My copy of The Bell Jar

I just read about the 50th anniversary cover of The Bell Jar – the jacket shows a woman putting on lipstick in front of a mirror. According to the Guardian, this cover has been “derided for branding Sylvia Plath novel as chick lit”.

(No hint of irony re: deriding the cover by using the inherently derisory (to the female reader) term “chick lit”? Do we need to go there again, really?)

Anyway, much yuk. But moving on, it prompted me to order a copy, because — get this — I’ve not read it.

I know!

I ordered a second-hand copy from America, because it claimed to be the American first edition (it was a close call between this and the concentric ring cover from the UK). I was intrigued by the American cover; it seemed the author was swinging something from her fingers… a pendant?

Stock image

 

I’m still not sure, because when it arrived, the dust cover was missing, and I had only a purple, cloth-bound hardback in my hands – but for all its plainness, it brings a second story.

 

 

It’s come from the Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, a place set up in 1850 in the face of a cholera epidemic. This was the first Jewish hospital set up in the USA, and it catered for people of all faiths.

 

 

And check out the shelf it was kept on:

 

Credit to Mr Rothenberg for having a “shelf for leisurely medical reading”.

Since writing this, I’ve had a chance to very briefly check out Robert C Rothenberg (1902-1997) – a Harvard educated, clinical professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, he held numerous medical roles and lectured on medical history, medical ethics, practice and the law, and human sexuality. He also supported a local school, the Rothenberg Elementary School named after his grandfather. His wife, Jean (“Minnie”), was a nutritionist who suffered from hearing difficulties; for decades she worked to support people with hearing difficulties, as well as other philanthropic work, leading to an honorary doctorate. I can think of few greater legacies than decades of clinical medicine and sustaining a local school – so it’s lovely to have a book from his library, and to know of their existence.

The structure of the book interested me, too — it’s nicely bound but the pages are rough-cut, and on a few pages, there are bits of paper-flashing where the page wasn’t cut cleanly.

 

Tatty edges where the pages were not cut cleanly

It speaks of history, quirks, of things missing and things added, and for that reason, it belongs with me. (My home library is the home of quirky books).

So I declined the vendor’s offer of a refund (on account of the dust jacket), although it was a kind offer. I’m sure I’ll come across other editions in due course and one day I’ll find out what the picture was meant to be. But for now, I have some “leisurely medical reading” to do. And a lovely, plain, purple, cloth-bound book to cherish. I hope it hasn’t brought any dormant diseases from the hospital, a few old TB spores or anything, you know. But then again, half my books are old medical reference books so… yeah, it really does fit right in.

I’ll update this once I’ve read it.

You’ve all read it, right? Will I like it?

 

2 comments

  1. pjlazos says:

    You will be very sad and wonder how people can reach such depths and still write so beautifully. On account of or in spite of? The perennial question. Your post reminds me that I need to get a copy for my 16-year old. Required reading for girls in the verge of being women just as “Catcher in the Rye” is required for everyone. Good luck! It will shift you.😩

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    • TU says:

      Well, I’ve read it now and yes, beautifully written. A very stark picture of life as a young woman in the sixties. I wish I’d read it earlier. It didn’t surprise me in the way it might have, perhaps I’ve read too many 1960s stories and also felt haunted by Girl, Interrupted. This was definitely the book to read first, but love it anyway.

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