It can be both beautiful and terrifying to look inside a human soul
I think this was said by DH Lawrence. It is hard to show someone the insides of your soul. Do we dare? Not me. Not one person in the whole world know all about me. We have been trained from childhood onwards to put out only a bright good face to the world and keep our demons to ourselves.
Sylvia Plath, the extraordinary poet, dared to show the world her demons by writing a book about her early days of grappling with mental illness in her first and only novel - The Bell Jar. The protogonist of the novel is Esther, a girl from a small New England town who has studied on scholarships and got straight A's all her life. It starts with her internship at a fashion magazine in New York with 11 other girls from eclectic backgrounds. For the girls, it is a step forward into life, to be able to live in New York for a month at the expense of a magazine.
Am a pure acetylene
Attended by roses,
By kisses, by cherubim,
By whatever these pink things mean."
Fever The Collected Poems [Sylvia Plath].
This novel that begins on a note of hope and a promise of a life well spent soon disintegrates as a sensitive Esther is not able to cope with the hurts of life. She can cope with studies and papers and excel at them, but life terrifies her. Soon the month is up and she is back at her small town, with her mother and steps into her first deep depression, followed by an attempt to kill herself with an overdose of sleeping pills.
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call."
Lady Lazarus [Sylvia Plath].
Death eludes her and she finds herself put into a variety of mental institutions. This was the early '50s when electric shocks and unsympathetic doctors actually complicated the state of the patients' mental health. However, after a couple of bad hospitals, Esther's treatment at a swanky mental resort is sponsored by a philanthropic woman.
Even when her mental state is at an ebb, Esther does not stop experiencing life. We all do it, but are not sensitised enough to feel each moment. That is a gift given to Esther - to feel each moment of her life as it walks past her. She gets into the details of her life with Buddy, her boyfriend, her first witnessing of a childbirth, her blank outs, her curious relationship with Joan- who seems more of an alter-ego or a shadow- than a childhood friend. Her detailing is so perfect that you are let into her murky world and she does not spare you the torture she went through. It is like an autopsy of a soul.
"A certain minor light may still
Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then—"
Black Rook in Rainy Weather[Sylvia Plath].
Such achingly beautiful lines these are. And the novel too, is full of her quiet gift for words, not flamboyant, but precise and perfect. Kafkaesque - yes, that is term I would use for it, especially as Sylvia Plath seems to start, in terms of timeline, right where Kafka left off.
The novel is also described as a feminist tract because of Esther's rejection of traditional woman's role of marrying and keeping house and having children. In the current times it seems as if Esther was merely trying to assert her individuality in times when it was anachronistic to do so. She was woman ages ahead of her times, one of the catalysts for change, no wonder she is still an icon for a thinking woman.
This above line should be end of this blog with my tribute to all budding writers - especially bloggers - in Slyvia's words. But I wish to discuss just one more thing. I have read about the first sexual experience of another writer as well, Han Suyin. Interestingly, Han Suyin describes a void she felt after her first sex, a nothingness. Sylvia leads us into a realm of pain and hemorrage. It is almost as it they want to cut out the passion that lead up to it, and reject any feminine impulses they felt at the moment. I feel that is what the feminist writers missed out on in their literature, in an attempt to reject all feminine myths, they rejected their own femininity. But I guess, at that time, it was necessary to do that to bring about the change. And for that, all women have to be grateful to them. It is because of their sacrifices that we are able to vote, claim right to be educated alongside men, some of us can lead degenerate lives, be single mothers, marry lesbian lovers, heck, just be ourselves.
"Our kind multiplies:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door."
Mushrooms [Sylvia Plath].
These lines are for all my fellow bloggers ! Our tribe multiplies as we talk, our foot is in the door.
Ryan Adams singing Sylvia Plath