I wish it hadn't been such a short book. I wish that things could have been brighter and saner for Sylvia Plath. I wish that Plath could have seen into the future a bit. Oh, the great novels Plath would have written! The Bell Jar is dark and broody, at times humorous. Plath's first novel is written with honest, raw emotion. The Bell Jar went on to become a classic of American literature and a favorite of mine.
Originally published in London, 1963, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, The Bell Jar was again published posthumously under Plath's own name in America in 1971, with strong objection from Sylvia's mother. Plath had chosen the pseudonym to protect those she had chosen to include in her book and because she questioned its importance and relativity in the literary world.
The Bell Jar is about Esther, a brilliant straight-A college Junior, who has won scholarships, many awards and a coveted fashion magazine writing contest in New York, 1953. While in New York, Esther questions her writing abilities, her looks, friendships and relations to men. She wonders what her true interests are, if she's good enough for anything and if anything is good enough for her. There isn't much Esther doesn't question and it propels her towards a downward spiral. Esther is like most girls at the age of 19 or 20, filled with self-doubt and wonder except Esther descends into darkness and depression that eventually leads to a mental breakdown, her disappearance and attempted suicide and eventual stay in a number of mental hospitals. Esther can now add the constant fear of electroshock therapy to her thoughts that consume her every morning until the breakfast tray arrives. The Bell Jar is the story of one womans conflict within herself and under "the rarefield atmosphere of the bell jar."
"In front of Caplan I said good-bye to Valerie's calm, snowmaiden face behind which so little,
bad or good, could happen, and walked on alone, my breath coming in white puffs even in the
snowfilled air. Valerie's last cheerful cry had been "So long! Be seeing you."
"Not if I know it", I thought.
But I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure at all. How did I know that someday-at college, in Europe,
somewhere, anywhere-the bell jar, with it's stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?"