Friday 8 March 2013

The Bell Jar

A couple of weeks ago Radio 4 serialised excerpts from Mad Girl's Love Song a new biography of Sylvia Plath's early life by Andrew Wilson.  I found myself completely drawn in and I've bought the book to read.  I've also just re-read The Bell Jar which has been re-issued with a controversial new cover for its 50th anniversary. 

A high-achieving nineteen year old spends a summer in New York working as a journalist on a magazine.  One of several young women selected as fashion interns, Esther Greenwood is taken to parties, galleries and theatres, given clothes and gifts and is expected to appear in photo shoots and at luncheons.  Esther's experiences with men, alcohol and a bout of food poisoning exacerbate her inner conflicts about the possibilities and limitations for educated women in the 1950's. 

On her return from New York, failure to secure a place on a writing course triggers a descent into mental illness and harrowing 1950's treatment for depression including electric shock treatment.  One doesn't usually associate Sylvia Plath with humour but I liked Esther's dark sarcasm:
The movie was very poor.  It starred a nice blonde girl who looked like June Allyson but was really somebody else, and a sexy black-haired girl who looked like Elizabeth Taylor but was also somebody else, and two big, broad-shouldered bone-heads with names like Rick and Gil. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath.
The Bell Jar is a great modern classic.  Yes, it's dark but sometimes we need to read about life as it is.  What do you think?


Anbolyn said...

I read it last month and really enjoyed it. The dark humor was a surprise for me too, but it is wonderful. Plath was certainly a gifted prose writer and I'm sad that we didn't have more novels from her. I can't say I like the new cover, but I don't find it as offensive as some do.

JoAnn said...

This is the first I've seen of the new cover - not really a fan. I've never read The Bell Jar (how is that possible?) but it is on my Classics Club list and very near the top of the tbr pile.

Arti said...

My experience with The Bell Jar is from an audiobook, just last year I think, so not too long ago. And then afterwards, saw the film adaptation which is not bad. Funny I ordered the book and it still remains my TBR. One of these days I should get to it before the new film adaptation comes out. Yes, it's 'in development' which can mean years to go. BTW, that new book cover is misleading. It gives a superficial impression, which definitely is far from the story.

Aarti said...

Oh, I'm glad to know there's some humor in this book. I have it on my shelf but have never read it because I feel like it would be very depressing. But good to know there is some fun, too!

Susan said...

I read The Bell Jar many years ago - I was about 19 or 20, the same age as the character - and I remember being so moved by the book. It was funny, and brittle, and sarcastic, and dark, and I loved it. It was the first time I realized that someone else felt that anger that things weren't what they should be, that I was feeling. It's still one of the few novels that addresses this, for me.

I really enjoyed your review. I wrote a post last month about the article that the Guardian posted about the new book coming out about Sylvia, funnily enough! Here is my post:

StuckInABook said...

I was actually quite disappointed when I read The Bell Jar, because I was expecting it to be beautifully written, and found it very ordinary... oh dear!

Ellen said...

I too have recently bought The Bell Jar, I read it as a teenager and loved it, I recall lending it to someone and never getting it back. I received an anthology of her poems introduced by the splendid Carol Ann Duffy for my birthday and just has to buy The Bell Jar again. It will be interesting to see if age has made a difference to my appreciation of it.

Sunday Taylor said...

A very important book and thank you for bringing attention to its 50th anniversary. I must read about the controversy over the cover!

Nadia said...

So, that is the new cover everyone is complaining about - well, I have to say I'm not a fan either. It pretty much trivializes the depth of Plath's book. I'm definitely of fan of her work and after reading your post am now in the mood to re-read The Bell Jar. Thanks!

debbie bailey said...

It's on my TBR list.

Diana said...

I adore The Bell Jar! Plath's imagery is perfect. The way in which she brings the hellishness of mental illness to life is unparalleled, I think.

Penny O'Neill said...

For some odd reason I've never read The Bell Jar. I don't know why but mean to remedy this and have a go at it soon. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. Now, need to read the article about the cover.

Vintage Reading said...

Anbolyn, The Bell Jar is just brilliant isn't it? I don't have any strong feelings about the cover but I suppose if you picked it up thinking it was chicklit you would get a shock!

JoAnn, I do hope you post about The Bell Jar if you read it. Be warned it is dark ..

Arti, yes the cover is misleading although there is a certain New York 50's glamour for the first half of the book. I'd like to see a film adaption.

Susan, I liked what you said about The Bell Jar. I think some people miss the humour and sarcasm in it. Plath is a wonderful writer.

Simon, have to disagree, Plath is a wonderful writer, but I suppose not everyone's cup of tea!

Ellen, interesting point. I first read it in my twenties and didn't appreciate it quite as much as I do now. I really want to read more of her poetry if you have any recommendations.

Sunday, I'm not particularly upset about the cover - if more people read it because of the cover so much the better!

Nadia, please post about TBJ if you read it. Cover doesn't bother me too much but yes, it is certainly misleading!

Debbie, please post if you do read it.

Diana, it's fabulous isn't it. I'm going through a real Plath phase right now.

Penny, it is a brilliant novel but very dark. Do post about it if you read it.

Mystica said...

I agree it is not always light and airy and pleasant. I've not read Plath as yet but it is on my TBR