In her new biography, Clark seeks to reclaim Plath’s story by focusing on the wonders of her life rather than the disaster of her death. Clark claims in the prologue that Plath’s “life has been subsumed by her afterlife” as the public fails in knowing anything but the myth of Sylvia Plath.
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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For some people, writing is a hobby; for others, it’s their work, their world, and they need other interests to pursue and get their mind off writing for a while. Let’s take a look at some of the coolest and craziest hobbies of five amazing authors!
1. Clark Thomas Carlton- Insect lover
The author of a truly amazing fantasy series is a huge fan of all things nature-related, and his wonderful fantasy books are inspired by ants! Clark got the idea for the series “during a trip to the Yucatan when he witnessed a battle for a Spanish peanut between two different kinds of ants. That night he dreamed of armies of tiny men on the backs of red and black ants. After doing years of research on insects and human social systems, Clark says that “the plot was revealed to me like a streaming, technicolor prophecy on the sixth night of Burning Man when the effigy goes up in flames.” His books are a wonderful homage to nature as well as a brilliant feat of world-building! Check out our interview with Clark and find out more about him below!
2. Sylvia Plath- Beekeeper
Poet and author Sylvia Plath, best known for her only novel The Bell Jar which carved out her place as one of the greatest writers of her generation, was a woman of many interests; among them beekeeping. A love of bees ran in the family, as her father Otto was “an entomologist who specialized in bees.” Plath described the donning of the beekeepers costume as ‘thrilling,’ in a letter to her mother. Her hobby inspired a series of poems featuring bees, which she wrote in the lead up to her death in 1963.
3. Madeleine L’Engle- Pianist
L’Engle is best known as the author of the beloved book A Wrinkle in Time, which was recently adapted for the big screen once more, starring Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Storm Reid. L’Engle revealed that playing the piano would relieve her of writer’s block, saying:
Playing the piano is for me a way of getting unstuck. If I’m stuck in life or in what I’m writing, if I can I sit down and play the piano. What it does is break the barrier that comes between the conscious and the subconscious mind.
4. Vladmir Nobakov- Lepidopterist
Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov’s interest in lepidoptary began when he was just seven years old, and he retained his love of insects throughout his life. The New Yorker states:
As a child, in 1909, he proposed a Latin name for a subspecies of poplar admiral that he had spotted near his family’s estate, only to be told by a famous entomologist that the subspecies had already been identified, in Bucovina, in 1897. As an adult, Nabokov had more luck. He named multiple species, most famously the Karner blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis), which he came across in upstate New York, in 1944.
5. Flannery O’Connor, the aviculturist
Short story connoisseur Flannery O’Connor’s love of bird rearing started early. At five years old, she and her chicken whom she had trained to walk backwards appeared on the news! As an adult, she raised peacocks and peahens on her farm in Georgia, even penning an essay in 1961 entitled “Living With a Peacock,” in which she describes her childhood news appearance:
When I was five, I had an experience that marked me for life. Pathé News sent a photographer from New York to Savannah to take a picture of a chicken of mine. This chicken, a buff Cochin Bantam, had the distinction of being able to walk either forward or backward. Her fame has spread through the press and by the time she reached the attention of Pathé News, I suppose there was nowhere left for her to go—forward or backward.
We can never get enough of Sylvia Plath. A short story, a ‘lost’ story, Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom, is now available published by Faber Stories 55 years after her death. We first reported on this in October, when it was announced that the story would be made available in 2019, and now here we are! The story was published by Faber on January 3rd, and is now available on Amazon.
Image Via Faber.co.uk
Plath was twenty-years-old when she submitted this story to Mademoiselle magazine, who rejected it, though she had won the publication’s fiction contest the year before. According to The New Yorker, critic and academic Judith Glazer-Raymo unearthed the story while doing research into Plath’s works and other archives.
Image Via Thenational.scot
Harper Perennial is expected to publish the book with an alternative book cover design—illustrated with train tracks following the sunset—available on Amazon, January 15th. Here is how the cover looks like along with its Amazon synopsis:
Image Via Amazon
Never before published, this newly discovered story by literary legend Sylvia Plath stands on its own and is remarkable for its symbolic, allegorical approach to a young woman’s rebellion against convention and forceful taking control of her own life.
Written while Sylvia Plath was a student at Smith College in 1952, Mary Ventura and The Ninth Kingdom tells the story of a young woman’s fateful train journey.
Lips the color of blood, the sun an unprecedented orange, train wheels that sound like “guilt, and guilt, and guilt”: these are just some of the things Mary Ventura begins to notice on her journey to the ninth kingdom.
“But what is the ninth kingdom?” she asks a kind-seeming lady in her carriage. “It is the kingdom of the frozen will,” comes the reply. “There is no going back.”
Sylvia Plath’s strange, dark tale of female agency and independence, written not long after she herself left home, grapples with mortality in motion.
Check out a preview of the story from The Guardian here!
Featured Image Via BBC.co.uk
Are you a Lana Del Rey fan? Are you a Sylvia Plath fan? Then you are going to love this! Lana posted a snippet of a song titled Hope Is A Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – But I Have it on Instagram during New Years Day.
The post said:
Happy New Year to everyone. I hope you enjoy the new song I’m putting out on the ninth it’s called ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have-but i have it’ Also as of last week I finished a short book of poetry I’ve been writing over the last 13 months that I’ll be putting out later. In the meantime though I’d like to apologize in advance for upcoming cancellations of shows you’ll be hearing about–I wish I could fulfill those obligations but I won’t be able to Thanks L
How did this not occur sooner? Lana expressed in the past she was inspired by the poet and always had a flair for the melancholic—and paying homage to one of the greatest poets of the 20th century with similar artistic charisma is exciting to see—better late than never I always say! Lana also expressed interest in publishing a poetry book on Beats 1 Radio to Zane Lowe after her debut of Venice Bitch on September 18th.
Let’s take a look at the lyrics together:
I was reading Slim Aarons
And I got to thinking that I thought
Maybe I’d get less stressed, if I was tested less like
All of these debutantes
Smiling for miles in pink dresses and high heels
On white yachts
But I’m not
Baby I’m not
No, I’m not
That I’m not
I’ve been tearing around in my fucking nightgown
24/7, Sylvia Plath
Plath is known for her poetry collections The Colossus (1960), Ariel (1965), The Collected Poems (1982) which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and her first and only novel The Bell Jar (1963). In 2018, The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 2 1956 – 1963 were published.
Image Via Amazon.com
Image Via Poetryfoundation.org
The poet committed suicide at age thirty-one on February 11th, 1963. She would have been eighty-five today.
Image Via Brooklynvegan.com
Hope Is A Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – But I Have it will be released on January 9th.