Page 53. " It was after the Yale Junior Prom "
A group of American modern-day 'promenaders'
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA group of American modern-day 'promenaders' - Credit: adamr.stone, Flickr

American college degree courses generally last for four years, named in order of completion, freshman, sophomore, junior and senior.

A 'prom' (short for 'promenade') is a ball or dance held by a particular class at a school or college.

The 'Yale Junior Prom' was a prestigious annual social event held (usually in January or February) from 1870 until the 1970s. It took place over several days and, as well as a formal dance, included events such as parties, dinners, concerts and sports matches.

Dorothy Parker is reputed to have said, 'If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised'.

Page 54. " studying about Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless for my history exam "
Medieval illuminated manuscript showing Peter the Hermit's 'People's Crusade' (1096)
Public DomainMedieval illuminated manuscript showing Peter the Hermit's 'People's Crusade' (1096) - Credit: unknown

As may be noted throughout the text, Esther Greenwood studies a range of subjects at her college, in spite of the fact that she is an 'English major'. This is in keeping with the ethos of an American 'Liberal arts college' where the first two years concentrate on general education.

Peter the Hermit, who died in 1115, was a priest from Amiens in France, and one of the leaders of the First Crusade;

Walter the Penniless (sometimes also known as Walter Sans Avoir or Gautier Sans-Avoir) was a French nobleman who acted as lieutenant to Peter the Hermit.

Page 55. " Joan Gilling came from our home town and went to our church "

The character Joan Gilling is based loosely on Jane Anderson who was brought up in the same town as Sylvia Plath and also attended Smith College. Events later in the novel, however, show this character's actions veering sharply from those of her real-life counterpart.

Page 56. " we went on a bicycle trip to East Rock "

East Rock is a mountain ridge in New Haven, Connecticut, which is a popular venue for outdoor activities, including walking, cycling, cross-country skiing, and bird watching.

East Rock, New Haven, Connecticut from Yale University
GNU Free Documentation LicenseEast Rock, New Haven, Connecticut from Yale University - Credit: Sage Ross, Wikimedia Commons

Page 56. " They're from Dartmouth "
Dartmouth Hall, Dartmouth College
Public DomainDartmouth Hall, Dartmouth College - Credit: Urban, Wikimedia Commons

Dartmouth College, a member of the Ivy League, is a private, mixed-sex University, situated in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Page 61. " It looked like some awful torture table, with these metal stirrups sticking up in mid-air "
Hospital Delivery Room, 1952
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeHospital Delivery Room, 1952 - Credit: Roger and Renate Rössing, Wikimedia Commons

In America in the 1950's, most births took place in hospital, the rate of home births having declined from 50% in 1938 to fewer than 1% in 1955.

The concept of hospital as opposed to home birth was also promoted in Britain during the post-war period, although many British women continued to give birth at home in the 1950's.

Frieda and Nicholas, the children of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, were both born at home in Britain in 1960 and 1962 respectively.



Page 63. " loaded with Gray's Anatomy and other thick gruesome books "

Illustration from 'Gray's Anatomy' 1858
Public DomainIllustration from 'Gray's Anatomy' 1858 - Credit: Henry Vandyke Carter
Henry Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body (generally known as Gray's Anatomy) by Henry Gray was first published in 1858.

It is a textbook of human anatomy which has been used by generations of medical students and those working in related professions. Now in its 40th. edition, it has succeeded in keeping up to date with all the latest developments in the field.

Page 63. " while I read aloud 'somewhere I have never travelled' "
Self portrait by E.E. Cummings
Public DomainSelf portrait by E.E. Cummings - Credit: E.E. Cummings
'somwhere I have never travelled' is a poem by E.E. Cummings.

Full text

Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), generally known as E.E. Cummings, was an American author, poet, playwright and painter.

His poems are characterised by unconventional spelling, typography and verbal patterns.

For example, a poem about the grasshopper entitled 'r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r' uses spelling patterns and a visual pattern designed to suggest the grasshopper's style of movement.

Full text 

Page 64. " The only thing I could think of was turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt very depressed "
Shop mural, Bridgetown, Barbados
GNU Free Documentation LicenseShop mural, Bridgetown, Barbados - Credit: Postdlf, Wikimedia Commons

This is one of the most famous lines from The Bell Jar, and shows Esther Greenwood at her sharpest as she coins the ultimate male put-down!

The gizzard is a muscular pouch found behind the stomach in the digestive tract of birds. Its function is to grind hard or fibrous food, partially digested in the first stomach.

Shop-bought turkeys are often sold with a bag of giblets in the cavity. The giblets include the gizzard, as well as offal, such as the heart and the liver. The turkey's neck is also often included.

The neck of the Thanksgiving turkey
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe neck of the Thanksgiving turkey - Credit: Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr


Page 66. " until you were at least pinned or engaged "
Phi Mu fraternity pin
Creative Commons AttributionPhi Mu fraternity pin - Credit: Phi Mu Fraternity

'Pinning' is a college fraternity member's way of showing commitment to a relationship with his girlfriend by giving her his fraternity pin (sometimes known as 'a pledge pin' or 'new member pin'). Generally, pinning is seen as the equivalent of an engagement.

It is closely related to the concept of 'lavaliering' which involves a fraternity member giving his girlfriend a 'lavaliere' or necklace which includes the fraternity's letters in its make-up.

Generally, lavaliering precedes pinning. 

Page 70. " Constantin drove me to the UN is his old green convertible "

A 'convertible' is a car with a retractable top, so that it can be used with the roof either 'up' or 'down'.

Convertibles may be 'hard top' or 'soft top': 'hard tops' have roofs made out of metal, plastic, or carbon fibre; 'soft tops' have roofs made out of vinyl, canvas, or other textiles.

'An old green convertible'
Public Domain'An old green convertible' - Credit: CZmarlin, Wikimedia Commons


Page 71. " and black-bottom pies "
A black-bottom pie
Creative Commons AttributionA black-bottom pie - Credit: Robert Simmons, Flickr

Black-bottom pies originated in the American south at the beginning of the twentieth century.

They consist of a biscuit crust (often made with ginger snaps), a layer of chocolate custard (said to signify the dark, swampy, lowlands of the Mississippi river), a layer of rum-flavoured custard, and a topping of whipped cream decorated with shavings of chocolate.

Aficionados of black-bottom pie appear to disagree as to how it should best be made, but here is one recipe:


Page 74. " and be a war correspondant like Maggie Higgins "

Marguerite Higgins Hall (1920-1966), often known as Maggie Higgins, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

She was a war-correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, and reported on the liberation of Dachau concentration camp, the Nuremberg trials, the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam.

Click here and here to see images of Marguerite Higgins Hall.