The Bell Jar: Sylvia Plath

Happy weekend readers, I’m currently snuggled up in bed watching Hell’s Kitchen and penning you this review which is an odd but quite productive mix, if I suddenly start writing in capitals you’ll know that Gordan Ramsey is throwing people out of the kitchen. Saying that I’m sure it won’t  come to that. Today’s book review is another classic, although ultimately a modern classic and one I’ve been getting around to reading for a little while now. I haven’t really spoken about my TBR list but I don’t actually keep one because it terrifies me how long it would be, however I have one that sits snugly in the back of my mind of books I think I should read and this one has been on it for years. Finally I have got round to it. It’s taken a little while to decide my final thoughts but today I bring you my review of the beautiful and haunting ‘The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.’

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 serious depression as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take her 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 descent into mental illness, and has become a modern classic.

I’m not sure how many of my readers will have read this rather wonderful book but I’ll script out a little bit of the plot. The story follows a year in the life of Esther Greenwood a plucky young lady who wins an internship to at a New York Fashion magazine. Despite the wild parties, exciting lifestyle and a bounty of friends Esther’s life starts to spiral out of control, first slowly and then suddenly almost all at once. A mixture of difficult relationships, the worry of losing her virginity and society refusing to taking her aspirations wholly seriously she spirals into a deep and serious depression. After failing to get onto a writing course with an author she ends up back at home with her parents who take her to psychiatrist, worried about her mental state. We follow as she battles with her depression, suicidal thoughts, and the inhumane shock therapy she is subjected to. A truly compelling tale.

So that’s a very crude description of the book and there is so much more to it but I’m hoping to pull you in with the review more than the description of the plot. Additionally before we dive into my thoughts I’ve done a little researching on the book and this was originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas back in 1963. Some say the book is mainly autobiographical some state it was partially based. I’m reviewing this as much as I can on the book and the book alone.

I guess what stands out the most about Plath’s novel is how committed it is to telling a truly honest tale about experiencing a mental illness and Esther’s truly difficult battle with depression. It doesn’t feel over emphasised or skewed to make it more dramatic. Instead, we are told a truly upsetting but wholesome tale of ‘The Bell Jar.’ See, as Esther considers her life she describes her illness as to be trapped inside a bell jar. Alienated from the world Esther battles with the feeling of isolation, which leaves her unable to function on a human level (at one point she refuses even to shower.) The novel doesn’t give any easy quick fixes and throughout Esther discusses her belief that she may never be cured but will be something that needs controlling by her for the rest of her life.

One of the things I really enjoyed, were the contrasts between both the different parts of the story, the first during her internship and the second where she struggles between different psychiatric units; both are beautifully written. The imagery of the girls she meets and befriends and their glitzy nights out and interesting daily lives are brought to life before the reader’s eyes but there is always that feeling of isolation and an inability to fit in. The writing is stylish, honest, raw and sometimes confusing. It moves at times randomly and without warning. Esther is such an interesting character as well, both honest, naïve, blunt and edgy her personality warps throughout making the events even more intriguing.

It’s very difficult to get everything into this review because there is so much to pack in. If you haven’t read it I would really recommend it because it is a stunning piece of writing. It’s a raw and honest portrayal of Plath’s decision to face her own demons and attempt to pull through. Devastatingly we know the heartbreaking truth of Plath’s battle but her novel and tale live on, there to be read by generations and generations to come.




6 thoughts on “The Bell Jar: Sylvia Plath

  1. kecoles says:

    I started reading The Bell Jar a while ago and then got distracted by other books. It’s still sitting by my bed. Your review has convinced me it must be next on the list. 🙂

  2. Bitterballenbruid says:

    Thank you for this fantastic review and reminder! I read this book last year and I found it compelling yet confusing. I loved it but I wasn’t exactly sure why. Based on the above… I’m going to read it again. Thank you! 😊

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