Plath's Depression: Autograph Journal and The Bell Jar

During the summer of 1953, Plath descended into a deep depression. These feelings are honestly described in her college journal: “Loss of perspective humor.” She was treated with poorly administered electroshock therapy at the Valley Head Hospital in Carlisle, Massachusetts: “And now this: shock. Utter nihilistic shock.” Plath felt as if she were being electrocuted and suicide seemed her only escape.

Sylvia Plath. Autograph journal, 1950-1953.

Plath journal page 1 (small) Plath journal page 2 (small)
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Similar images appear in The Bell Jar. Plath’s thinly disguised auto-biographical novel begins with the electrocution of the Rosenbergs. The novel recounts the summer Plath served as managing guest editor of Mademoiselle magazine in New York and was later treated for depression at McLean Hospital after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Plath's one-page outline of the novel states: "shock treatment at private mental hospital/windows barred/vow to kill self."

Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar:
second draft, 1961.

The Bell Jar draft (small)
Jill Ker Conway was president of Smith College when Sylvia Plath’s papers were offered for sale. A great admirer of Plath’s poetry and prose, Conway facilitated their purchase from the Sylvia Plath estate in 1981.
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Sylvia Plath Collection
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

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