Reflections on her legacy
by Margaret Drabble
8 February 2013
The Bell Jar is a novel of reckless vitality, and although it's about death, trauma, suicide and madness, it's as exhilarating as its narrator's first mad dash down the ski slope when she manages triumphantly to break her leg in two places. High-flying Esther Greenwood is in no way a victim, she is as greedy for experience as she is for caviar and cocktails, and she is the one who takes the initiative in her own headlong career. She is the seducer, not the seduced, a role which few women claimed in the 60s: she engineers her own loss of virginity, and coolly plants the $20 hospital bill for the "one in a million" haemorrhage that ensues upon the poor young professor whom she entraps. This is a novel about ambition and desire, about a woman's refusal even to contemplate life as a doormat. Esther wants everything. She's funny, vivid, extreme. There had been few heroines like her in fiction, but many more were to follow in her wake.
Margaret Drabble's most recent book is A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman (Penguin Modern Classics)