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The Bell Jar
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Previous Reads: Fiction > The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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message 1: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 4 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Our group read for June is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


Blurb
Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things - grades, boyfriend, looks, career - and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Highly readable, witty and disturbing, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath's only novel and was originally published under a pseudonym in 1963. What it has to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women, is as sharply relevant today as it has always been.


Author (wikipedia)
Sylvia Plath (/plæθ/; October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer. Born in Boston, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College at the University of Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a poet and writer. She was married to fellow poet Ted Hughes from 1956 until they separated in September 1962.* They lived together in the United States and then in England and had two children, Frieda and Nicholas. Plath was clinically depressed for most of her adult life, which was treated multiple times with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). She committed suicide in 1963.
Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for her two published collections, The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. She also wrote The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death. In 1982, she won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems.

*Louise's note: The marriage was super awful and so was Ted Hughes, who destroyed a lot of Plath's unpublished writings after her death and, it was confirmed in some of Plath's recently emerged letters to her doctor, domestically and emotionally abused her. [source]


message 2: by Tamara (last edited Jun 06, 2017 10:03AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 638 comments I read this a few months ago and enjoyed it. Plath skillfully immerses us in Esther's life and world view. The knowledge that Sylvia Plath took her own life shortly after the novel's publication made it particularly poignant.

My review on goodreads
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Isabelle (iamaya) | 98 comments I agree it is a very poignant book, the prose is beautiful although sometimes a little bit difficult to understand and I had to reread many parts since everything is seen through Esther's eyes. Her vision of the world can sometimes be uncanny but it also sounds so truthful to her. I felt she was totally unveiling herself, not concealing anything from the reader, which made it a very honest reading.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 638 comments Isabelle wrote: "I felt she was totally unveiling herself, not concealing anything from the reader, which made it a very honest reading. ."

I agree completely. At times I think she was painfully honest.


message 5: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 1 comments "the prose is beautiful although sometimes a little bit difficult to understand and I had to reread many parts"

I also found the book difficult to understand and was confused a lot and that made it harder to enjoy the book. I read it about a month ago, and now that I've had a chance to process it a little more, I appreciate it more than I did when I was reading it.


Jeanne | 38 comments We haven't talked much about the Bell Jar. Several people talked about the difficulties in understanding some parts. Depression is often difficult to understand, especially when there are paranoid and probably psychotic aspects to her experience.

What most struck me is how talented Esther was and how limited her prospects. How could one not be depressed?

My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 7: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 4 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
I finished a few days ago and haven't been sure how to rate it - I eventually settled on 3.5 stars (rounded up on goodreads system)

In many ways I found it very relatable. I am prone to bouts of depression that severely impacts my day to day life and many of Esther's thoughts were thoughts I have experienced myself - especially the fig tree metaphor and feelings of wasted potential and inadequacy.

But then in many ways it's so much a product of its time that a lot of Esther's preoccupations were completely unrelatable to me. The obsession with virginity in particular. It was fascinating/horrible to see just how much preconceived societal gender roles fed into Esther's depression and made it that much worse. Of course they still go on today (and I still receive baffled looks when I casually mention I have no interest in either marriage of kids) but the rigidity of the 1950s social structure must have made it so much worse.

I do also have to say that while Esther was often relatable and I felt sympathy/outrage for her situation I did not like her very much. The way she treats the other interns at the beginning of the book is just too uncaring for me to ever like her.


Jeanne | 38 comments Louise wrote: "I do also have to say that while Esther was often relatable and I felt sympathy/outrage for her situation I did not like her very much. The way she treats the other interns at the beginning of the book is just too uncaring for me to ever like her."

Yes, this is an issue I'm having with both books this month. I didn't like Esther – and not just her depression – and am running hot and cold on the characters in Secret History.


Cath Lyders | 1 comments I read this book in two days - I just kept getting drawn back to it! I think it's one of those books that will stay with me for a while. I have lots of questions though....


Isabelle (iamaya) | 98 comments Jeanne wrote: "Louise wrote: "I do also have to say that while Esther was often relatable and I felt sympathy/outrage for her situation I did not like her very much. The way she treats the other interns at the be..."

Personally, I don't feel that Esther is a character to be loved. She has her defects due to her situation and the way I see it, she was not meant to be loved since she tries to withdraw from the world. I don't necessarily look for loveable characters when reading a book but characters that I can understand. I found Esther's situation very difficult to understand because maybe I've never had to face depression but at the same time so honest that I felt sympathy for her.


Kairia Depression can make you an extremely unlikable person. During some of the worst years of having depression, I didn't have any friends because I looked down on my peers and pushed others away, finding them annoying, inferior, and worthless, even though I struggled every day with crippling loneliness.

Esther being unlikable is a rather honest depiction of how depression can create social barriers.


message 12: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 4 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
True. I can be awful when my depression kicks in (though never that awful, that I would abandon a drunk friend in a dodgy situation. I just tended to slowly lose them from being too scared of bothering people to initiate contact).

And I agree, I don't think the book would work half as well if Esther had been cast as a wonderful person who everyone could like and likeable characters are not something I necessarily look for in a book either. Esther being a bit awful is one of the things that makes her interesting and realistic.


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