Page 76. " to hear some balalaika records "
A balalaika
GNU Free Documentation LicenseA balalaika - Credit: Andreas Gronski, Wikimedia Commons

The balalaika is a three-stringed, triangular shaped musical instrument which originated in Russia.

Page 76. " in an article my mother cut out of the Reader's Digest "
Spanish edition of 'Reader's Digest', April, 1963
Creative Commons AttributionSpanish edition of 'Reader's Digest', April, 1963 - Credit: José Mesa, Flickr
Reader's Digest is a monthly magazine which is published worldwide.

In existence since 1922, it specialises in providing synopses of articles on a range of general-interest topics, written from a conservative, family-oriented perspective.

Page 76. " This article was written by a married woman lawyer with children and called 'In Defence of Chastity'. "

As is clear throughout The Bell Jar, young women in 1950s America were expected to keep themselves 'pure' for the man they were going to marry, whilst at the same time being under pressure to make themselves sexually desirable to their dates.

The Catch-22 situation is summed up very neatly by Anne Stevenson (whose own American upbringing coincided with that of Plath) in Bitter Fame, her biography of Plath, when she says: 'Everything was permissible to girls in the way of intimacy except the one thing such intimacies were intended to bring about' (p.19).

However, as Esther Greenwood found out, there was no shortage of advice:

Page 78. " with the victrola playing "

A victrola is an old-fashioned, wind-up gramophone for playing 78 rpm records.

Victrola (1921)
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeVictrola (1921) - Credit: Mayagod00, Wikimedia Commons

Page 80. " I found Mrs Willard braiding a rug out of strips of wool from Mr Willard's old suits "
A knitted 'rag rug' made from old T-shirts
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA knitted 'rag rug' made from old T-shirts - Credit: Aine D, Flickr

In America the making of 'rag rugs' at home began at a time when floor coverings were not obtainable by any other means. They were made using any remnants of cloth which were available, often scraps of old clothing.

Subsequently, as in the case of Mrs. Willard, the making of 'rag rugs' became a home-based craft hobby.  


Page 80. " you could buy for under a dollar in the Five and Ten "


The former S.H. Kress & Co. 'five and dime' store in Lubbock, Texas
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe former S.H. Kress & Co. 'five and dime' store in Lubbock, Texas - Credit: David Scott, Wikimedia Commons

'Five and Ten' stores (sometimes known as 'nickel and dime' or 'five and dime', stores) were American shops where everything cost either five or ten cents.


One of the earliest examples of a 'five and dime' store was Woolworths (which first opened in 1878). Others included S.H. Kress & Co, McLellans, and Ben Franklin Stores.

Fixed price stores of this type are often known as 'variety stores'.

Page 80. " my father had been married before so he needed a divorce "
Reno, Nevada
Creative Commons AttributionReno, Nevada - Credit: Renjishino, Wikimedia Commons

The history of Esther Greenwood's parents' marriage is identical to that of Otto and Aurelia Plath.

The couple met in 1929 when Aurelia took a course in Middle High German taught by Dr. Otto Plath, a biologist, entomologist and expert on the bumble bee.

Their marriage took place in January 1932 in Carson City, Nevada, when Aurelia was aged 25 and her husband was 46. They had travelled initially to Reno, Nevada (where divorce laws were liberal) as Otto Plath needed to obtain a divorce from his first wife whom he had not seen for fifteen years.

Page 84. " 'TB is like living with a bomb in your lung' "
A free TB clinic in White Haven, Pennsylvania (probably early 20th. century)
Creative Commons AttributionA free TB clinic in White Haven, Pennsylvania (probably early 20th. century) - Credit: Otis Historical Archives (selected by Kathleen), Flickr
Tuberculosis (or TB) is a common, and often fatal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria which attack the lungs.

Its main symptoms are weight loss, fever, night-sweats, and the coughing up of blood-stained sputum.

It is believed that TB in America began at the time of Columbus, and by the turn of the twentieth century it was responsible for 10% of all deaths in the U.S.A..

The first American sanatorium was established at Saranac Lake in upper New York State by Dr. Edward Trudeau in 1886, and by 1938, there were 700 sanatoriums at different locations throughout the United States.

As mentioned previously, Dick Norton, on whom the character Buddy Willard is based, was treated at the Ray Brook Sanatorium in Saranac Lake.

The Ray Brook Sanatorium is now a medium-security prison known as the Adirondack Correctional Facility!

Page 85. " a few wilted numbers of Time and Life "

Eisenhower on LIFE magazine cover, June 1944
Public DomainEisenhower on LIFE magazine cover, June 1944 - Credit: LIFE magazine, Time, Inc.- official U.S. Army photo
During the period in which The Bell Jar is set, Life was a highly successful, weekly news magazine, particularly renowned for its photojournalism.

Page 85. " The face of Eisenhower beamed up at me "
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1952)
Public DomainDwight D. Eisenhower (1952) - Credit: Fabian Bachrach

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), sometimes known as 'Ike', was a general in the United States Army and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II.

A Republican, he subsequently became president of the United States from 1953 until 1961.

Page 88. " I'm still on P.A.S. and I may yet lose a rib or two "
X-ray showing TB in the patient's left lung
GNU Free Documentation LicenseX-ray showing TB in the patient's left lung - Credit: original uploader: EricH, Wikimedia Commons
P.A.S. is an abbreviation for many things, including 'primary alerting system' and 'performance assessment system'.

It is also the abbreviation for 'Periodic Acid-Schiff', a test carried out on human tissues in order to detect polysaccharides and other substances.

Does anybody know whether this has any bearing on TB?

One of the treatments available for tuberculosis between the early 1900's and the 1950's was Thoracoplasty, the surgical removal of one or more ribs in order to collapse a lung. With the advent of antibiotic drugs, such as streptomycin, this form of treatment for tuberculosis became increasingly rare from the late 1940's onwards, although it was still being practised in some parts of the world as recently as the late 1990's.

Page 88. " that time you hitch-hiked back to college with me after Skit Night "
Swim coaches getting ready for a skit
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSwim coaches getting ready for a skit - Credit: chucka_ns, Flickr
Greek week banquet
Creative Commons AttributionGreek week banquet - Credit: Josh Berglund, Flickr

Skit Night (as far as can be gathered from the internet) is one of the events of Greek Week, which is a week-long celebration organised by the Greek societies (college fraternities and sororities) held during the Spring semester of the American college year.

It appears to be an evening of comic revues and sketches performed in order to raise money for charity ... possibly similar to the 'rag week' of British universities?

Can anyone throw any more light on this?


Page 90. " I stood at the top of the ski slope on Mount Pisgah "
View of Saranac Lake
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeView of Saranac Lake - Credit: Mwanner, Wikimedia Commons

Mount Pisgah is a mountain summit in the Adirondacks in New York State.

Since 1948, the Mt. Pisgah Ski Centre has been in operation at the village of Saranac Lake, the site of the TB sanatorium where Dick Norton was treated.

Page 90. " Gazing down on the Jungfrau From our chalet for two "

These lyrics are almost identical to two lines from 'Wunderbar', a song from Cole Porter's 1948 musical, Kiss me Kate, which is based on Shakespeare's play, Taming of the Shrew. A film version of the musical was released in 1953.

Listen to 'Wunderbar' on Spotify


Cole Porter (1934)
Public DomainCole Porter (1934) - Credit:




Page 94. " Your leg's broken in two places "
Skier (1954)
GNU Free Documentation LicenseSkier (1954) - Credit: Kunstpiste, Wikimedia Commons

In Letters Home (p.102), Aurelia Plath notes that Sylvia Plath spent the early part of January 1953 with Dick Norton at his sanatorium in Saranac Lake, and that she borrowed skis and without any previous professional instruction skied on the advanced slope.

Part of the message sent in a telegram to her family reporting that she had broken her leg, read:



Page 95. " I'd seen a play where the heroine was possessed by a dybbuk "
Hanna Rovina as Leah'le in 'The Dybbuk'
Public DomainHanna Rovina as Leah'le in 'The Dybbuk' - Credit: unknown

A dybbuk is an evil spirit in Jewish mythology. It is said to be the soul of a dead person, who has transgressed in some way, which returns to inhabit the body of a living person.

The Dybbuk is the title of a play written by S. Ansky in 1914 in Russian or Yiddish, an English version of which was performed in New York in 1925/26.

The play was also made into a 1937 film Yiddish language film with the same title.



Page 97. " and we returned to Tulsa or Biloxi or Teaneck or Coos Bay or wherever we'd come from "

Tulsa is a city in the state of Oklahoma;

Biloxi is a city in the state of Mississippi;

Teaneck is a suburb of the New York metropolitan area, in the state of New Jersey;

Coos Bay is a city in the state of Oregon.


The singer-songwriter Gene Pitney had a 1963 hit with a song entitled 'Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa'.

Listen to 'Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa' on Spotify

Page 99. " They're ugly as Aztecs "
Statue of Mictlantecuhtli, Aztec god of death
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeStatue of Mictlantecuhtli, Aztec god of death - Credit: Jami Dwyer, Wikimedia Commons

The Aztec people were indigenous to Mexico and generally spoke the Nahuatl language.

Their culture was at its height from the 14th to the 16th century but declined following the conquest of their main city, Tenochtitlan, by Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador. The series of events which occurred in the wake of the conquest is sometimes known as 'the fall of the Aztec Empire'.

Page 99. " laddered nylons "
Nylons in action
GNU Free Documentation LicenseNylons in action - Credit: Tranquil Garden, Wikimedia Commons
Legless nylons
GNU Free Documentation LicenseLegless nylons - Credit: Tranquil Garden, Wikimedia Commons
'Nylons' are women's nylon stockings which began to replace silk stockings in the early 1940's, following the invention of 'nylon' by the DuPont Corporation in 1938.

If torn (often by a fingernail or toenail), the stocking material unravelled in a particular way which became known as a 'ladder'.