The Bell Jar is the only novel by Sylvia Plath, who is best known as a poet. Her novel was published in England in January, 1963, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. Plath committed suicide in February of the same year. Since its publication, The Bell Jar has received steady acclaim. Critics first viewed it as a fine first novel in the style of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951). The Bell Jar was published in the United States in 1971. Critics in the United States also praised the novel. It was a complex psychological portrayal of a young woman of the early 1950’s. Esther Greenwood, in her search for self-determination, is a prototype heroine of the mid-century women’s movement, a movement heralded by the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963.
Plath had written a rough draft of The Bell Jar by 1960, and she won a grant to finish it from the Eugene F. Saxton Foundation. In a letter to her brother, she called the work a “pot-boiler.” Her prose, however, took a turn from the mediocre to the remarkable; her poetry had already taken this turn. The poet Ted Hughes, Plath’s husband, described Plath’s rather sudden change from talent to genius as a “plunge into herself,” into the subjective, the imaginary. That the novel contains so much of “herself” was her reason for publishing it under a pseudonym. She did not want to offend anyone she knew; the characters in the novel had their counterparts in life.
The protagonist, Esther, is a young woman who sees life as if from within a bell jar. Her experiences are askew, not what they are supposed to be. There is always “a worm in the rose.” She has a “perfect” boyfriend, but rather than...
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