Review: Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”

by writereaderly

sylvia plath the bell jarAn out-of-curiosity reread: Plath’s 1950s’ heroine Esther Greenwood, poor college girl trying to make good in the big city, progressively suffocates in the bell jar of her “mental health issue” (as we like to call it these days). Pretty thoroughly autobiographical, from what I understand, and a fairly comprehensive indictment of the limitations that constituted 1950s bourgeois US womanhood, it lacks the eloquent punch of Plath’s poetry – as brutal as that is – but is still informative as an insider’s view on madness. Presumably more interesting if you’re a somewhat-suicidal post-adolescent.

PS Coincidentally, I saw that the Melbourne Writers Festival had a 50th-anniversary retrospective type event on The Bell Jar, the day after I read this. I would have been curious to learn if the speakers thought this novel would really have lasted 50 years had it not been written by a mentally ill author who did, in fact, top herself in the year the book was published. I guess that’s the core reason I’m reading it — Plath’s poetry alone may not have lasted, as powerful as it is, and may not have made her famous, but a suicidal Plath’s poetry is a headliner.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Bed and armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: Elizabeth Jolley’s The Well
Who I’d recommend it to:
Literary-historical readers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass