Archives for posts with tag: Sylvia Plath

Part of the London Literature Festival, I attended a very moving performance of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel¬†at the Southbank Centre yesterday.

Plath died 50 years ago, leaving a final collection of poems that became the posthumous collection Ariel.

At this performance, 40 female performers and poets read one poem each from the restored edition of the final unedited manuscript. Plath’s daughter Frieda Hughes introduced the evening.

It was a very special performance for many reasons, not least the poems, some of which, for example Cut, Lady Lazarus and Daddy (which we heard being read by Plath herself) were very familiar, but others less so. One of these was Tulips, read wonderfully and movingly by Juliet Stevenson, which utterly gripped me.

From Tulips:

‘The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.

Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in

I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly

As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.

I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.

I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses

And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to the surgeons…’

‘…My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water

Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.

They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.’

CQ

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