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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar (original 1963; edition 1983)

by Sylvia Plath

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Title:The Bell Jar
Authors:Sylvia Plath
Info:Bantam (1983), Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (Author) (1963)

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Showing 1-5 of 248 (next | show all)
Esther Greenwood is a young woman struggling to make herself look and feel like all the other college-age women around her. Toward the end of her summer internship at a New York City fashion magazine, the veneer cracks and she is no longer able to keep up the facade. She returns to her suburban home in Massachusetts, and after learning she was turned down for a writing program to Harvard, succumbs to clinical depression, a disease that was barely recognized when this novel was published in 1963. She attempts suicide, nearly succeeds, and then is confined to an asylum with other women until she is "cured."

At first, I really didn't like esther. I thought she was vacuous and shallow. That was before I realized that she was putting forth a persona, the girl that she thought she was supposed to be, the "normal" girl. Once that persona started slipping, I came to understand her and sympathize with her. Knowing this novel was fairly autobiographical only made it come across as more tragic. For those of us who don't have firsthand knowledge of what severe clinical depression is like, The Bell Jar is an invaluable tool for understanding. But the "bell jar" of the title doesn't only refer to the trap that imprisons the depressed person in a deadened world where feeling is not possible. It also refers to the trap that imprisoned young women of the time, who had few options other than getting an Mrs. degree. This novel is about the struggle to escape both jars.

Reading feminist classics (2014). ( )
  sturlington | Apr 11, 2014 |
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is my first book in the Classics Club book challenge to read 50 classics in 5 years. All the books I have chosen are books I have not previously read. http://missjomarch.booklikes.com/ClassicsClub

I am so pleased to have finally read this book. I feel as if it's been referenced a dozen times in books I've read in the past. I've heard varied opinions about it, mostly being that it was depressing when actually I didn't find it depressing at all. I found it to be quite fascinating from beginning to end. Knowing that this was partially autobiographical made it that much more interesting for me.

Esther is an ordinary young lady and has shown some promise as a writer. Encouraged by her high school teachers she earns a scholarship to college. Esther continues to date her boyfriend Buddy, a medical student while she's attending college. She wavers back and forth whether she should marry Buddy or pursue a writing career but she never considers doing both. It's the early 1950's and "having it all" was not yet a popular catch phrase among women so it truly was a choice of either/or. Buddy reveals a secret and as a result Esther finds him to be a hypocrite so her decision is made that she won't marry him. During the summer she wins the position as a guest editor in a women's magazine and spends her summer in New York. She experiences food poisoning and an attempted rape before returning back home to her mother's house.

Once there she is informed she has not been accepted to the esteemed writing class she had applied for. She is crushed and at this point her descent begins in an obvious way. It is uncertain as to what exactly caused her lose her grasp on life. After several suicide attempts and electric shock treatments she is admitted to an insane asylum. Is there anything more eerie than old insane asylums? I'm oddly intrigued by these medical procedures of the past and what was then considered modern medicine as well as experimental treatment. Esther then moves to a private hospital at the expense of her scholarship sponsor, a famous novelist in her hometown.

While at the private hospital Esther begins to trust her new doctor and responds to the medication and better monitored shock treatments. Eventually she is well enough for day trips to town and becomes acclimated to the outside world again. Building confidence and learning to cope again she makes plans to return to college.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an introspective nature and readers of contemporary literature who wish to understand the frequent references to famed The Bell Jar. ( )
  missjomarch | Apr 7, 2014 |
The Bell Jar was initially rejected by a publisher who described it as "disappointing, juvenile, and overwrought." I have to agree with that assessment. The novel is a tedious riff on suicide and self image loaded with the racist attitudes of the times ('50s). Asian becomes a synonym for ugly. As does Peruvian. The ward "negro" speaks in caricature. Yet, the language is given a pass because, like Flannery O'Connor, the author is revered by so many.

It's the literary equivalent of a "mirror selfie."

In a word: Blech.

( )
  alienhard | Mar 26, 2014 |
First line: "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York."

This is the most powerful piece of literature that I have read in a long time. Reviewed as 'a female Catcher in the Rye, I found it to be much more than that. This book spoke to me and affected me in ways that a book has not done in quite awhile.

The way that Plath describes depression and her 'descent into madness' in unparalleled in anything else I have ever read. Since this book is semi-autobiographical I have to wonder if with today's medicine and therapy techniques if Plath could have been saved.

"'I wonder who you'll marry now, Esther. Now you've been,' and Buddy's gesture encompassed the hill, the pines and the severe, snow-gabled buildings breaking up the rolling landscape, 'here.'"

"How did I know that someday - at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere - the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again."

"My mother smiled. 'I knew my baby wasn't like that.'
I looked at her. 'Like what?'
'Like those awful people. Those awful dead people at that hospital.' she paused. 'I knew you'd decide to be all right again.'" ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
Plath's world is as alien as anything from science fiction: it has a suffocating, almost unbreathable, atmosphere, no other inhabitants and is mostly made from sand which runs maddeningly through your fingers. Life there is like being dead while you are still alive - here-but-not-here - worse even than a nightmare because it's all real.

Is there anything you can possibly say about this awesome plummet into suicidal depression which hasn't been said a thousand times before? Well maybe. Rereading it now, I'd also read in the interim Jean-Dominique Bauby's account of Locked-In Syndrome (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly) and was struck by the similarities: the severely restricted life, the same sense of helplessness, the ghastly feeling of being trapped, of suffocation - even the parallel metaphors: the rigid claustrophobic diving bell and deadening bell jar.

What shocked me, though, were the differences - the responses of family, friends and complete strangers in particular; Bauby was treated with compassion and understanding mostly, Plath's Esther Greenwood with hostility, distaste or a blank indifference. Reading Bauby's book I found, if I'm honest, less of a nightmare-world than I'd been expecting; Plath/Greenwood descended into, and was ultimately consumed by, an utter hell.

Although I've never, thank the stars, visited Bauby's planet myself, I've orbited Plath's several times - and The Bell Jar is as masterly an attempt at describing the indescribable as I've ever read. ( )
  Spaceface | Mar 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 248 (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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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 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 11 descriptions

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