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The Bell Jar

A book by Sylvia Plath

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An unpretentious, emotive fictional memoir like no other.

  • May 11, 2013
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After reading the biography of Pulitzer Prize winning poetess Anne Sexton of Newton, Massachusetts who committed suicide in 1974, I was gripped by the genuineness as well as the frank simplicity of The Bell Jar. In the Sexton biography - written by Diane Wood Middlebrook - there is a biographical passage on page 107 where, at the Ritz Hotel, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton are having martinis and discussing suicide: "Often, very often, Sylvia and I would talk at length about our first suicides; at length, in detail, and in depth between the free potato chips. Suicide is, after all, the opposite of the poem. Sylvia and I often talked opposites. We talked death with burned-up intensity, both of us drawn to it like moths to an electric light bulb. Sucking on it!" One can only imagine the two grand dames of poetry confessing and professing to one another how they attempted it and would vow to do it successfully the next time around. I gather in the interim of their morbid discourse, Plath's haunting (if that is an approropriate word) statements as well as Anne's invoked within one another feelings of invidious, pressing desire for their own quiet world, a world not burdened by day-to-day realities. The Bell Jar, however, is not a literary biography in the true defination. Rather, it is a fictional memoir in the same element to that of Fredrick Exley's A Fan's Notes, but it is written in the similar stlye to that of her literary compatriot J.D. Salinger and his semi-acidulous novels. In it, we have Esther (Plath), a very endowed, intelligent young woman who wins a summer position as an editor/writer for a New York magazine; after that job, things begin to slide, mentally, for Esther. She is more than bright (Plath herself received a Fulbright Scholarship to Cambridge University), but there is a strong percolating aura that everything around Esther is too run-of-the-mill for her unique and unquiet mind. And when the mind is unique, restless and sickly, those become the proper ingredients for what Esther suffers and endures - a depression that goes beyond fatalism. With a rejection to a writing course and a lack of sincere understanding, she spirals downward to her mental breakdown, her bell jar firmly encapsulating her in the realm of madness. Her options for a cure are worse then the disease itself: electrical shock therapy, incarceration to a mental hospital, psychiatrists, attempted suffocation, warm water and a Gillette blade, and lastly and perhaps more potently, a lack of understaing of what she was going through. This isn't a novel that says, Pity me! It says, Undersatnd me! This is who I am! This is what I am going through! This is what I am seeing! This is how I am feeling! When the mind is inundated with the horrors of truths and medical misunderstandings, the chosen path can lead a person to a place he/she can never return from. Perhaps, in some ways, a lot more smaller to Sylvia's and Anne's, all of humanity lives in a bell jar.
An unpretentious, emotive fictional memoir like no other.

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review by . March 25, 2000
I loved this book! It's not a very long book, only about 200 pages or so, but man oh man it's an intense read. In my case it took me a year to read this book, so I felt like I was right with Ester Greenwood. I'm the biggest Sylvia Plath fan that I know and I was turned on to her by reading "Daddy" in an english class I had. And I just have about everything that she has done. Her way with words is sexy and at the same time dark, it seems very unusally for a woman in the 1950's and 1960's to have …
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About this book


Plath was an excellent poet but is known to many for this largely autobiographical novel.The Bell Jartells 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.--This text refers to theHardcoveredition.
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ISBN-10: 0553278355
ISBN-13: 978-0553278354
Author: Sylvia Plath
Publisher: Bantam

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