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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar (original 1963; edition 2005)

by Sylvia Plath

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18,91330987 (3.97)419
Title:The Bell Jar
Authors:Sylvia Plath
Info:Faber & Faber (2005), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 240 pages

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)

1960s (91)
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English (299)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (2)  Catalan (2)  English (1)  All languages (306)
Showing 1-5 of 299 (next | show all)
I bought this book -- I don't even know -- maybe eight or nine years ago? I'd found this list online of 37 books that you have to read before age 25. I was really into used bookstores at that point in my life (it's really a shame that there aren't any near where I live now), and I bought probably a good fifteen or so off this list. Most of them have, of course, disappeared throughout the many moves I've made over the last nine years, but The Bell Jar has always been on my shelf.

I'll be honest now. I was a little afraid to read this book. I made it through a whopping five of those 37 books. I started and abandoned many more than I'd like to admit, so I was starting to lose faith in whoever decided that their 37 favorite books were "must-reads". (It's really a little presumptuous when you think about it.)

Also, I turned 25 already. Oops.

But I'm doing this thing where I'm trying to read all the books I own. It's a really novel concept, I know. I figure that there must have been some reason that I decided to spend money on all these books, and most of the books I've made it through have been shockingly good.

A couple weeks ago, I was combing through my shelves looking for what I wanted to read next. (I decided on The Kite Runner also, and Armada, which I got for Christmas.) I got distracted by some galleys, which usually happens. I also got distracted by some YA, which also usually happens. But then I said to myself, "Sara, you need to pick up this book. Come on."

And I was entranced.

My boyfriend said to me, "Sara, you're reading Plath?" I said, "Shh, I'm reading."

But yes, I know that this is very strange and very unexpected. I, who usually read romance novels and young adult fantasy, had chosen to read a 20th century classic about a young woman's descent into depression. It's almost as far out of my comfort zone as you can get.

But here's the thing: I really enjoyed it.

I had a lot of expectations going into this book. I thought it would be:
• filled with self-pity
• pretentious
• dated
• difficult to read

Quite honestly, I expected it to be awful.

Much to my delight, it was none of these. For a book about depression, The Bell Jar is surprisingly witty. I have never experienced clinical depression, but I found it extremely relatable. Esther could be you or me or anybody off the streets. There's nothing unusual about her. She goes about her daily life as she sinks more and more into depression. And sure, some things have changed. Electroshock therapy and insulin shock therapy are no longer the most common methods for treating depression. Dating customs are certainly different. But this book isn't dated. If anything, I was struck by how controversial this book must have been when it was published. Fifty years ago, it must have caused quite a scene when a woman wrote so openly about her sexuality.

Above all, this book was easy to read. I found myself flying through the pages. If this hadn't been one of my craziest work weeks in recent memory, I probably could have finished it in a night. (As it was, I don't think I made it past 9:30pm any night this week.)

My 2016 reading challenge includes "a book of poetry," and I have already decided that I'll be choosing Plath's Ariel.

If you've been a little skeptical of The Bell Jar, I would encourage you to pick it up. You might just end up loving it as much as I did. ( )
1 vote Sara.Newhouse | Feb 11, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 299 (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
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.
"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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