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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
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The Bell Jar (original 1963; edition 2006)

by Sylvia Plath

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17,66226097 (3.98)385
Member:shurayuki-hime
Title:The Bell Jar
Authors:Sylvia Plath
Info:Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2006), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (Author) (1963)

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English (255)  Dutch (2)  Catalan (2)  English (1)  All languages (260)
Showing 1-5 of 255 (next | show all)
Gelezen voor het onderzoek van Emy Koopman, uitgebreid geanalyseerd. Zie onderzoeksresultaten t.z.t. ( )
  elsmvst | Jul 4, 2014 |
The BELL JAR was not what I expected. I'd put off reading this book for decades (literally; it was on my high school reading list) because I feared it would leave me depressed. I can't say it was exactly uplifting, but that's because it's a foreshadowing. But there were moments of hilarity and the writing feels very modern, although it was first published over 50 years ago. While Plath's writing about her depression, its treatments, and her time in the psychiatric hospital (the "asylum" as she liked to call it) didn't feel restrained or stingy, it was not sensationalized at all and perhaps the level of her writing (very high) supported the story itself, the story felt very well handled with a kind of elegance...it's hard to verbalize what I mean. I've recently read half a dozen memoirs on bipolar disorder and its calamities but BELL JAR felt like a story of mental illness dressed up in pearls? Although Plath was no snob in the least bit. She detested that kind of snooty behavior, or at least Esther Greenwood did. Of course, Plath was a poet and no one fusses and frets over words the way poets do, so it's to be expected that her writing would be so high-caliber.

What overshadows the Bell Jar probably creates more an aura of doom and sadness than the actual story itself. Most surprising was the humor. There were several laugh out loud funny parts and scathing descriptions of people Esther disliked. She didn't voice her criticisms out loud, but they were of the slice one to ribbons variety. Also, it's clear that she got a kick out of the word asylum and used it at every opportunity, just as casually as one would use the term office or house. "I'm going back to the asylum after this." The book's saddest arc involves Joan, one of Esther's frenemies from college.

I will re-read this one and recommend it highly to all readers I know (and some I don't). I have added her other works to my Want To Read list as well. ( )
  WordMaven | Jun 24, 2014 |
This has been on my TBR list for a very long time and it's one of those books I'm sorry I didn't read sooner. Plath writes some beautiful metaphors and creates wonderful imagery in her prose. The elements of poetry in her style are extremely engaging, drawing the reader's interest fully into the book.

Plath has written about depression in a manner that gives a very realistic picture, providing insight for those who have never experienced it first hand. The bell jar not only distorts vision, it suffocates. In addition to dealing with depression, Esther (the main character) is a woman attempting to find her place in what is very much a man's world during the late 1950s in the US. I can't think of a more appropriate metaphor than a bell jar to describe both the social and emotional struggle experienced by women at the time. I can see why this book is considered her masterpiece. ( )
  Neftzger | Jun 20, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

Suicide for Dummies

I always get curious when a book is semi-autobiographical. Since it’s “semi,” I cannot help wondering which parts of the book are lifted from the life of the author. It could be that I am curious because some of what I am reading happened to someone, or it could be because things that happen in the real world are sometimes stranger than entirely fictional books.

References of Sylvia Plath’s works in pop culture are abundant, especially in movies where college students who are too cool to care think that poetry reading is the best way to get a date. I am not that into poetry, but hey, I have to try reading Plath. Good thing she has this novel, The Bell Jar.

Reading the foreword of my edition is like a preparation for another depressing read. Sure, the premises are that: straight-A Esther Greenwood, despite her writing talent and the promise of a good, if not brilliant future, goes bonkers. Instead of continuing her studies with a scholarship grant on tow, she goes straight to an asylum and gets this feeling like she’s a specimen caught under a bell jar. But is it only during her stay in the asylum that she had the bell jar around her, or has it long been above her head with the people around her scrutinizing the way she acts?

To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.

A bad dream.

I remembered everything.

I remembered the cadavers and Doreen and the story of the fig tree and Marco’s diamond and the sailor on the Common and Doctor Gordon’s wall-eyed nurse and the broken thermometers and the Negro with his two kinds of beans and the twenty pounds I gained on insulin and the rock that bulged between sky and sea like a gray skull.

Maybe forgetfulness, like a kind snow, should numb and cover them.

But they were part of me. They were my landscape.


The Bell Jar is surprisingly hilarious for a book that talks about angst and suicide and insanity. I found it very engaging because it felt like a semi-autobiographical account of my college days, a phase in my life where I felt displaced from everywhere I turn. It’s either she had me in mind while she was writing it or I told her by way of a time-space glitch of the things that she had to write.

Reading this is an affirmation that I am not alone in the random thoughts that I laboriously entertain, such as the dilemma that I always have when giving service tips. I’ve read in a men’s magazine that an acceptable tip would be 10% of the total charge, but what if that amount wouldn’t even let you buy a can of soda? Tipping becomes really problematic for me when it comes to haircuts. Mine usually costs Php 150.00. Should I hand over Php 15.00? Should I ask for the change if I give a rotten Php 20.00?

I was in stitches when Esther weighs the tipping questions inside her head. In a way, it’s like visualizing what the society expects from her, and the society expects her, as dictated in the magazine that I read, to give 10%. Instead of being thanked, she gets scathing remarks for it.

This is just one mindless example. I actually think I overthought that one, forced it even to make it connect to the grand theme of fitting in to social conventions. Being a young adult, Esther is expected to do this, to feel like this, to look like this; in other words, she has to meet people’s expectations. As if this pressure weren’t enough, her feelings of inadequacy bob up the surface of her consciousness every so often that she feels like a failure when she has not yet even failed.

There’s also her need to explore sexually. Women of the 50s are expected to remain a virgin until after marriage, but she doesn’t understand why she should be when men are not rebuked for being experienced prior to settling down. Her exploration results to a relationship only bound by sex, whose very foundation is broken as soon as her hymen is ruptured.

Esther is trained to win. She should always get the prizes after each win. The problem is, she wants a lot of things that cannot be held in both her hands. Another problem is, life gets complicated after the academe. The contests are set on larger scales. It’s harder to win the games after school, but since Esther is always a winner, she can’t help but feel the mounting pressure. She can’t not win.

She gets depressed. She obsesses with suicide. She goes mad.

But her madness does not totally destroy her. She even learns and grows from it despite the traumatic methods that psychiatric doctors employed during the time that this novel was written. In some ways, this is a coming of age novel, although not your typical one. Esther can be kind and gentle, but she can also be ruthless in her selfishness. If anything, this deserves to be read to get a glimpse of the troublesome thoughts that invade the narrator as she goes back and forth between the blurred borders of madness and sanity. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
I'm still in between with this book. I neither like it (it is a pseudo-autobiography of a suicidal poetess and I can't take it as an entertainment or leisure nor do I enjoy her sufferings) and I neither hate it (it does have its clever moments). ( )
  aoibhealfae | Jun 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 255 (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 (97 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Plath, SylviaAuthorprimary 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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Epigraph
Dedication
for Elizabeth and David
First words
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.
Quotations
"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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:31 -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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