Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Bell Jar; Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar; Sylvia Plath
Harper Perennial Classics 25th Anniversary Ed 

I first read and enjoyed The Bell Jar many years ago, so when it was selected for our February book club read, I was looking forward to revisiting this classic.

Esther Greenwood is the 19 year old protagonist, a brilliant, beautiful and talented young woman who suffers from mental illness.  The story begins in 1953 with Esther and several other college students winning a writing contest and paid internship for a magazine (Ladies Day) in New York City. Her struggles with mental illness begin while in NYC but, her inner struggles began much earlier when her father dies when she was only nine.  Esther's dream was to become a poet but, she was not encouraged to pursue her dream by her mother. Her boyfriend Buddy, a Yale medical student was not supportive of her dreams either.  Instead her mother wants her to learn shorthand so that she'll have a job to support herself if she were ever to fall on hard times. [ her father left them financially strapped and the mother supports them with her own shorthand skills]

Esther's descent into the darker side intensifies by some bizarre behaviors while away in NYC. She's insecure, anxious and envious and,  gradually she begins to cut herself off from the people around her.  She tells the other girls she's with in NYC that she's engaged so that she can stay in and study or write and not have to be with people.  When she learns that she was not accepted into a summer writing program she falls into a deep depression and experiences a sense of hopelessness. Obsessed with suicide she tries several different methods and even undergoes shock treatments as a last resort.

The story is painful to read at times and very realistic.  Even though the ending seemed almost hopeful the truth is the author did commit suicide when she was only 30, the same year she wrote The Bell Jar.  Sylvia Plath had two young children; her husband left her in 1962 for another woman, the year before she died.  

I think I enjoyed this classic even more the second time around. Have you read this? If not, try it, it's so well done.

5/5 stars
(library book)

30 comments:

  1. I really must read this. I started it once but not far enough to get hooked and just never picked it back up.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kailana, it's very moving, I do hope you'll try it again sometime.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the great review of this book.

    I have been wanting to read this for a long time.

    As you mention, this does sound like it would be very difficult to read. in light Sylvia Plath's subsequent death seems to make it much more affecting.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Brian, I hadn't actually realized from The Bell Jar that she committed suicide so soon after writing this book. I did a little research on her after finishing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I haven't read this but it's so sad just to think about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a sad story but, I think it's an important read.

      Delete
  6. I thought about reading this for a long time. I'll try before long and see. Somehow for me, my crime novels don't make me as sad as books such as this, but it's good for me to read outside my norm on occasion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was surprised that there was humor infused in such a dark topic - that was nice though.

      Delete
  7. I haven't read it but have wanted to ever since I read Pain, Parties, Work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was't familiar with Pain, Parties, Work - I'd like to try it.

      Delete
  8. I read this and enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

    ReplyDelete
  9. We've not read that but it's now on the list!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sounds so very sad, especially considering the author's own fate. I haven't read this yet, but I'd like to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was some humor infused which was nice - very well written.

      Delete
  11. Your review of this makes me want to move The Bell Jar up on my TBR stacks. I bought it a few years ago with good intentions, but you know how that goes. Thanks for reminding me this is one I will enjoy!

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is one of those classics I have always meant to read but haven't yet gotten to. Thanks for the review.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I've only read this once (and loved it too). I am curious how it will feel on a reread. It is certainly a very well-written book. I felt like the ending was very prophetic - there was one sentence that gave me goosebumps.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She was such a brilliant writer with so much potential - what a great discussion our group had too.

      Delete
  14. are you also "my two cents worth" on Amazon reviews?

    ReplyDelete
  15. I have read this classic but it was a long time ago and it would be good to read it again. I recall it being great. It seems with your reread -- it held up just as much as the first time

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I enjoyed the book even better the second time around and such a great discussion book.

      Delete
  16. Such a moving and sad book. I read it for a book club and we had a lot to talk about. If I remember right I think we all wished that better medications/treatments had been available to both Esther and Plath.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Shelley, such a good discussion book. It was amazing how almost everyone in our book knew someone who lost a loved one to suicide or knew someone who did.

      Delete
  17. I read this several years ago and followed-up with the biopic (Sylvia) about Plath (staring Gwyneth Paltrow). If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend it. I also read Letters Home: Correspondences 1950-1963 (by Plath), which was also fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't seen that film - so thanks for mentioning it. Someone else mentioned yet another book that I should read -- title escapes me.

      Delete

Thanks for taking the time to visit and double thanks for any comments. If you ask a question in your comments, I will try to reply to it here, or by email if your settings allow me to do so. Thank again for visiting.

(I apologize for the word verification, spammers spoil it for all sadly.)