Friday, 9 October 2009

The Bell Jar

"Then he just stood there in front of me and I kept on staring at him. The only thing I could think of was turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt very depressed."

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

So, Sylvia Plath, beloved of moody teenage girls since all time. The short autobiography: compulsive A grade all American (if slightly fucked up) girl goes to Cambridge, falls in love with Ted Hughes, has babies, knocks out some genius poems, sticks her head in the gas oven and is turned into feminist martyr forevermore.

I took the Bell Jar very very seriously as a girl, and it is quite a powerful story of someone going off their rocker, written with a poet's feel for language. But reading it as a grownup, it's the black humour I enjoy, and didn't see at all at the time.


  1. Moons ago, I read a lot of Plath biographies, and finally Janet Malcolm's The Silent Woman, which made me distrust all the biographies.
    I was doing work experience for a certain long-standing magazine, and was sent to root through the archives for articles by women. There I discovered a book review which Plath had written shortly before her death, and which sounded nothing, NOTHING like the character created by any of those biographers. Sharp, very sharp, and not one to suffer fools gladly.

    It was a relief to find a sudden whiff of a real person after all that biography claptrap. I've never seen that review mentioned in any literature on Plath, which amuses me as it was about a biography of Byron's wife, whom Plath evidently thought was extremely lame.

  2. That sounds like a very interesting book B, I've just read the review on Amazon. I think she was sharp, and funny. Like you say, it's not the general impression you get of her.

  3. There are some recordings of her reading her poetry for the Beeb and she sounds ferocious.

    Silent Woman is a great book, highly recommanded.

  4. It's an interesting point, actually. The traditional "feminist" portrayal of Plath as some sort of weak victim, and the villification of Ted Hughes. As if she was defined by her husband. When in fact she was master of her own destiny and stuck her head in the oven cos she'd had quite enough of life, thank you very much, and wanted to end it on her terms.

    Love the new blog. Great to have you back Annie.

  5. I read The Bell Jar when I was staying in a hotel in Bangkok with a heroin addict that was my boyfriend at the time. The fear of getting busted by the Thai police and my constant pleading with him to flush it down the loo completely overwhelms my memory of the book and I can't remember if I enjoyed it or not.

    It sits on my book shelf now and every now and then I think of reading it again but cant quite face it.

    On a subject quite apart. Do you, Slammers, think you need to like characters of a book to actually enjoy it? I have just read a book I had been long looking forward to and found there was not one person to like in it and so really didn't enjoy it.

    Glad you're back and around. Want to see you soon but am quite ill at the moment.

  6. Ooh V, do read it, it's very good and entertaining. I can well imagine that scenario is not conducive to concentrating on great literature. Hmm, interesting question. It's not very literary of me, but I do have to like the characters, unless it's very very good satire. What book was it?? I wish you better, hope to see you soon.