Tag: novels

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


Bookstr is community supported. If you enjoy Bookstr’s articles, quizzes, graphics and videos, please join our Patreon to support our writers and creators or donate to our Paypal and help Bookstr to keep supporting the book loving community.
Become a Patron!



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 

 


Bookstr is community supported. If you enjoy Bookstr’s articles, quizzes, graphics and videos, please join our Patreon to support our writers and creators or donate to our Paypal and help Bookstr to keep supporting the book loving community.
Become a Patron!




 

Thrilling Hulu & Netflix Shows Arriving This October

Along with the changing of the leaves come the dark, chilly nights of Autumn- the perfect setting for everyone’s favorite holiday, Halloween. Face your fears with this month’s terrifying Hulu and Netflix adaptations!

We’ve put every new release into categories and included the Netflix and Hulu release dates to boot! Click on the titles or where it says “book” or “novel” to either the watch film/show trailer or to purchase the original book!

 

 

Sci-Fi & Fantasy

 

Related image

From ‘the Time Traveler’s Wife’ | Image via Giphy

 

 

 

Drama

 

Image result for after gif

From ‘After’ | Image via Tenor

 

 

 

Crime

 

Image result for trainspotting gif

From ‘Trainspotting’ | Image via Giphy 

 

  • Trainspotting (1996 Film) – based on the book by Irvine Welsh (October 1st, Netflix)
  • True Grit (1969 Film) – based on the book by Charles Portis (October 1st, Hulu)
  • Winter’s Bone (2010 Film) – based on the book by Daniel Woodrell (October 1st, Hulu)

 

 

Horror

 

Image result for hellraiser gif

From Hellraiser | Image via Giphy

 

 

 

Thriller

 

Image result for along came a spider gif

From ‘Along Came A Spider’ | Image via Tumbral

 

 

 

Comics

 

Image result for blade gif

From Blade | Image via Giphy

 

 

 

Animation

 

Image result for sailor moon gif

From Sailor Moon | Image via Giphy

 

 

 

There are so many choices for the month of October, both for those who would rather not be spooked by their entertainment, and those seeking a thrill.

 

Featured Image via 

3 Shockingly Savage Jane Austen Quotes

There are so many spectacular Jane Austen quotes it’s hard to choose just three, but they’re not all just deep or wise or about marriage and life (or at least, not only those things). Some of them are actually the sickest burns I’ve ever seen in my life.

 

Persuasion

 

Image via Freepik, quote via GoodReads

 

That is an incredibly metal way to talk about someone who died at sea. My god. Austen doesn’t get enough credit for totally demolishing people. These are not just cozy period pieces. Things get REAL. This is only like half the quote, too. She reads this guy straight through six feet and a coffin. He might not be good for much, but at least we got this devastating burn out of it.

 

 

Pride and Prejudice

 

Image via BuzzFeed, quote via GoodReads

 

What’s that Mr. Darcy? I don’t seem to understand you. Get rekt. Elizabeth is actually pretty polite. At least compared to Anne. I’m not sure there’s any outdoing her. Elizabeth is scathing though, and whatever she lacks in outright insults she certainly makes up for in getting her point across. There are many ways to offend.

 

 

Northanger Abbey

 

Image via Duke University Libraries, quote via GoodReads

 

Be smug, readers. I guess this isn’t THAT bold of a statement, since people who DON’T enjoy novels aren’t likely to be reading Austen, but it’s also really extreme. “Intolerably stupid?” I mean, it’s not like I’m saying she’s completely wrong. I’m just saying. Those are READERS, Jane. Something something character development. If you didn’t like Northanger Abbey I guess this is why.

 

 

Featured image via The Royal Mint 

Two Dark Fantasy Duologies to Binge This Weekend

No plans this weekend? Not the type to go outside? We can relate. Make the best of the weekend for real by binging these duologies. Nothing says relaxation like high stakes magic.

 

Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom

 

Image via Amazon

 

I love a good heist, and this is better than most. Set in the lush universe popularized by Shadow and Bone, this follow up stands on its own legs, and is a great entry to the series. Meet the Dregs, a bunch of street urchin weirdos with just the right skills to pull off an impossible heist in the heart of a hostile state. The characters are so real that you feel you could bump into them on the street, the plot is meticulously executed, and the magic is both grounded and vibrant. It’ll be your new fave.

 

 

The Orphan Queen & The Mirror King

 

Image via Amazon

 

Revolution, dictatorships, secret identities, and a magic system so brutal and so inescapable it shakes the very ground on which the world is built. All the threats feel close, pressing. The characters are multidimensional, living, complex. This is a deeply alarming pair of novels, but despite the dark plot points, the writing is light and compulsively readable. These are entertaining books, and frequently very funny. If you like seeing sense prevail, and survival against dire odds, dive into this truly original world.

 

 

Featured image via ZippyPixels