It is 50 years since Sylvia Plath published her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, originally under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, in 1963. The book has never been out of print. The front cover has seen many guises, however, with the current one above, and that from my copy purchased a few years ago, below:

Irrespective of the cover, the content remains reassuringly the same. I have read it probably 5 times, not because it is a great novel, but because there has always been something essential about it for me.

If you have not read it, I truly recommend it. I am not about to summarise the plot or the background, but I will draw your attention to the title, a bell jar signifying entrapment, being kept within, imprisoned:

‘To the person in a bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.’

Thus reflects Esther, the main protagonist in the novel, as she leaves the asylum in the last chapter, and realises that forgetting is not an option: memories are a part of her, ‘my landscape.’

When Esther first arrives at ‘Doctor Gordon’s private hospital’:

‘What bothered me was that everything about the house seemed normal, although I knew it must be chock-full of crazy people. There were no bars on the windows that I could see, and no wild or disquieting noises.’

There was no going back after Esther’s experiences, from what she had witnessed and lived through. She could not, as her mother wished, dismiss it all as a bad dream.

This is not a book whose passages you memorise, but there are some that resonate and stick:

‘The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.’

CQ

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