Transcript: Sylvia Plath - Inside the Bell Jar | May 06, 2020

Old ads from the 50s roll.

THE NARRATOR SAYS FOR THE POET SYLVIA
PLATH, THE POSTWAR AMERICAN
DREAM WAS A PRISON, NOT A
PARADISE.
SHE GREW UP IN THE AGE OF
COLD WAR WITCH HUNTS AND
CONSERVATIVE VALUES.
FOR CLEVER, AMBITIOUS GIRLS,
1950S AMERICA WAS SUFFOCATING.
WRITING WAS HER REBELLION.

A blond woman says WE HAVE TO CARE ABOUT SYLVIA
PLATH, BECAUSE SYLVIA PLATH IS
THE GREATEST FEMALE POET OF THE
20TH CENTURY.

The narrator says EMBRACED BY THE LITERARY
WORLD FOR HER ASTONISHING
POETRY, SHE SPENT HER LIFE
BESIEGED BY INNER DEMONS.
IN HER ONLY NOVEL,
THE BELL
JAR,
SHE TOLD HER OWN STORY.
IT WAS LIFE AS A WOMAN OF '50S
AMERICA LAID BARE.

A brown-haired woman says THE BOOK IS JUST SOMETHING
SHE SHED LIKE A SKIN, ALMOST.
IT WAS ONE OF THE THINGS SHE
WENT THROUGH, AND SHE TRANSLATED
HER EXPERIENCES INTO THAT BOOK.

The narrator says SPIKED WITH LACERATING
HONESTY, FEMALE FRUSTRATION AND
PERSONAL DESPAIR, THE BOOK GAVE
A VOICE TO WOMEN IN AN AGE
WHEN THEY WERE NOT HEARD.

A woman with curly brown hair says IT STILL SPEAKS TO CURRENT
GENERATIONS AND CONCERNS ABOUT
WOMEN AND AMBITION AND POWER AND
OBSTACLES HOLDING AMBITIOUS
WOMEN BACK.

The narrator says FOUR WEEKS AFTER
THE BELL JAR
WAS PUBLISHED IN 1963, SYLVIA
PLATH COMMITTED SUICIDE.
BUT HER BOOK LIVES ON.
(TYPEWRITER KEYS CLACKING)

The name of the film reads "Sylvia Plath. Inside The Bell Jar."

A woman reading as Sylvia Plath says "IT WAS A
QUEER, SULTRY SUMMER, THE
SUMMER THEY ELECTROCUTED THE
ROSENBERGS, AND I DIDN'T KNOW
WHAT I WAS DOING IN NEW YORK.
I'M STUPID ABOUT EXECUTIONS.
THE IDEA OF BEING ELECTROCUTED
MAKES ME SICK, AND THAT WAS ALL
THERE WAS TO READ ABOUT IN THE
PAPERS: GOGGLE-EYED HEADLINES
STARING UP AT ME ON EVERY
STREET CORNER AND AT THE FUSTY,
PEANUT-SMELLING MOUTH OF EVERY
SUBWAY.
IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH ME,
BUT I COULDN'T HELP WONDERING
WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE, BEING
BURNED ALIVE ALL ALONG YOUR
NERVES.
I THOUGHT IT MUST BE THE WORST
THING IN THE WORLD."

A caption reads "Tristine Skyler. Writer and producer."

Tristine is in her thirties, with long straight blond hair and wears a black turtleneck sweater.

She says THE BELL JAR
IS A NOVEL THAT THE POET SYLVIA
PLATH PUBLISHED IN THE EARLY
'60S THAT TELLS THE TALE OF
ESTHER GREENWOOD, A WOMAN BASED
PRETTY MUCH ON HERSELF, AS SHE
GOES THROUGH A SUMMER THAT
STARTS WITH ALL THIS TREMENDOUS
POSSIBILITY AND OPPORTUNITY, AND
SLOWLY, THE OPPORTUNITIES AND
POSSIBILITIES AROUND HER START
TO SHRINK.

The caption changes to "Frieda Hughes. Sylvia Plath's daughter."

Frieda is in her fifties, with above the shoulder straight light brown hair and wears black trousers and a blue shirt.

She says I SUPPOSE,
BEING HER DAUGHTER, IT WOULD
HAVE BEEN GREAT IF ONE COULD GO
BACK IN TIME AND "UNWRITE" IT.
WHEN I READ IT, I DIDN'T WANT IT
TO BE REAL.
I WANTED IT TO BE FICTION,
BECAUSE WHY WOULD ANYBODY WANT
THEIR MOTHER TO BE GOING THROUGH
ANY SORT OF-- SUCH UNHAPPINESS,
SUCH DIFFICULTY, SUCH TRAUMATIC
EXPERIENCES, SUCH A THOUGHT
PROCESS?
YOU KNOW, OVER THE YEARS, AS I
GREW UP, I HAD TO ACCEPT MORE
AND MORE OF WHAT HAPPENED IN HER
LIFE.

Sylvia says "'LOOK WHAT CAN
HAPPEN IN THIS COUNTRY,' THEY'D
SAY.
A GIRL LIVES IN SOME
OUT-OF-THE-WAY TOWN FOR 19
YEARS, SO POOR SHE CAN'T AFFORD
A MAGAZINE, AND THEN SHE GETS A
SCHOLARSHIP TO COLLEGE AND WINS
A PRIZE HERE AND A PRIZE THERE
AND ENDS UP STEERING NEW YORK
LIKE HER OWN PRIVATE CAR.
ONLY I WASN'T STEERING
ANYTHING, NOT EVEN MYSELF."

The caption changes to "Perry Norton. School Friend."

Perry is in his eighties, with short gray hair and wears glasses and a blue shirt.

He says IT WAS QUITE
CLEAR THAT SHE WANTED TO BECOME
A WRITER.
SHE WROTE POETRY AND SHE WROTE
FOR SCHOOL ASSIGNMENTS, AND SHE
WROTE VERY WELL.
SHE WAS PROBABLY THE SMARTEST
PERSON IN OUR CLASS.

The caption changes to "I thought that I could not be hurt. Sylvia Plath aged 14."

Sylvia says "I THOUGHT THAT I
COULD NOT BE HURT.
I THOUGHT THAT I MUST SURELY BE
IMPERVIOUS TO SUFFERING, IMMUNE
TO PAIN OR AGONY."

The caption changes to "Betsy Wallingfort. School friend."

Betsy is in her eighties, with short red hair and wears a black sweater and a printed black and beige cardigan.

She says I KNEW
THAT SHE WAS WRITING POETRY,
AND THERE WERE TIMES WHEN SHE
AND I WOULD SIT OUT IN MY
BACKYARD WITH A PAD OF LINED
PAPER, AND SHE WOULD WRITE AND I
WOULD WRITE.
AND OF COURSE, I HAVE NO IDEA
WHAT I WROTE.

Sylvia says "HOW FRAIL THE HUMAN
HEART MUST BE, A MIRRORED POOL
OF THOUGHT.
SO DEEP AND TREMULOUS AN
INSTRUMENT OF GLASS THAT IT CAN
EITHER SING OR WEEP."

The caption changes to "Karen V. Kukil. Curator of manuscripts, Smith College."

Karen is in her sixties, with straight brown hair in a bob cat with bangs and wears glasses, a black shirt, and a black blazer.

She says SYLVIA PLATH
GREW UP IN WINTHROP,
MASSACHUSETTS UNTIL THE AGE OF
EIGHT, WHEN HER FATHER DIED.
SO, SHE LOST ONE PARENT AT A
VERY YOUNG AGE AND WAS PRETTY
TRAUMATIZED BY THAT INCIDENT.

The caption changes to "Doctor Heather Clark. City University of New York."

Heather is in her late thirties, with long curly brown hair in a half do and wears a printed white and blue blouse.

She says HER MOTHER
AURELIA WAS THE BREADWINNER.
THAT WAS VERY UNUSUAL AT THAT
TIME.
I THINK THEY DID THE BEST THEY
COULD, AND AURELIA WAS ALWAYS
PAYING FOR DANCING LESSONS AND
PIANO LESSONS, AND...
BUT YOU DO GET THE SENSE THAT
SHE HAD DEFINITE CLASS
ANXIETIES, AND SHE KIND OF
LEARNED TO LIVE THIS DOUBLE
LIFE.

Sylvia says "I AM JEALOUS OF
THOSE WHO THINK MORE DEEPLY,
WHO WRITE BETTER, WHO DRAW
BETTER, WHO SKI BETTER, WHO
LOOK BETTER, WHO LIVE BETTER,
WHO LOVE BETTER THAN I."

Betsy says SHE WAS SO TALENTED
THAT IT WAS HARD TO IMAGINE THAT
SHE WOULDN'T HAVE HAD AMBITIONS
TO BE A WRITER, AND IT WAS NOT
HARD TO SEE THAT GIRL WAS GOING
PLACES.

The caption changes to "New York, June 1953."

Sylvia says "THERE WERE 12 OF US
AT THE HOTEL.
WE HAD ALL WON A FASHION
MAGAZINE CONTEST BY WRITING
ESSAYS AND STORIES AND POEMS
AND FASHION BLURBS, AND AS
PRIZES, THEY GAVE US JOBS IN
NEW YORK FOR A MONTH."

The caption changes to "Neva Sachar. Mademoiselle guest editor."

Neva is in her eighties with above the shoulder slightly wavy gray hair with bangs. She wears a polka dotted blue shirt.

She says I GOT THE
TELEGRAM.
WE ALL GOT THESE NICE, SPECIAL
LITTLE TELEGRAMS SAYING,
"CONGRATULATIONS.
YOU HAVE WON."
AND I WAS ECSTATIC.
NO ONE BELIEVED IT.

Heather says IT WAS AN
EXTRAORDINARILY COMPETITIVE
INTERNSHIP.
SO, WHEN PLATH GOT IT, SHE WAS
ABSOLUTELY THRILLED.
I MEAN, THIS WAS SORT OF THE
PINNACLE.
THIS WAS THE BEST THAT YOU COULD
DO.

Sylvia says "EXPENSES PAID AND
PILES AND PILES OF FREE
BONUSES, LIKE BALLET TICKETS
AND PASSES TO FASHION SHOWS,
AND HAIR STYLINGS AT A FAMOUS,
EXPENSIVE SALON, AND CHANCES TO
MEET SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE IN THE
FIELD OF DESIRE, AND ADVICE
ABOUT WHAT TO DO WITH OUR
PARTICULAR COMPLEXION."
(TYPEWRITER BELL DINGING)

The caption changes to "Laurie Glazer. Mademoiselle guest editor."

Laurie is in her eighties, with above the shoulder white hair with bangs and wears a black sweater and a printed black and white scarf.

She says IT WAS A
CHANCE TO COME TO NEW YORK, TO
BE IN THE MAJOR FASHION MAGAZINE
FOR YOUNG WOMEN AT THAT TIME.

Heather says MOST OF THE ACTION IN
THE
BELL JAR
IS BASED ON TRUE
EVENTS.

Neva says SYLVIA IS JUST A GOOD
REPORTER.
EVERYBODY IS RECOGNIZABLE IN THE
BOOK, BUT SHE COMBINED US.

Heather says SHE'S LOOKING AT
ESTHER GREENWOOD.
SHE'S LOOKING AT THIS CHARACTER
EIGHT YEARS ON.
SHE'S DESCRIBING EVENTS THAT
HAPPENED IN 1953 IN 1961, SO
SHE'S LOOKING AT ESTHER THROUGH
THE LENS OF IRONY AND THE LENS
OF HISTORY.
AMERICA WAS SELLING AN IMAGE OF
STRENGTH AND PROSPERITY.
BEAUTIFUL GREEN LAWNS IN FRONT
OF ALL THE SUBURBAN HOUSES.
THIS SENSE OF POSTWAR OPTIMISM,
I THINK, WAS IN THE AIR.
YOU KNOW, PEOPLE WERE GETTING
MARRIED EARLIER, HAVING MORE
CHILDREN.
JUST A GENERAL SENSE OF
OPTIMISM.

An old slate reads "Communism Condemned. Ed Herlihy."

An announcer says THE GROWING MENACE OF
COMMUNISM AROUSES THE HOUSE OF
REPRESENTATIVES UN-AMERICAN
ACTIVITIES COMMITTEE.

Heather says BUT OF COURSE, THERE
WAS A DARK SIDE TO THAT.

A representative says ARE YOU A MEMBER OF THE
COMMUNIST PARTY, OR HAVE YOU
EVER BEEN A MEMBER OF THE
COMMUNIST PARTY?

Another representative says ARE YOU A MEMBER OF THE
COMMUNIST PARTY?

The caption changes to "Melvin Woody. Friend."

Melvin is in his seventies, with short wavy gray hair and a goatee. He wears a burgundy shirt.

He says THIS WAS THE
PERIOD OF THE MCCARTHY
ANTI-COMMUNIST HEARINGS.
AND SO, THERE WAS THAT VERY
CONSERVATIVE FEAR OF THE SOVIET
UNION AND OF COMMUNISM AND OF
NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST.

A representative says ARE YOU A MEMBER OF THE
COMMUNIST PARTY?

An interviewee says I HAVE REPLIED TO THAT.
YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO ASK ME THAT
QUESTION.

The representative says THE WITNESS IS THROUGH.

The caption changes to "Janet Rosenberg. Friend."

Janet is in her seventies, with short wavy gray hair and wears and off white sweater.

She says CERTAINLY, MCCARTHY WAS
FINDING COMMUNISTS UNDER
EVERYBODY'S BED.
HE WAS SCARING PEOPLE.

Heather says IT WAS NOT A GOOD
TIME TO VEER FROM THE PRESCRIBED
COURSE.
IF YOU WEREN'T WHITE...
YOU KNOW, IF YOU WERE
AFRICAN-AMERICAN, IF YOU WERE
GAY, IF YOU WERE TRANS, IF YOU
WERE A WOMAN, IF YOU WERE
JEWISH, AND ON AND ON AND ON,
I MEAN, THE 1950S WERE NOT A
VERY GOOD TIME TO LIVE AS AN
AMERICAN, REALLY.

The caption changes to "Elinor Klein. Friend."

Elinor is in her seventies, with long slightly wavy gray hair and wears a light gray T-shirt and a black cardigan sweater.

She says IT WAS A
CONSERVATIVE COUNTRY, AND WHAT
YOUR PARENTS EXPECTED FROM YOU
IF YOU WERE A GIRL WASN'T
TERRIBLY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT
THEY EXPECTED IF YOU WERE A BOY.

The caption changes to "Journal, aged 19."

Sylvia says "I DISLIKE BEING A
GIRL, BECAUSE AS SUCH, I MUST
COME TO REALIZE THAT I CANNOT
BE A MAN.
IN OTHER WORDS, I MUST POUR MY
ENERGIES THROUGH THE DIRECTION
AND FORCE OF MY MATE.
MY ONLY FREE ACT IS CHOOSING OR
REFUSING THAT MATE.
AND YET, IT IS AS I FEARED: I
AM BECOMING ADJUSTED AND
ACCUSTOMED TO THAT IDEA."

Laurie says DEFINITELY THERE WAS
A DOUBLE STANDARD.
IT WAS VERY WONDERFUL TO BE A
MAN IN THE '50S, I SHOULD THINK.
MEN WENT TO WORK AND MADE THE
MONEY, AND THE WOMEN HAD THE
CHILDREN.
IT WAS VERY UNUSUAL FOR THOSE OF
US WHO THOUGHT WE COULD DO MORE.
THEY PUT US INTO A HOTEL CALLED
THE BARBIZON HOTEL FOR WOMEN
WHICH WAS REALLY DREADFUL, BUT
WE THOUGHT IT WAS HEAVEN, YOU
KNOW?
SEVERAL FLOORS OF THE WINNERS.

A 1950s narrator says THE GIRLS'
ACTIVITIES ARE CAREFULLY
SUPERVISED, A REASSURING FACTOR
TO ANXIOUS PARENTS BACK HOME.
HERE, THEY LIVE IN A PLEASANT
BUT INSTITUTIONAL ATMOSPHERE,
WHERE THE VISITING MALE IS A
RARITY.

Laurie says WE WERE SO OVERCOME
WITH WONDER.
WE WERE JUST ABSOLUTELY
ASTOUNDED THAT WE WERE HERE.
(TYPEWRITER KEYS CLACKING)

Sylvia says "THIS HOTEL, THE
AMAZON, WAS FOR WOMEN ONLY, AND
THEY WERE MOSTLY GIRLS MY AGE
WITH WEALTHY PARENTS WHO WANTED
TO BE SURE THEIR DAUGHTERS
WOULD BE LIVING WHERE MEN
COULDN'T GET AT THEM AND
DECEIVE THEM.
AND THEY WERE ALL GOING TO POSH
SECRETARIAL SCHOOLS LIKE KATY
GIBBS, WHERE THEY HAD TO WEAR
HATS AND STOCKINGS AND GLOVES
TO CLASS, OR THEY HAD JUST
GRADUATED FROM PLACES LIKE KATY
GIBBS AND WERE SECRETARIES TO
EXECUTIVES AND JUNIOR
EXECUTIVES, AND SIMPLY HANGING
AROUND IN NEW YORK WAITING TO
GET MARRIED TO SOME CAREER MAN
OR OTHER."

Laurie says THE EDITOR'S NAME WAS
BETSY TALBOT BLACKWELL.
AND I CAN SEE HER PUSHING SYLVIA
AND ME, AND I THINK GINNY LANE.
SHE SAID, "YOU ARE OUR WRITERS,"
AND I WILL NEVER FORGET THAT.
"YOU ARE OUR WRITERS."
MY MEMORY IS OF JUST BEING UP IN
THE CLOUDS ALL THE TIME.

Neva says I GOT MY HAIR DONE, AND
I GOT TO WEAR NICE, BEAUTIFUL
CLOTHES IN THE FASHION SHOW.
SYLVIA DIDN'T WANT TO BE THE
MODEL TYPE.
SHE WANTED TO BE THE PERSON THAT
WOULD BE CONSIDERED AN
INTELLECTUAL.

The caption changes to "Sylvia interviews novelist Elizabeth Bowen."

Laurie says IF YOU WERE
INTERESTED IN BOOKS AND ART AND
MUSIC, IT WAS THE MAGAZINE FOR
YOUNG WOMEN AT THE TIME.
SYLVIA, I REMEMBER, TOLD ME THAT
SHE WANTED TO INTERVIEW A
NOVELIST.
SHE WAS VERY DRIVEN.

Sylvia says "WE WERE SUPPOSED TO
BE PHOTOGRAPHED WITH PROPS TO
SHOW WHAT WE WANTED TO BE.
BETSY HELD AN EAR OF CORN TO
SHOW SHE WANTED TO BE A
FARMER'S WIFE, AND HILDA HELD A
BALD, FACELESS HEAD OF A
HATMAKER'S DUMMY TO SHOW SHE
WANTED TO DESIGN HATS, AND
DOREEN HELD A GOLD EMBROIDERED
SARI TO SHOW SHE WANTED TO BE A
SOCIAL WORKER IN INDIA.
SHE DIDN'T REALLY, SHE TOLD ME.
SHE ONLY WANTED TO GET HER
HANDS ON A SARI.
WHEN THEY ASKED ME WHAT I
WANTED TO BE, I SAID I DIDN'T
KNOW.
'OH, SURE YOU KNOW,' THE
PHOTOGRAPHER SAID.
'SHE WANTS,' SAID JAY CEE
WITTILY, 'TO BE EVERYTHING.'
I SAID I WANTED TO BE A POET."

Karen says SYLVIA WAS INCREDIBLY
AMBITIOUS, AND SO I THINK SHE
WAS OPEN TO A LOT OF EXPERIENCE,
AND WANTED TO GO NEW YORK TO BE
A GUEST EDITOR.
WANTED TO EXPLORE JOURNALISM.
WANTED TO EXPLORE BEING A
WRITER.
WANTED TO EXPLORE BEING AN
ACADEMIC.
AND THAT WASN'T NECESSARILY
ENCOURAGED; SHE WAS UNUSUAL.

Sylvia says "GOD, LET ME THINK
CLEARLY AND BRIGHTLY.
LET ME LIVE, LOVE AND SAY IT
WELL IN GOOD SENTENCES.
LET ME SOMEDAY SEE WHO I AM AND
WHY I ACCEPT FOUR YEARS OF
FOOD, SHELTER AND EXAMS AND
PAPERS WITHOUT QUESTIONING MORE
THAN I DO."
(SCHOOL BELL RINGING)

The caption changes to "Smith College 1951."

Elinor says IT WAS A BIG DEAL TO GET INTO
SMITH AT THE TIME, BECAUSE
PEOPLE HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT
WE DIDN'T HAVE ENTRÉE, AS WOMEN
OR GIRLS AT THE TIME, TO YALE OR
HARVARD, WHAT ARE NOW COED
SCHOOLS.
THEY ONLY TOOK MEN.

Melvin says THEY WERE, ON THE WHOLE,
VERY, VERY BRIGHT WOMEN.
YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT IN
THAT PERIOD, THERE WERE PERHAPS
A QUARTER OF AS MANY PLACES FOR
WOMEN AT THE TOP WOMEN'S
COLLEGES AS THERE WERE FOR MEN
AT THE TOP MEN'S COLLEGES.

Elinor says OUR FIRST VERY LONG
MEETING WAS IN HER ROOM, AND WE
BOTH SAT ON THE FLOOR FACING ONE
ANOTHER WITH A LOT OF STUFF IN
BETWEEN.
SHE TALKED ABOUT BEING A WRITER
AT THE TIME.
SHE GRABBED A WHOLE BUNCH OF
REJECTION SLIPS AND SHE HELD
THEM OUT TO ME, AND SHE SAID,
"THESE ARE REJECTION SLIPS, AND
THEY TELL ME THAT I'M A WRITER."

Heather says I THINK THE WOMEN
SHE WENT TO SCHOOL WITH AT
SMITH, SOME OF THEM WANTED
CAREERS AND SOME OF THEM DIDN'T.
SOME OF THEM WERE SORT OF THERE
FOR A FINISHING-SCHOOL-TYPE
EXPERIENCE.
HAVING THAT SOPHISTICATED
PEDIGREE AND THEN FINDING A
WEALTHY AND POWERFUL HUSBAND.

Karen says THE EXPECTATION,
REALLY, WAS THAT YOU WERE BEING
EDUCATED SO THAT YOU WOULD HAVE
A VERY INTELLECTUAL HOUSEHOLD
AND YOU WOULD BRING UP YOUR
CHILDREN WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT
YOU HAD.

A 1950s narrator says CAROL TOOK A
GENERAL HOME ECONOMICS COURSE.
NOT ONE WHICH WOULD LEAD TO
PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYMENT, BUT
ONE WHICH FITTED HER FOR THAT
VERY IMPORTANT CAREER OF BEING
MRS. JOHNSON.
(TYPEWRITER KEYS CLACKING)

Sylvia says "BUDDY WAS AMAZINGLY
CLOSE TO HIS MOTHER.
HE WAS ALWAYS QUOTING WHAT SHE
SAID ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN.
HE WAS ALWAYS SAYING HOW HIS
MOTHER SAID, 'WHAT A MAN WANTS
IS A MATE, AND WHAT A WOMAN
WANTS IS INFINITE SECURITY.'
AND, 'WHAT A MAN IS IS AN ARROW
INTO THE FUTURE, AND WHAT A
WOMAN IS IS THE PLACE THE ARROW
SHOOTS OFF FROM,' UNTIL IT MADE
ME TIRED."

A clip from the 50s shows a woman on the phone saying OH, THE SKATING SOUNDS LIKE
LOADS OF FUN.

Sylvia says "THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS I
NEVER WANTED TO GET MARRIED.
THE LAST THING I WANTED WAS
INFINITE SECURITY AND TO BE THE
PLACE AN ARROW SHOOTS OFF FROM.
I WANTED CHANGE AND EXCITEMENT
AND TO SHOOT OFF IN ALL
DIRECTIONS MYSELF, LIKE THE
COLOURED ARROWS FROM A FOURTH
OF JULY ROCKET."

A clip from the 50s shows a man talking to his in-laws.

He says I'LL TAKE GOOD CARE OF HER,
MRS. AMES.
BYE.

The girl says BYE.

The mom says GOODBYE.

The dad says GOODBYE.

Melvin says THE CONDITION OF
WOMEN AT THE TIME, I FOUND, WAS
VERY WELL REPRESENTED IN
THE
BELL JAR
BY SYLVIA'S KIND OF
WAVERING BETWEEN TRYING TO
DECIDE WHICH MAN SHOULD SEDUCE
HER AND THE NECESSITY OF GETTING
MARRIED.

Sylvia says "THE MORE I THOUGHT
ABOUT IT, THE BETTER I LIKED
THE IDEA OF BEING SEDUCED BY A
SIMULTANEOUS INTERPRETER IN
NEW YORK CITY.
WHEN CONSTANTIN ASKED IF I
WOULD LIKE TO COME UP TO HIS
APARTMENT TO HEAR SOME
BALALAIKA RECORDS, I SMILED TO
MYSELF.
MY MOTHER HAD ALWAYS TOLD ME
NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES,
TO GO WITH A MAN TO A MAN'S
ROOMS AFTER AN EVENING OUT.
IT COULD MEAN ONLY ONE THING.
'I AM VERY FOND OF BALALAIKA
MUSIC,' I SAID."

Karen says SYLVIA PLATH'S
JOURNALS ARE JUST DRIPPING WITH
SEXUAL LONGING.
BUT YOU WERE TOLD IN THAT ERA,
YOU KNOW, THAT YOU COULD NOT
HAVE SEX.
YOU HAD TO GUARD YOUR VIRGINITY
WITH YOUR LIFE.

Sylvia says "I AM ENVIOUS OF
MALES.
I RESENT THEIR ABILITY TO HAVE
BOTH SEX, MORALLY OR IMMORALLY,
AND A CAREER.
I HATE PUBLIC OPINION FOR
ENCOURAGING BOYS TO PROVE THEIR
VIRILITY AND CONDEMNING WOMEN
FOR DOING SO.
IN SHORT, I WAS NOT ANGRY AT
DICK FOR SEDUCING SEVERAL
WOMEN, BUT JEALOUS THAT I HAD
BEEN DENIED THE SAME CHANCE BY
SOCIETY."

Heather says IN
THE BELL JAR,
OF COURSE,
ESTHER'S MOTHER GIVES HER A BOOK
CALLED
A DEFENCE OF CHASTITY.
(GIGGLING)
YOU KNOW, GOOD GIRLS ONLY WENT
SO FAR.
AND THEY WERE VERY GOOD AT SORT
OF MAINTAINING THEIR TECHNICAL
VIRGINITY.
BUT YOU KNOW, YOU CROSSED THAT
LINE WITH YOUR HUSBAND.
PLATH FANTASIZED ABOUT BEING A
MAN IN HER JOURNAL; ABOUT
VISITING BARS AND BROTHELS, AND
HAVING THAT FREEDOM TO DO SO,
AND SHE WAS DEEPLY UPSET BY THE
INJUSTICE OF THE DOUBLE
STANDARD.
PART OF HER WAS AN ICONOCLAST,
BUT YOU KNOW, ANOTHER PART OF
HER WAS QUITE CONVENTIONAL.
SO, I THINK THERE WERE THESE TWO
KIND OF WARRING FORCES WITHIN
HER, AND WITHIN ESTHER AS WELL.

Janet says SHE WAS ALWAYS GOING
OUT WITH SOMEBODY.
I ALMOST WAS GOING TO USE THE
WORD "PROMISCUOUS," BUT THAT
WASN'T ACCURATE.
I MEAN, JUST THE OLD JUNIOR-HIGH
BOY-CRAZY, I THINK.
IN FACT, I THINK SHE WAS TRYING
TO "UN-PRUDE" HERSELF.

The caption changes to "Phil McCurdy. School friend."

Phil is in his eighties, with short straight white hair and wears a gingham shirt and a black sweater vest.

He says WE AGREED TO MEET IN THE
MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.
SHE GOT UP AND SNUCK OUT, AND I
GOT UP AND SNUCK OUT.
AND WALKED AROUND, LOOKED AT THE
STARS.
TALKED ABOUT CONSTELLATIONS.
LAY IN THE GRASS.
WE APPROACHED INTIMACY VERY
DELICATELY, VERY CAREFULLY, VERY
CAUTIOUSLY.
AND, UH, TALKED ABOUT IT A GREAT
DEAL.

Melvin says THE BOY'S POINT OF
VIEW WAS, I GUESS, REALLY TO
SCORE, WAS TO PERSUADE THE WOMAN
TO FORGET ABOUT MARRIAGE.
AND INDEED, THERE'S A WHOLE
EXCHANGE OF LETTERS BETWEEN
SYLVIA AND MYSELF ON THAT SCORE,
BECAUSE AFTER WE HAD THIS
DISCUSSION ABOUT MARRIAGE AND
VIRGINITY AND SO ON, I PERSISTED
IN TRYING TO CONVINCE HER THAT
THAT WAS VERY STODGY, AND WE
SHOULD JUST GO AHEAD.
IT'S A VERY EMBARRASSING LETTER,
ACTUALLY, NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT
IT IN RETROSPECT.
AND SYLVIA WROTE BACK AND SIMPLY
REMINDED ME OF THE FACTS OF LIFE
FROM A WOMAN'S POINT OF VIEW.
AND OF COURSE, ALL OF THIS WAS
BEFORE THE PILL, WHICH CHANGED
EVERYTHING.
WOMEN WERE REALLY IN...
AND SYLVIA JUST SAID, YOU KNOW,
"IT'S ALL VERY WELL FOR YOU TO
TAKE THIS POSITION, BUT I HAVE
TO CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY OF
PREGNANCY."

Sylvia says "SUDDENLY, AFTER I
FINISHED A POEM, HE SAID,
'ESTHER, HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A
MAN?'
THE WAY HE SAID IT, I KNEW HE
DIDN'T MEAN A REGULAR MAN OR A
MAN IN GENERAL.
I KNEW HE MEANT A MAN NAKED.
'NO,' I SAID.
'ONLY STATUES.'
'WELL, DON'T YOU THINK YOU
WOULD LIKE TO SEE ME?'
I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY.
ALL I'D HEARD ABOUT, REALLY,
WAS HOW FINE AND CLEAN BUDDY
WAS, AND HOW HE WAS THE KIND OF
PERSON A GIRL SHOULD STAY FINE
AND CLEAN FOR.
SO, I DIDN'T REALLY SEE THE
HARM IN ANYTHING BUDDY WOULD
THINK OF TO DO.
'WELL, ALL RIGHT.
I GUESS SO,' I SAID.
I STARED AT BUDDY WHILE HE
UNZIPPED HIS CHINO PANTS AND
TOOK THEM OFF AND LAID THEM ON
A CHAIR, AND THEN TOOK OFF HIS
UNDERPANTS THAT WERE MADE OF
SOMETHING LIKE NYLON FISHNET.
'THEY'RE COOL,' HE EXPLAINED.
'AND MY MOTHER ALWAYS SAYS THEY
WASH EASILY.'
THEN HE JUST STOOD THERE IN
FRONT OF ME, AND I KEPT ON
STARING AT HIM.
THE ONLY THING I COULD THINK OF
WAS TURKEY NECK AND TURKEY
GIZZARDS, AND I FELT VERY
DEPRESSED."

The caption changes to "Letter to mother, Aurelia. June 1953."

Sylvia says "DEAR MOTHER, THE DANCE ON
WEDNESDAY NIGHT PRODUCED NO
POTENTIAL DATES FOR ME AND MOST
OF THE OTHER GIRLS, ALTHOUGH A
FEW ENDED UP WITH ELIGIBLE NEW
YORKERS.
HOWEVER, IN ITSELF IT WAS
SPECTACULAR AND MOST THRILLING.
WE HAD COCKTAILS ON THE OUTDOOR
SKY TERRACE OF THE ST. REGIS
ROOF.
I HAD MY PICTURE TAKEN,
DAIQUIRI IN HAND, BIG, BEAMING
SMILE OF JOY ON FACE.
WISH I COULD GET THE BIG COPY
OF IT, BECAUSE IT IS A GREAT
PICTURE OF ME.
WILL APPEAR IN MINUTE SIZE IN
MAG ALL OVER NATION WITH
CAPTION SOMETHING LIKE, 'SYLVIA
AND ANNE SMILE ECSTATICALLY
OVER CHAMPAGNE AND TWO MALE
DATES OF GIRLS IN THE OFFICE.'"

Neva says THEY HAD VERY NICE
YOUNG MEN THAT WERE THERE TO BE
OUR TABLE MATES.
MY DATE EVENTUALLY WANTED ME TO
SEE THE STORK CLUB AND SEE
GREENWICH VILLAGE, AND SHOWED ME
A GOOD TIME ON THE TOWN
AFTERWARD.
I HADN'T BEEN ONE TO DRINK MUCH.
I WAS ONLY A FRESHMAN.
UM, I HAD A LOT TO DRINK THAT
NIGHT.
AND YOU KNOW, IT WAS JUST TAKEN
FOR GRANTED THAT MEN COULD, UM,
I SUPPOSE...
I DON'T WANT TO SAY IT.
I CAN'T SAY IT.
(CHUCKLING)
AFTER THE TOUR OF GREENWICH
VILLAGE, HE SHOWED ME HIS
APARTMENT WITH HIS ORIGINAL
PAINTING OF CHOLLY
KNICKERBOCKER.
I COULDN'T LEAVE NEW YORK
WITHOUT SEEING THAT.
AND, UH, I STAYED THE WEEKEND.
I STAYED THE WEEKEND.
WE NEVER LEFT.
AS A RESULT, I CAME HOME
PREGNANT.
I HAD A SON DELIVERED IN MARCH
OF '54.
I GAVE AWAY THE BABY.
THERE'S A BOY OUT THERE, 65
YEARS OLD SOME...
YOU KNOW?

Laurie says YOU COULDN'T WORK AND HAVE
CHILDREN.
I REMEMBER IN CHICAGO, WHEN I
FIRST GOT PREGNANT, I RAN INTO
MY OFFICE.
IT WAS A NEWSPAPER.
AND I SAID, "I'M PREGNANT," AND
THEN THE MAN IN FRONT OF ME
SAID, "YOU'RE FIRED."
THAT
WAS THE '50S.

Sylvia says "I JUST BUMPED FROM
MY HOTEL TO WORK AND TO
PARTIES, AND FROM PARTIES TO MY
HOTEL, AND BACK TO WORK LIKE A
NUMB TROLLEY BUS.
I GUESS I SHOULD HAVE BEEN
EXCITED, THE WAY MOST OF THE
OTHER GIRLS WERE, BUT I
COULDN'T GET MYSELF TO REACT.
I FELT VERY STILL AND VERY
EMPTY, THE WAY THE EYE OF A
TORNADO MUST FEEL, MOVING DULLY
ALONG IN THE MIDDLE OF THE
SURROUNDING HULLABALOO."

Heather says RIGHT FROM THE
START, THAT SUMMER, SHE GETS
THESE MEMOS FROM
MADEMOISELLE
SAYING, "NOW, YOU MUST BRING AN
EVENING GOWN.
YOU MUST BRING THIS KIND OF
OUTFIT AND THIS KIND OF OUTFIT
AND HATS AND GLOVES.
OH, AND BY THE WAY, DON'T GO
DOWN TO GREENWICH VILLAGE.
DON'T GO TO THOSE JAZZY JOINTS."
SO, RIGHT FROM THE START, HER
WINGS ARE KIND OF BEING CLIPPED.
THERE'S A LINE IN
THE BELL JAR
WHERE ESTHER SAYS, "EVERYONE IN
NEW YORK WAS TRYING TO REDUCE,"
AND I FEEL LIKE ESTHER IS TRYING
TO EXPAND, AND SHE'S BEING KIND
OF THWARTED AT EVERY TURN.
SO, TO WHAT EXTENT THAT PLAYED
INTO THE DEPRESSION IS SOMETHING
I'VE ALWAYS WONDERED.

Laurie says I HAD NO IDEA THAT
THERE WERE STRAINS IN HER LIFE,
AND I DID NOT SEE ANYTHING BUT
THE SMILE ON HER FACE AND THE
MAGENTA LIPSTICK.
MAYBE SHE WAS A MARVELLOUS
ACTRESS.
IT'S INTERESTING THAT THIS ERA
SHOULD FOLLOW THE WAR YEARS,
WHEN WOMEN WERE STRONG AND WERE
OUT THERE SERVING IN THE
MILITARY AND MAKING SHIPS IN
FACTORIES.
AND THEY WERE EXTRAORDINARY
WOMEN DOING EXTRAORDINARY
THINGS.

A picture shows the "We can do it!" woman using a power drill at a factory with a slogan that reads "Do the job he left behind. Apply. U.S. Employment Service."

Laurie says AND THEN WE COME TO THE '50S,
AND WE'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE
EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN OR DO
EXTRAORDINARY THINGS.
AND I THINK SELF-DOUBT IS A PART
OF THAT.
I THINK I HAD IT, AND I KNOW SHE
HAD IT.

Heather says I THINK SHE BEGAN TO
FEEL THAT SHE WAS CORRALLED INTO
THE LITERARY EQUIVALENT OF
WOMEN'S WORK, WHICH WAS FASHION
WRITING.
SHE STARTS TO REALIZE THAT
ACTUALLY, I'M NOT GOING TO MEET
DYLAN THOMAS.
I'M NOT GOING TO MEET TENNESSEE
WILLIAMS.
AND THIS ISN'T
THE NEW YORKER,
AND IS THIS ALL THERE IS?
SO THAT THE AMBITION IS UP HERE
AND THE REALITY IS SORT OF HERE.
AND I THINK THERE WAS A WIDE
GULF BY THE END OF THAT SUMMER
BETWEEN THEM, AND THAT'S MAYBE
PART OF WHAT TRIGGERED THE
BREAKDOWN.

Sylvia says "AT THAT VAGUE HOUR
BETWEEN DARK AND DAWN, THE
SUNROOF OF THE AMAZON WAS
DESERTED.
QUIET AS A BURGLAR IN MY
CORNFLOWER-SPRIGGED BATHROBE, I
CREPT TO THE EDGE OF THE
PARAPET.
AT MY FEET, THE CITY DOUSED ITS
LIGHTS IN SLEEP, ITS BUILDINGS
BLACKENED, AS IF FOR A FUNERAL.
IT WAS MY LAST NIGHT.
I GRASPED THE BUNDLE I CARRIED
AND PULLED AT A PALE TAIL.
A STRAPLESS ELASTICIZED SLIP
WHICH, IN THE COURSE OF WEAR,
HAD LOST ITS ELASTICITY,
SLUMPED INTO MY HAND.
I WAVED IT, LIKE A FLAG OF
TRUCE, ONCE, TWICE.
THE BREEZE CAUGHT IT AND I LET
GO.
A WHITE FLAKE FLOATED OUT INTO
THE NIGHT, AND BEGAN ITS SLOW
DESCENT.
I WONDERED ON WHAT STREET OR
ROOFTOP IT WOULD COME TO REST.
PIECE BY PIECE, I FED MY
WARDROBE TO THE NIGHT WIND, AND
FLUTTERINGLY, LIKE A LOVED
ONE'S ASHES, THE GREY SCRAPS
WERE FERRIED OFF, TO SETTLE
HERE, THERE, EXACTLY WHERE I
WOULD NEVER KNOW, IN THE DARK
HEART OF NEW YORK."

Heather says I THINK THE VEIL
LIFTS IN NEW YORK CITY, AND SHE
STARTS TO THINK THAT EVERYTHING
IS ABOUT KIND OF SEX AND MONEY
AND POWER, AND WHERE DOES SHE
FIT INTO ALL THIS.
I DON'T THINK SHE LIKES IT VERY
MUCH.
(WHEELS CLACKING ON TRACK)

Neva says IT WAS A WONDERFUL,
GLAMOROUS TIME.
A LOT OF TENSION, A LOT OF
THINGS HAPPENING.
YOU GET HOME AND THERE'S A
LETDOWN.
(WINGS FLAPPING)

Karen says I THINK WHEN SHE CAME
HOME, SHE WAS UTTERLY EXHAUSTED,
FEELING LIKE THE EXPERIENCE IN
NEW YORK WASN'T EXACTLY WHAT SHE
IMAGINED IT WOULD BE.
TO SUDDENLY HAVE NOTHING AND BE
EXHAUSTED AND NO STIMULATION,
AND UNABLE TO WRITE...
SHE'S TRYING TO WRITE A NOVEL.
SHE CAN'T.
I THINK EVERYTHING WAS JUST
OVERWHELMING HER.
(TYPEWRITER KEYS CLACKING
SLOWLY)

Sylvia says "IT TURNS OUT THAT
NOT ONLY WAS I TOTALLY UNABLE
TO LEARN ONE SQUIGGLE OF
SHORTHAND, BUT I ALSO HAD NOT A
DAMN THING TO SAY IN THE
LITERARY WORLD, BECAUSE I WAS
STERILE, EMPTY, UNLIVED AND
UNWISE AND UNREAD.
I BECAME UNABLE TO SLEEP.
I BECAME IMMUNE TO INCREASED
DOSES OF SLEEPING PILLS."

Heather says ONE MORNING, SHE COMES
DOWNSTAIRS AND SAYS TO HER
MOTHER, YOU KNOW, "LET'S DIE.
LET'S DIE TOGETHER."
AND I THINK SHE'D CUT HERSELF.
AND SO, THAT WAS THE MOMENT WHEN
AURELIA SAID, "OKAY.
IT'S TIME TO SEE A DOCTOR."

Sylvia says "'DON'T WORRY,' THE
NURSE GRINNED DOWN AT ME.
'THEIR FIRST TIME, EVERYBODY'S
SCARED TO DEATH.'
I TRIED TO SMILE, BUT MY SKIN
HAD GONE STIFF LIKE PARCHMENT."

Karen says SHE GOES TO A THERAPIST.
HE DOESN'T REALLY ASK HER ANY
QUESTIONS ABOUT HERSELF, AND
BASICALLY SAYS, "OH, YOU SOUND
MILDLY DEPRESSED.
YOU NEED ELECTROSHOCK THERAPY."

Sylvia says "DR. GORDON WAS
FITTING TWO METAL PLATES ON
EITHER SIDE OF MY HEAD.
HE BUCKLED THEM INTO PLACE WITH
A STRAP THAT DENTED MY
FOREHEAD AND GAVE ME A WIRE TO
BITE.
I SHUT MY EYES.
THERE WAS A BRIEF SILENCE, LIKE
AN INDRAWN BREATH.
THEN SOMETHING BENT DOWN AND
TOOK HOLD OF ME AND SHOOK ME
LIKE THE END OF THE WORLD.
WHEE-EE-EE-EE-EE, IT SHRILLED,
THROUGH AN AIR CRACKLING WITH
BLUE LIGHT, AND WITH EACH FLASH
A GREAT JOLT DRUBBED ME TILL I
THOUGHT MY BONES WOULD BREAK
AND THE SAP FLY OUT OF ME LIKE
A SPLIT PLANT.
I WONDERED WHAT TERRIBLE THING
IT WAS THAT I HAD DONE."

Heather says HER FIRST TREATMENT OF SHOCK
THERAPY WAS VERY BADLY
ADMINISTERED: NO KIND OF
ANAESTHETIC WAS GIVEN TO HER TO
PREVENT THESE VIOLENT MUSCLE
CONTRACTIONS AND SPASMS THAT
COULD RESULT IN BROKEN BONES.
I MEAN, SHE WAS EFFECTIVELY
ELECTROCUTED, AND THEN SORT OF
DEPOSITED BACK IN THE WAITING
ROOM.

Karen says IT WAS ALSO COSTING
HER MOTHER A LOT OF MONEY.
SO, I DO THINK THAT'S PROBABLY
WHY SHE JUST DECIDED, I DON'T
WANT TO BE A BURDEN TO MY
FAMILY AND I JUST WANT TO GET
OUT OF THIS SITUATION.

The caption changes to "Letter to Eddie Cohen."

Sylvia says "PRETTY SOON, THE ONLY DOUBT
IN MY MIND WAS THE PRECISE TIME
AND METHOD OF COMMITTING
SUICIDE.
THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE I COULD
SEE WAS AN ETERNITY OF HELL FOR
THE REST OF MY LIFE IN A MENTAL
HOSPITAL, AND I WAS GOING TO
MAKE USE OF MY LAST OUNCE OF
FREE CHOICE AND CHOOSE A QUICK,
CLEAN ENDING."
(ONLOOKERS SCREAMING BELOW)

Sylvia says "'SUICIDE SAVED FROM
SEVEN-STOREY LEDGE!
AFTER TWO HOURS ON A NARROW
LEDGE SEVEN STOREYS ABOVE A
CONCRETE PARKING LOT AND
GATHERED CROWDS, MR. GEORGE
POLLUCCI LET HIMSELF BE HELPED
TO SAFETY THROUGH A NEARBY
WINDOW BY SGT. WILL KILMARTIN
OF THE CHARLES STREET POLICE
FORCE.'
THE TROUBLE ABOUT JUMPING WAS
THAT IF YOU DIDN'T PICK THE
RIGHT NUMBER OF STOREYS, YOU
MIGHT STILL BE ALIVE WHEN YOU
HIT THE BOTTOM.
I THOUGHT SEVEN STOREYS MUST BE
A SAFE DISTANCE."

Melvin says SYLVIA WAS CLEARLY DOWN IN
THE DUMPS, VERY SAD, AND WE HAD
A LONG DISCUSSION ABOUT THAT.
THIS ALL OCCURS ALSO IN
THE BELL
JAR,
EXCEPT THAT SHE'S CHANGED
THE NATURE OF THE DISCUSSION.
IN THE DISCUSSION THAT I HAD
WITH HER, SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT
HAVING WRITER'S BLOCK, THAT SHE
COULDN'T WRITE.
THE DISCUSSION SHE REPORTS IS
ONE ABOUT HOW WOULD YOU KILL
YOURSELF, I THINK.
WE WENT INTO THE WATER TO SWIM,
AND WE SWAM OUT.
IN THE BOOK IT SAID WE WERE
SWIMMING TOWARDS THE ROCK.
(TYPEWRITER KEYS CLACKING)

Sylvia says "I STARTED TO SWIM, A
MODIFIED DOGPADDLE, KEEPING MY
FACE TOWARD THE ROCK.
CAL DID A SLOW CRAWL.
AFTER A WHILE, HE PUT HIS HEAD
UP AND TREADED WATER.
'CAN'T MAKE IT.'
HE WAS PANTING HEAVILY.
'OKAY.
YOU GO BACK.'"

Melvin says I DO RECALL THAT WE'D GOTTEN
TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE, AND I
WAS NOT A STRONG SWIMMER, BUT I
HAD THE INTUITION THAT SYLVIA
WAS GOING TO JUST GO ON OUT AND
DROWN.

Sylvia says "I THOUGHT I WOULD SWIM OUT
UNTIL I WAS TOO TIRED TO SWIM
BACK.
AS I PADDLED ON, MY HEARTBEAT
BOOMED LIKE A DULL MOTOR IN MY
EARS: I AM I AM I AM."

Melvin says AND I TOLD HER THAT I WASN'T
SURE I COULD GET BACK WITHOUT
HER HELP.
SHE WAS A MUCH STRONGER SWIMMER
THAN I WAS.
AND SO, WE WENT BACK AND GOT OUT
OF THE WATER, AND THAT'S THE
SCENE IN
THE BELL JAR.

Sylvia says "WELL, I TRIED DROWNING, BUT
THAT DIDN'T WORK.
SOMEHOW THE URGE TO LIFE, MERE
PHYSICAL LIFE, IS DAMN STRONG.
AND I FELT THAT I COULD SWIM
FOREVER, STRAIGHT OUT INTO THE
SEA AND SUN, AND NEVER BE ABLE
TO SWALLOW MORE THAN A GULP OR
TWO OF WATER AND SWIM ON.
THE BODY IS AMAZINGLY STUBBORN
WHEN IT COMES TO SACRIFICING
ITSELF TO THE ANNIHILATING
DIRECTIONS OF THE MIND."
"THAT MORNING, I HAD MADE A
START.
I HAD LOCKED MYSELF IN THE
BATHROOM AND RUN A TUB FULL OF
WARM WATER AND TAKEN OUT A
GILLETTE BLADE.
BUT WHEN IT CAME RIGHT DOWN TO
IT, THE SKIN OF MY WRISTS
LOOKED SO WHITE AND DEFENCELESS
THAT I COULDN'T DO IT.
IT WAS AS IF WHAT I WANTED TO
KILL WASN'T IN THAT SKIN, OR
THE THIN BLUE PULSE THAT
JUMPED UNDER MY THUMB, BUT
SOMEWHERE ELSE DEEPER, MORE
SECRET, AND A WHOLE LOT HARDER
TO GET AT."

Heather says SHE WROTE A NOTE SAYING THAT
SHE WAS GOING OUT FOR A WALK.
SHE PROPPED THE NOTE AGAINST A
BOWL OF FLOWERS ON THE DINING
ROOM TABLE, AND SHE TOOK HER
MOTHER'S BOTTLE OF SLEEPING
PILLS, ABOUT 40 OR 50 IN THE
BOTTLE, AND SHE WENT DOWN INTO A
CRAWLSPACE IN THE FAMILY CELLAR.

Sylvia says "COBWEBS TOUCHED MY FACE WITH
THE SOFTNESS OF MOTHS.
WRAPPING MY BLACK COAT ROUND ME
LIKE MY OWN SWEET SHADOW, I
UNSCREWED THE BOTTLE OF PILLS
AND STARTED TAKING THEM SWIFTLY
BETWEEN GULPS OF WATER, ONE BY
ONE BY ONE.
AT FIRST, NOTHING HAPPENED, BUT
AS I APPROACHED THE BOTTOM OF
THE BOTTLE, RED AND BLUE LIGHTS
BEGAN TO FLASH BEFORE MY EYES.
THE BOTTLE SLID FROM MY
FINGERS, AND I LAY DOWN.
THE SILENCE DREW OFF, BARING
THE PEBBLES AND SHELLS AND ALL
THE TATTY WRECKAGE OF MY LIFE.
THEN, AT THE RIM OF VISION, IT
GATHERED ITSELF, AND IN ONE
SWEEPING TIDE RUSHED ME TO
SLEEP."

A newspaper article reads "Searchers com woods for Smith College girl."

Heather says IT WAS IN ALL THE PAPERS.
I MEAN, THERE WERE ABOUT 200
NEWSPAPER ARTICLES ABOUT THE
SEARCH FOR THE MISSING SMITH
BEAUTY.
IT WAS SORT OF TABLOID NEWS AT
THE TIME.
(LEAVES RUSTLING)
AND THEN AFTER THREE DAYS, HER
BROTHER WARREN HEARD HER MOANING
IN THE CELLAR.

Perry says WE WERE ALL RELIEVED WHEN
THEY FOUND HER AND SHE
RECOVERED, BUT, UH, THAT WAS THE
FIRST I REALIZED THAT SHE HAD
SERIOUS MENTAL PROBLEMS.

Neva says I UNDERSTOOD TOTALLY WHAT SHE
WAS GOING THROUGH, AND HOW
DESPERATE SHE MUST HAVE FELT.
I DIDN'T FEEL THAT BELL-JAR
STIFLING, BUT I DID FEEL
ABANDONED, YOU KNOW, BY IT ALL.

Phil says WHEN I ASKED HER ONCE, YOU
KNOW, "WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED
TO YOU?
WHAT DID YOU DO?
WHY DID YOU DO THAT?"
SHE SAID, "OH, IT'S VERY
SIMPLE."
I SAID, "WELL, TELL ME."
SHE SAID, "I REACHED THIS POINT
AT WHICH I WAS SO UPSET, OR
THOUGHT I WAS SO UPSET, THAT I
COULDN'T FULFIL MY WRITING
ASSIGNMENTS AND I THOUGHT I HAD
LOST MY TALENT."
I SAID, "WELL, OBVIOUSLY, YOU
DIDN'T."
"NO, NO, BUT IT FELT LIKE IT WAS
GONE FROM ME AND I WOULDN'T GET
IT BACK."

A picture of the McLean Hospital appears.

(TYPEWRITER KEYS CLACKING)

Sylvia says "MY MOTHER'S FACE FLOATED TO
MIND, A PALE, REPROACHFUL MOON,
AT HER LAST AND FIRST VISIT TO
THE ASYLUM SINCE MY 20TH
BIRTHDAY.
A DAUGHTER IN AN ASYLUM.
I HAD DONE THAT TO HER.
STILL, SHE HAD OBVIOUSLY
DECIDED TO FORGIVE ME.
'WE'LL TAKE UP WHERE WE LEFT
OFF, ESTHER,' SHE HAD SAID WITH
HER SWEET, MARTYR'S SMILE.
'WE'LL ACT AS IF ALL THIS WERE
A BAD DREAM.'
A BAD DREAM.
TO THE PERSON IN THE BELL JAR,
BLANK AND STOPPED AS A DEAD
BABY, THE WORLD ITSELF IS THE
BAD DREAM."

Elinor says ALL SHE KNEW...
I THINK IT WAS A VAST
DEPRESSION.
DEEP AND DARK AND TERRIBLE.
AND SHE WAS SO HONEST ABOUT
SAYING, "I CANNOT, WILL NOT,
EVER LIVE THROUGH THIS AGAIN.
IF IT SHOWS ITSELF, THAT WILL BE
THE END OF ME, NO MATTER WHAT."

Heather says MENTAL ILLNESS AT
THAT TIME CARRIED AN ENORMOUS
STIGMA.
ONE OF PLATH'S NEIGHBOURS TOLD
ME THAT THE STIGMA WAS SO STRONG
IT ALMOST AFFECTED THE ENTIRE
NEIGHBOURHOOD.
AND I THINK FOR SOMEONE AS
AMBITIOUS AND SUCCESSFUL AS
SYLVIA PLATH WAS, THERE WAS AN
EVEN DEEPER SENSE OF SHAME.
A PART OF THE TRAGEDY, I THINK,
IS THAT PEOPLE DIDN'T REALLY
HAVE THE LANGUAGE TO DISCUSS
MENTAL ILLNESS.

Frieda says MY MOTHER'S MENTAL
ILLNESS WASN'T DISCUSSED WITH ME
WHEN I WAS A CHILD AT ALL.
I DIDN'T HAVE ANY AWARENESS THAT
SHE WAS MENTALLY ILL UNTIL I WAS
IN MY TEENS, OR THAT SHE HAD
BEEN MENTALLY ILL.
SO, IT WAS MORE OF A VOYAGE OF
DISCOVERY OVER THE YEARS AND
OVER LIFE, AND THERE'D BE BITS
AND PIECES THAT I'D PICK UP.
MY FATHER AND I DID TALK ABOUT
IT ON ONE OR TWO OCCASIONS WHEN
I WAS OLDER, AND THERE WERE
ASPECTS.
BUT YOU KNOW, WHAT TO SAY ABOUT
THAT WITHOUT IT BECOMING A
DISCUSSION OF, YOU KNOW, MY REAL
MOTHER AND HER VERY REAL ILLNESS
AS OPPOSED TO ESTHER GREENWOOD'S
EXPERIENCES?
I MEAN, MY MOTHER'S EXPERIENCE
WITH THE ILLNESS WENT ON TO
EVOLVE TO ITS UNFORTUNATE
CONCLUSION.

The caption changes to "Letter to Eddie Cohen."

Sylvia says "I HAVE EMERGED FROM
INSULIN SHOCK AND ELECTRIC
SHOCK THERAPY WITH THE
DISCOVERY, AMONGST OTHER
THINGS, THAT I CAN LAUGH IF THE
OCCASION MOVES ME.
I NEED MORE THAN ANYTHING RIGHT
NOW WHAT IS, OF COURSE, MOST
IMPOSSIBLE: SOMEONE TO LOVE ME,
TO BE WITH ME AT NIGHT WHEN I
WAKE UP IN SHUDDERING HORROR
AND FEAR OF THE CEMENT TUNNELS
LEADING DOWN TO THE SHOCK ROOM,
TO COMFORT ME WITH AN ASSURANCE
THAT NO PSYCHIATRIST CAN QUITE
MANAGE TO CONVEY."

And old interview audio rolls.

The caption changes to "London 1961."

An interviewer says WHERE DO YOU
COME FROM, TED?

Ted Hughes says FROM...
ORIGINALLY FROM MYTHOLMROYD IN
WEST YORKSHIRE, NEAR HALIFAX.

The interviewer says WHAT ABOUT YOU,
SYLVIA?

Sylvia says WELL, I WAS BORN IN
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, BUT I
THINK I'M OVER HERE IN ENGLAND
TO STAY NOW.
WE KEPT WRITING POEMS TO EACH
OTHER, AND THEN IT JUST GREW OUT
OF THAT, I GUESS.
A FEELING THAT WE BOTH WERE
WRITING SO MUCH AND HAVING SUCH
A FINE TIME DOING IT, WE DECIDED
THAT THIS SHOULD KEEP ON.

Heather says IN THE FALL OF 1955,
SYLVIA WENT OVER TO NEWNHAM
COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE, TO DO A
SECOND BA IN ENGLISH.
SHE MET TED HUGHES IN FEBRUARY
OF 1956 AT A FAMOUSLY RAUCOUS
LITERARY PARTY.
THEY MARRIED ON BLOOMSDAY IN
1956.
SO, A VERY QUICK COURTSHIP, AND
THEN TED BEGAN TO BECOME VERY
FAMOUS VERY QUICKLY.

Karen says WILLIAM HEINEMANN
WANTED TO PUBLISH HER FIRST BOOK
OF POETRY,
THE COLOSSUS.
SO, SHE HAD A LOT OF ACCLAIM AND
ENCOURAGEMENT.
NOW SHE WAS GOING TO BE A
PUBLISHED POET.
AND I THINK THAT KIND OF
ENCOURAGEMENT JUST GAVE HER A
LOT OF SELF-CONFIDENCE.

The caption changes to "Mushrooms, from The Colossus."

Sylvia says "OVERNIGHT, VERY
WHITELY, DISCRETELY.
VERY QUIETLY.
OUR TOES, OUR NOSES
TAKE HOLD ON THE LOAM,
ACQUIRE THE AIR.
NOBODY SEES US,
STOPS US, BETRAYS US;
THE SMALL GRAINS MAKE ROOM."

Heather says SHE'D ALWAYS WANTED
TO WRITE A NOVEL.
IT HAD BEEN THIS AMBITION FOR
YEARS AND YEARS.
BY 1961, I THINK SHE HAD THE
CONFIDENCE TO LOOK BACK AT HER
EARLIER BREAKDOWN AND KIND OF
APPROACH IT AND WRESTLE WITH IT
IN A WAY.

Sylvia says NOW THAT I HAVE
ATTAINED, SHALL I SAY, A
RESPECTABLE AGE AND HAVE HAD
EXPERIENCES, I FEEL MUCH MORE
INTERESTED IN PROSE, AND I FIND
THAT IN A NOVEL, I CAN GET MORE
OF LIFE.
PERHAPS NOT SUCH INTENSE LIFE,
BUT CERTAINLY MORE OF LIFE.
AND SO, I'VE BECOME VERY
INTERESTED IN NOVEL-WRITING AS A
RESULT.

Heather says SHE WAS A SUCCESSFUL
WRITER BY THEN.
SHE DID HAVE THIS BRILLIANT
HUSBAND AND A BEAUTIFUL CHILD.
SO, SHE'D ACHIEVED ALL OF THESE
THINGS THAT, IN 1953, SHE'D BEEN
GETTING THE MESSAGE THAT YOU
CAN'T ACHIEVE THAT.
SO, SHE COULD SORT OF AFFORD TO
LOOK BACK WITHOUT TURNING TO
SALT.

Karen says I DON'T THINK SYLVIA
COULD'VE WRITTEN
THE BELL JAR
UNLESS SHE WAS ALMOST AN OCEAN
BETWEEN HER AND NEW YORK CITY,
AND VERY HAPPY AND CONTENT WITH
HER LIFE.
YOU KNOW, SHE HAD TO REVISIT ALL
THIS PAIN IN HER TEENAGE YEARS,
AND I THINK SHE REALIZED, I HAVE
BEEN THROUGH THE MOST
EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCE, AND I
HAVE SURVIVED, YOU KNOW?
I HAVE RISEN AGAIN, AND I'M HERE
TO TELL THE STORY.

Frieda says I THINK TO GIVE A VOICE TO AN
EXPERIENCE IS LIKE LETTING IT
GO.
I ALSO THINK THAT THE WORDS
REMEMBER IT FOR US SO WE DON'T
HAVE TO CARRY IT ANYMORE.
WE CAN LET IT FLOAT OFF LIKE A
LITTLE HELIUM BALLOON.
INSTEAD OF TUGGING A WHOLE BUNCH
OF BALLOONS WITH ALL OUR LITTLE
TROUBLES AROUND, WE CAN WRITE IT
ALL DOWN, LET IT GO, AND THEY'RE
ALL OUT THERE.
IF WE EVER WANT TO BE REMINDED,
THEY'RE ALL THERE FOR US,
BECAUSE WE HAVE MADE SURE THEY
ARE, BUT THEY'RE ALL AT A
DISTANCE.
PERHAPS IT CAN IMBUE A SENSE OF
FREEDOM.
BUT ALSO, I THINK, THIS HAPPENED
TO ME.
IT WAS REAL.

Sylvia says "IT WAS A
QUEER, SULTRY SUMMER, THE
SUMMER THEY ELECTROCUTED THE
ROSENBERGS, AND I DIDN'T KNOW
WHAT I WAS DOING IN NEW YORK."

Janet says I BOUGHT
THE BELL JAR
THE DAY IT WAS IN THE
BOOKSTORES.
AND I SAT UP THAT NIGHT AND READ
IT.

Neva says I GRABBED IT RIGHT OFF THE
STANDS, READ IT AND FELT VERY
CLOSE TO THE WHOLE SITUATION.
SO MUCH OF THE BOOK RELATED TO
ME AND ALL THAT SHE WENT
THROUGH, AND I SAY, "THERE BUT
FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I."

Perry says I IMMEDIATELY RECOGNIZED SOME
OF THE PEOPLE IN THE BOOK.
BECAUSE IT WAS A LITTLE BIT
ROUGH ON SOME OF THEM, I WAS
GLAD THAT I WASN'T INCLUDED IN
IT.

Melvin says I THOUGHT IT WAS A
VERY FUNNY BOOK, AND I WASN'T
SURE I WAS SUPPOSED TO FIND IT
FUNNY, BUT IT WAS SYLVIA
REPRESENTING HER YOUNGER SELF,
AND I THOUGHT IT FIT THE WAY WE
WERE AT THAT TIME.

The caption changes to "If she can learn to shape as well as she imagines she may write an extremely good book. Times literary supplement, January 25th 1963."

Heather says I THINK SHE WAS
DISAPPOINTED BY THE REVIEWS OF
THE BELL JAR.

The caption changes to "Disturbing and moving. Sunday Telegraph, January 27th 1963."

The caption changes to "A sprightly little tale. The Guardian, 1st February 1st 1963."

Heather says THEY WERE GOOD, SOLID REVIEWS.
SOME OF THEM WERE EXCELLENT.
BUT I THINK SHE HAD HOPED FOR
MORE.
THIS WAS HER PATHWAY TO
FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE.
SHE ALWAYS THOUGHT, YOU KNOW,
MAYBE IF I WRITE A NOVEL AND
IT'S A BESTSELLER, I'LL BE
FINANCIALLY SECURE.
BY THE TIME
THE BELL JAR
WAS
PUBLISHED, HER MARRIAGE TO TED
HUGHES HAD ENDED.
SHE WAS LIVING ON HER OWN IN
LONDON WITH FRIEDA AND NICHOLAS.
IT WAS THE WORST WINTER IN A
CENTURY.
IT WAS KNOWN AS THE BIG FREEZE,
THAT TIME IN LONDON.
THE CHILDREN WERE SICK.
THE ELECTRICITY WAS GOING OUT.
YOU KNOW, INTERMITTENT HEAT AND
HOT WATER.
SHE WAS BECOMING MORE AND MORE
DEPRESSED.

Sylvia says "I THOUGHT THE MOST BEAUTIFUL
THING IN THE WORLD MUST BE
SHADOW, THE MILLION MOVING
SHAPES AND CUL-DE-SACS OF
SHADOW.
THERE WAS SHADOW IN BUREAU
DRAWERS AND CLOSETS AND
SUITCASES, AND SHADOW UNDER
HOUSES AND TREES AND STONES,
AND SHADOW AT THE BACK OF
PEOPLE'S EYES AND SMILES, AND
SHADOW, MILES AND MILES AND
MILES OF IT, ON THE NIGHT SIDE
OF THE EARTH."

Karen says WHEN YOU ARE IN A DEEP
DEPRESSION, I THINK YOU FEEL
THAT YOUR CHILDREN AND YOUR
FAMILY WOULD BE BETTER OFF
WITHOUT YOU.
I THINK SHE WAS AFRAID OF BEING
HOSPITALIZED; THAT WAS NOT
SOMETHING SHE WANTED.
AND I THINK SHE THOUGHT SHE WAS
GOING MAD AGAIN, AND JUST
COULDN'T HANDLE IT.

Elinor says I FOUND OUT THE NIGHT THAT
SOMEONE WAS GIVING MY HUSBAND A
30TH BIRTHDAY PARTY, AND
SOMEBODY SAID THAT SYLVIA PLATH
HAD KILLED HERSELF.
BUT I REMEMBER THE SHOCK AND
ALSO THE UNDERSTANDING THAT
IT
MUST HAVE HAPPENED AGAIN.

Heather says SHE ENDED HER LIFE
ON FEBRUARY 11.
UM, SHE TURNED ON THE GAS.
UM, HER GAS OVEN.
AND SHE FOLDED A CLOTH AND SHE
PUT HER HEAD DOWN.
SHE HAD TAPED HER CHILDREN'S
DOOR SHUT AND SHE HAD LEFT BREAD
AND MILK FOR THEM.

Phil says MY FIRST REACTION WAS, GOD,
IF I'D BEEN THERE, I COULD'VE
PREVENTED IT.
AND, UH, I'VE PROBABLY HAD THAT
THOUGHT A MILLION TIMES.

Melvin says FOR SEVERAL DECADES, I
NEVER...
I JUST WAS INTO DENIAL ABOUT HER
DEATH AND STILL FELT IN CONTACT
WITH HER.
SO, IN A WAY, SYLVIA NEVER DIED
FOR ME.

Betsy says I'VE DREAMT ABOUT HER MANY
TIMES.
UM, I TREASURE THOSE YEARS.
SHE WAS THE MAIN CHARACTER OF MY
CHILDHOOD, AND SHE GAVE ME SUCH
HAPPINESS, AND I LIKE TO BELIEVE
I GAVE THE SAME TO HER.

Tristine says HOW TRULY SAD IT IS
THAT SHE WASN'T AROUND TO
WITNESS THE SUCCESS OF WHAT SHE
HAD CREATED, BECAUSE SHE
DESERVED TO WITNESS THAT.
SHE DESERVED TO UNDERSTAND HOW
SHE HAD PUT HER FEELINGS INTO
THIS BEAUTIFUL NOVEL THAT THEN
GAVE HOPE TO SO MANY WOMEN, AND
SHE NEVER GOT TO SEE THAT.

Heather says WE CAN NOW LOOK BACK
AND READ
THE BELL JAR
WITH A NEW
SET OF EYES AND A GREATER
AWARENESS, EVEN, OF WHAT ESTHER
WAS GOING THROUGH AS AN
AMBITIOUS YOUNG WOMAN TRYING TO
MAKE HER MARK ON NEW YORK CITY
AND THE LIMITS SHE COMES UP
AGAINST.
THE NOVEL STILL SPEAKS TO US,
BECAUSE SHE DID IT IN SUCH A
POIGNANT AND HONEST AND
AUTHENTIC WAY.
WE WILL STILL BE READING SYLVIA
PLATH A HUNDRED YEARS FROM NOW.

Frieda says I SUPPOSE I'D LIKE TO THINK
THAT PEOPLE MOST IDENTIFY WITH
HER STRENGTH OR WITH HER
ACTUALLY PHENOMENAL WORK ETHIC,
AND FROM MY POINT OF VIEW, HER
DESIRE TO BE A MOTHER, WHICH CAN
ONLY BE A GOOD THING WHERE I'M
CONCERNED.
AND SO...
BECAUSE THERE WAS SO MUCH THAT
WAS POSITIVE IN HER LIFE, AND
I THINK THAT HER END OVERSHADOWS
THAT SOMETIMES.

Phil says SO MUCH ATTENTION HAS
BEEN PAID TO HER MENTAL ILLNESS
THAT I THINK IT BLURS OR
DIMINISHES THAT INCREDIBLE
QUALITY SHE WAS AS A PERSON.
FROM THE TIME I WAS 13, I
THOUGHT SHE WAS THE GREATEST
THING IN THE WORLD.

Elinor says IF I WERE TO CONJURE
UP A MEMORY OF SYLVIA, IT WOULD
BE THE FIRST MEETING WE HAD ON
THE FLOOR OF HER DORMITORY ROOM,
WITH THE SUN BEHIND HER, AND
LAUGHING.

Betsy says THAT CLASS OF 1950 AT
WELLESLEY HIGH SCHOOL HAD OUR
50TH REUNION 50 YEARS LATER, AND
IN ORDER TO COMMEMORATE THAT
EVENT, WE AGREED TO HAVE A
BRONZE PLAQUE MADE IN HER HONOUR
AND PLACED IN THE HIGH SCHOOL.
AND THE PART OF THE PLAQUE THAT
I HOLD SO DEAR TO MY HEART...
(SIGHING)
IS THE VERSE THAT I CHOSE TO
HAVE WRITTEN BENEATH HER
PORTRAIT, WHICH IS, "I WRITE
BECAUSE THERE IS A VOICE WITHIN
ME THAT WILL NOT BE STILL."
SHE WAS 15 WHEN SHE WROTE THAT.
AND AS FAR AS I'M CONCERNED,
THAT TELLS YOU WHAT YOU NEED TO
KNOW ABOUT SYLVIA.

Music plays as the end credits roll.

Producers, Olive Flowers and Professor Tim Kendall.

Director, Teresa Griffiths.

Copyright 2018, Yeti Media.

Watch: Sylvia Plath - Inside the Bell Jar