The Bell Jar (First Edition) by Sylvia Plath



2015-06-26 10:51:49

The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963). The first edition of this work was published in 1963 by Heinemann, London, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.


This is Plath’s only novel. The plot is based on people and places from her own life, and is generally considered to be a roman a clef, the protagonist’s descent into mental illness a fictionalisation of Plath’s own experience of clinical depression. It was written after her first volume of poetry, The Colossus (1960).

Due to the short span of time between the novel’s publication and Plath’s suicide, much of the focus on the book revolves around autobiographical connections. It was only published in Plath’s name after she died, and only printed in America eight years later in 1971 by Harper and Row, New York.

Plot, Characters, Themes

The protagonist Esther Greenwood is a young woman from suburban Boston. She spends a summer as an intern at a prominent New York magazine, but is disillusioned by living in the capital and by the glamorous lifestyle those around her live. She describes her experiences, including several serio-comic incidents. Returning to Boston, she finds that she has not been accepted for a writing course she was pinning her hopes on. She wants to write a novel but doesn’t have enough life experience, and has to re-asses her identity in a light not purely academic. She becomes depressed and sees a psychiatrist, who prescribes electric shock therapy. It is administered wrongly. Ester becomes more depressed, tries to kill herself, and is sent to another psychiatric hospital where she receives more and various treatments. Her health improves.


Plath is known as one of the pioneers of confessional writing. She is a cult figure for many, her work inextricable from the surrounding events and tragedies of her own life.

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

First editions of The Bell Jar (1963, Heinemann, London) are worth much more if they retain their original dust jackets. Bloomsbury Auctions sold first editions with dust jackets for £1,000 in May 2001 and £1,100 in October 2009. Swann Auction Galleries sold a first edition with dust jacket for $3,800 in November 2004.

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