Revisiting The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is my favorite book of all time.  This was a re-read of it because I chose it for our January book club.  The best thing about our book club is that we take turns choosing the titles so you can force everyone to read your favorite book and talk about it!  The last time I read it before this reading was in 2001 so I wasn’t sure if I would feel the same way about the novel now that I’m older and not in the same stage of life as the main character.  I’m glad to say that I still adored the book, and it is still my favorite.

The Bell Jar follows Esther Greenwood through a summer internship in Manhattan (in the midst of the execution of the Rosenburgs) for a fashion magazine and through her subsequent mental breakdown and recovery.  I love how the book really describes what it feels like to live life in “in the bell jar” as Plath puts it:

Wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.

I personally have not had to wrestle with mental illness and find it interesting to have such an authentic look at the experience.

I didn’t know before this re-reading exactly how close The Bell Jar is to Plath’s own struggles with mental illness.  It is truly a roman a clef novel.  The edition I picked up had a short biography at the end, and it was so close to the plot of the novel that it’s almost as if she only changed the names.  I have a copy of The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath at home, and I have a renewed interest in reading it now.

If you have not yet read The Bell Jar, I urge you to do so.