Tag: Ted Hughes

sylvia gondola

Sylvia Plath Was Writing a Sequel to ‘The Bell Jar’

In the whole of Sylvia Plath’s career, she only ever published one novel. The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical account of a young woman who suffers from a depressive breakdown after returning home from a prestigious editing internship in New York. The bulk of Plath’s work was devoted to poetry, and the original publication of The Bell Jar was done under a pen name.


Plath did not want the novel’s reception to detract from her poetic legacy, nor did she want the people who made their way into The Bell Jar as characters to become aware of what Plath had written about them. Plath’s concerns were valid, as many readers of The Bell Jar have noted that the people who populate Esther Greenwood’s (Plath’s autobiographical protagonist) world come off as flat, unsympathetic, and even grotesque.



Sylvia Plath

Image via The Wall Street Journal


For Plath to write honestly about illness, she had to honestly describe what illness does to one’s relationships. Esther’s illness renders her unable to thoughtfully engage with the people around her; she harbors hostile feelings for her friends, for her fellow patients at the mental health facility where she stays, and even for her own mother. This cold lack of sympathy has put readers off since the book’s release. We never get to see how a healthy Esther would interact with others, so it is easy to interpret this coldness as a trait, rather than a symptom. But there’s something many readers and Plath fans may not be aware of: Plath never intended for The Bell Jar to be the end of Esther’s story.


Sylvia at her typewriter

Image via The New Yorker


The Bell Jar ends just as Esther is about to stand before a panel of doctors who will determine whether or not she may be released from their care. It appears to be a cliffhanger, but the beginning of the novel holds a clue as to what becomes of Esther. Early in the novel, Esther briefly describes what became of the various gifts she had received as an intern in New York:


For a long time afterward I hid them away, but later, when I was all right again, I brought them out, and I still have them around the house. I use the lipsticks now and then, and last week I cut the plastic starfish off the sunglasses case for the baby to play with.


This simple passage implies that The Bell Jar is written by an older, healthier Esther, who may even be a mother, if “the baby” is meant to be interpreted as her own. This means that there is a significant period of time during which Esther becomes “all right again” to which we are not privy. But historical documents indicate that Plath intended on filling in this gap and showing us Esther’s world through the eyes of her recovery.


Sylvia outdoors

Image via Hallie Shepherd


Plath referred to The Bell Jar as her “an autobiographical apprentice work which I had to write in order to free myself from the past.” To Plath, The Bell Jar was an exercise in catharsis, and one could even say that The Bell Jar’s true purpose was to act as the foundation for the novel on wellness Plath intended to write— it is worth noting that Plath began writing the sequel between when The Bell Jar was accepted for publication and when it was actually published.


Plath’s mother Aurelia was open about her daughter’s unfinished projects, and it is because of Aurelia that we have so much information about the unfinished sequel. She once said that


The companion book [to The Bell Jar] which was to follow this—and I have this all spelled out in letters from her—was to be the triumph of the healed central figure of the first volume and in this the caricatured characters of the first volume were to assume their true identities.


Sylvia Plath with her mother Aurelia and her children

Image via FamousFix


Unfortunately, Plath’s wellness was inextricably tied to her relationship with Ted Hughes. Plath’s marriage to Hughes had a powerful effect on her mental health, and when things in the relationship began to deteriorate, so too, did Plath’s psyche. When Plath discovered that Hughes had been having an affair, she set fire to not only his manuscripts, but hers as well, including what would have been the sequel to The Bell Jar. With the sequel obliterated from existence, Plath began to work on a different novel, one in which the protagonist is betrayed by her unfaithful husband (this version of the novel seems to have disappeared, according to Hughes).


Neither The Bell Jar‘s sequel, nor its permutation were ever released. About a month after the first publication of The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath died by suicide. The novel, or novels, she intended to write would never be.


Sylvia Plath’s legacy as one of the first writers to thoughtfully and honestly write about mental illness has reverberated throughout the reading community ever since its release.


If you, or a loved one is struggling with mental illness, don’t suffer alone. Seek professional help; call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or if you prefer, chat with them online here.


Featured Image Via Sylvia Plath Info

Zelda and Scott FitzGerald

The Top Five Doomed Literary Couples

We were as sad as everyone else to wake up this morning to the news of Anna Faris and Chris Pratt’s separation. Especially since their ‘getting-together’ story involves the adorable revelation that they both had dead-bug collections. So while Hollywood is in mourning, we put together a list of the top five doomed couples of the literary world. 



1. Zelda Sayre and F. Scott FitzGerald. 


FitzGerald, Sayre and their daughter Scottie

Image Courtesy of MentalFloss


This doomed couple of the roaring twenties are one of the most famous literary couples of all time; their relationship and penchant for partying almost as legendary as their work (I say ‘their work’ because, apart from Zelda writing a lesser known novel ‘Save Me The Waltz,’  much of Scott’s famous prose was lifted from Zelda’s diary…) Despite taking direct inspiration from his relationship with Sayre, FitzGerald was furious when ‘Save Me The Waltz’ appeared to divulge details of their relationship. Both parties were unfaithful to one another, with Sayre even accusing FitzGerald of having an affair with Ernest Hemingway. Due to Zelda’s ill health, she lived much of her later life in institutions, and, though the couple never divorced, they were living apart when FitzGerald when he died suddenly in 1940. 



2. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath 


Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

Image Courtesy of YouTube


Plath and Hughes’s relationship is often touted as one of the most dysfunctional in literature, ending with Plath’s suicide in 1963. At this stage, the two were estranged though not divorced. It has been alleged that Hughes’s philandering spurred Plath’s depression and recently, previously-unseen letters from Plath were discovered, accusing Hughes of physical violence towards her. Much of each other’s most famous work is inspired by their relationship including many of Plath’s poems in ‘Ariel,’ and Hughes’s collection ‘Birthday Letters.’



3. Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville West


Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West

Image Courtesy of BrainPickings 


Woolf and Sackville-West met in 1922 when Woolf was forty and Sackville-West thirty. Both were married but had open relationships with their spouses. They instantly formed a bond which lasted until Woolf’s death in 1941, during which time West famously described herself, in what might be one of the most honest, beautiful comments anyone has ever made about love, as ‘reduced to a thing that wants Virginia.’ Though they were not lovers the entire time, they remained important to one another, with Sackville-West penning a heartfelt letter of condolence to Leonard Woolf when Virginia passed away. The relationship between Woolf and Sackville-West was far less tumultuous than some on this list, with the two enjoying a genuine love and respect for each other.



4. Mary Karr and David Foster Wallace 


Mary Karr and David Foster Wallace

Image Courtesy of Flavorwire


Poet Mary Karr and author David Foster Wallace had an affair in the early 90s. Foster Wallace had said before they got together that he had become obsessed with Karr, even tattooing her name on his body, and considering killing her husband. While the two were together, Karr alleged Foster Wallace’s behavior was sometimes violent and erratic. Karr was the inspiration behind Foster Wallace’s most famous work, the sprawling ‘Infinite Jest.’ When Foster Wallace died, Karr penned a deeply moving poem, Suicide’s Note: An Annual, in his honor. 



5. Arthur Rimbaud and Peter Verlaine


Verlaine and Rimbaud

Image Courtesy of Kentishtowner


When poet extraordinaire Arthur Rimbaud was eighteen, he wrote to several poets hoping that one would take him on as an apprentice. He received a positive reply from Verlaine, who sent him a one-way ticket to Paris, accompanied by the message: “Come, dear great soul. We await you; we desire you.” Shortly after Rimbaud arrived, he and Verlaine began a short and disastrous affair, which, after Verlaine had left his young wife and infant son to move to London with Rimbaud, culminated in Verlaine shooting Rimbaud in the wrist in a drunken rage. Verlaine was sentenced to two years in prison and the relationship between the two world renowned poets ended there. Rimbaud’s wrist healed and he went on to become one of the most famous poets in history. 


Featured Image Courtesy of NPR