This Folio Life: Encapsulating Plath’s turmoil

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar tells the achingly sad and darkly humorous story of a woman’s spiralling descent into breakdown. Painter and sculptor Alexandra Levasseur talks through two of her illustrations for Folio’s The Bell Jar, and how she worked to encapsulate Plath’s turmoil.  




The images I created to illustrate Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar felt pretty straight forward in general. The visions that appeared in my mind when I was reading Plath’s words were totally clear despite the surreal characteristics of her thoughts. 

Two of my eight illustrations, however, had a really interesting creation process: the binding artwork and the Fig Tree illustration.




My first idea for the cover was to illustrate Esther at the Amazon hotel in NYC. I was looking for a scene that would give a feeling of vertigo, which, for me, is the main sentiment of The Bell Jar



My second idea evolved from the black balloon metaphor in the book. I saw the black balloon as a synonym for Esther’s dark thoughts mixed with a sense of lightness and playfulness; it was an accurate reflection of the spirit of the whole narrative. I paired it with Esther’s uncomfortable, dizzy body and stressed hands. 



Then, I explored the idea of a tornado, inside and outside of Esther, as well as the eye of the tornado putting some make-up.



Finally, we opted for a representation of Esther;  anesthetized, trying to feel her unquiet body.






The illustration of the Fig Tree was not an easy one to do but I loved that passage too much to let it go.

“I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence, and go to sleep under that beautiful big green.”


Coming from an animated film background, I would have loved to make this scene into animated drawings with all the dreamy and surreal aspects implied in the described action. However, I had to simplify the idea to make the illustration more powerful as a static image. That being said, I believe The Bell Jar would make a wonderful animated film. I’m in!



Order The Bell Jar here.