic, Esther questions the expected role of women in society and relationships, and in particular of the double standard regarding sex before marriage. She is uninterested in the traditional role of housewife and mother, and refuses her mother's attempts to get her to learn shorthand so she can be a secretary. Writing is her passion, and one of the triggers for her depression is the fear that she'll never write again.

"Then I saw that my body had all sorts of little tricks, such as making my hands go limp at the crucial second, which would save it, time and again, whereas if I had the whole say, I would be dead in a flash.

"I would simply have to ambush it with whatever sense I had left, or it would trap me in its stupid cage for fifty years without any sense at all. And when people found out my mind had gone, as they would have to, sooner or later, in spite of my mother's guarded tongue, they would persuade her to put me into an asylum where I could be cured.

"Only my case was incurable."

The novel received mixed reviews upon its release, and Plath, in the midst of the disintegration of her marriage and struggling to support two young children through a particularly cold London winter, attempted suicide again at least twice, succeeding the second time in asphyxiating herself in her kitchen while her children (protected by wet towels crammed in the frame of the door) slept.

The Bell Jar was the only novel Plath ever wrote, and it does read like a first novel. But she employed her first-person narrative to great effect in getting across how normal the descent of madness seems when you're inside it, and in forcing the reader to feel the despair of being trapped in that cage. I was reminded of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half, two other accounts of mental illness and depression that feel so real and true.
  cabegley | Jan 28, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 298 (next | show all)
The Bell Jar is a marvelously unself-conscious confessional novel dashed off before such documents were in vogue. Now, however, it is as if the likes of Joan Didion have merely been sweeping the stage for Sylvia's ghostly comeback.
added by Shortride | editTime, Martha Duffy (Jun 21, 1971)
Her subject--the nervous breakdown and attempted suicide of a well-behaved, bright and successful college girl during the summer vacation of 1953--is hardly topical, and for careful, plain, dolorous prose style, which conveys the world of the heroine under the bell jar of madness with its "stifling distortions," offers few sentimental attractions. It is not a facile, entertaining or dramatic book; it has none of the sharp bitter humor and bite of her poems. It's not well shaped (it can be quite awkward); it offers no modish visionary thrills from the world of the insane, and though it has scenes of college life, the suburbs and the fashion magazine world of the 1950's for the most part it just hangs there dully and drags you down with its heroine; you don't believe she really recovers. Its vague, absorbent, melancholy pull lingers for weeks.
[Plath] had failed to understand Esther's malady, and had left behind an incomplete symbol of the age it reflected. Such a reading makes "The Bell Jar" a considerably better book than Miss Plath regarded it.
Esther Greenwood's account of her year in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing. It makes for a novel such as Dorothy Parker might have written if she had not belonged to a generation infected with the relentless frivolity of the college- humor magazine. The brittle humor of that early generation is reincarnated in "The Bell Jar," but raised to a more serious level because it is recognized as a resource of hysteria.

» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Plath, Sylviaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dorsman-Vos, W.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fleckhaus, WillyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaiser, ReinhardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lois AmesBiographical Notesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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for Elizabeth and David
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It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.
"She stared at her reflection in the glossed shop window as if to make sure, moment by moment, that she continued to exist."
The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way.
To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.
I took a deep breath, and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061148512, Paperback)

Plath was an excellent poet but is known to many for this largely autobiographical novel. The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman's mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly-written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman's descent into insanity.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:09 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

This novel--echoing Plath's own experiences as a rising writer/editor in the early 1950s--chronicles the nervous breakdown of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, successful, but slowly going under, and maybe for the last time.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 12 descriptions

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