I re-read The Bell Jar today.
It was published in 1963, just a month after Sylvia Plath took her own life.
Even through this is a work of fiction, there is an honesty and soul baring truth about what it is like to live with depression and mental illness.
Mental illness, unlike other diseases is not often obvious. There are many who appear on the surface to have it all, but suffer from crippling anxiety and depression.
It’s easy to say “you should get out more” or “get over it”.
Until you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, you can never truly understand their point of view. To live with mental illness is like living with a huge weight on your shoulders. You may appear to be happy, but appearances are often deceiving. The weight is crippling, it sometimes feels as if it will never be lifted from your shoulders.
Sylvia Plath was one of untold many who have taken their own lives due to mental illness. She was also one of the most gifted writers of her generation. Unfortunately, we will never know what other characters and worlds she might have created for our reading pleasure.
In honor of what might have been, I raise a glass to Sylvia Plath, wherever she is. I also raise my glass to those of us whose lives have been overtaken by mental illness. May we find the peace we desire and may we all live to a very old age.
Sylvia Plath is literary legend. Fifty years after her death, her writing is still as powerful as it was during the initial publication.
The Bell Jar is one of her most famous works and one my favorite books. She tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a woman in early 20’s who on the surface appears to have everything one should want or need. And yet underneath, she is slowly disintegrating into madness.
Andrew Wilson’s biography of Sylvia Plath, Mad Girls’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted, takes the reader into the world of the writer before she becomes the literary genius that we know of her today to be.
Sylvia Plath was the daughter of immigrants, hard working, strong and intelligent, but also fighting against the rules that governed women of her generation. Affected by the death of her father during her childhood, Plath was a brilliant writer, but also plagued by bouts of depression and thoughts of suicide.
Andrew Wilson has done his homework, this book is meticulously written. The interviews with her classmates, family members and friends brings the reader into a very intimate and familiar place. Pulling back the curtain on this literary giant, we understand how her early life influenced her writing, her relationships and her eventual suicide at age 30.
It’s always interesting, both as a writer and a reader to get to know a fellow writer, to understand where they come from and how their experiences shape their writing. I enjoyed the book tremendously and I recommend it to anyone who just likes to read.