Tag: Sylvia Plath

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!



5 Authors and Their Crazy Hobbies

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

 

Image Via For Reading Addicts and Women’s Voices For Change

 

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

 

Image Via TakeLessons.com and Wikipedia

 

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

 

Image Via 3 Quarks Daily and Nautilus | Science Connected

 

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

 

Image Via wcjb.com and Georgia Humanities

 

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.

 

 

Sylvia Plath: Newly Discovered Short Story Now Available

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

Lana Del Rey Pays Homage to Sylvia Plath in New Song

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:

 

[Snippet/Verse]

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

 

[Chorus]

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.

 

 

Featured Image Via NME.com
'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green

The 6 Steps to NaNoWriMo Success, as Told by Your Favorite Authors

It’s time for National Novel Writing Month, a hellish and delightful month-long exercise for writers of all skill levels and prior experience. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of fiction by the end of November, creating a bit more every day (1,667 words, to be exact). The outcome of NaNoWriMo is often a mix of joy and incredible frustration. Here are six pieces of serious advice from famous classic and contemporary authors to help get you through every step of the NaNoWriMo process.

 

1. Let your favorite books inspire you.

 

Horror novels by Stephen King

Image Via sheknows.com

 

Superstar horror novelist Stephen King, author of hits like It and The Shining, considers the relationship between writing and reading to be quite serious: “if you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” In fact, reading does make you a better writer— not necessarily because it makes you ‘more educated.’ In fact, many famous novelists never earned a college degree. By understanding the things you like best in your favorite stories (a richly realized setting, efficient pacing, possibly dragons), you can seek to recreate those elements in your own work. It’s not plagiarism to love in-depth character development.

 

2. Research your topic.

 

Research

Image Via oregoncenterfornursing.org

 

Few authors ever write the proverbial ‘Great American Novel,’ but many believe that classic writer and humorist Mark Twain is one of these few. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn author advises: “get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” While you don’t need to, say, drop everything and move to London to write your WWII period piece, you should also know more about WWII than to say for sure it happened. Make sure you have insight into the small details of the places, times, and circumstances you address— even if you feel familiar with them already! Others may share your experiences but feel differently about them. You may also find that immersing yourself in the mood and tone of a topic can make your work more atmospheric. 

 

3. Ignore your self-doubt.

 

Ignoring self-doubt to write your novel

Image Via npr.org

 

Sylvia Plath, literary icon and author of The Bell Jar, cautions against the self-doubt that can spell the sad ending of a writer’s dreams: “everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” No matter the scope of your project (sweeping epic fantasy) or the difficulty of the subject matter (devastating political crisis), there’s only one thing that determines whether your novel gets written. Spoiler alert! It’s you. Bonus: if you write with self-confidence, your novel will have a stronger and clearer narrative voice. Take control of your feelings and your work— they both belong to you.

 

4. Accept that you might need ‘warm-up’ time.

 

Writer writing

Image Via videoblocks.com

 

If J.K. Rowling, international celebrity author of the Harry Potter series, needs to warm up… don’t feel bad about needing the same thing! She writes:

 

 

“You have to resign yourself to the fact that you waste a lot of trees before you write anything you really like, and that’s just the way it is. It’s like learning an instrument, you’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot, ‘cause I wrote an awful lot before I wrote anything I was really happy with.”

 

First drafts are more than just mistakes to be rewritten— they’re actually a necessary part of the process. If you’re a new writer just starting out, every sentence you despise is just the next step towards a sentence that you love. The only way out of the self-hate spiral is through it!

 

5. Consider your words.

 

Notebook and other writing supplies

Image via independent.co.uk

 

So you’ve gotten to the most important part of writing your novel— writing it. Conveniently, this part is usually also the hardest. It’s a challenge to be objective about your own work, and while it’s easy to tell whether or not you’re meeting the word count, it can be substantially less easy to tell whether or not the words are what you hoped they would be. George Orwell, classic author of 1984 and Animal Farm, has a series of blunt but helpful questions:

 

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 

1. What am I trying to say? 
2. What words will express it? 
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? 

And he will probably ask himself two more: 
1. Could I put it more shortly? 
2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? 

 

6. Finish the story.

 

Writer with laptop and coffee

Image Via pixabay.com

 

While the Internet is full of awesome writers’ resources, too much of a good thing can turn into a thing that distracts the absolute [email protected]#$ out of you. The purpose of something like a character sheet isn’t to help you end up with a filled-out character sheet. The point is to end up with a complete character… who then lives inside a complete story. As John Green, celebrity author of heart-wrenching novels Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, so eloquently puts it: “go spit in the face of our inevitable obsolescence and finish your @#$&ng novel.” You can find this wisdom and the rest of his NaNoWriMo pep talk here for advice, inspiration, and blatant common sense.

 

One last piece of blatant common sense: always save your drafts!

 

 

Featured Image Via bustle.com