Blackwell North Amer Though her life was brief, the American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath (1932-63) exerted a profound influence on contemporary writers, particularly women writers of the sixties and seventies. Just as to her Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry Plath brought a decidedly feminist perspective, so too did she etch in her novel The Bell Jar a disturbing vision of life for young women in America at midcentury. The Bell Jar - based on Plath's own experiences as a student at Smith College, an intern at Mademoiselle, and a young woman battling for her own sanity amid societal mores of the times - was initially published in England under a pseudonym, its American publication stifled for years by the writer's family. When, however, the 1963 novel was finally released to U.S. audiences in 1971, it achieved both critical and popular success, and has since become a classic of feminist literature and a unique vehicle for better appreciating Plath's gifts. It is through a multifaceted lens that Linda Wagner-Martin examines The Bell Jar in this new study. Whereas past critical attention has centered on The Bell Jar as autobiography, Wagner-Martin transcends that approach, looking as well at the novel in its larger context of the social and historical forces shaping women's lives in America during the fifties and sixties. Thus eschewing a simplistic reading of the novel, the author plumbs issues of gender, genre, and narrative voice. Arguing that Plath's troubled personal history was the product of her struggle against contemporary social forces, Wagner-Martin reviews the writer's prior work and inspects earlier, partial versions of the novel; explores Plath's use of humor and sarcasm; traces the writer's representation of patriarchal structures in the novel; and ultimately places the novel squarely in the tradition of works about women at odds with a society dominated by patriarchal values. A brilliantly argued, eminently readable approach to this masterpiece, The Bell Jar: A Novel of the Fifties is certain to be lauded by scholars and students alike.