September 10, 2006

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Classic Literature
Finished 9/6/06
Rating: B+ (7/10 Good)

I became intrigued by Sylvia Plath after watching Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of the famous poet in the biopic, Sylvia. After watching the movie, I stumbled upon a copy of Letters Home: Correspondence, 1950-1963 in a local used bookstore and spent several weeks reading through Plath’s letters to her mother, brother (Warren) and Mrs. Prouty (Sylvia’s benefactress) during her university years and subsequent life married to poet Ted Hughes. I never finished the book, but my interest in Plath has remained strong.

I was a little worried about finally reading The Bell Jar for my Back-To-School Classic Challenge. I didn’t want to experience the same disappointment I’d recently felt after reading a much-hyped Fahrenheit 451 and I wasn’t sure if the subject matter would prove to be too depressing.

Neither concern was realized, as I found The Bell Jar very readable and quite illuminating of Plath’s personal struggles with depression. Plath does little to disguise the identity of her characters in this fine novel, which is very much an autobiographical work about a young woman dealing with severe depression, suicidal tendencies and, ultimately, a complete breakdown.

Favorite passages:

There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: “I’ll go take a hot bath.”


The day I went into physics class it was death.

A short dark man with a high lisping voice, named Mr. Manzi, stood in front of the class in a tight blue suit holding a little wooden ball. He put the ball on a steep grooved slide and let it run down to the bottom. Then he started talking about let a equal acceleration and let t equal time and suddenly he was scribbling letters and numbers and equal signs all over the blackboard and my mind went dead.

I haven’t read anything else by Plath, but I’d like to take a look at her Ariel poems and perhaps a biography about her life after she and Ted were married. Until then, I plan to watch Sylvia again, now that I’ve learned more about the writer’s life since my first viewing. I considered renting The Bell Jar, but the reviews are terrible so I’ll sit tight. Options rights for a re-make were purchased by Julia Stiles and IMDB shows a 2008 “in development” date, so we shall see. Could be good!


  1. Oh, wow, I'm going to have to read this one. Love the quote about baths; they're my panacea, too. :)

  2. Hi Les,
    It's true. The 1979 movie The Bell Jar is a real stinker. Totally miscast, script problems...you name it. I didn't know that there's the possibility of a remake. Here's hoping.

  3. I keep meaning to read this one. Amanda (At the Blog Jar) loves this book. I will have to try to fit it in soon. But I say that a lot.

    And I dearly love a hot bath too. I do some of my best reading in there.

  4. Nancy - It really is very readable. Have you seen the movie, Sylvia? Ah! I need to add it to my queue at Netflix.

    Bybee - Thanks for the confirmation about the '79 version of The Bell Jar. I think I'll hold out for the remake.

    Heather & Nancy - I love reading in the tub, too, but alas, this old house of ours doesn't have a decent tub so I've had to forgo such pleasure for over 6 years now! In one of our other homes, I used to take a bath EVERY night. It was one way to warm up (I wasn't used to the Nebraska winters yet) and a great place to unwind with a book. Oh, and btw, Heather, The Bell Jar is a quick read. I'm sure you can squeeze it in sometime between your RIP challenge and House. ;)

  5. I saw "Sylvia" too and couldn't get the poet off my mind for weeks after that. How sad to have been so tormented.

    Thank you for your review, you have tempted me to go look for a library copy of "The Bell Jar".

  6. Lotus - You're welcome! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It's strange how I'm curious/drawn to both Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. The Hours and Sylvia are two of my favorite movies of late, yet I'm not a depressed, suicidal woman myself!! Wonder what intrigues me about these two?

  7. I love how the novel is full of beautiful observations of everyday events that hold deeper meanings, one of my favourite is when the narrator decides to drink vodka straight because it looks so pure and clear.

  8. Kim, I thought that was an interesting detail, myself! I'm not a fan of vodka (prefer bourbon) and thought it was an odd reason to drink the vile stuff!

    Thanks for visiting my blog. :)

  9. I should watch Sylvia, I'm glad you suggested it!

  10. Tara - I thought it was quite good. I really like Gwyneth Paltrow, though.


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