05 May 2012

Review: Critical Insights: The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Published earlier this year is a collection of essays on The Bell Jar edited by Janet McCann of Texas A&M University. The material includes eight new essays on The Bell Jar and reprints ten essays from the past. This is a valuable book on a book that receives far less critical attention than its cousins, the poems.

Let's look at what's in the book and I will continue blithering below.

"Biography of Sylvia Plath" by Jane Satterfield

"The Paris Review Perspective" by Emma Straub for The Paris Review

"The Domesticated Wilderness": Patriarchal Oppression in The Bell Jar by Allison Wilkins

"Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar: Understanding Cultural and Historical Context in an Iconic Text" by Iris Jamahl Dunkle

"Interruptions in a Patriarchal World: Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted" by Kim Bridgford

"Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar: Critical Reception" by Ellen McGrath Smith

"Sentient Patterning in The Bell Jar" by Pamela St. Clair

"'I have your head on my wall': Sylvia Plath and the Rhetoric of Cold War America" by Sally Bayley

"The Radical Imaginary of The Bell Jar" by Kate A. Baldwin

"Plath, Domesticity, and the Art of Advertising" by Marsha Bryant

"The Feminist Discourse of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar" by E. Miller Budick

"Sylvia Plath's Anti-Psychiatry" by Maria Farland

"Mad Girls' Love Songs: Two Women Poets, a Professor and Graduate Student, Discuss Sylvia Plath, Angst, and the Poetics of Female Adolescence" by Arielle Greenberg and Becca Klaver

"(Sub)textual Configurations: Sexual Ambivalences in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar" by Renée C. Hoogland

"'The woman is perfected, her dead body wears the smile of accomplishment': Sylvia Plath and Mademoiselle Magazine" by Garry M. Leonard

"Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath : the self at stake" by Solenne Lestienne

"The Fig Tree and the Black Patent Leather Shoes: The Body and its Representation in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar" by Nóra Séllei.

As with any book, the reader takes out of it what they want, as well as what the bring to it with prior reading and knowledge and passion for the subject. I particularly love The Bell Jar, so its faults notwithstanding, I really enjoyed this selection of essays . The Garry M. Leonard should be required reading and of the new essays, lets add Pamela St. Clair's "Sentient Patterning in The Bell Jar" and Allison Wilkins' "'The Domesticated Wilderness': Patriarchal Oppression in The Bell Jar." I enjoyed too Ellen McGrath Smith's "Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar: Critical Reception" as this kind of thing floats my boat.

The older essays reprinted seem to stand on their own, though a couple (Bayley and Lestienne) felt out of place to me: the focus is less on The Bell Jar in these two essays and more on the poems and/or Woolf. The essays are excellent, mind you, but do not belong in this book.

The mistakes that were present each essays first appearance persist, and in an ideal world the authors and/or editor might have been able to touch these up a bit. For example, Bayley claims The Bell Jar was written in "the late 1950s" (133); Hoogland that Heinemann accepted the novel only after several American publishers rejected it (282); and Baldwin in a footnote called Marco by a wrong name, Rico (177). Each of these instances are inaccurate. The citation style, also, throughout the text is inconsistent, particularly with the older essays.

Of the newer essays, the errors rampant in the beginning Dunkle's essay turned me off severely but the text smooths itself out. And unfortunately there is a decent amount of overlap in the approach to interpreting the novel (topics discussed focus on historical and cultural situation of America in the 1950s and Cold War narratives/themes). If these were all essays published in different journals we might not notice it as much, but as they appear one after the other it rather has the effect of redundancy.

Having online access included in the price is a nice touch as it gives one the chance to have full-text availability.

The details:
Critical Insights: The Bell Jar, edited by Janet McCann, Texas A&M University
Pasadena, Ca: Salem Press.
ISBN: 978-1-58765-836-5
List Price: $85 (Combines Print & Online Access)

2 comments :

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Peter - I hadn't heard about this book. Good to hear that The Bell Jar is getting more critical attention...

~VC

P.S. Seriously, you would be the perfect copy-editor / fact-checker for these publishing houses! :-)

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thanks ~VC! I agree that it is good that The Bell Jar is receiving more critical attention.

And, thank you Julio for your research to find Bryant's article.

-pks

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