Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar‘ was my first ‘grown up’ favourite book. I had grown up with Enid Blyton, The Babysiter’s Club, Sweet Valley High, Goosebumps, Point Horror, Point Romance, etc. Then for GCSE English we had a Sylvia Plath poem (‘Mirror‘) in our anthology. I remembered that she was often referred to in one of my favourite films 10 Things I Hate About You which was released a few years earlier. Kat is one of my favourite film characters (that’s a story for another post) and because she loved Sylvia Plath and was seen reading The Bell Jar in the film, I had to check it out.
It was the first book I read that featured a sole female protagonist and dealt with mental health issues. The first time I read it (aged 15/16), I was haunted by the images of electo-shock therapy. When I re-read it after graduation (aged 23) I was able to relate more to the idea of finishing education and not having a clue what the hell I was going to do with my life. I imagine that if I ever have a daughter and read it again while she is a teenager, I’ll read it on another/different level.
Plath’s work is surrounded in the stigma attached to her ‘real life’. People can’t talk about her without mentioning her tragic suicide or her unhappy marriage (to fellow poet Ted Hughes). And if a teenage girl is seen to be reading The Bell Jar or Ariel, then she is instantly labelled as introverted, depressed, crazy, withdrawn, antisocial, etc. To be fair, I went through a bit of a ‘phase’ at this time, listening to ‘angry chick music’ (basically a lot of Alanis Morissette), but this book has come to symbolise, for me, that period of teenage-hood where you become more self-aware and question what society seems to expect from you.
I read a couple of years ago that The Bell Jar was going to made into a film with Julia Stiles (who coincidentally played Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You and was my favourite actress in the early ’00s) in the leading role. The IMDB page was updated in February of this year and apparently it is still in pre-production with Stiles also producing and co-starring Rose McGowan and Virginia Madsen. I would be interested to see how a feature film release would turn out but there is no credited director as yet. I’d love Sofia Coppola to give it a go as she has made great female-centric films.