Tag: Feminism

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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Warrior Girls Take the Boston Book Festival

On October 19th, the Boston Book Festival commenced in Copley Square. Rows of tents housing local authors, publishers, and bookstores lined the square, bringing book lovers together on the beautiful Saturday afternoon. Right next door, at the Boston Public Library, several panels from authors and publishers were held all day. In one panel in particular, which they called Warrior Girls, held in the Teen Central section of the library, several authors tackled topics such as what makes their characters warriors, and the challenges they faced in regard to diversity in their books and making sure those stories are told. The panelists were Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, authors of Once and Future; Charlotte Nicole Davis, author of Good Luck Girls; Rory Power, author of Wilder Girls; and Brittney Morris, author of Slay. The moderator was Monique Harris, a local special education teacher.

 

             

 

The main aspect of the characters that the authors gave to describe them as warriors was the fact that they are, indeed, fighting for something. Whether it be for survival, or to overcome racism in their respective worlds, there is something at stake for all the characters that they have to fight for. In Davis’ debut novel Good Luck Girls, which is inspired by the old west, her two main characters are on the run after one of them accidentally kills a man.

 

Image Via Amazon

“I guess they’re warrior girls in that this is a world that doesn’t really want them to be free but they’re fighting for that freedom anyway,” Davis said.

 

The concept of “warrior girls” is one that has grown in popularity in young adult fiction over recent years, seen in titles such as Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and Sarah J. Maas’ two series A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass. However, the inspiration for these authors began way before these titles were even a thought.

 

“I feel like when I was growing up when YA was blowing up for the first time Harry Potter was just coming to a close, Twilight was right at its peak, and The Hunger Games had just come out, and it’s very interesting to me how those are three very different female protagonists,” Davis said. “Katniss really is a strong, female protagonist in the very literal sense in that she’s a fighter, and you’ve got Hermione who’s really brainy and clever.”

 

Ella Enchanted was the very first time I read a book in which the protagonist saves herself and that wasn’t even a concept until I read that,” Morris said. “It was really empowering and I was wanting that in whatever else I read.”

 

Image Via Amazon

 

With the concept of “warrior girls” and feminism in these authors’ books comes diversity, not only in terms of race but of sexuality as well. Even though diverse representation is getting better in the publishing world, authors are still faced with some challenges, even within themselves.

 

“When I was trying to find a book about people who looked like me they were always very heavy suffering books, and those are important, I kind of describe it as eating your vegetables, but it didn’t feel fair that I never had any cake,” Davis said. “So, in writing [Good Luck Girls], I want the characters who don’t usually get to have fun, I want them to have the most fun possible.”

 

“When I was seventeen, my feeling was ‘I don’t know, not straight, though.’ So, I put that in the book and I realized as I was writing it that queer readers knew exactly what I was talking about, but straight readers did not,” Power said. “I had to learn how to put in these big, neon arrows for the straight reader who was like ‘help me understand’ without feeling like I was pausing the book to give a PowerPoint presentation.”  

 

Image Via Amazon

 

At the end of the day, young adult fiction is a genre that has a lot of impact on the minds of the readers, especially since they are young and malleable. In addition to writing entertaining, diverse books about warrior girls, these authors also wanted to leave their readers with a newfound message at the end of it all.

 

Slay is actually dedicated to everyone who has ever had to minimize who you are to be acknowledgeable to those who aren’t like you. And I chose that dedication very deliberately,” Morris said. “I hope that by the time you get to the end of the book you are sure of who you are, or at least confident in taking the time to decide what that is.”

 

Image Via Amazon

 

“If a book is a story about a character it’s for everybody. A book about queer people is for every reader, a book about girls is for every reader,” Capetta said. “I think there’s still that message that is not spoken out loud anymore but is reinforced in a lot of subtle ways that a book about a girl or about a marginalized person is only for that reader, and that’s the person that needs that book.”

 

In writing these books about warrior girls, it seems that these authors are embodying warriors themselves, combatting racism and genderism through their characters. They have hope for these types of books in the coming years and will continue to write their own stories in order to contribute to the changing dynamics of the young adult genre. 

The Top Ten Best Dragon Books in Fantasy Literature!

They’re big and terrible. They’re small and cute. They’re at once terrifying and majestic. Dragons have been an enduring fixation of literature pretty much ever since storytelling was invented. They can take many forms in narrative, from simple monsters to evil but intelligent villains to helpful allies to god-like divine beings. But one thing is clear: dragons are awesome and they’re extremely fun to read about. Here are the top 10 best books featuring these fire-breathing behemoths, showcasing dragons of every shape and size in all their glory for your viewing pleasure.

10. ‘Tea with the Black Dragon’ by R.A. MacAvoy

 

image via Amazon

Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy is a Hugo nominated fantasy novel that has a classic premise: girl meets boy and boy turns about to be a dragon. Martha’s daughter, Elizabeth, is in trouble in San Francisco and Martha hurries into the strange city to help her missing child. But when she arrives, the only person who knows where Elizabeth might be is the mysterious stranger Mayland Long. Did we mention Mr. Long can transform into a dragon? Its up to these two to find Elizabeth, even as Martha begins to feel romantic feelings for her newfound dragon companion.

 

9. ‘Three hearts and three lions’ by Poul Anderson

Image via Amazon

Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson tells of a man transported into a world of fantasy. Holger Carlsten is a Resistance fighter fighting against the Nazis during World War II but when he’s wounded in battle, the luckless engineer finds himself transported to another world. Against a medieval backdrop, he finds himself in a battle where the forces of Law fight against Chaos. Monsters abound this land, including werewolves, giants, trolls, faeries, and yes: dragons. Revered as a Champion, Holger must take up arms and join the brave knights, ready to slay some dragons (alongside other fearsome beasts) as the leader of the forces of Law.

8. ‘His Majesty’s Dragon’ by Naomi Novik 

Image via amazon

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik tells a historically accurate account of the Napoleonic Wars, with an added twist: dragons! Yes, this is an alternate history novel where dragons are used as the main force of combat, adding a thrilling new element to the tides of war sweeping Europe. When Captain Will Laurence finds an unhatched dragon egg, his life is turned upside down when the dragon hatches and imprints on him. Joining the Aerial Corps, Laurence and his dragon, Temeraine, must take to the skies to defend Britain from France’s own dragon armies.

 

7. ‘The Great Zoo of China’ by Matthew Reilly 

Image via Amazon 

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly is basically Jurassic Park but with dragons! For years, China has been keeping the existence of live dragons a secret but is preparing to unveil them to the world is the first ever dragon zoo. A small group of V.I.P.s are brought into the zoo to see the beasts first hand and inspect the safety of the place. Because, surely, nothing can go wrong? Right? Just kidding. Get ready for tons of action and lots of dragon destruction when things spiral out of control.

6. ‘Tooth and Claw’ by Jo Walton

Image via Amazon

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton is a unique twist on dragon literature. Told from the point of view of dragons themselves, this is a world of politics, family, and relationships but instead of humans, everyone is a dragon. In a society where the weak are literally eaten and the strong thrive as tyrants, this is a story like no other, as it showcases what the reality of a dragon’s world is truly like.

 

5. ‘The Hero and the crown’ by Robin McKinely 

Image via Amazon

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinely is a rich young adult novel full of feminist themes and a terrifying dragon as the main antagonist. Aerin is an outcast in her own kingdom, a woman looked down upon for being rumored to be the spawn of a witch. Determined to earn her birthright, she decides to slay a dragon but modern dragons are a far cry from the terrible beasts of old. They’re just vermin and although certainly formidable, they’re nothing but pests. Until the day a knight rides into the castle and reports the return of a great dragon from the old days. Maur, said to be as big as a mountain, has returned and is ransacking the kingdom. Seeing her chance, Aerin rides off with only her horse as a companion to face Maur and slay him.

 

4. ‘Dragonsbane’ by Barbara Hambly 

Image via Amazon

Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly focuses on a young prince who must join forces with a retired dragon slayer and a witch who can’t use her magic quite right. Joining forces to form a ragtag dragon slaying “crew”, the trio must journey forth to slay the terrible beast or die trying.

 

3. ‘Dragon Keeper’ by Robin Hobb


Image via Amazon

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb tells of a resurgence of dragons into a world that hates and fears them, yet might need them to save it. Telling of a young boy who travels up river to find a dragon egg in order to breed more dragons to defend his land, they find a set of newly hatched but injured baby dragons. With the help of quirky companions, the boy must ferry these dragons their new home across the wilds, with no hope of return but everything riding on his journey back.

 

2. ‘Earthsea’ by Ursula K. Le Guin 

Image via Amazon

Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin needs no introduction. Some of the most acclaimed works in fantasy literature, the world of Earthsea features a unique setting (an island archipelago) and people of color as the protagonists. Dragons are a huge component of the setting, from fearsome Western style monsters to more refined, almost Eastern style of creatures. This is one series that is a classic for a reason and you should dig into for certain, especially as a dragon lover.

1. ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien 

image via Amazon

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien began many a person’s love of dragons and fantasy. Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit who enjoys a comfortable life when he finds himself yanked from his sleepy little town by the wizard Gandalf and a group of dwarves. Together, they set across Middle-earth to seal the great dragon Smaug’s treasure from his lair in the Lonely Mountain. Smaug himself is an inspired creation and the highlight of the book but the rest is a classic adventure tale and one that will surely please any fantasy lover even today!

Featured Image Via LOTR Wiki 

Women in Literature Who Deserved Better Fates

Literature is full of countless incredible female characters, and many of them are able to make a mark on the worlds they inhabit. Some, though, aren’t so lucky. Some don’t get the happy endings they deserve. Let’s take a look at some wronged women from classic literature.

 

Lydia Bennet – Pride & Prejudice

 

Image via PandPvsLBD

 

Okay, so things work out a LITTLE less tragic for this version of Lydia, but overall she should’ve had more help. All those sisters, and no one to protect her from Wickham. She carries on a whole secret affair and actually runs away with him, and no one’s any the wiser. Lydia is only fifteen, and even though Wickham is eventually forced to marry her, basically satisfying everyone, she deserved so much better than that user. It’s honestly hard to watch. Know your value, girl!

 

 

Morgan Le Fay – Arthurian Legend

 

Image via Twitter

 

Morgan Le Fay has been reimagined countless times since her legendary origins, and it seems like every time she gets a little more evil. Sure, from the beginning she was ambiguous, and who could blame her? Of course, she was always ambiguous, but so were her motives. The supposed half sister of King Arthur, and possible lover of Merlin, it’s not clear how Morgan gained her powers. She’s married off almost as soon as Arthur is born. Nevertheless, she’s a powerful character, and doesn’t need to be vilified.

 

 

Ophelia – Hamlet

 

Image via Vulture

 

Ophelia is maybe the classic example. What did she ever do to anybody? Okay, so she isn’t perfect, but being constantly yelled at and gaslit by the rest of the cast would make anyone a little jittery. Sometimes Hamlet acts like he cares about her, sometimes he doesn’t. On several occasions he’s extremely, senselessly cruel. Her father is a little better. Ophelia just gets tossed around by the rest of the plot, trying to live her life when no one has the least interest in her. She deserved a lot better.

 

 

Image via Kickstarter