07 February 2013

Sylvia Plath: Did you know...The Bell Jar in The Jailor

There are a couple of instances in Sylvia Plath's body of work where poems and prose share an inspiration, a scene, some memorable words, and even a title. Immediately what comes to mind is her "All the Dead Dears," which was both a short story and a poem. I like this crossing of genres very much.

One of the concerns Plath had with The Bell Jar is that she did not want it to be known as a poet's novel; that is a novel written by a poet. This in part informed her decision to publish it under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.

However, contemporary readers of her work poetry may have found their way to the novel somehow, even though it was first published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. In a poem like 1959's "Suicide Off Egg Rock," it would be nearly impossible not to draw a connection between poem and prose. "Suicide Off Egg Rock" appeared in her poetry collection The Colossus (Heinemann, 1960) and was read over the airwaves of the BBC, but the voice reading the poem was that of Marvin Kane (July 1961). How I would love to have heard Plath's own voice read those most memorable lines: "And his blood beating the old tattoo / I am, I am, I am"!! And, as we know, the old brag of Esther Greenwood's heart in The Bell Jar says, "I am, I am, I am."

In another instance - this time written in October 1962 from a her "Ariel" period- Plath briefly allows herself to work the words "bell jar" into a poem. Did you know... that in the second handwritten draft of "The Jailor," that in the last stanza Plath followed the line "That being free" with:

"Of the bell jar in which I am the dead white heron" (quoted in Kroll, Chapters of a Mythology, 1976, p. 57).

She tried another line right after this that also used "the bell jar" but as it remains unpublished I should not quote from it. Let's just say that under this bell jar she turned and turned (but in the line Plath used the present tense of "turned" and instead of and used an ampersand).

However, even before she worked in the image of a bell jar in "The Jailor," Plath does use the words "bell-jar" in a poem written circa 1960-1961. The poem appears in the notes section of her Collected Poems: "Queen Mary's Rose Garden." In this poem, this is what Plath writes:

Some ducks step down off their green-reeded shelf
And into the silver element of the pond.

I see them start to cruise and dip for food
Under the bell-jar of a wonderland.
Hedged in and evidently inviolate
Though hundreds of Londoners know it like the palm of their hand.

It generally is not known when Plath wrote this poem, though its being part of the collection of papers at the Lilly Library does definitely date it to pre-November 1961. The poem on the other side of this draft is "Wuthering Heights," a poem that Plath wrote in September 1961.The draft of "Queen Mary's Rose Garden" at the Lilly is handwritten and crossed-out with a single-line slashed diagonally down the page in a fashion that in Plath's practice means it is cancelled and came first - that is was written before that which appears on the other side of the page.


Melanie Smith said...

Ahhhh, knew I should have gone through my copies of poem drafts. Love how key images, words, colours pop up in her work. Thank you.

Rehan said...

Hughes makes 3 references to the Bell Jar in Birthday Letters. In one poem 'The Literary Life' she writes about how she wrote to Marianne Moore and adds:

You send her carbonm copies of some of your poems.
Everything about them -
The ghost gloom, the constriction,
The bell-jar air-conditioning - made her gasp
For oxygen and cheer. She sent them back.
(Whoever has her letter has her exact words.)
'Since these seem to be valuable carbon copies
(somewhat smudged I shall not engross them.'
I took the point of that 'engross'
Precisely, like a brittle of glass
Snapped off deep in my thumb.

Pope also uses 'engross' in 'Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot'.

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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.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • 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.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (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. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.