Sylvia Plath -- The Bell Jar

Cover of the Paperback edition by Windstone

Sylvia Plath was an excellent poet but is known to many for this largely autobiographical novel which was first published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The Bell Jar has become a classic of American literature.
The book is based on her own experience yet one has to be careful not to confuse this novel with an autobiography, it has been written with a certain audience and effect in mind, 10 years after the actual events.


Esther, an A-student from Boston who has won a guest editorship on a national magazine, finds a bewildering new world at her feet. Her New York life is crowded with possibilities, so that the choice of future is overwhelming, but she can no longer retreat into the safety of her past. Deciding she wants to be a writer above all else, Esther is also struggling with the perennial problems of morality, behaviour and identity. In this compelling autobiographical novel, a milestone in contemporary literature, Sylvia Plath chronicles her teenage years - her disappointments, anger, depression and eventual breakdown and treatment - with stunning wit and devastating honesty. --Penguin Books


  • A summary and analysis of the chapters can be found online int he Classic Notes at GradeSaver.
  • Sparknotes also provides detailed summaries of the chapters and character analysis as well as context information.
  • Peter Steinberg's Plath site has a detailed plot summary
  • A superficial comparison of Esther and Sylvia Plath
  • read an interview with Aurelia Plath, Sylvia's mother, about the publication of The Bell Jar, her opinion on how autobiographical it is, and why she published Letters Home, at The NY Times (you need to register but it's free).


    "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. --Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

    "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.

    cover of the 25th Ann. Edition by Harpercollins 1996