The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar

Book - 1963
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Now in its 50th anniversary edition, Sylvia Plath's groundbreaking semi-autobiographical novel offers an intimate, honest and often wrenching glimpse into mental illness. The Bell Jar broke the boundaries between fiction and reality and helped cement Sylvia Plath's place as an enduring feminist icon. Celebrated for its darkly humorous, razor sharp portrait of 1950s society, it continues to resonate with readers today as testament to the universal human struggle to claim one's rightful place in the world.The year is 1953. Recent graduate Esther Greenwood leaves Boston for New York City when she wins a coveted summer internship at a prestigious fashion magazine. A talented aspiring writer, Esther's initial elation erodes as the clamour and glamour of big city life jars the sensitive introvert. Somewhere between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther's life begins to slide out of control. Back in Massachusetts she spirals into depression as she grapples with anidentity crisis brought on by the pressures and expectations of the rigid gender roles of the 1950's. Esther struggles with difficult personal relationships: a disappointing fiancé, the loss of her father and a mother who fails to grasp the depths of her despair. Esther ultimately finds herself in a mental asylum, where she is unsuccessfully "cured" with traumatic electroshock therapy.Esther shares her desperate and harrowing attempt to escape her crippling depression. Readers of Plath's poetry will recognize her voice as Esther documents the feelings of sadness, lethargy, boredom, hopelessness and isolation that accompany a major depressive disorder in a time when mental health challenges were poorly understood, stigmatized, and often barbarically treated.Originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas just a few weeks before the author's suicide, The Bell Jar has sold millions of copies worldwide and has become a modern classic. Its stark portrayal of mental illness andwomen's treatment in society set the stage for later books such as Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation and Susanna Kaysen's Girl Interrupted. 'It is a fine novel, as bitter and remorseless as her last poems . . . The world in which the events of the novel take place is a world bounded by the Cold War on one side and the sexual war on the other . . . In looking at the madness of the world and the world of madness it forces us to consider the great question posed by all truly realistic fiction: What is reality and how can it be confronted? . . . Esther Greenwood's account of her year in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing.' (New York Times Book Review)
Publisher: Faber and Faber ; HarperCollins ; Random, 1963.
ISBN: 9780571268863
Branch Call Number: FICTION PLA


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sbegrand Jan 14, 2015

Plath's haunting tale of Esther Greenwood's struggle with mental illness took on whole new meaning following Plath's suicide a month after its publication in the UK.

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May 18, 2019

The Bell Jar is a novel by the famous poet, Sylvia Plath, but originally published under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas" in 1963. The story is based on Plath’s personal experiences following the character Esther Greenwood who is an aspiring writer, who is uncertain in her place in the world. Esther’s mental health slowly deteriorates over the course of the book leaving her neurotic and suicidal, until one day her mental plague is unbearable and she makes an almost tragic action leaving her hospitalized. I would recommend this book because Plath is an extremely intelligent writer and tells her story beautifully. @GoosReviews of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

Oct 27, 2018

A seemingly normal Esther slides into depression. At times I lost patience but I'm glad I stayed with this book as it turned out to be an eye opener in understanding this potentially debilitating condition. Also a women trying to push back against societal/family expectations.

Apr 05, 2018

maybe I'm politicizing her story too much but it seems to me, seeing this as not only about her personal struggle with sanity/survival but also with the crippling effect of the socially restrictions women lived/live under may have been her point.

Oct 24, 2017

I read The Bell Jar as part of my 2017 Reading Challenge, in the category of a book written by an author using a pseudonym. There is no real story. I feel like I do not know anything about Ester, who is the main character.

Aug 28, 2017

interesting and engaging read!

Apr 15, 2017

Eight months lapsed from the moment that I picked up this book until I finished its last line. I'm not going to lie – early portions of this novel are not easy to process with its painstakingly redundant and seemingly irrelevant observations that compromise the pace of the story, diluting its dramatic intensity. However, as soon as one passes the wall-hitting phase, everything comes to life and a vivid reality is set into motion by the shear force of Plath's ingenious manipulation of the English language.

As the protagonist, Esther Greenwood, slowly descends into madness, she ascends spiritually, for madness has afforded her detachment and clairvoyance to look at the world from a third-person perspective. This novel offers a refreshing and poignant view on mental struggles and the inherent absurdity of conformity vs. choice.

Oct 31, 2016

A novel full of brilliance, lesson, and ambition.
I loved it. The book is contained of deep and rather sad meanings. It is a book of pure depression.
A story of hard work and determination which the character accomplishes as she comes from nothing and makes success of that... only to find that in particular that success cannot motivate or fulfill a deep emptiness that lies in her. That emptiness which her depression constantly suffocates her and how in that era the contrast between dealing with mental illness between now is of great deal of change. An unsettling, haunting yet intriguing novel. Depression in this novel is metaphorically related as a Bell Jar covering Esther, alienating her from reality and distorting her perception of life. She also says "stewing in my own sour air" under the jar meaning she is trapped in her depressive thoughts. Definitely a must read novel.

ArapahoeAndrew Aug 29, 2016

Plath weaves a haunting descent and experience with depression into a beautifully descriptive setting and plot.

Jul 05, 2016

I find Esther's descent into insanity a little rushed or hasty.

Jun 16, 2016

We go to a time and place where understanding of mental illness was less understood and certainly treated differently. Social mores concerning sexuality and marriage were strict. Plath's character, Esther, shared her "living under the bell jar." She fought mental imbalance and walked the thin line of staying alive and well vs. the obsession with putting an end to her life.

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Laura_X Aug 03, 2018

I woke to the sound of rain.

Jul 06, 2016

“If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”

SPL_STARR Jun 15, 2015

"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York."

Laura_X May 01, 2015

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.

Jun 17, 2011

"There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them."

Jun 17, 2011

"There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them."

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EuSei Aug 16, 2012

EuSei thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

EuSei Aug 16, 2012

EuSei thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Mar 25, 2012

RICHARD LIU thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


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Jul 06, 2016

Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity.

Jul 06, 2016

Esther Greenwood, a college student from Massachusetts, travels to New York to work on a magazine for a month as a guest editor. Esther returns to the Boston suburbs and discovers that she has not been accepted to a writing class she had planned to take. She will spend the summer with her mother instead. Esther awakens to find herself in the hospital. She has survived her suicide attempt with no permanent physical injuries. Once her body heals, she is sent to the psychological ward in the city hospital, where she is uncooperative, paranoid, and determined to end her life.


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