“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath has its 40th anniversary of its American publication this year, Sylvia Plath’s YA novel reaches middle age. by Emily Gould
It’s always interesting when a very strange book is also an enduringly popular book. The Bell Jar has sold more than three million copies and is a mainstay of American high school English classes; it was made into a movie in 1979, and another version, starring Julia Stiles, is currently in production. Like The Catcher in the Rye, it is a touchstone for a certain kind of introspective, moody teenager—the kind of teenager who used to listen to the Cure and, later on, Tori Amos, and who these days listens to—actually I have no idea, but she definitely has a blog. (There are an amazing variety of embarrassing shrines to The Bell Jar online.) Unlike Catcher, it also has other sources of partisan support: feminists of the 1970s claimed Plath as a martyred patron saint of repressive domesticity, and mental illness advocates have found in her work easily identifiable symptoms and syndromes that were misdiagnosed and barbarically treated.
it has been a while since I read ‘The Bell Jar”. It was in some kind of special edition called the Collected Works of Sylvia Plath or something like that. It’s in a box somewhere or I might have given it to someone. There is a PDF version on-line.I do not remember being particularly moved by it in the way I was moved by say Look Homeward Angel, which I read around the same time. Though as I reread a few pages of the pdf it reminded by how much I admired Plath’s peculiar and artful eye for detail. It was at a time that I suffered from writer’s envy. I would say something about the feminist aspects of her work, but frankly I just did not absorb ‘The Bell Jar” or her poems through a feminist lens. I generally dislike, as most people do, the idea of someone, male or female, living a repressed life or not being able to escape the cloak of despair that permeates their thoughts. Plath was severe in her judgement of other women, though she was not without compassion.
This kind of detail impressed me. It suggested a whole life of marvelous, elaborate decadence that attracted me like a magnet.
The only thing Doreen ever bawled me out about was bothering to get my assignments in by a deadline.
“What are you sweating over that for?” Doreen lounged on my bed in a peach silk dressing gown, filing her long, nicotine-yellow nails with an emery board, while I typed
up the draft of an interview with a best-selling novelist.
That was another thing — the rest of us had starched cotton summer nighties and quilted housecoats, or maybe terrycloth robes that doubled as beachcoats, but Doreen
wore these full-length nylon and lace jobs you could half see through, and dressing gowns the color of skin, that stuck to her by some kind of electricity. She had an interesting, slightly sweaty smell that reminded me of those scallopy leaves of sweet fern you break off and crush between your fingers for the musk of them.
“You know old Jay Cee won’t give a damn if that story’s in tomorrow or Monday.” Doreen lit a cigarette and let the smoke flare slowly from her nostrils so her eyes were veiled. “Jay Cee’s ugly as sin,” Doreen went on coolly. “I bet that old husband of hers turns out all the lights before he gets near her or he’d puke otherwise.”
Jay Cee was my boss, and I liked her a lot, in spite of what Doreen said. She wasn’t one of the fashion magazine gushers with fake eyelashes and giddy jewelry. Jay
Cee had brains, so her plug-ugly looks didn’t seem to matter.
This passage has the kind of carefully grafted detail that I remember envying.
Remember teanut presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum signing pledge by the Family Leader that read,
Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.
This article sets the record straight – Putting an Antebellum Myth to Rest
However, this was not a harmless gaffe; it represents a resurfacing of a pro-slavery view of “family values” that was prevalent in the decades before the Civil War. The resurrection of this idea has particular resonance now, because it was 150 years ago, soon after the war began, that the government started to respect the dignity of slave families. Slaves did not live in independent “households”; they lived under the auspices of masters who controlled the terms of their most intimate relationships.
Back in 1860, marriage was a civil right and a legal contract, available only to free people. Male slaves had no paternal rights and female slaves were recognized as mothers only to the extent that their status doomed their children’s fate to servitude in perpetuity. To be sure, most slaves did all that they could to protect, sustain and nurture their loved ones. Freedom and the love of family are the most abiding themes that dominate the hundreds of published narratives written by former slaves.
Though slaves could not marry legally, they were allowed to do so by custom with the permission of their owners — and most did. But the wedding vows they recited promised not “until death do us part,” but “until distance” — or, as one black minister bluntly put it, “the white man” — “do us part.” And couples were not entitled to live under the same roof, as each spouse could have a different owner, miles apart. All slaves dealt with the threat of forcible separation; untold numbers experienced it first-hand.
Pygmallion by Paul Delvaux,1939 Huile sur Bois oil on wood. Delvaux was a Belgian Surrealist painter and a colleague of Rene Magritte. I have a few of his paintings in jpeg. I especially liked this one because it reminds me of Magritte – the man in the bowler hat and the woman with lettuce for hair. It is based on the Greek myth not the play by George Bernard Shaw.
Solitude by Paul Delvaux 1956 Huile sur Panneau oil on panel. It was amazing how his style evolved. This one, 17 years after Pygmallion is more architectural and the lone human figure is like looking at a Gothic inspired Edward Gory illustration.