The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

 The Bell Jar cover

I picked up The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath the last time I visited the library. I can hardly believe it has taken me this long to get around to reading it. I think it was the fact that Sylvia Plath committed suicide that put me off reading it, I find those circumstances just too sad. Anyway – read it I did – so here goes.

The Bell Jar was first published in 1963 and apparently didn’t make much of a splash in the book world back then, which seems hardly credible now as it’s a really good read, well written although Plath more or less wrote about her own experiences. There’s probably very little in it that she actually had to use her imagination for, it’s her life story with different names being given to the characters. I’m probably just about the last person in the bookish world to read this one so I’m not going into great detail over it.

Esther Greenwood is nineteen years old, she’s quiet and bookish and has won a scholarship to go to college to study literature. This is a huge thing for Esther as she had been brought up by a widowed mother and money was very tight. During the summer she works to save money for college, it’s a hot summer and the Rosenbergs are about to be executed by electrocution, that’s something that preys on Esther’s mind. It still preys on my mind given what happens to Esther later on in the book.

Another thing preying on my mind from the book – on page 65 of the Faber and Faber copy I read : But undressing in front of Buddy suddenly appealed to me about as much as having my Posture Picture taken at college, where you have to stand naked in front of a camera, knowing all the time that a picture of you stark naked both full view and side view, is going into the college gym files to be marked ABC or D depending on how straight you are.

I am truly hoping that somebody from the US can tell me that this is just a weirdness from Plath’s mind – and that no such abuse of students ever took place!

Over the years some of Plath’s more enthusiastic fans attacked Plath’s husband Ted Hughes for his treatment of her but in this book she actually answers his attackers as it’s stated that nobody is to blame for a character’s suicide, if anyone is to blame it’s the psychiatrist. Spookily Plath even seems to have foretold the future as far as Hughes’ life was concerned with another wife. Perhaps poets are drawn to depression and depressives. I can imagine that if this book had been better received when it was published then Plath might not have taken the path she did, she must have had a lot of hope stored up in its publication.

I think I’ll be giving this one four stars on Goodreads.

7 thoughts on “The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

  1. I’m also one of the few who hasn’t read this book. I’ve also been rather wary of it though for different reasons I think. Anyway, your review has given me encouragement! One day I’ll get to it!

  2. I don’t think I have read this book, although I did read a lot about Plath and her husband.

    I never heard of a posture picture at all, although I never took any gym classes in high school or college.

    • tracybham,
      I got the impression that it was something that happened to all new students, maybe it did in her day, very strange and creepy if it did happen in the past.

      • I have a feeling it was a check for scoliosis, although I never heard of posture pictures. When I was in elementary school in the ’70s, they would check us each year for any spine curvature, but you would just have to touch your toes. I can’t remember if the nurse checked through your shirt or had you pull it up. My twin boys (6) had this done at their check-up this year.

        (a late reply; I just discovered your blog and am slowly making my way backwards through it–rather than do any useful work today!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *