Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Inspired By Literature: Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is a name that conjures varying reactions depending on who you are speaking to, and often it’s due to the legend that surrounds this infamous author rather than for her work itself. Much like Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath's is a name that brings up thoughts and impressions about a personality rather than texts, stories and poems alone. I happen to adore Sylvia Plath’s work, and also find her incredibly beautiful which makes her the perfect subject of an inspired by literature post. As far as I’m concerned, Sylvia's legacy is that of beautiful literary work as well as a death—however tragic—that draws attention to depression and mental illness. The stigma surrounding these subjects often make us uncomfortable as a society, the main reason I believe many shrink from Sylvia's poetry and writing, but these "uncomfortable" topics need to be addressed, discussed and ultimately improved upon for the greater good.

Though I adore Plath’s collection of poems entitled, Ariel, it is her most famous work, The Bell Jar, that has always been my favorite. This novel offers a cerebral look at Plath’s own inner workings as the novel is somewhat autobiographical. I read the book for the first time as a freshman in college just as I started my English literature degree. I was drawn to Plath’s writing with a sort of morbid curiosity—like a moth to the flame—that was rewarded with an intense passion for Plath’s unique style. Given the fact that much of my time as an English literature major was spent looking much farther back than the 1950s (my focus was the dawn of the novel in the late 18th century, to what I consider the novel’s flowering period in the mid to late 19th century) I found Plath’s works a refreshing, often painfully realist look at a very different world than what I was used to studying. 

(Top to bottom): Dior Addict Lip Glow, Dior Addict Lipstick 457 Candide Pink, Laura Mercier Lotus Blossom

The Bell Jar is the story of Esther Greenwood, a young woman with an internship at a magazine in New York City. For various reasons including the stress put upon her in her new position, societal expectations and a less than stellar relationship with an overbearing man Esther begins a sharp descent into mental illness and feels as though she is trapped beneath a bell jar. Though the novel is renowned for bringing mental health issues to light, it is worth noting that Plath's work also grapples with feminism and the rolls and expectations imposed upon women in mid 20th century America. For this reason I see the novel as a series of binaries where colors and cosmetics (a hot button topic given the feminist views of the work itself) are concerned: soft feminine pinks characterize expectations imposed upon Esther, whereas more ambiguous and mysterious shades of cream and dusty blue speak to her emotional state.

(Clockwise from top right): NARS Heart of Glass, Giorgio Armani Eyes to Kill Intense 23 Madre Perla, MAC Eye Shadow Dove Feather, Parisian Skies, Clair de Lune

"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet." - Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar
(Clockwise from top right): NARS Blush Douceur, Sin, Gaiety

Though I often don't feature fragrances in Inspired By Literature posts, none seems more suited to represent the work of Sylvia Plath than the incomparable De Profundis by Serge Lutens ... not least because the fragrance itself is housed in a bell jar. This perfume speaks to the very contrasts that were at the crux of Plath's work: light and dark, sadness and joy, life and death. De Profundis is the epitome of femininity tinged with a darker, more macabre side.

(More on that later ... I'm lusting after a bottle of this incredibly expensive fragrance at the moment.)

Sylvia Plath's works have the ability to galvanize readers and launch discussions about mental health and feminism. Though I wish it weren't so, both issues remain relevant and unresolved decades after the publication of Plath's only novel. Though it's an intense read, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of The Bell Jar. Readers will find the novel engaging, though uncomfortable at times, and it serves as an excellent introduction to Plath's more complex poetry.

Do you have a favorite poem by Sylvia Plath? As unusual as the comparison may be, what product do you most associate with her work?