Tag: Depression

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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The Courtney Love of Letters has Passed Away

Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation has died at the age of 52 of metastatic breast cancer.

 

 

Image via LA Times

Wurtzel wrote more than several influential books, but was known for her book Prozac Nation as it opened up a dialogue about depression that changed America. Wurtzel was very open about her struggles with mental illness. The book was eventually turned into a film in 2001 starring Christina Ricci. She was also known for her forward-thinking culture critiques and somewhat inflammatory opinions, as well as her strong feminist belief system. She was dubbed, “the Courtney Love of letters.”

 

image via the New York Times

 

She did far more than outrage people, especially with her second book, Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women; her words and writing style were suffused with a new kind of writing technique a la Sylvia Plath but in prose, a sort of confessional memoir panache where she talked about her very personal experiences while educating the reader on a woman’s value in society.

 

 

In her last book, More, Now, Again, she chronicled her struggles with substance abuse. She finally got clean and ended up going to Yale law school where she graduated and worked for Boies, Schiller & Flexner for more than several years. She left in 2012, to devote more time to writing. In 2015, she married James Freed Jr. on the roof of a loft in Soho. It was around this time she commenced treatment for stage two breast cancer.

She leaves behind a husband and a mother, not to mention a whole new generation of readers where she will no doubt strike a chord.

 

Featured Images via Cnn/Amazon

 


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Improve Your Lifestyle With Our Top Nonfiction Picks!

Each week, Bookstr scans bestseller lists across the Internet to learn what people are reading, buying, gifting, and talking about most — just to make sure you’re out there living your absolute best life. This week’s nonfiction picks center around the topic of self-development books, which showcase how you can improve your health, quality of life, and more with these great reads. Listen: we’re all trying to keep it together. But, with the right tools, staying on our game doesn’t have to be such a daunting task. Let’s dive into our picks and take a look!

 

A swirling nebula of space and stars

Image via Amazon

5. The Science of Self-empowerment by Gregg Braden

The Science of Self-Empowerment by Gregg Braden is about applying the advanced sense of awareness and spirituality that monks, nuns, and mystics have to our daily lives! Incorporating both scientific and philosophical perspectives, this book helps one achieve a form of spirituality that encourages true growth. Using real-world science to ground its claims, this self-help book that will find you rising to new heights and maybe even centering yourself like the worlds most spiritually-oriented people do.

 

A woman leaning against a wall with a smile

Image via Amazon

4. Do it Scared by Ruth Soukup 

Do It Scared by Ruth Soukup is for anyone who feels like they’re stuck in a rut or not taking the chances they really want to. The book helps you identify the source of your fears and tackle them with detailed, hands-on exercises. It lets you not only develop a plan but also, and perhaps more importantly, have the means and method to push yourself toward achieving your goals. This book contains the message that life is about taking chances and will absolutely help you take the first steps toward a better existence.

 

A man stands on a rock casting his hand into the darkness

Image via amazon

3. Turning Dreams into Reality by Yuval Tabib

Turning Dreams Into Reality by Yuval Tabib is based on experiences of the author and how Tabib made their dreams ‘truly’ come true. It’s hard work, but this book has a lot of answers that will make your existential problem-solving a more enjoyable experience. Drawing on theories from physics and Quantum Theory, this book has the answers to make you bend the world around you rather than let it control your life. Though actually achieving your dreams is certainly never an easy feat, purchasing this book certainly will be! Go out and go for it.

 

Paper origami birds fly off into the sky

Image via Amazon 

2. Life Admin by Elizabeth Emes 

Life Admin by Elizabeth Emes is about managing one’s life and keeping precious moments from slipping by. The author, Elizabeth Emes, is a working mother with two children who realizes one day that her life is being overwhelmed by all that she has to do. In a moment of epiphany, it dawns on her that she needs to take better control of her own time, and so she offers all her struggling readers tips of how she learned to manage it. This book explores labor and how it chokes our lives while also showing us how to reduce labor… or at least reduce its negative impact on our lives.

 

A laughing woman being happy

Image via Amazon

1. Own your Everyday by Jordan Lee Dooley

Own Your Everyday by Jordan Lee Dooley is about sharing her life experiences. She’s accidentally started a small business; embarrassed herself onstage during talks; and, like most of us, has wasted time caught up in her own anxiety. She’s had a broad range of life experiences, both good and bad, and she’s become an inspiration to young people (especially women) the world over. Now, she shares tips for overcoming obstacles and redefining success, all based on concrete stories of her own experiences.

 

 

 

Featured Image Via Amazon.