The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


Unwittingly, I had two copies of this book. I was nearly at the end of the second one, when I discovered the first. The illustration of the second displayed an image of a woman, possibly Plath, holding a red ‘bell jar’ and peering from behind it.

I read The Bell Jar in a state of naivety: not realising that it was so closely autobiographical and that in spite of the intense, insane fun of the opening chapters, the ending would be so utterly hopeless.

With a strong sense of the times, the book paints a vivid picture of the early 1960’s with its emphasis on conformity and correctness. The American need to gleam was writ large in the text and the mood certainly didn’t feel lose or swinging in any way, not how the swinging sixties of the Beatles or Woodstock era is portrayed. This was the US sixties of civil and political unrest, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X , after all.

Esther, our main character is riddled with doubts and insecurities, which are only masked, ‘make-up-like’ by her role, friends and lifestyle.  In fact the real Esther appears more vulnerable than ever like a fraud, and this feeling of being an imposter seems to be what eventually tips her over the edge.

The causes and circumstances of Sylvia Plath’s death are still mysterious and hotly debated. As the mother of Ted Hughes’ children, a man whose work she greatly admired, their separation must have been very difficult for her to cope with.

Whatever the truth is, sadly the wall of depression that surrounded  the 30 year old Sylvia Plath was too heavy to withstand. 

I’m developing a habit of researching author’s after I have read their works. I like the book to speak to me without any distractions or personal details to dilute from the intimate reading experience. Then, when the book is complete, the research begins. I’m sharing this video interview with Sylvia as it smashes my opinion of a vulnerable, broken woman. Her voice is strong, powerful and she answers questions with honestly, humour and fierce intelligence. How can this be? I realise that depression has many faces and forms. Some argue that for artists like Plath, it is depression itself, that propagates the creative force, pushing, challenging, questioning and sometimes overwhelming.

Sylvia Plath October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963

© Suzy Rigg

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