The Bell Jar
Literature and Writing Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Words, dimly familiar but twisted all awry, like faces in a funhouse mirror, fled past, leaving no impression on the glassy surface of my brain. (10.138)
Esther describes her attempt to read what many consider to be the greatest novel of all time, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. And yes, those are actual quotes from the book. If those quotes seem to be "dimly familiar but twisted all awry" to you, you are not alone. You are so not alone that you are in the majority. But Joyce appears in The Bell Jar to signal Esther's own hope to write great literature.
It was what my mother called a scandal sheet, full of the local murders and suicides and beatings and robbings [...] At home, all I ever saw was the Christian Science Monitor, which appeared on the doorstep at five o'clock every day but Sunday and treated suicides and sex crimes and airplane crashes as if they didn't happen. (11.127-8)
Esther here describes why she loves to read "scandal sheets," which would be roughly similar to the New York Post today, though a step above The National Enquirer. Unlike the Christian Science Monitor, which maintains an aura of social respectability, the scandal sheets get into the real dirt and grime of human experience.
The only reason I remembered this play was because it had a mad person in it, and everything I had ever read about mad people stuck in my mind, while everything else flew out. (13.13)
Although Henrik Ibsen isn't specifically mentioned, this play sounds an awful lot like his Ghosts, where a man gone mad with syphilis he inherited in the womb is (possibly) killed by his mother in a mercy killing. Ibsen was both celebrated and pilloried for his look at the dark side of human nature, and he continues to be considered one of the greatest modern playwrights.