Manuscript outline of chapters for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Description

This handwritten outline of chapters for Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar, is written on Smith College memorandum paper, probably around the spring of 1961. The novel was first published two years later in 1963, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.

The Bell Jar is an exploration of mental illness and the pressure of social expectations on women in 1950s America. The protagonist Esther Greenwood is a scholarship college student, who wins a contest to become a guest editor at Ladies’ Day magazine in New York. Many of Esther’s experiences mirror Plath’s own, including her role as a guest editor for the magazine Mademoiselle in the summer of 1953, and her mental breakdown and subsequent treatment with electroconvulsive therapy.

How is the plan different from the published novel?

This plan is particularly interesting since no manuscript draft of The Bell Jar survives. According to this outline, Plath once intended for the novel to end with a ‘coda’ made up of two extra chapters, one which would describe the protagonist’s return to college and another one, headed ‘Summer School’, which includes a voyage to Europe. There are other changes with respect to the final version; for instance, Esther’s fellow patient in the mental ward, Joan, appears in the chapter outline as ‘Jane’.

Why is the outline written on pink Smith College paper?

Between 1950 and 1953 Sylvia Plath had a scholarship to study at Smith, a selective arts college for women in Northampton, Massachusetts, and she returned there as a lecturer in 1957–58. By the time she wrote this outline, Plath was in England, far from Smith. But both she and Ted Hughes loved the college paper, and wrote many poems and letters on a stash they had collected when Plath taught there.

She confessed, in a letter to Ted’s sister Olwyn Hughes, dated February 9 1958, that she was stocking up on the pink paper before she and Hughes left for England. That letter, also on Smith College paper, is held at the British Library (shelf mark: Add MS 88948/1/1).

Full title:
Series I. Writings. Novels. The Bell Jar. Outline of chapters: holograph, one page, on Smith College memorandum paper. [spring 1961?] On reverse: typescript draft of The Bell Jar, page 14, with autograph annotations and corrections by SP.
Created:
estimated spring 1961
Format:
Manuscript / Draft
Creator:
Sylvia Plath
Usage terms

Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College Libraries, © Estate of Sylvia Plath. No copying, republication or modification is allowed for material © The Plath Estate. For further use of this material please seek formal permission from the copyright holder.

Held by
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College Libraries (Massachusetts)
Shelfmark:
Box 4 Folder 1

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An introduction to The Bell Jar

Article by:
Sarah Churchwell
Themes:
Gender and sexuality, Literature 1950–2000, Exploring identity

Sarah Churchwell examines how The Bell Jar critiques the expectations and limitations placed on young women in the 1950s – and how these expectations and limitations have shaped the novel’s reception.

Too much suicide?

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Theme:
Gender and sexuality

Narratives of Virginia Woolf’s life often place great emphasis on her depression and suicide. Lyndall Gordon considers the way this has overshadowed Woolf’s legacy, and clouded her reputation as a seminal novelist, feminist, and politicized intellectual.

A close reading of 'Daddy'

Article by:
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Literature 1950–2000, Exploring identity, Gender and sexuality

Elaine Feinstein discusses the possibilities and limits of reading Sylvia Plath’s 'Daddy' biographically.

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