Friday Reads: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.

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The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath has fascinated me ever since my sister bought me her only work of fiction, The Bell Jar, aged fifteen. I was in awe of her stark, matter-of-fact prose, which was so different from the over-descriptive and stylized writing of the Victorian fiction I’d been reading at the time. A coming-of-age story of sorts, The Bell Jar follows the life of Esther Greenwood as she traverses the leap from adolescence to adulthood. Often an overwhelming and confusing world, Esther battles for autonomy over her life and her mental health. Slipping in and out of hospital, Esther struggles to gain control of her life as she seeks to carve out an existence for herself, which is free from the constraints of mid-twentieth-century patriarchal society in America.

In many ways, The Bell Jar mirrors much of Sylvia Plath’s own experiences with mental health. At times, Plath’s observations can be wry and funny, and at other times she is so brutally honest, not shying away from the sinister emotions that threaten to overtake her completely. This confessional nature – which was so new to me at the time – sparked my interest in the relationship between the writer and their work. It took on such a personal tone, especially with its ‘semi-autobiographical’ label, and made me realise how important and present the writer can be. However, I can’t help but try to form these links between fact and fiction in much of the writing and the writers that I read. I am forever fascinated by the lives of female writers, especially those who don’t conform to societal norms, like Sylvia Plath herself. Although there are huge debates about whether the writer’s personal life should be taken into account when reading their fiction, this is something I find very difficult to separate, which may be a downfall in limiting my reading experience.

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The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s only novel. A work of semi-autobiographical fiction, The Bell Jar was originally published in 1963 under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas”, just a month before Sylvia Plath committed suicide. It was published under Plath’s name for the first time in 1967.

 

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