In August 1953 a young Sylvia Plath left a build informing her mother that she modified into “Taking a protracted hike.” All individuals who spent their early life reading and rereading The Bell Jar is conscious of what came about next—two days later, she modified into show in a crawlspace beneath her household’s home with a jug of water and eight sleeping tablets final out of a bottle that had once contained 48.
When Plath’s mother reported her missing, The Boston Globe ran a swiftly point out of the disappearance; the headline read “Dazzling Smith Girl Missing at Wellesley.” It’s not doable to know whether or not any individual would have cared referring to the “missing” with out the “elegant.”
Sylvia Plath’s superstar has outlived that of so heaps of her contemporaries. Her husband, Ted Hughes, the extra neatly-known of the two while they were married and the root of so well-known of her misfortune, has largely turn into a footnote in the Sylvia Plath story. Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Lowell is mostly known start air academia as being a teacher and mentor to doomed poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, additionally remembered as being a chum to Plath. After I modified into getting my varied English degrees, in “serious” poetry seminars, we studied Lowell’s “Skunk Hour” and Sexton’s “Ringing the Bells.” We rarely ever addressed Plath and once we did it modified into mostly to mock her as a poet for teenage women. Plath’s popularity is a double-edged sword, on one hand, she’s one of basically the most-read poets of the 20th century. On the assorted, her readers are in total pushed aside as a obvious form of woman: young, lonely, and having a see for inclusion in an elite sorority of classy, crazy, ultimate women like Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Wurtzel, and a handful of others whose names elevate to mind posh, contemporary instability.
And while I would by no formulation point out it in a graduate poetry class, I modified into one of these lonely teens mooning over Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose memoir Prozac Nation: Young and Wretched in The US made her a late 20th-century successor to Plath’s legacies of every prettiness and craziness. Starting at around age 11—the identical age that Wurtzel says she first started cutting her legs to the Velvet Underground in Prozac Nation—I memorized “Aroused Girl’s Fancy Song” and “Daddy” while Fiona Apple’s Tidal played in the background. By the time I purchased to Wurtzel, I had a rather just sense of the extra or much less woman I mandatory to be: elegant as I modified into crazy.
Prozac Nation, published in 1994, constructed on what Sylvia Plath had started decades before. Wurtzel modified into candid referring to the desperation and self-absorption of chronic depression in a formulation that the Unusual York Occasions labeled the as the identical “nerve-racking emotional exhibitionism of Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar.” But it wasn’t nerve-racking to the women who loved The Bell Jar’s protagonist, Esther Greenwood—a thinly veiled stand-in for Plath herself—like an older sister. These raw confessions didn’t so well-known put me ready of empathizing with young, offended, and desperately unhappy protagonists as they inspired a feeling that the protagonists were empathizing with me.
Phase of what modified into in the origin absorbing about these books were with out a doubt their covers. Prozac Nation’s duvet featured Wurtzel in a slice prime, Levi’s resting casually around her waist ultimate below the loose curls of her mermaid hair. One arm curls around her tilted head in a loose, nonchalant pose as she seems to be on the camera big-eyed and pouty. The Bell Jar aspects a photo of Plath in a scoop neck prime with a beautifully styled bob, banging away at a typewriter. The poet’s restful letters are covered by a photo of Plath on the seaside in a two-portion, blonde hair shining as she smiles in the solar. The women in the photos were chilly, aspirational even. Wurtzel’s and Plath’s e-book covers show with out telling that they are the epitome of an lovely wildness that, backgrounded by Ivy-league schools and fashion journal internships, accomplish their elegant outsides ultimate to boot-known a section of the story as their internal turmoil.
And perhaps that outer class modified into especially absorbing attributable to in my non-public ride psychological sickness modified into unequivocally gruesome. The adults who took care of me were continuously battling demons—chronic despair and dependancy we couldn’t come up with the cash for to treat, continuously screaming and sobbing at their complications and every various. As I grew frail ample to label that most of my guests didn’t are dwelling in squalid condo properties owned by their abusive grandfathers, I modified into drawn to Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Wurtzel, and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted ultimate to boot-known for the scaffolding of these elegant facades as for uglier stories with which I modified into already acquainted. The settings of their stories, that have been the Greater West Facet, the Harvard quad, cocktail occasions thrown by fashion magazines, even the psychological institution featured in the film model of Girl, Interrupted gave the impression no extra dark or depressing than a boarding college in a Muriel Spark contemporary. These were objectively elegant women being crazy in elegant locations, and to a gigantic form of women feeling crazy in gruesome locations, the class served as a candy fantasy to offset the bitter.
Hollywood latched on to the recognition of these stories, and the ‘90s were a booming time for the elegant crazy woman myth. Kaysen’s memoir modified into published ultimate twelve months before Wurtzel’s and film diversifications of every books starred quirky women with indie movie credentials, like Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in the case of Girl, Interrupted along with Cristina Ricci and Michelle Williams in the film model of Prozac Nation.
In Prozac Nation, Wurtzel insists that she doesn’t procure herself notably elegant, not lower than not in a authentic formulation, nonetheless the marketing crew on the encourage of the e-book if truth be told must have some sense of how effective her face, like Plath’s, might perhaps well perhaps be at selling her myth. And since the e-book became a runaway bestseller, film producers began to belief to child stars, like Ricci and Williams, who’d grown up to be notably elegant to place themselves as extra serious actors by casting them as crazy women.
The poster for the film model of Prozac Nation takes Wurtzel’s e-book duvet one step extra. In it, Ricci lies on a sterile white mattress, bare to the waist where she’s covered by a sheet, nonetheless the expressions are the identical: dark mermaid hair framing big eyes and chilly woman pout. In a scene from Girl, Interrupted, a doctor recounts Kaysen’s most up-to-date suicide strive, reminding her that she “chased a bottle of Asprin with a bottle of vodka.” Ryder, Unusual England neat in a boatneck sweater and perfectly razored pixie decrease, responds “I had a headache,” acerbic and artful whilst she’s prettily fragile. These films were a tonic to women frail seeing themselves represented as both perfect cheerleader kinds or didactic lost causes. The handsome crazy woman didn’t give a shit: she modified into brilliantly unsuitable, her imperfections providing gas for her genius.
On the tail pause of the trend came 2001’s succinctly named crazy/elegant, a movie whereby a working-class man, played by Jay Hernandez, falls for the affluent, unstable daughter of a congressman, played by Kirsten Dunst. She offers with her tumultuous home life and internal turmoil by drinking and drugging, while her lovesick boyfriend cares ample to fastidiously shepherd her from hazard. There’s a motive the roles aren’t reversed. If the movie were known as crazy/dark particular person, the role would fall apart and the elated ending would in all likelihood feel too a ways-fetched even for Hollywood.
At final, the crazy elegant woman characteristic might perhaps well perhaps be softened to suit extra simply into stories with a male lead and rebranded as the “manic pixie dream woman,” now not so unstable that her instability would overpower the male protagonist’s story.
But Wurtzel’s memoir forever modified the ways in which females were allowed to jot down about all formulation of wretchedness, psychological sickness, physical sickness, or otherwise. The Plath/Wurtzel women, myself included, would develop up to publish rankings of non-public essays on web sites from XO Jane to Jezebel, nonetheless the superstar and the legend of the rather crazy woman seems to have subsided, not lower than for now.
By the tip of her life Wurtzel, who died final week at 52 of complications from most cancers, modified into serene neatly-known, nonetheless that popularity didn’t meander so a ways because it once did in line with halt friend Ginia Bellafante’s tribute in the Unusual York Occasions. Wurtzel’s Unusual York life, on the tip, wasn’t as glamorous as Prozac Nation appeared as if it might perhaps well perhaps promise:
“Technology modified all the pieces, if truth be told. Magazines disappeared; editorial contracts decreased in size; streaming supposed that writing for film or tv modified into now not seemingly to accomplish you affluent. Writing books modified into ultimate going to accomplish you dark. Style, once the purview of art, became the property of Instagram. All of these profound reversals crashed up against the laborious metrics of the metropolis’s soaring housing market.”
And while the disappearing market coupled with a flood of declare can also very neatly be a contributing aspect in the downfall of the crazy elegant protagonist, the conversation has additionally moved remote from breaking taboos around frank discussion of psychological neatly being to discussions about how few of us can come up with the cash for to treat our psychological maladies. Whereas many American citizens reside uninsured, even of us that are insured are well-known extra seemingly pay out-of-network costs for psychological neatly being treatment than they are for doctor’s visits relating physical neatly being. And the psychiatric companies and products like of us that so normally appeared in 20th-century narratives centered on psychological neatly being have all nonetheless disappeared. A two-year preserve at Claymore, like that described by Kaysen, is now very well-known out of reach for any individual nonetheless the richest amongst us, and an alarming form of of us for the time being rely on emergency rooms to offer transient solutions to psychological neatly being crises. Whereas it’s extra acceptable to talk about about psychological neatly being than ever before, it’s additionally serene extremely subtle to enact anything about it.
However the image of the graceful, crazy woman is immortalized in works like Prozac Nation and The Bell Jar, which at this point, have normally turn into labeled as YA literature. Likely attributable to sadness couched in admiration over these archetypes is rather extra aesthetically graceful than despair on the medication that goes unprescribed by scientific doctors none of us can come up with the cash for. In Hamlet, upon Ophelia’s death following a fit of madness, Gertrude laments that she modified into “incapable of her hang injure,” an elegy that neatly absolves everybody around her for their ingredients in her misfortune. Work of Ophelia depict her as elegant and fragile, submerged in a river with a physique covered in plants, the environment supposed to declare a sense of class born from madness. It’s an lovely image, nonetheless it’s additionally a fantasy simply shattered by well-known uglier tru