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PLATH, Sylvia

The Bell Jar

I thought of all the things I couldn't do. I couldn't cook. I couldn't drive. I couldn't emote. But I reckoned I could sleep with Constantin, a short, ugly interpreter for the UN whom Mrs Willard had introduced me to. "Do you want to sleep with me?" I asked. "No," he replied. "You're too much like hard work."

Mr Willard took me to the sanatorium. Buddy showed me a poem he had written. It was awful. Just like some Ted Hughes doggerel. "I'm not going to marry you," I said. "You made me ski straight down a hill and break my leg." He thought I was being neurotic. Typical male bastard.

Someone called Hilda - I would explain who she was, if I remembered or cared - said she was glad the Rosenbergs had fried. I went on a date with Marco, a real woman-hater. You can always tell a woman-hater. They are every man I've ever met. I hit him. He called me a slut. Or maybe it was the other way round. I'm a little vague sometimes.

My mother told me I hadn't made it on to the writing course. Maybe you can see why. Buddy Willard wrote that he had an infatuation with his nurse and I started to write a novel. This might even be it. I decided I needed experience. I began reading Finnegans Wake and the doctor sent me to a psychiatrist. I didn't trust Dr Gordon. He was a man, smooth talking, good looking. You might be wondering by now if I had issues with men, as every man I met was a complete bastard. Don't. I was fine. This is a protean feminist novel; all men are bastards. Especially Ted.

Dr Gordon gave me some electric shock treatment. It didn't work so I went home and tried to hang myself. That didn't work either so I tried to shoot myself. Then drown myself. Eventually I took an overdose of sleeping pills and woke up in a private hospital where I was greeted by Buddy Willard's first girl-friend, Joan. "I tried to kill myself just like you," she said. "But now I'm better."

The bell jar was still stifling me as I was shunted from Dr Pancreas to Dr Syphilis. I then found myself speaking to a kind and beautiful psychiatrist, Dr Nolan. "I hate my mother," I said, for the first and last time showing any insight or interest in my condition. "You need some more ECT," she replied, "though my ECT will be a touchy-feely feminine ECT, not like the treatment that electrocuting male chauvinist bastard gave you."

I could finally breathe. The bell jar had lifted, though you wouldn't have noticed it from my writing, which was as lifeless and un-self aware as ever. "I'm leaving to be a psychiatrist," Joan told me. There's no chance of me seeing you, I thought charitably, as I made an appointment with a doctor to get myself fitted with a coil. I needed a world free from babies where I could have sex with the right kind of man. Even though the right kind of man obviously didn't exist.

"Ouch," I said. Irwin had warned me losing my virginity might hurt; he had been right. What a bastard. I started haemorrhaging profusely and took a cab back to the hospital, where the nurse greeted me with the news that Joan had hanged herself.

I couldn't remember who Joan was till Buddy Willard asked me whether it was a coincidence that both his girlfriends had been depressed. I smiled enigmatically, told him not to worry as I wasn't going to see him again anyway and then went round to hit that jerk Irwin for my $20 cab fare to the hospital. I wasn't going to see him again, either. I was no longer a blob. I had been reborn. Well, maybe.