Tag: anniversary

The Bell Jar’s Influence: Anniversary Edition

The first line in The Bell Jar is a hook: “It was a… sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” The person speaking is Esther Greenwood, a smart, straight-A, dark-humored and, as the story goes on, depressed protagonist.

The book was published in London on January 14th, 1963 under a pseudonym Victoria Lucas, one month before the actual author, Sylvia Plath, committed suicide. People had to wait almost a decade for its publication in The United States. It is the only novel Plath ever wrote.

image via vintag.es

The story itself is a coming of age tale about a college girl who is figuring out what she wants and who she wants to be. She wins a contest to write for a “girl’s” magazine called Ladies’ Day in New York. She takes the opportunity and moves to New York for the summer along with a group of other young women, and they all live in a hotel/dormitory called the Amazon. This is where the book begins. The experience is less than Esther expected it to be. Her editors give her uninspiring pep talks, and her friends lead her into dangerous situations where she is almost, at one point, raped. She feels lonely most of the time. Upon getting stuck in a room where one of her friends, Doreen, is getting close with Lenny Shepherd, a man they met by happenstance one night on the town, Esther says:

“There’s something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room. It’s like watching Paris from an express caboose heading in the opposite direction – every second the city gets smaller and smaller, only you feel it’s really you getting smaller and smaller and lonelier and lonelier, rushing away from all those lights and that excitement at about a million miles an hour.”

It is with similes like this one where we get a deep look into Esther’s intelligence and ability to discern the truth about what it means to be young and still forging your identity.

 

A lot of the novel is about forging identity, but Esther’s identity is so tied up with her depression that she has trouble separating the one from the other. After New York, she heads back home to Boston and spirals downward until she finds a crawlspace to hide in, and tries to commit suicide. This lands her in a sanitarium. She is eventually sent to a private hospital in the countryside paid for by the woman who sponsored her scholarship, Philomena Guinea. It is there where Esther is really attended to for her illness. She is given insulin, analysis, freedom to go into town with improvement in mood, and is treated with electric shock therapy; all of it leads her back to wellness. How do we know she’s well? She says, just before her dismissal, “There ought, I thought, to be a ritual for being born twice – patched, retreaded and approved for the road.”

This novel also gave Sylvia Plath a way to confront sexism and convention. Throughout the pages, Esther mentions how many times her mother has at one point told her to learn shorthand. “The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way. I wanted to dictate my own thrilling letters.” Esther doesn’t know how to cook, either. She doesn’t know how to dance. She can’t sing a note. “The one thing I was good at was winning scholarships and prizes…” In other words, Esther succeeds at competing with men.

image via sylviaplathinfo.blogspot.com

Plath’s writing style can be interpreted as dark, but also as darkly comic, elegiac, honest, and nostalgic. “When I was nineteen, pureness was the great issue.” This is both a joke and an admittance. After Esther finds out Buddy Willard, her boyfriend, has already had sex, she is filled with resentment over the hypocrisy he embodies but also feels a competitive edge. She rejects his proposal. He is a fraud in her eyes now, and it brings her a step closer to knowing something about herself: she cannot succumb to promises of chastity until marriage. Esther ends up losing her virginity to some guy named Irwin she meets on the steps of the Harvard Library. It leads to a slight hemorrhaging mishap that lands her in the Emergency room; what she loses in blood she gains in experience and independence. She is even fitted for a diaphragm with the encouragement of her female doctor. “I was my own woman.”

 

Esther also ponders a life of wifely duties with children and husband as her primary purpose in life and she grows deeply afraid. “I knew that in spite of all the roses and kisses and restaurant dinners a man showered a woman before he married her, what he secretly wanted when the wedding service ended was for her to flatten out underneath his feet like Mrs. Willard’s kitchen mat.”  While this characterization of family life may be exaggerated, Plath is pointing out the inherent gender inequality and unfair expectations society has for women.

Image via Lagan Online

The bell jar itself symbolizes Esther’s mental illness in all its stifling, alienating inescapability: ”…wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” The bell jar warps reality, but there isn’t much difference, at times, between the distortion and the truth, as Esther discovers. On the day she is due to leave the hospital, Belsize, where she lived during her hospital stay, she wonders “what was there about us, in Belsize, so different from the girls playing bridge and gossiping and studying in the college to which I would return? Those girls, too, sat under bell jars of a sort.”n

If you’re curious as to how closely this novel relates back to Sylvia Plath, she did indeed have a guest editorship at a magazine called Mademoiselle. Philomena Guinea is based on a real woman, her literary patron named Olivia Higgins Prout, and Plath did try to commit suicide, and was sent to a hospital as a result. She even had Electroconvulsive Therapy just like Esther.

 

In 1979, there was a film adaptation starring Marilyn Hassett and Julie Harris. It did not do well with audiences or critics. There is a Showtime tv series (originally slated to be a film) starring Dakota Fanning based on the book supposedly in the works.

image via storenvy

The response to the book was positive, but Sylvia’s mother didn’t want it to be published in the United States because of the comparisons people made between Esther’s family and her own. It finally made it here in 1971, and fans did hyper-focus on the autobiographical similarities, though the NY Times gave it a positive review. The New Yorker’s review was mixed. In the end, it became one of the most influential novels of the 20th century.

Featured image via Deskgram


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Celebrating the Anniversary of Jane Austen’s “Emma”

On December 25th, 1815, Jane Austen’s novel Emma was published at the author’s own financial expense in London, England. Austen retained the copyright and paid a 10 percent commission to publisher John Murray II Publishing House. In America, the book was $4 a copy. It received mixed reviews at first, but as time passed it gained more popularity until everyone came to love the heroine, Emma Woodhouse. This must have been a surprise to Jane Austen, who had previously stated she was creating a character “whom no one but myself will much like.”

Image result for emma first edition
image via The Daily Mail

Perhaps Jane Austen said this because she was creating a character who declared herself entirely self-sufficient? Would never marry? To summarize, Emma focuses on a wealthy young woman of a country town in England called Highbury. She is surrounded by friends and family – she’s quite the socialite – and makes it her business to meddle in the affairs of others by matchmaking. That is only the most general plot summary; Austen does so much more within the novel.

 

According to an article by Louise Flavin at JASNA, Austen pioneered a new kind of writing technique or style called ‘free indirect discourse’ whereby she wrote in the third person but merged it with the fictional character’s habits of thought, so a sentence becomes both distant and personal: “she [Harriet] was a very pretty girl, and her beauty happened to be of a sort which Emma particularly admired… Emma was as much pleased with her manners as her person, and quite determined to continue the acquaintance.” As you can see the narrator of the sentence is also the prime fictional character, so the reader is able to see through Emma’s eyes and thus stay within Emma’s mindset where everything is a surprise while the prose is able to maintain third person distance. We call this close third person now. This excerpt also establishes the major theme of the novel, which is the weakness/failure of human judgment (primarily Emma’s).

image via wikipedia

Emma was the first Austen heroine who had financial independence. In Emma’s eyes, she has no need to marry. She is born with an authority all of the other Austen heroines lack. The town of Highbury is also portrayed as a female-dominated world. Still, Emma suffers mishaps and learns lessons; Mr. Knightley, despite Emma’s autonomous personality, is often softly criticizing her for her mistakes. Emma exhibits distorted logic in trying to marry off a friend, Harriet Smith, to someone above Harriet’s class, and who is mutually disinterested in Harriet, while finding no redeeming value in Harriet’s true love Robert Martin, who actually thinks as highly of Harriet as Emma does. It’s clear Emma needs to be set straight. In the end, Emma comes to realize money (or lack thereof) doesn’t make (or unmake) the man, and that it isn’t her business to matchmake when she doesn’t even know the terrain of her own heart; she realizes it’s Mr. Knightley, landed gentleman of Donwell Abbey, whom she’s loved all this time. Mr. Knightley wakes up to the realization of his own love for Emma, too. They marry and he moves into her estate where she lives with her father. What we witness is Emma’s evolution and slow humbling into a happier, more peaceful unity within and with others.

Despite Emma’s initial flaws, her character is highly intelligent and she repeats some of the wittiest lines of all of Austen’s characters. It’s hilariously true when she says:

“It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind.”

(Agreed.)

Or how about when she says, “seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.”

 

Virginia Woolf called Jane Austen, “mistress of much deeper emotion than appears on the surface.” Most critics agree Emma was Austen’s real tour de force, where her writing was at its strongest and where she exhibited forceful technique, with a subtle feminist subtext written within, and well-developed characters, namely Emma herself. Scottish novelist Margaret Oliphant called it “the work of her mature mind.”

Image result for emma 1996
image via pinterest

There have been many TV and big screen adaptations spanning the decades from 1948 to 2009. In 1995, the popular film, Clueless,” with Alicia Silverstone as the Emma-inspired Cher, hit theatres as a loose take on the book. It was set in Beverly Hills and contained many of the same plot points, themes, and was noted for its humor and originality. In 1996, a more true-to-the-novel adaptation came out with Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, and in 2010, a Bollywood version called “Aisha” premiered to dismal reviews. There also was a web series called, “Emma Approved” which originally aired on Youtube in 2013 that stopped then started up again in 2018, based on the book. It seems, however, that nothing as of yet has come out and done justice to the novel that was to be the last one published by Jane Austen while she was still alive, though we hear news of a new adaptation starring Anna-Taylor Joy along with Bill Nighy as the father coming out in February 2020. We’ll see how it does!

In any case, happy anniversary, Emma. You only get better with age.

 

 

Featured Image via Indiewire 

 


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Marvel’s Celebrates 80 Years With Awesome Comics Collection

 

 

Marvel Comics is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. With a franchise as big as this, a special something ought to be made for longtime fans, and what better way to reward them than with a comics collection of epic proportions.

 

Book publisher Folio Society is releasing Marvel: The Golden Age, a compilation of some of the first Marvel comics. Originally released back in 1939, when the company was called Timely Comics, this gift compilation features classic characters and comics we know and love today, as well as some that don’t exist anymore. In addition, the book will also feature a 64-page replica of Marvel Comics #1.

The ultimate collection for any comic book nerd. | Image Via The Folio Society

 

This is Folio Society’s first foray into comic book territory, and many hope that this will eventually lead the company to publish special editions for all eras of Marvel Comics.

 

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Image via Amazon UK

 

Folio Society editor Tom Walker feels that publishing comics is very similar to not only the other works they publish, but also literature in general:

 

Marvel Comics have been one of the great literary influences of the past century, and as I started to explore that world, I found the comic form had inspired so many of my own favorite writers, from Neil Gaiman to Margaret Atwood.

 

The collection will be released on September 25th, but is available for pre-order now.

 

 

Featured Image Via Pinterest

Gatsby Was First Published in 1925. So What Else Was Going on?

On April 10th, 1925, Scribner published a short novel by popular author F. Scott Fitzgerald which didn’t sell many copies or receive positive reviews. Today, The Great Gatsby is one of the most widely taught works of fiction in the United States.  Safe to say, the publishing climate in the 1920s was about as unpredictable as international conflict at the time — so what other bookish things were happening in 1925?

 

1. the Argosy Book store opened

 

 

New York City’s oldest independent bookstore, Argosy Book Store, opened for the first time in 1925, although it later moved from 114 East 59th Street to 116 East 59th Street. This famous bookstore still sells rare, used, and new books to customers in its elegant townhouse setting — until 6 p.m. most evenings, anyway.

 

2. American ya author robert cormier was born

 

 

Although he didn’t write his first novel until he was thirty-five , I Am the Cheese and The Chocolate War author Robert Cormier was born on January 17th, 1925, in Massachusetts. His books, later adapted into award-winning films, continues to receive flack today for its violent depictions of mental illness and abuse.

 

3. the new yorker published its first issue

 

The New Yorker magazine, a cultural vanguard for New York City and modern culture, published its first issue on February 21st, 1925 — and has hardly stopped releasing world-famous covers, cartoons, and commentary since then.

 

4. Flannery O’connor died

 

 

On March 25th, approximately a month before the publication of a book that would change the world, literature lost a legend when short-story writer and proponent of the Southern Gothic literary style Flannery O’Connor died from lupus at the age of thirty-nine.

5. T.s. eliot published the hollow men

 

 

20th Century poet T.S. Eliot officially published his haunting tribute to post-war Europe, “The Hollow Men,” on November 23rd, 1925, though there are many borrowed lines from some of Eliot’s previous works.

 

Featured Image Via Argosy Book Store.

 

‘Where the Wild Things Are’ Was First Published Today!

There are few books beloved as much as children’s picture book Where the Wild Things ArePublished originally in 1963, the book was written and drawn by American writer Maurice Sendak. Almost immediately upon its release, it found critical acclaim among the literary community, winning the Caldecott Medal in 1964 and selling 10 million copies in the United States, with those sales reaching 19 million worldwide internationally. It was voted the number one picture book in a 2012 survey. Its also been adapted numerous times, first as an animated short film in 1974, 1983 opera, and then as a big picture screen adaptation in 2009, directed by Spike Jonze, starring Max Records, Catherine Keener, and Mark Ruffalo.

 

A small boy sits next to a large monster in the film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are

Image Via Mentalfloss

 

The story is a simple one, focusing on a young child called Max who puts on a wolf costume and terrorizes his mother. Sent to bed without supper, he imagines himself visiting an island full of monsters where the titular Wild Things make him their king. But Max grows lonely among them and returns home, finding his dinner waiting for him.

 

Celebrate the anniversary of the book’s publication by cracking it open and having another read through. Chances are you already own a copy. Its one of the most famous children’s books in the world for a good reason, after all. Happy birthday, Wild Things!

 

Featured Image Via Amazon