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The Bell Jar

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The Bell Jar
  The Bell Jar   by Sylvia Plath Biographical Note by Lois Ames / Drawings by Sylvia Plath eVersion 3.0 / Notes at EOF    Back Cover:  SIX MONTHS IN A YOUNG WOMAN'S LIFE. "The Bell Jar is a novel about the events of Sylvia Plath's twentieth year; about how she tried to die, and how they stuck her together with glue. It is a fine novel, as bitter and remorseless as her last poems -- the kind of book Salinger's Franny 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 "A special poignance. . . a special force, a humbling power, because it shows the vulnerability of people of hope and good will." --  Newsweek "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. The story, scarcely disguised autobiography, covers six months in a young girl's life, beginning when she goes to New York to serve on a fashion magazine's college-editorial board. It ends when she emerges from a mental hospital after a breakdown." -- Martha Duffy, Time  "Sylvia Plath's only novel is a deceptively modest, uncommonly fine piece of work. . . A sharp and memorable poignancy. With her classical restraint and purity of form, Sylvia Plath is always refusing to break your heart, though in the end, she breaks it anyway." -- Lucy Rosenthal, Saturday Review "On February 11, 1963, a 30-year-old American poet, separated from her husband and living with her children in a cold London flat, gassed herself and passed into myth. Eight months later ten of her last poems, written at a speed of two or three a day, 'written,' she said, 'at about four in the morning. . . that still blue, almost eternal hour before the  baby's cry, before the glassy music of the milkman, settling his bottles,' appeared on two  pages of Encounter magazine and caused a sensation. In 1965 her husband brought out a  posthumous collection,  Ariel  . . . In the eight years since her death Sylvia Plath has  become a major figure in contemporary literature." -- Richard Locke, The New York Times Book Review   This low-priced Bantam Book has been completely reset in a type face designed for easy reading, and was printed from new plates. It contains the complete text of the srcinal hardcover edition.   NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED. THE BELL JAR A Bantam Book Published by arrangement with Harper & Row, Publishers PRINTING HISTORY Harper & Row edition published February 1971 2nd printing. . . . .April 1971 5th printing. . . . .May 1971 3rd printing. . . . .April 1971 6th printing. . . . .July 1971 4th printing. . . . .May 1971 7th printing. . . . .August 1971 8th printing. . . . .September 1971 McCall Magazine excerpt published April 1971 Literary Guild of America edition published May 1971 C OSMOPOLITAN Magazine excerpt published September 1971 Bantam edition published April 1972 This book was srcinally published in Great Britain and is fully protected by copyright under the terms of the International Copyright Union. The quotations on pages 12, 13 are from "Sunflower,"  by Mack David, copyright © 1948 by Famous Music Corporation. The lines on page 77 are from "Wunderbar," by Cole Porter, copyright © 1951 by Cole Porter; copyright © 1967 by John F. Wharton, Trustee, T. B. Harms Co., Selling Agent. Sylvia Plath's poem "Mad Girl's Lovesong" first appeared in the August 1953 issue of M ADEMOISELLE . All rights reserved. Copyright © 1971 by Harper & Row, Publishers. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. For information address: Harper A. Row, Publishers, 49 East 33rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10016. Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, Inc., a  National General company. Its trade-mark, consisting of the words "Bantam Books" and the portrayal of a bantam, is registered in the United States Patent Office and in other countries. Marco Regtstrada. Bantam Books, Inc., 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10019. PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA  For ELIZABETH and DAVID One   It was a QUEER  ,   sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. I'm stupid about executions. The idea of  being electrocuted makes me sick, and that's all there was to read about in the papers --  goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway. It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn't help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves. I thought it must be the worst thing in the world.  New York was bad enough. By nine in the morning the fake, country-wet freshness that somehow seeped in overnight evaporated like the tail end of a sweet dream. Mirage-gray at the bottom of their granite canyons, the hot streets wavered in the sun, the car tops sizzled and glittered, and the dry, cindery dust blew into my eyes and down my throat. I kept hearing about the Rosenbergs over the radio and at the office till I couldn't get them out of my mind. It was like the first time I saw a cadaver. For weeks afterward, the cadaver's head -- or what there was left of it -- floated up behind my eggs and bacon at breakfast and behind the face of Buddy Willard, who was responsible for my seeing it in the first place, and pretty soon I felt as though I were carrying that cadaver's head around with me on a string, like some black, noseless balloon stinking of vinegar. I knew something was wrong with me that summer, because all I could think about was the Rosenbergs and how stupid I'd been to buy all those uncomfortable, expensive clothes, hanging limp as fish in my closet, and how all the little successes I'd totted up so happily at college fizzled to nothing outside the slick marble and plate-glass fronts along Madison Avenue. I was supposed to be having the time of my life. I was supposed to be the envy of thousands of other college girls just like me all over America who wanted nothing more than to be tripping about in those same size-seven patent leather shoes I'd bought in Bloomingdale's one lunch hour with a black  patent leather belt and black patent leather pocketbook to match. And when my picture came out in the magazine the twelve of us were working on -- drinking martinis in a skimpy, imitation silver-lamé bodice stuck on to a big, fat cloud of white tulle, on some Starlight Roof, in the company of several anonymous young men with all-American bone structures hired or loaned for the occasion -- everybody would think I must be having a real whirl. Look what can happen in this country, they'd say. A girl lives in some out-of-the-way town for nineteen years, so poor she can't afford a magazine, and then she gets a scholarship to college and wins a prize here and a prize there and ends up steering New York like her own private car. Only I wasn't steering anything, not even myself. I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolleybus. I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn't get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo. There were twelve of us at the hotel. We had all won a fashion magazine contest, by writing essays and stories and  poems and fashion blurbs, and as prizes they gave us jobs in New York for a month, expenses paid, and piles and piles of free bonuses, like ballet tickets and passes to fashion shows and hair stylings at a famous expensive salon and chances to meet successful  people in the field of our desire and advice about what to do with our particular  complexions. I still have the make-up kit they gave me, fitted out for a person with brown eyes and brown hair: an oblong of brown mascara with a tiny brush, and a round basin of blue eyeshadow just big enough to dab the tip of your finger in, and three lipsticks ranging from red to pink, all cased in the same little gilt box with a mirror on one side. I also have a white plastic sunglasses case with colored shells and sequins and a green plastic starfish sewed onto it. I realized we kept piling up these presents because it was as good as free advertising for the firms involved, but I couldn't be cynical. I got such a kick out of all those free gifts showering on to us. For a long time afterward I hid them away, but later, when I was all right again, I brought them out, and I still have them around the house. I use the lipsticks now and then, and last week I cut the plastic starfish off the sunglasses case for the baby to play with. So there were twelve of us at the hotel, in the same wing on the same floor in single rooms, one after the other, and it reminded me of my dormitory at college. It wasn't a proper hotel -- I mean a hotel where there are both men and women mixed about here and there on the same floor. This hotel -- the Amazon -- was for women only, and they were mostly girls my age with wealthy parents who wanted to be sure their daughters would be living where men couldn't get at them and deceive them; and they were all going to posh secretarial schools like Katy Gibbs, where they had to wear hats and stockings and gloves to class, or they had just graduated from places like Katy Gibbs and were secretaries to executives and simply hanging around in New York waiting to get married to some career man or other. These girls looked awfully bored to me. I saw them on the sunroof, yawning and  painting their nails and trying to keep up their Bermuda tans, and they seemed bored as hell. I talked with one of them, and she was bored with yachts and bored with flying around in airplanes and bored with skiing in Switzerland at Christmas and bored with the men in Brazil. Girls like that make me sick. I'm so jealous I can't speak. Nineteen years, and I hadn't been out of New England except for this trip to New York. It was my first big chance, but here I was, sitting back and letting it run through my fingers like so much water. I guess one of my troubles was Doreen. I'd never known a girl like Doreen before. Doreen came from a society girls' college down South and had bright white hair standing out in a cotton candy fluff round her head and blue eyes like transparent agate marbles, hard and polished and just about indestructible, and a mouth set in a sort of perpetual sneer. I don't mean a nasty sneer, but an amused, mysterious sneer, as if all the people around her were pretty silly and she could tell some good jokes on them if she wanted to. Doreen singled me out right away. She made me feel I was that much sharper than the others, and she really was wonderfully funny. She used to sit next to me at the conference table, and when the visiting celebrities were talking she'd whisper witty sarcastic remarks to me under her breath. Her college was so fashion conscious, she said, that all the girls had pocketbook covers made out of the same material as their dresses, so each time they changed their  clothes they had a matching pocketbook. This kind of detail impressed me. It suggested a whole life of marvelous, elaborate decadence that attracted me like a magnet. The only thing Doreen ever bawled me out about was bothering to get my assignments in by a deadline. "What are you sweating over that for?" Doreen lounged on my bed in a peach silk dressing gown, filing her long, nicotine-yellow nails with an emery board, while I typed up the draft of an interview with a best-selling novelist. That was another thing -- the rest of us had starched cotton summer nighties and quilted housecoats, or maybe terrycloth robes that doubled as beachcoats, but Doreen wore these full-length nylon and lace jobs you could half see through, and dressing gowns the color of skin, that stuck to her by some kind of electricity. She had an interesting, slightly sweaty smell that reminded me of those scallopy leaves of sweet fern you break off and crush between your fingers for the musk of them. "You know old Jay Cee won't give a damn if that story's in tomorrow or Monday." Doreen lit a cigarette and let the smoke flare slowly from her nostrils so her eyes were veiled. "Jay Cee's ugly as sin," Doreen went on coolly. "I bet that old husband of hers turns out all the lights before he gets near her or he'd puke otherwise." Jay Cee was my boss, and I liked her a lot, in spite of what Doreen said. She wasn't one of the fashion magazine gushers with fake eyelashes and giddy jewelry. Jay Cee had brains, so her plug-ugly looks didn't seem to matter. She read a couple of languages and knew all the quality writers in the business. I tried to imagine Jay Cee out of her strict office suit and luncheon-duty hat and in  bed with her fat husband, but I just couldn't do it. I always had a terribly hard time trying to imagine people in bed together. Jay Cee wanted to teach me something, all the old ladies I ever knew wanted to teach me something, but I suddenly didn't think they had anything to teach me. I fitted the lid on my typewriter and clicked it shut. Doreen grinned. "Smart girl." Somebody tapped at the door. "Who is it?" I didn't bother to get up. "It's me, Betsy. Are you coming to the party?" "I guess so." I still didn't go to the door. They imported Betsy straight from Kansas with her bouncing blonde ponytail and Sweetheart-of-Sigma-Chi smile. I remember once the two of us were called over to the office of some blue-chinned TV producer in a pin-stripe suit to see if we had any angles he could build up for a program, and Betsy started to tell about the male and female corn in Kansas. She got so excited about that damn corn even the producer had tears in his eyes, only he couldn't use any of it, unfortunately, he said. Later on, the Beauty Editor persuaded Betsy to cut her hair and made a cover girl out of her, and I still see her fare now and then, smiling out of those "P.Q.'s wife wears B.H. Wragge" ads. Betsy was always asking me to do things with her and the other girls as if she were trying to save me in some way. She never asked Doreen. In private, Doreen called her Pollyanna Cowgirl. "Do you want to come in our cab?" Betsy said through the door. Doreen shook her head.
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