26 July 2012
Book Review: Depression in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar
The book begins with a brief Introduction and Chronology before launching into the recycled content broken into three chapters: Background on Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar and Depression, and Contemporary Perspectives on Depression.
Chapter 1 includes "The Life of Sylvia Plath" by Timothy Materer, "Sylvia Plath Was the Personification of American Literature" by Ted Hughes, as told to Drue Heinz, "Sylvia Plath Was a Shining Intellect and a Superb Student" by Dorothea Krook, and "Sylvia Plath's Depression Was Inherited" by Jane Feinmann. I should say that these chapter titles are not the original titles under which the excerpts were printed, but merely summaries.
In Chapter 2 we find "Sylvia Plath’s Retelling of Her Mental Breakdown Lacks Power and Emotion" by Saul Maloff, "Plath Uses Literary Doubles to Depict the Anguish of Her Schizophrenia" by Gordon Lameyer, "Illness Pervades The Bell Jar" by Howard Moss, "The Ending of The Bell Jar Is Cautiously Optimistic" by Caroline King Barnard, "The Bell Jar Examines the Public and Private Worlds of Madness" by Mason Harris, "The Bell Jar Relates a Girl's Search for Identity" by Marjorie G. Perloff, "The Bell Jar Chronicles a Search for Authenticity" by Susan Coyle, "The Bell Jar Illustrates Women's Limited Options" by Mary Allen, and "The Bell Jar Is the Story of Sylvia Plath's Mental Breakdown" by Linda Wagner-Martin.
In Chapter 3, there is "Both Depression and a Risk Factor for Suicide Run in Families" by Paul Fink, "Perfectionism in Gifted Teenagers Can Be Deadly" by Laurie Hyatt, "Unrealistic Pressures and a Lack of Societal Safeguards Cause Depression in Teenage Girls" by Maxine Frith, and "Hard Questions to Ask After a Cry for Help" by Perri Klass.
The book rounds out with a For Further Discussion series of questions, a section called For Further Reading, a Bibliography, and an Index.
Enough with the summary. This book is another instance of an educational/academic publisher making a mistake. The only benefit to this book is that it saves researchers the trouble of looking for each of the pieces individually. However, by reprinting excerpts only, said readers/researchers are at a disadvantage by not seeing all the contextual information from the entire article. And, to boot, there are inconsistencies and errors and little niggling deficiencies galore. Firstly, there is inconsistency in how quotes are presented. Some are in double-quotes (") and some in single quotes ('). Secondly each quote does not have a citation page number reference: so how are students - the target market - supposed to find the quote in the original source? Thirdly, not all the books and sources quoted are listed in the bibliography (for example, Letters Home is quoted in Materer's piece and her Journals are quoted in the Feinemann one, but neither work appears in either the "For Further Reading" section or in the "Bibliography"). Bizarrely, Plath's Ariel and The Collected Poems are listed in the "For Further Reading" and not in the "Bibliography." And as regards the "For Further Reading" and the "Bibliography", I could not figure out the rhyme or reason to having them separated. Oh, maybe if I actually read the one book I could have, but I gave up. Relatedly, the "Bibliography" stinks and the authors are listed unconventionally in alphabetical order: not in "last name, first name" order; but in "first name last name" order. Still related to the Bibliography, for the sources listed that appeared in periodicals: there are no page numbers listed in the citation.
I wish I was done, but I'm not! At the bottom of the first page of each "essay" is a citation. For a couple (Krook, Lameyer), the citation is wrong. Listed as appearing in Edward Butscher's biography Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness (1976), these two essays in fact appeared in his edited book of essays Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work (1977). As I have read all the original, full pieces, I can say that they are all interesting and representative of perspectives on The Bell Jar. So, good job on the selection (though admittedly I did not touch chapter 3 "Contemporary Perspectives" and prefer to ignore its existence). Lastly, while the binding of the paperback edition is good, and the cover is nice and glossy, the printing quality of the text is poor. Awful, in fact. The ink is faint in places and the quality of the photographs reprinted is also wanting. Overall I'm glad I didn't pay for it.
Like I said in my review of How to Write About Sylvia Plath , academic publishers have a responsibility to publish good books for their [impressionable] student audience. In Depression in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Gale/Cengage Learning and the Greenhaven Press fail miserably to uphold the burden of their educational obligation.
Publications & Acknowledgements
- BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
- Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
- Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
- Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
- Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
- Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
- Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
- Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
- Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
- Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
- Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. 2000. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books. (Acknowledged in)
- Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
- Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
- Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
- Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
- "Banking on his passion for Plath" by Melissa Davis Haller. UMW Today. Spring 2005.
- "Sylvia Plath's Three Women to be staged in London" by Alison Flood. The Guardian. 3 December 2008.
- "FBI files on Sylvia Plath's father shed new light on poet" by Dalya Alberge. The Guardian. 17 August 2012.
- "There Are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia Plath" by Ashley Fetters. The Atlantic. 11 February 2013.