Study Guide

The Bell Jar

by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar Essay - Critical Overview

Critical Overview

Two years before Sylvia Plath published The Bell Jar, her collection of poetry The Colossus opened to some good reviews, particularly in the United States. That Plath published The Colossus under her own name but published The Bell Jar under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas meant the reviewers would judge the latter on its own merits. Of course, the original critics of The Bell Jar did note that its author was the estranged wife of Ted Hughes, who was becoming a successful poet in his own right.

Some early reviews were encouraging. Robert Taubman, in a New Statesman article, called The Bell Jar "a clever first novel ... The first feminine novel ... in the Salinger mood," referring to J D. Salinger's famous novel Catcher in the Rye and some of his shorter work. Laurence Lerner in The Listener praised the book as "brilliant and moving," while Rupert Butler, in Time and Tide, found the book "terribly likeable" and "astonishingly skillful." All three critiques were published in January 1963, less than a month before Plath's suicide. By 1966, The Bell Jar had been published in England under Plath's real name.

Many latter reviews compared The Bell Jar to Plath's posthumous collection of poetry, Ariel. C. B. Cox in a 1966 review for Critical Quarterly believed "the novel seems a first attempt to express mental states which eventually found a more appropriate form in poetry." However, Robert Scholes, writing for The New York Times Book Review, called The Bell Jar "a fine novel, as bitter and remorseless as her last poems." Like many other critics, he compared The...

(The entire section is 691 words.)