The Bell Jar / Sylvia Plath
I felt very low. I had been unmasked only that morning by Jay Cee herself and I felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had about myself were coming true, and I couldn't hide the truth much longer. After nineteen years of running after good marks and prizes and grants of one sort and another, I was letting up, slowing down, dropping clean out of the race.
Later Buddy told me the woman was on a drug that would make her forget she'd had any pain and that when she swore and groaned she really didn't know what she was doing because she was in a kind of twilight sleep.
I thought it sounded just like the sort of drug a man would invent. Here was a woman in terrible pain, and she would go every bit of it or she wouldn't groan like that, and she would go straight home and start another baby, because the drug would make her forget how bad the pain had been, when all the time, in some secret part of her, that long, blind, doorless and windowless corridor of pain was waiting to open up and shut her in again.
For the first time in my life, sitting there in the soundproof heart of the UN building between Constantin who could play tennis as well as simultaneously interpret and the Russian girl who knew so many idioms, I felt dreadfully inadequate. The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it.
The one thing I was good at was winning scholarships and prizes, and that era was coming to an end.
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.
From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
Finally I decided that if it was so difficult to find a red-blooded intelligent man who was still pure by the time he was twenty-one I might as well forget about staying pure myself and marry somebody who wasn't pure either. Then when he started to make my life miserable I could make his miserable as well.
And then when I wondered if as soon as he came to like me he would sink into ordinariness, and if as soon as he came to love me I would find fault after fault, the way I did with Buddy Willard and the boys before him.
The same thing happened over and over.
I would catch sight of some flawless man off in the distance, but as soon as he moved closer I immediately saw he wouldn't do at all.
That's one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.
It was becoming more and more difficult for me to decide to do anything in those last days. And when I eventually did decide to do something, such as packing a suitcase, I only dragged all my grubby, expensive clothes out of the bureau and the closet and spread them on the chairs and the bed and the floor and then sat and stared at them, utterly perplexed.
"I think I should tell you right away," she said, and I could see bad news in the set of her neck, "you didn't make that writing course."
The air punched out of my stomach.
All through June the writing course had stretched before me like a bright, safe bridge over the dull gulf of the summer. Now I saw it totter and dissolve, and a body in a white blouse and green skirt plummet into the gap.
Then my mouth shaped itself sourly.
I had expected it.
I crawled back into bed and pulled the sheet over my head. But even that didn't shut out the light, so I buried my head under the darkness of the pillow and pretended it was night. I couldn't see the point of getting up.
I had nothing to look forward to.
Now I saw that the stupidest person at my mother's college knew more than I did. I saw they wouldn't even let me in through the door, let alone give me a large scholarship like the one I had at my own college.
I thought I'd better go to work for a year and think things over. Maybe I could study the eighteenth century in secret.
But I didn't know shorthand, so what could I do?
I could be a waitress or a typist.
But I couldn't stand the idea of being either one.
I knew I couldn't send a letter like that, so I tore it up in little pieces and put them in my pocketbook, next to my all-purpose compact, in case the psychiatrist asked to see them.
But of course Doctor Gordon didn't ask to see them, as I hadn't mentioned them, and I began to feel pleased at my cleverness. I thought I only need tell him what I wanted to, and that I could control the picture he had of me by hiding this and revealing that, all the while he thought he was so smart.
But the person in the mirror was paralyzed and too stupid to do a thing.
Then I thought maybe I ought to spill a little blood for practice, so I sat on the edge of the tub and crossed my right ankle over my left knee. Then I lifted my right hand with the razor and let it drop of its own weight, like a guillotine, onto the calf of my leg.
I felt nothing. Then I felt a small, deep thrill, and a bright seam of red welled up at the lip of the slash.
(여기서도 그렇고 '피아노 치는 여자'에서도 그렇고 왜이렇게들 아무렇지 않게 면도날을 쓰는지 모르겠다.. 루머의 루머의 루머 보니까 진짜 더럽게 아프겠던데ㄷㄷ)
After a discouraging time of walking about with the silk cord dangling from my neck like a yellow cat's tail and finding no place to fasten it, I sat on the edge of my mother's bed and tried pulling the cord tight.
But each time I would get the cord so tight I could feel a rushing in my ears and a flush of blood in my face, my hands would weaken and let go, and I would be all right again.
Then I saw that my body had all sorts of little tricks, such as making my hands go limp at the crucial second, which would save it, time and again, whereas if I had the whole say, I would be dead in a flash.
I knew I should be grateful to Mrs. Guinea, only I couldn't feel a thing. If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn't have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I ―saton the deck of a ship or at a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok―I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.
실비아 플라스는 이렇게나 결혼 안할걸 다짐하는 주인공을 만들어 놓고도 뭐하러 테드 휴즈랑 결혼했을까 의문이었는데 알고보니 벨자가 플라스가 자살하기 1년 전에 출판한 소설이었다.
그말인즉슨 결혼한 뒤에 벨자를 썼다는 거... 역시 결혼=후회의 지름길인가보다. 그리고 허난설헌과 플라스를 보면 비롯한 문학적 소질이 있는 여자들에겐 불행한 결혼생활이 아이러니하게도 그 여자를 파국으로 치닫게 하면서도 한편으로는 폭발적인 영감을 불러일으키는 것 같다.
작가의 실제 삶과 주인공의 삶에 일치점이 많은데, 그만큼 현실에 많이 기반한 이야기였기에 실제로 벨 자의 출간 이후 실비아 플라스와 함께 대학시절 잡지사 인턴을 했던 여자들은 꽤나 서먹한 사이가 되었다고...
주인공과 같은 나이가 되어서 읽어보니까 그새 풍파가 지지리도 많았던 대입도 겪어보고 속앓이도 많이 했던 내 개인적 경험의 영향인지 공감 가는 구절들이 많았다. 평생을 얌전하게 공부만 하면서 지낸 여학생이 느끼는 자괴감을 정말 잘 묘사했다.
무엇보다도 매사에 움츠러들고 무기력한 자신의 처지를 벨 자 안에 갇혔다고 표현한 것이... 몇 년 전 읽을 때에는 정적인 사회에 대한 비판의 상징으로 여겼는데 이번에 읽으면서는 이렇게나 자기 자신에 대한 매너리즘에 빠진 사람의 심리를 잘 묘사한 표현이 있을까 싶었다.
영화화가 결정되었고 다코타 패닝이 에스더 역을 맡았다던데 이미 캐스팅부터 시원찮아 보여서 별 기대를 안하고 있다. 어설픈 성장영화로 그치지 않고 소설 전반에 흐르는 갑갑한 분위기를 잘 살려낼 수 있을지 의문.