Olive Higgins Prouty herself experienced some form of 'nervous breakdown' in her forties. In a letter to Sylvia Plath's mother* she commented that she felt 'better equipped to meet life' because of this experience.
*Letters Home p.127.
The idea of being confined within a bell jar is, of course, the novel's central metaphor for Esther Greenwood's experience of mental illness.
It is a particularly striking image, which conveys both the isolation and desolation of being imprisoned in a 'world of one's own', and the sense of stifling helplessness evoked by being unable to escape from that world.
In Jacqueline Rose's critical analysis* of the work of Sylvia Plath, she notes that one of the characters in the well known film, Barbary Coast (1935), says, 'I was born in a bell jar'.
*Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (Virago, 1992 paperback edition) p. 186
Dr. Nolan is based on the psychiatrist Dr. Ruth Beuscher, who treated Sylvia Plath at McLean Hospital between September 1953 and January 1954.
Sylvia Plath also had psychotherapy with Dr. Beuscher during 1959 when she and her husband, Ted Hughes, were living in Boston.
In Britain and many other countries, the equivalent organisation is known as the Girl Guides.
What is being described here is a type of shoe often known in America as a 'loafer'.
Although 'loafers' were produced originally in Norway in the 1930's, their styling is based to some extent on that of the 'moccasin', the traditional footwear of the Native American Indian.
This was a form of treatment for schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis which was developed in the 1930's and was widely used during the 1940's and 1950's, prior to the development of anti-psychotic medication.
The full-blown version of the treatment involved the administration by injection of large doses of insulin which would induce a coma, although a 'modified' version, using sub-coma dosages was also used.
In America, the use of Insulin shock therapy had virtually died out by the 1970's, although it continued to be used in some parts of the world.
Nowadays it is generally considered to have been an ineffective, dangerous and inhumane form of treatment.
Sylvia Plath received Insulin shock therapy during her stay at McLean Hospital.
Click here to see a video about Insulin Shock Therapy.
Lobotomy (sometimes called leukotomy or leucotomy) is a form of brain surgery in which connections to and from the frontal lobes of the brain are cut.
It is a form of psychosurgery ( neurosurgery or surgery on the brain) designed to treat mental disorders. It has also been used to treat chronic pain.
Lobotomy as a form of treatment was widely used in the 1940's and 1950's, particularly in America, to treat schizophrenia and other disorders, especially those where the sufferer was violent or agitated.
Highly controversial from the outset, lobotomy has increasingly come to be seen as an extremely unacceptable treatment which causes extensive and irreversible damage to an individual's personality and cognitive functioning.
This type of psychosurgery had virtually ceased by the 1970's, although it is still in occasional use.
Watch this video to learn about the use of lobotomy by the surgeon Walter J. Freeman.
(BE AWARE that some of the scenes of surgery, and parts of the discussion about the use of lobotomy, are UPSETTING):
The word fraternity strictly means brotherhood, but is also the name given to organisations whose male members subscribe to a particular set of beliefs and practices (as in the college fraternities discussed earlier).
There are numerous fraternities in the United States, and they are an important aspect of its cultural life. Local branches are often known as chapters, and their meeting places as chapter houses.
The Masons (or Freemasons) are a worldwide organisation with just under 2 million members in the U.S.A.. Their local branches are known as 'Lodges', and their administrative centres as 'Grand Lodges'.
In the summer of 1952, Sylvia Plath took a job as a 'mother's help' on Cape Cod with the Cantors, a family of Christian Scientists, and Mrs. Cantor visited Plath whilst she was at McLean Hospital.
Sylvia Plath was visited at McLean Hospital by Wilbury Crockett, her former English teacher at Bradford Senior High School in Wellesley.
According to her mother, yellow roses were Sylvia Plath's 'favourite flowers'.
Before it began admitting male students in 1969, it was one of the group of prestigious women's colleges known as the 'Seven Sisters'