Genre: classics, feminism
I was supposed to be having the time of my life.
When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther’s life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into depression and eventually a suicide attempt, as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take women’s aspirations seriously.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s only novel, was originally published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel is partially based on Plath’s own life and has become a modern classic. The Bell Jar has been celebrated for its darkly funny and a razor sharp portrait of 1950s society and has sold millions of copies worldwide.
Rating out of five: four stars
I definitely get why this is a classic. I get how important it is as a semi-authobiographical story about being a woman in 1950s New York. Especially as she deals with being hospitalized for mental illness, with depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s a fantastic insight into Sylvia’s point of view. I also get why when white feminism is brought up, Sylvia Plath readers are an often used example, as there’s quite the 1950s white college woman’s racist views and not seeing longer than her own situation in here as well.
Reading it with modern eyes, I didn’t like the first half of the story. It was quite boring, seeing her trying to fit into this New York society, or how she didn’t fit in. But I realized the importance later on, it shows how her depression took hold of her. It’s a major contrast between the person she used to be, or could become, up against who she was while institutionalized. The whole book is a fascinating look into a particular situation, especially as the main character (and Sylvia) is so perceptive.
I would recommend it, but you’ve got to continue reading until the hospitalization happens to get something out of it. I’m glad I read it at this point in my life and not earlier. It required a certain patience, maybe not for the writing which flows great, but for the point of view and voice it’s written with. There’s these debates about whether to read Sylvia Plath’s work with her life in mind always or to not, but it’s not possible for me to read this without seeing it as semi-authobiographical. u also got to remember you’re reading the work of a deeply conflicted person who is going to have a more flawed perception than the average. As someone who deals with mental issues, even then I can’t understand the complete situation Sylvia Plath was in. She’s got brilliance in describing certain things and feelings, but you also got to remember you’re reading the work of a deeply conflicted person who is going to have a more flawed perception than the average. I think I disagree more about how this book is used as a classic than anything else.
Feelings while reading this book: I did cry at points. Mental health treatment was as terrifying as I expected in the 1950s. I really hated Bobby from the moment he was introduced. Worried about how relatable a Sylvia Plath novel was to me.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”