24 July 2007

Julia Stiles and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

The following article appeared today on www.mtv.com...

"The Bell Jar" tolls for Julia Stiles
by Shawn Adler

She’s trapsed the globe with super-spy Jason Bourne, but Julia Stiles’ greatest journey is the one she’ll soon be making inside her own head, the 26-year-old told MTV News, as she gears up to play Esther Greenwood in the film adaptation of the classic Slyvia Plath novel “The Bell Jar.”

Sometimes described by readers as a “female ‘Catcher in the Rye,’” “The Bell Jar” follows Greenwood as she experiences massive, clinical melancholia, through commitment to a mental hospital, electroshock therapy, and several suicide attempts. Ask most casual students of English literature and they’ll tell you “The Bell Jar” is one thing above all – effing depressing.

“I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s depressing at all. It is ABOUT depression,” Stiles argued. “But I think that Sylvia Plath writes with such awesome, beautiful, vivid imagery that is so perfect for film, that it’s kind of a joy. I wouldn’t have spent this much time trying to set up the movie if I didn’t love it.”

Part of what makes people think of “The Bell Jar” as depressing, Stiles insists, actually has nothing to do with the book at all – but with the author, who committed suicide one month after the novel’s initial publication.

“I think that a lot of people think Sylvia Plath as being this dark, brooding soul because of her history, her biography overshadows her writing,” Stiles contended. “Actually, her writing was different than that. I think that the vibrant images that she describes in ‘The Bell Jar’ are perfect for a film, maybe even more-so than a novel.”

What makes those images “perfect for film,” Stiles added, was that they take place inside Greenwood’s head – and are therefore limited only by one’s imagination. Which means Stiles is already thinking outside the box about how to introduce them into the movie.

“There should be animation in the film, I think,” she said. “[For instance] There are images where the main character is imagining a fig tree growing. And it grows, and grows, and grows, and she sees all the options in her life of what she can do, what profession she could have as the fruit on the tree. It’s a challenge to be able to realize that, [but] if you imagine a Tim Burton movie like ‘Big Fish.’ If [they] can realize that…”

At one point Greenwood describes her depression as like being stuck under a bell jar, unable to draw breath or escape. What does the “The Bell Jar” ultimately mean to Stiles?

“That sort of artistic spirit, if it doesn’t find it’s way, it doesn’t find it’s channel, if you don’t find an outlet for that,” she said. “It can crush a person.”

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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.
  • 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)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (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, Volume 1, 1940-1956. 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. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • 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. "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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • 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. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.