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Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar [Aug. 8th, 2005|11:38 pm]


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Victoria Lucas wrote this fictional novel, but it is based on Sylvia Plath’s real life. Which makes sense, considering Victoria Lucas is only a pseudonym for Plath. This is the closest anyone will ever get of an actual Plath autobiography, which is sad, because The Bell Jar ends leaving many questions unanswered.

Plath’s own scholarship was at Mademoiselle Magazine, where she was a guest editor for a month. Esther’s patron, Philomena Guinea, is based on Plath’s own patron, Olive Higgins Prouty, best known for writing Stella Dallas and Now, Voyager. The individual who was the character base for Joan later sued after the book was published under Plath’s real name following her suicide. The court ruled in her favor that she was unfairly branded as gay in the novel. Esther’s suicide attempt is a mirror image of one of Plath’s own. Both the main character and the author under went electroshock therapy, which also links the protagonist with the Rosenbergs, who Ester refers to in the opening, reflecting on their execution in the electric chair. Coincidently, Plath left two children behind after her suicide, as did the Rosenbergs.

Its disturbing to read the Bell Jar, knowing how true to life it is and what happens to Esther in real life. Plath continues to be an enigma and the Bell Jar does not offer any insight into who she really was. It is difficult to connect to Esther Greenwood. She follows through life, disconnected, winning awards for her writing and flying through college on scholarship. Eventually, she wins a chance to spend a summer working at a New York magazine. Her first friend is Doreen, a “dirty common slag” that Esther would rather not associate with but wants to emulate. Losing her virginity to punish her boyfriend Buddy Willard for losing his becomes an obsession for her. Not that she really loves or even wants Buddy to be her boyfriend. Unfortunately, she feels that she is unable to leave him once he is diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a sanatorium.

The novel is going along well until Esther is sent home. Up until this point, the character is realistic and sympatic. However, once she moves back home, her motives become unclear. Mental illness, depression included, is always unclear, but it is difficult to understand Esther. Before, the reader felt as if they were experiencing all this with her, as if they were there. Afterwards, we are just watching her go through things, not really getting a chance to feel what she feels. Esther, upon returning home, suffers insomnia and sees a psychiatrist who gives her electroshock therapy. Esther makes several suicide attempts, the final being when she crawls into a cellar and swallows 50 sleeping pills. She is sent to a mental hospital, where is meets and makes new friends, including Joan.

The Bell Jar reads as two books. The first book is a character study of a young girl in New York. I enjoyed this half. The second half is a confusing mess. However, it is not bad. As two separate books, both would stand on their own and would be very good. However, the tie between is leak and together, two excellent books become a merely good one.