The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath

Illustrated by Alexandra Levasseur

Introduced by Heather Clark

A witty and melancholic portrayal of 1950s New York set against the backdrop of mental illness, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is newly introduced by Plath biographer and scholar, Heather Clark, and features seven ethereal illustrations by Alexandra Levasseur.

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Achingly sad, darkly humorous and engaging, The Bell Jar is a beautifully written coming-of-age novel. This startling new edition celebrates its literary status and timeless subject matter. Plath biographer Heather Clark has written a fascinating new introduction exploring the author’s life, and the edition is sensitively illustrated by painter and sculptor Alexandra Levasseur.

The Bell Jar brought mental health and the feminist agenda to the fore through the frustrated eyes of an aspiring writer trying to be taken seriously in misogynistic 1950s America. When exploring Esther’s spiralling descent into breakdown, Plath’s quick wit and wry observations were viewed by some critics as flippant, and the novel courted controversy for its supposed glamourisation of mental illness. As a mirror of the author’s life, it is a raw and real insight into a journey that is not exclusively harrowing and painful; there is hope and happiness too.

Bound in blocked cloth

Set in Verdigris

248 pages

Frontispiece and 6 colour illustrations (including a double-page spread)

Blocked slipcase

8 ¾˝ x 5 ½˝

As the author of acclaimed Sylvia Plath biography, Red Comet, and Professor of Contemporary Poetry at the University of Huddersfield, Heather Clark is one of the foremost experts on Plath’s life and work. Her newly commissioned introduction explores The Bell Jar within the framework of Plath’s gender, illness and precocious talent; each conspiring against her at a time in history when ‘a paternalistic psychiatric system […] regarded ambition in women as neurotic’. This created the perfect storm for mental breakdown and Plath’s only novel revealed the horrors of female psychiatric assessment and treatment in Cold War-era America to a mainstream readership.

Plath’s turmoil is interpreted with a delicate and intuitive hand by Alexandra Levasseur. The widely exhibited Canadian painter, sculptor and filmmaker captures the essence of Esther Greenwood’s physical and psychological journey in seven incredible illustrations that will resonate with Plath fans and new readers alike.

The year is 1953 and 19-year-old Esther Greenwood has won a coveted internship at a fashion magazine in New York. However, the glamorous and frivolous lifestyle is at odds with her personal values and academic ambition, and her life rapidly unravels over the course of the summer. One of the great poetic novels of the 20th century, The Bell Jar remains essential reading.

Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932. She studied at Smith College and then at Cambridge, where she was the recipient of a Fullbright scholarship. It was at Cambridge that she met, and later married, fellow poet Ted Hughes. She published one collection of poems in her lifetime, The Colossus (1960), and a semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar (1963). Plath died by suicide on the 11 February 1963. Ariel (1965) and Collected Poems (1981), were both published posthumously by Ted Hughes. Collected Poems won Plath a Pulitzer Prize in 1982.

Alexandra Levasseur is a painter, sculptor and filmmaker born in Shawinigan in 1982. She holds a BA in Fine Arts from UCR, Costa Rica (2006), a post-graduate in Illustration from EINA, Barcelona (2008) and a major in film animation from Concordia University, Montreal (2014). She was awarded scholarships for academic excellence from Blairmore Foundation (2013) and Turtle Creek Asset Management (2014). She has participated in several film festivals and exhibitions around the world. She lives and works in Montreal.

Heather Clark is Professor of Contemporary Poetry at the University of Huddersfield and the author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath (2020), which was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize. A former Visiting Scholar at the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, she is also the author The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (2011) and The Ulster Renaissance: Poetry in Belfast 1962-1972 (2006). Her work has appeared in publications including Harvard Review and The Times Literary Supplement, and she served as the scholarly consultant for the BBC documentary Sylvia Plath: Life Inside the Bell Jar. She divides her time between Chappaqua, New York, and Yorkshire, England.


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