The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realize her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther's life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiraling into suicidal depression as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take women's aspirations seriously.
We follow Esther life from her summer job in New York with Ladies' Day magazine, back through her days at New England's largest school for women, and forward through her attempted suicide, her bad treatment at one asylum and her good treatment at another, to her final re-entry into the world like a used tyre: "patched, retreaded, and approved for the road" ... 
Esther Greenwood's account of her year in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing. The novel is partially based on Plath's own life and has become a modern classic.

The page you see on the picture below is my most favourite book quote ever. Never before have I come across something that so elegantly and so pointedly describes exactly this feeling - a feeling, a thought, a problem I have myself. That blazing insecurity that threatens to take over. The want of everything and the inability to chose just one path. Obviously today we are less restrained, we can have several of the life goals which Plath describes all at once or one after the other, but then again can we really? How do we find the time for it all, the strength?

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig-tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famout poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and off-beat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyonf and above these figs were many many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would chose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

The book follows Esther's life and feelings from her summer job in NY, back to her school days, forward to her attempted suicide and then throughout the various treatments at good and bad asylums. Unsatisfied by the rather open ending I googled the book and the woman behind it and was in for rather a shock. I've never encountered the book during my school years nor her, so I didn't know anything about either and was rather appalled to discover that Plath's crippling depressions drove her to suicide barely a month after the book was published (under the pen name Victoria Lucas). It does make certain parts in the book click though. I'm not sure anyone who hadn't experienced those feelings would be able to write about them like that [note; I've never been suicidal nor properly depressed, just occasionally rather sad]. Esther's feelings and breakdown are so palpable, at times even almost rational; it's all explained so well.

The Bell Jar took my breath away and it's a book that demands to be read and reread and reread again to get it all. I never before encountered a book quite like it, a book that made me pause and actually properly appreciate the writing, the word structure, the deeper meanings behind it all. Plath was an amazing writer, whom driven by her own black thoughts and feelings managed to portray the darker emotions of a young woman despairing. I'm rather sad that this book in Denmark at least seems so relatively unknown. It's dark and it's scary, yes, and obviously not for a younger audience, but it's just so ... important. I think particular in lieu of how more and more people nowadays struggle with depressions and loneliness and so on and so forth - this book has something to tell. It can put some perspective on matters, like, you're not alone. It's okay to be feeling like that. Let someone help you. Don't give up, there are people loving you.

by Sylvia Plath
ISBN13: 9780571081783
234 pages / Published in 1963

Review by Iben Jakobsen, BoB, 2014


  1. Den kommer helt sikkert på min to-read liste nu!

    1. Fantastisk :) Glæder mig til at høre hvad du syntes om den!

  2. The Bell Jar is one of the most beautiful books out there, it is so heart wrenching and beautifully written.

    1. My feelings exactly. It's hauntingly beautiful

  3. Hvor godt at du havde en god oplevelse med bogen :) da jeg læste den, blev jeg lidt skuffet, men havde også meget høje forventninger til den. Jeg sad tilbage med lidt modsatrettede følelser omnring den. Den første del af bogen rørte mig bare ikke, hvorimod den sidste del var virkelig stærk!


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