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Bell Jar [Audiobook] [Audio Cassette]

Sylvia Plath
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 16 1997
"Esther Greenwood's account of her years in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing - [this] is not a potboiler, nor a series of ungrateful caricatures; it is literature."
-The New York Times

"McDormand gives a sensitive, intimate performance. Herdry, ironic tone, covering up for an undercurrent of fear, perfectly capturesthe character of Esther."
-Billboard Magazine

The Bell Jar is a classic of American literature, with over two million copies sold in this country. This extraordinary work chronicles the crackup of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, successful -- but slowly going under, and maybe for the last time. Step by careful step, Sylvia Plath takes us with Esther through a painful month in New York as a contest-winning junior editor on a magazine, her increasingly strained relationships with her mother and the boy she dated in college, and eventually, devastatingly, into the madness itself. The reader is drawn into her breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies.

Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is rare in any novel. It points to the fact that The Bell Jar is a largely autobiographical work about Plath's own summer of 1953, when she was a guest editor at Mademoiselle and went through a breakdown. It reveals so much about the sources of Sylvia Plath's own tragedy that its publication was considered a landmark in literature.

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"Esther Greenwood's account of her years in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing - [this] is not a potboiler, nor a series of ungrateful caricatures; it is literature." -- The New York Times

"Frances McDormand is a fabulous reader, alternating between the narrator's breathy whisper and the other characters' stronger personalities" -- The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Frances McDormand's recording….is spellbinding" -- People

"McDormand gives a sensitive, intimate performance. Herdry, ironic tone, covering up for an undercurrent of fear, perfectly capturesthe character of Esther." -- Billboard Magazine

From the Publisher

A vulnerable young girl wins a dream assignment on a big-time New York fashion magazine and finds herself plunged into a nightmare. An autobiographical account of Sylvia Plath's own mental breakdown and suicide attempt, The Bell Jar is more than a confessional novel, it is a comic but painful statement of what happens to a woman's aspirations in a society that refuses to take them seriously... a society that expects electroshock to cure the despair of a sensitive, questioning young artist whose search for identity becomes a terrifying descent toward madness.

"A fine novel, as bitter and remorseless as her last poems -- the kind of book Salinger's Fanny might have written about herself ten years later, if she had spent those ten years in Hell." -- Robert Scholes, The New York Times Book Review.

"By turns funny, harrowing, crude, ardent and artless. Its most notable quality is an astonishing immediacy, like a series of snapshots taken at high noon." -- Time.

"A special poignance... a special force, a humbling power, because it shows the vulnerability of people of hope and good will." -- Newsweek. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent June 4 2007
By kimmy
The Bell Jar deals with many of the political and social issues of the 1950s, such as life within an anti-communist country. However, in my opinion, the most pressing issue is the conflicting view of female sexuality. In the novel, Sylvia Plath presents many different types of stereotypical women ranging from the then strongly encouraged role of a devoted housewife, to the sexually permissive female characters, to the successful career centered type woman. Esther Greenwood, like many girls going through adolescence, has a difficult choice to make: which type of women should she become, while having to keep in mind the sacrifices she will have to make for either paths of her life? What makes this interesting is how each one of these woman represents a different type of female empowerment and has come to influence Esther's perception in one way or another.

Sylvia Plath uses powerful imagery throughout the novel to help the reader gain a better understanding of the intense emotions a young woman goes through while trying to find her identity. I recommend this novel to all women, as it addresses many relatable issues women face when living under the current complex societal values and pressures.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Esther Greenwood, a college student from Massachusetts wins a dream assignment, with eleven other students, on a big New York fashion magazine. Esther is vulnerable and impressionable and is unable to enjoy her assignment; some of her experiences frighten and disorient her. Esther does not fit in with either of her friends: the rebellious Doreen or the conformist Betsy.

Returning home, Esther finds that she has not been accepted into a writing course she applied for, and this leads her to consider what choices she has in life. Thus begins a descent into depression, and a very personal form of madness.

It is easy to see autobiographical parallels with Sylvia Plath's own life. Perhaps too easy, and this can detract from a broader message of identity and belonging, which so many of us experience and can relate to. I first read part of this novel as a teenager, almost 40 years ago. I read it then as an autobiographical novel which, while it raised many of the questions I was considering myself, had no comfortable answers. Coming back to the novel now, I see that I wasn't looking past the tragedy of Sylvia Plath's own death to appreciate the writing for its own sake. While Ms Plath took her own life at age 30, that this was a (tragic) choice, not an inevitable outcome.

So, why read this novel now? It was published almost 50 years ago and while aspects of the setting reflect that, the underlying search for identity and purpose are timeless. For me, this is a novel worth reading twice.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good Read Dec 30 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was a gift for my daughter for Christmas and what she asked for and so it was the perfect gift.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By Gogs
Don't be put off by the book's reputation as the story of a depressed not-quite-a-woman-not-a-girl protagonist--and certainly don't be put off by the fact that Sylvia Plath died very soon after writing the book. Although she is known primarily for her poetry, I've often thought that Bell Jar captured both her skill as a sharp poetess, but also her lesser-known sense of humor. The Bell Jar involves suicide attempts and mental institutions, but more importantly, it doesn't dwell on tragedy so much as cut through it. Plath's photographic depiction of what it is like to be thrust into adulthood and all the other things that aren't in childhood are equally important and remind the reader that the things that we experience are neither so beautiful nor ugly as they are absurd.
Whether or not you've ever been depressed, the Bell Jar captures not only the fear of nothing ever changing, but also the greater fear of things being different, twin processes which are, to me, at the heart of depression.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read July 11 2010
A different sort of story to read these days; old traditional ways, and the non-acceptance of depression. A dark read, but also interesting.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A look a depression Sept. 25 2009
A clasic I recomend reading. if you didn't already know plath published this book under a sudo name and two weeks later committed suicide. It is a very close look at depression and what it would be like to live in a mental institution. It is very sad that she never got to see the great sucsess of her one and only novel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating and Real April 6 2004
Read it through in less than a few days and could not, would not put it down. The Bell Jar allowed me to see into the depth of the character's feelings and mind. Well written and wonderfully deep. Her gift of talent to the reader haunts.
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5.0 out of 5 stars bell jar June 21 2003
i thought this book was really good because it showed the world through Ester's eyes. Some poeple say that it is just a depressing book, but they have obivously never been depressed. I have read this book several times and I will continue to read it.
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