The Bell Jar

This is proof that I do normally read “good” books, that I’m not always addicted to fluffy vampire sex novels….

When I was desperately trying to get to 50 books in a year last month, I was sitting on the floor in my sister’s apartment, looking through her collection. They needed to be smaller books, of course, but decent enough that it didn’t look like I’d just read 20 trashy novels to hit the 50.

As we know, I didn’t reach 50 books, but now at least my second book of this year’s attempt will be a classic, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Anyway, back to Laura’s floor, with her cat Umber-Shrugs rolling around beside me, a mass of orange fur. I picked up this book, thin enough. “What’s this about?” I asked.

“It’s like the female equivalent of The Catcher in the Rye,” my sister replied. Intriguing. Years ago, I went on a “new classic literature” kick and read The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, On the Road, The Great Gatsby, 1984 and a few others. And I loved The Catcher in the Rye.

Much like The Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar has a very unique voice. The story is told in first person by a character who’s at times both insightful and misguided. However, with The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caufield’s voice and tone are harder to get used to. In The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood is both well spoken and proper.

There’s something haunting about The Bell Jar. The novel is considered to be semi-autobiographical for Plath, who killed herself just a month after its publication.

The Bell Jar is the struggle of every woman against propriety and desire. It was written in the sixties, but from the beginning I felt as if it could have been set in the present. The same hot, dusty, dangerous New York city. The same expectations. The same feeling of entrapment.

Esther is a young woman on the brink of success - she has a scholarship, a prestigious internship, an extravagant trip to New York city. At first you only glimpse her apathy and her sense of loss. But as the book continues, it creeps out of the dark shadows and consumes her.

The Bell Jar is a classic - I’m surprised it took me this long to get around to reading it.

It was easy to identify with Plath’s words, perhaps scarily so if you think about it. But here are some favourite parts:

“Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one’s ashes, the grey scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York.”

“How could I write about life when I’d never had a love affair or a baby or seen anybody die?”

“The silence depressed me.  It wasn’t the silence of silence.  It was my own silence.”

“So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state.”

3 Comments

  • By The Chris, July 26, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

    Ohhh I want to read this. (I haven’t yet, I know - I’m a horrible English Major.) I actually thought it was writen way earlier, I get all those feminist writers confused. I thought Plath was around the Bronte sisters (I was way off, I know - I’m really a totally horrible English Major.)

  • By Faebala, July 27, 2009 @ 12:09 am

    I love this book.

    I remember reading this on a plane to see you. I don’t remember which time, or what year, but I remember I read it on the plane. And finished it on the plane.

    I always loved her poetry, growing up. I forget how I first heard of her, but she fascinated me with her morbid poetry and multiple suicide attempts (her and Dorothy Parker both). And they were my favorite poetess’ (poetessi? it’s interchangable) for my depressed pre-teen and teenage and college-aged self. Haha.

    (I Also remember seeing Julia Stiles reading this book in 10 Things I Hate About You, and since I wanted to be her, I thought - I need to read that book.)

    It’s great. I love the part in the end where she climbs in the wall for days, so eerie and sad! NOW READ EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE!

  • By Faebala, July 27, 2009 @ 12:10 am

    P.S. I’m glad you ended up liking it, since when I talked to you when you first started it - you weren’t all that into it. (Maybe it was the coming out of 9 thousand Sookie Stackhouse books that made it hard for you to get into this one, hehe)

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