The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1971)

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

While living in London in 1961, American poet Sylvia Plath wrote to a friend about her desire to write a novel:

“I have been wanting to do this for ten years but had a terrible block about Writing A Novel. Then suddenly in beginning negotiations with a New York Publisher for an American edition of my poems, the dykes broke and I stayed awake all night seized by fearsome excitement, saw how it should be done, started the next day & go every morning to my borrowed study as to an office & belt out more of it.”

The result was The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath’s only published novel was originally published in England under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in 1963, and published in the U.S. eight years later in accordance with the wishes of Ted Hughes, to whom she had been married at the time of her suicide.

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This description of the book was adapted from the 1971 Harper and Row edition of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

This extraordinary work chronicles the crackup of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, successful — but slowly going under, and maybe for the last time.

Step by careful step, Sylvia Plath takes us with Esther through a painful month in New York as a contest-winning junior editor on a magazine, her increasingly strained relationships with her mother and the boy she dated in college, and eventually, devastatingly, into the madness itself.

The reader is drawn into her breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes completely real and completely rational, as probably and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such Deep penetration in the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is far in any novel.

In this case, the work reveals so much about the sources of Sylvia Plath’s own tragedy that its publication muse be considered a landmark in contemporary literature.

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath on Amazon
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Excerpt from The Bell Jar

I had locked myself in a bathroom, and run a tub full of warm water, and taken out a Gillette blade.

When they asked some old Roman philosopher or other how he wanted to die, he said he would open his veins in a warm bath. I thought it would be easy, lying in the tub and seeing the redness flower from my wrists, flush after flush through the clear water, till I sank to sleep under the surface gaudy as poppies.

When it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defenseless that I couldn’t do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse the jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secrets, and a whole lot harder to get at.

It would take two motions. One wrist, then the other wrist. Three motions, if you counted changing the razor from hand to hand. Then I would step into the tub and lie down.

I moved in front of the medicine cabinet. If I looked in the mirror while I did it, it would be like watching somebody else, in a book or play.

But the person in the mirror was paralyzed and too stupid to do a thing.

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More about The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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