|A young Sylvia Plath.|
The Bell Jar (1963)
by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar is the original novel about suffering from the perspective of an educated white girl living in the northeast in the latter half of the 20th century. It was also a trailblazer in terms of the direct, factual treatment of mental illness from the perspective of a sufferer. The story of a girl from a northeastern university taking an internship in New York City at a magazine is intimately familiar to anyone who has read a book in the genre of "chick lit" or seen a movie in the last couple decades.
Esther Greenwood is the Plath figure. The Bell Jar is based on her own experience at Mademoiselle magazine and subsequent descent into deep depression. What starts as a fairly frivolous, albeit well observed tale about life for a young-woman-in-new-york-city spirals quickly into despair and institutionalization. The tone throughout stays at pg-13 levels even though The Bell Jar delves into a violent attempted date rape, suicide by slicing one's wrist, and hemorrhaging after losing ones virginity. It's surprising that The Bell Jar made it as a high school English class standard with such dark source material, but Plath manages to skirt the kind of language that would draw offense. There is also the fact that this "fictional" work was so obviously based on Plath's own experience, rendering any concerns about exploitation moot.