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The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | The Mademoiselle Guest Editor Contest


In its day Mademoiselle was an influential fashion magazine for young women in college. The magazine was published from 1935 through 2001. In the 1950s—when Sylvia Plath was in college—Mademoiselle was as well known for its fiction as for its fashion. The magazine published short stories and poems by Truman Capote, Dylan Thomas, Albert Camus, William Faulkner, Alice Munro, and many other well-known authors.

Created in 1939, the Mademoiselle Guest Editor Contest was famously sought-after by young women in college. Like Esther Greenwood, winners were given a month's lodging at a women's hotel in New York City at the magazine's expense. They worked as guest editors on the August college issue, interviewing famous writers and fashion personalities. They received free clothes, accessories, and invitations to literary parties, and often they were able to parlay their contest experience into full-time jobs after college.

Sylvia Plath won Mademoiselle's short story contest in 1952. She was paid $500 for the story, which was called "Sunday at the Mintons," and it was published in the magazine. The nonfiction winner was a young woman named Janet Wagner Rafferty, who appears in The Bell Jar as Betsy. The two young women and 18 others were guest editors in the summer of 1953.

On the first day of the program, at lunch, Plath ate a bowl of caviar meant for an entire table of contest winners—just like Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar.

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