This August, I travelled to Northern Spain with my family. Instead of flying, we bundled into the car and took the ferry to Santander. The return journey took 24 hours. Two weeks in the sun was fantastic but this particular journey was extremely tedious. In an attempt to occupy myself and distract from the constant swaying of the boat, I had a look in the bookshop and purchased Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I have recently studied Sylvia Plath’s poetry and was intrigued to discover further details, and an intimate account, of her vivid past. I finished the book before the ferry docked and have added it to my list of favourites.
Plath writes about a year in the life of Esther Greenwood, the central character and a reflection of Plath herself. Esther’s breakdown mirrors Plath’s personal struggle. Plath was so concerned about the similarities of her novel to her real life that when she published it in the early 1960s, she used the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. (In the novel Esther explains to her plans to publish an account of her life under a different name.) The novel was not published under Plath’s real name until 1966, three years after her suicide.
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenberg’s, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York”
The novel opens with an image of the Rosenbergs, who were executed by electrocution. This stark imagery provides a basis for what is to come – this subtle ominous undertone is continued until it reaches a crescendo.
What struck me about the novel is its honesty. It doesn’t alter the experiences in order to make her illness more or less dramatic. The Bell Jar offers a unique insight into the mind of someone experiencing madness which I believe is what made it so difficult to put down.
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”