The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

79%

28 Critic Reviews

The story of her life and times, however, is told with blistering honesty, and a vivid attention to detail. It’s a raw, unsettling book with flashes of brilliance, a roman à clef that’s also a long, tormented footnote to Plath’s tormented poetry.
-Guardian

Synopsis

A Special Paperback Edition to Commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of Sylvia Plath's Remarkable Novel

Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

 

About Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath's best poetry was produced, tragically, as she pondered self-destruction---in her poems as well as her life---and she eventually committed suicide. She had an extraordinary impact on British as well as American poetry in the few years before her death, and affected many poets, particularly women, in the generation after. She is a confessional poet, influenced by the approach of Robert Lowell. Born in Boston, a graduate of Smith College, Plath attended Newnham College, Cambridge University, on a Fulbright Fellowship and married the British poet Ted Hughes. Of her first collection,The Colossus and Other Poems (1962), the Times Literary Supplement remarked, "Plath writes from phrase to phrase as well as with an eye on the larger architecture of the poem; each line, each sentence is put together with a good deal of care for the springy rhythm, the arresting image and---most of all, perhaps---the unusual word." Plath's second book of poetry, Ariel, written in 1962 in a last fever of passionate creative activity, was published posthumously in 1965 and explores dimensions of women's anger and sexuality in groundbreaking new ways. Plath's struggles with women's issues, in the days before the second wave of American feminism, became legendary in the 1970s, when a new generation of women readers and writers turned to her life as well as her work to understand the contradictory pressures of ambitious and talented women in the 1950s. The Bell Jar---first published under a pseudonym in 1963 and later issued under Plath's own name in England in 1966---is an autobiographical novel describing an ambitious young woman's efforts to become a "real New York writer" only to sink into mental illness and despair at her inability to operate within the narrow confines of traditional feminine expectations. Plath was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1982. In recent years, there have been a number of biographies and critical evaluations of Plath's work.
 
Published June 11, 2013 by HarperCollins / Perennial Classics. 320 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Education & Reference, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Biographies & Memoirs, Professional & Technical, Children's Books. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Bell Jar
All: 28 | Positive: 25 | Negative: 3

Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Robert McCrum on May 04 2015

The story of her life and times, however, is told with blistering honesty, and a vivid attention to detail. It’s a raw, unsettling book with flashes of brilliance, a roman à clef that’s also a long, tormented footnote to Plath’s tormented poetry.

Read Full Review of The Bell Jar | See more reviews from Guardian

Examiner

Excellent
Reviewed by Ismael Santos on Oct 25 2012

The neurosis and subsequent breakdown in the novel are told with such vivid clarity that a written review does not do the book justice; Ms. Plath was a poet, and it shines on through with the rhythm of the character's interior monologue throughout the novel.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Lesley McDowell on Jan 06 2013

This 50th anniversary of Plath's classic, which was slightly reviewed when it first appeared, much to her chagrin and despair, is timeless in its bravery and need for the truth. For the Gorgon is still with us.

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Pajiba

Good
Reviewed by TSF on Dec 02 2009

This is difficult for me. I am not sure what or how much to write. This book resonated with me deeply. It has not given me any sort of comfort or resolution. But it has given me something.

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Macleans

Good
Reviewed by Flannery Dean on Sep 29 2011

...Esther, and her crackup, feels true. You don’t have to go crazy like her to be able to relate to the nightmare of being a young woman of surpassing intelligence and average comeliness in a culture that really doesn’t value either much.

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http://www.redpepper.org.uk

Good
Reviewed by Mel Evans on Jun 01 2013

Well, read her, hear her, and share the book with others who might find solace or new understanding in this novel of a young woman’s battle with patriarchy, exquisitely described.

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Teen Ink

Above average
Reviewed by oyabeun on Aug 21 2014

Esther's quirky and eccentric personality and the people she surrounds herself with will entice the readers, lure them into her trap, and brainwash them until they realize that no one in this world is fully sane. Not even themselves.

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Teen Ink

Excellent
Reviewed by Alex S. on Aug 21 2014

Sylvia Plath’s style is truly astonishing; she writes with such intensity and detail that you feel what madness is like. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is up to the challenge of reading an intense classic.

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Teen Ink

Above average
Reviewed by brianna94 on Aug 20 2014

This book greatly affected me because it allowed me to get a full understanding of the pressure placed upon a young woman in the 1950s. I also could relate to Esther's problem with the expectations and requirements of women in that time period.

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Teen Ink

Above average
Reviewed by casey.errr on Aug 20 2014

In the novel, The Bell Jar, written by Sylvia Plath, the overall mood is a cynical one. Plath tells a story about a woman’s coming-of-age, but it does not adopt the typical direction of an adolescent’s development into adulthood.

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http://skrishnasbooks.com

Good
Reviewed by Swapna Krishna on Feb 28 2012

You will likely see yourself mirrored in Esther and wonder how Plath, a woman writing over fifty years ago, could write your emotions in such a pitch-perfect manner. It’s haunting and incredibly done.

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http://www.bookdrum.com

Above average
on Aug 21 2014

...The Bell Jar gives a unique, highly individualistic and enormously readable slant on one individual's experience of emotional breakdown, and on the nature of the society in which that breakdown occurs.

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Jules' Book Reviews

Above average
Reviewed by Jules on Feb 13 2011

Overall the book was okay. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but the overall affect of the story made it worth reading it in the end.

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Literary Exploration

Good
Reviewed by MICHAEL KITTO on Oct 30 2013

I was really impressed with this novel and really enjoyed the journey it took me. I feel like kicking myself for not reading this sooner.

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Reading on a Rainy Day

Good
Reviewed by Athira on Jan 19 2010

The reader always believes the narrator. So when you read first-person beliefs about others out to harass you or others gossiping about you in a corner, it is definitely moving and harrowing.

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The Mookse and the Gripes

Good
Reviewed by Trevor Berrett on Nov 26 2009

When I opened this book, I was surprised at how quickly the story wrapped me up, both because I was compelled by the substance and enchanget by its style. There’s something youthful and poetic about it.

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Reading Matters

Good
Reviewed by kimbofo on Aug 07 2009

Reading The Bell Jar was a rewarding experience, because the main character, Esther Greenwood, was also coming to terms with her place in the world -- or not coming to terms with it, as it turned out. As I read about Esther sliding further and further into depression, I realised my life wasn't so bad after all.

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Where Pen Meets Paper

Good
Reviewed by Donovan on May 25 2012

The Bell Jar offers good prose and an intriguing story. Had Sylvia Plath not mirrored her depressive character in real life, I am not sure if The Ball Jar would receive as high of praise.

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If You Write It

Below average
on Aug 20 2014

The Bell Jar was an interesting read, the depressing personal story told in self obsessed first person. But for me this didn’t really work. Esther was too rational and too self aware at all times. We had to be constantly told that she had a bell jar of depression over her head, as we seldom saw any evidence of it.

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Beth Kephart's Books

Good
Reviewed by Beth Kephart on Jul 05 2013

The words climb over themselves. The scenes see-saw. It is all both naive and awful, artless and poetical, and no one is spared, least of all Esther/Sylvia herself.

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Literary Musings

Good
on Jul 07 2011

The reason The Bell Jar works is because Plath subtly introduces the onset of Ester's mental breakdown and then presents it in a way that makes it seem logical. We aren't watching a girl's decent into insanity from the outside, but rather following her through it.

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https://savidgereads.wordpress.com

Above average
on Aug 07 2009

Yes it’s incredibly dark, there is no mistaking that, but some of it is incredibly witty. I had no idea there would be so much humour in this book.

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Heaful of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Anne Bennett on May 02 2011

So if you haven't read The Bell Jar do I think you should? Yes! The book had me from the first sentence and I think it still has a lot to say to us in the Twenty-first Century.

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Your Move, Dickens

Excellent
Reviewed by Darlyn on Oct 14 2011

While reading The Bell Jar, a strong urge to attack the pages with a highlighter seized me. The beautiful prose made me want to crawl into the pages, and there were so many portions I wanted to memorize.

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Fly High

Good
Reviewed by Maria Grazia on Nov 03 2010

Perhaps the best thing about the book is the fact that the life of Esther is synonymous with what the author, Sylvia Plath, had experienced. Like Esther, Plath had gone through a struggling ordeal in finding the real meaning of life and its hidden uncertainties and her eventual fall into the pit of madness.

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Reclusive Bibliophile

Above average
on Aug 20 2014

The novel ends positively with Esther’s release from the hospital. After constant thoughts of suicide and repeated attempts, she has been rehabilitated, at least temporarily. While there is hope that this might show positive possibilities for those who are suicidal, close reflection on Plath’s own life shows otherwise.

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Booking Through 365

Good
Reviewed by Emma on Mar 06 2012

This is one book where I can't pinpoint my reaction. It's brilliant, well written and it resonates. But the emotion Plath creates is one that lives somewhere deeper than where passion resides. Somewhere a whole lot harder to get at. It's worth reading to see what it inspires in you.

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The Readable Kingdom

Above average
Reviewed by Hannah on Jan 02 2012

It is awfully depressing and dark and I wouldn't say it made me feel like I was on top of the world or anything. But I did realize this before reading the book, and though the end of The Bell Jar embarks a hope for Esther, we all know what Sylvia's fate was and can only imagine what Esther's was as well.

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