2. Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar

Barbizon Upper EastSide

Last week was an exciting week for literature enthusiasts: in addition to Edith Wharton’s lost play discovery, Sylvia Plath experts, who were working on a new book about her novel, The Bell Jar, found two previously undiscovered Plath poems, written on carbon paper in an old journal. The poems are believed to be early works of Plath’s as her style was reportedly unpolished compared to her published poetry.

While Plath never published anything along the lines of a memoir, the parallels between her own experiences in New York City and those of her character, Esther Greenwood from The Bell Jar, are hard to ignore.

Plath’s stint as the guest managing editor of the “Mademoiselle Magazine” mirrors Esther’s internship at her New York City magazine. The people Plath met along the way, like Janet Rafferty, was inspiration for other characters in The Bell Jar. The similarities between Plath’s own life and her novel don’t end there; some specific scenes in her own life — like eating a whole bowl of caviar at the intern lunch — appear in her book as well. With such thinly veiled parallels, it’s not surprising that Sylvia Plath’s real-life depression spiral and suicidal ideation seeped their way into the pages of her novel.

The existing stigma surrounding mental health was much worse in the early to late nineteen hundreds. Most of the early treatments provided to patients were painful, ineffective, and they often caused more discomfort. The history of mental health services in New York City began with insane asylums in the early 1800s. Around 1953, when Plath was in the city, a big mental health policy reform sought to eliminate huge hospitals and unnecessary surgeries, and hospitals began using therapy methods.