Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose, and Diary Excerpts


"What I fear most, I think, is the death of the imagination.... If I sit still and don't do anything, the world goes on beating like a slack drum, without meaning. We must be moving, working, making dreams to run toward; the poverty of life without dreams is too horrible to imagine."
-- Sylvia Plath, from Notebooks, February 1956

Renowned for her poetry, Sylvia Plath was also a brilliant writer of prose. This collection of short stories, essays, and diary excerpts highlights her...

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"What I fear most, I think, is the death of the imagination.... If I sit still and don't do anything, the world goes on beating like a slack drum, without meaning. We must be moving, working, making dreams to run toward; the poverty of life without dreams is too horrible to imagine."
-- Sylvia Plath, from Notebooks, February 1956

Renowned for her poetry, Sylvia Plath was also a brilliant writer of prose. This collection of short stories, essays, and diary excerpts highlights her fierce concentration on craft, the vitality of her intelligence, and the yearnings of her imaginaton. Featuring an introduction by Plath's husband, the late British poet Ted Hughes, these writings also reflect themes and images she would fully realize in her poetry. Jonny Panic and the Bible of Dreams truly showcases the talent and genius of Sylvia Plath.

This collection brings together the best of Sylvia Plath's work.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568493855
  • Publisher: Buccaneer Books, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/28/1997
  • Pages: 313
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (1932-63) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and studied at Smith College. In 1955 she went to Cambridge University on a Fulbright fellowship, where she met and later married Ted Hughes. She published one collection of poems in her lifetime, The Colossus (1960), and a novel, The Bell Jar (1963). Her Collected Poems, which contains her poetry written from 1956 until her death, was published in 1981 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Other posthumous publications include Ariel, her landmark publication, Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams and The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962.


"I was supposed to be having the time of my life," Sylvia Plath writes as her alter ego Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. Like Esther, Plath was a bright young woman who had earned scholarships and awards, and had all the talent to back them up, and saw this—but could never enjoy it. Her struggles with depression were in fact what often motivated her to write, until she committed suicide at age 30 in 1963.

Plath is among the best-known confessional poets, coming from a school (at its peak in the ‘50s and ‘60s) that left few stones unturned when it came to self-examination and revelation. Though not always bald or literal in her expression, Plath chronicled her flirtation with death—and with life—in her poems. She writes in "Lady Lazarus," a verse about a woman rising from the dead yet again, "Dying/Is an art, like everything else./I do it exceptionally well./I do it so it feels like hell./I do it so it feels real./I guess you could say I've a call." She has an ability to convey deep, almost frightening emotion, but do it in a deceptively lilting, almost-but-not-quite humorous language.

"Lady Lazarus" was published in Ariel (1965), a collection that appeared posthumously, as did other well-known collections such as Crossing the Water (1971), Winter Trees (1972) and Collected Poems (1981), for which Plath was awarded the Pulitzer. Though not all death and despair, Ariel stands out among Plath's works because it represented a departure from the first collection that was published while she was still alive, The Colossus and Other Poems, but primarily because it was such an intimate record of the end of her life. As poet Bob Hass remarked in a PBS interview, "Readers in general discovered this book [Ariel] of a young woman with two babies, whose husband had left her, living in a cold house, trying to be a mom, trying to be a writer, trying to put her life together, who didn't make it—who killed herself—and wrote poems full of rage, bravery, and it electrified people."

Plath's father died when she was eight years old, an event from which the poet never quite seemed to recover. She writes in Ariel's "Daddy": "At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you./I thought even the bones would do." Oddly (or perhaps appropriately) for a woman so devastatingly able to feel and react to people, Plath often writes about humans as objects, things that make noise, can be broken or repaired, marked in a continuum from birth to expiration. A child on the floor is like "an unstrung puppet"; cats howl "like women, or damaged instruments"; people are compared to statues. The technique provides a twisted understatement to the emotional effects Plath writes about, in a world where even the states of love and motherhood are accompanied by darkness.

Whereas Plath's poems often seem strange and dreamlike, The Bell Jar is direct and accessible. It ranks with Catcher in the Rye in both literary achievement and status. Plath gets across not only what it feels like to struggle with the most deadly and devastating emotions, but also how hapless and impotent the people around her are in coping with her. She portrays a woman at odds with the world, but does so without affect or pretension. It's no wonder the book has become a classic, particularly among young female readers. At times of despair, readers find comfort and empathy in Plath's words. All of her painfully wrought "confessions" are of us, for us.

Good To Know

Plath married fellow poet Ted Hughes, whom she met while studying in Cambridge. At the time Plath killed herself, Hughes had left her for another woman (who also eventually killed herself). He wrote about his relationship with Sylvia in Birthday Letters, an autobiographical collection of poems published just before he died in 1998.

Plath was portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow in Sylvia (2003), a film produced by the BBC and Focus Features. The Bell Jar was adapted to the screen by director Larry Peerce in 1979.

The Colossus was Plath's literary debut in 1960, but she also published A Winter Ship that same year, anonymously. The Bell Jar was initially published under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Victoria Lucas (pseudonym)
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 27, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Death:
      February 11, 1963
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England

Read an Excerpt

Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams
Short Stories, Prose, and Diary Excerpts

Chapter One


Story, 1962

Esther was stiff upstairs when Rose called in at the back door. "Yoohoo, Esther, you ready?" Rose lived with her retired husband Cecil in the topmost of the two cottages in the lane leading up to Esther's house--a large, thatched manor farm with its own cobbled court. The cobbles were not ordinary street cobbles, but pitch cobbles, their narrow, oblong sides forming a mosaic melted to gentleness by centuries of boots and hooves. The cobbles extended under the stout, nail-studded oak door into the dark hall between the kitchen and scullery, and in old Lady Bromehead's day had formed the floor of the kitchen and scullery as well. But after old Lady Bromehead fell and broke her hip at the age of ninety and was removed to a home, a series of servantless tenants had persuaded her son to lay linoleum in those rooms.

The oak door was the back door; everybody but the random stranger used it. The front door, yellow-painted and flanked by two pungent bushes of box, faced across an acre of stinging nettles to where the church indicated a gray heaven above its scallop of surrounding headstones. The front gate opened just under the comer of the graveyard.

Esther tugged her red turban down around her ears, then adjusted the folds of her cashmere coat loosely so that she might, to the casual eye, seem simply tall, stately and fat, rather than eight months pregnant. Rose had not rung the bell before calling in. Esther imagined Rose, curious, avid Rose, eyeing the bare floorboards of the front hall and the untidy strewing of the baby'stoys from front room to kitchen. Esther couldn't get used to people opening the door and calling in without ringing first. The postman did it, and the baker, and the grocer's boy, and now Rose, who was a Londoner and should have known better.

Once when Esther was arguing loudly and freely with Tom over breakfast, the back door had popped open and a handful of letters and magazines clapped onto the hall cobbles. The postman's cry of "Morning!" faded. Esther felt spied on. For some time after that, she bolted the back door from the inside, but the sound of tradesmen trying the door and finding it bolted in broad day, and then ringing the bell and waiting until she came and noisily undid the bolt, embarrassed her even more than their former calling in. So she left the bolt alone again, and took care not to argue so much, or at least not so loudly.

When Esther came down, Rose was waiting just outside the door, smartly dressed in a satiny lavender hat and checked tweed coat. At her side stood a blond, bony-faced woman with bright blue eyelids and no eyebrows. This was Mrs. Nolan, the wife of the pub-keeper at the White Hart. Mrs. Nolan, Rose said, never came to the Mothers' Union meetings because she had no one to go with, so Rose was bringing her to this month's meeting, together with Esther.

"Do you mind waiting just another minute, Rose, while I tell Tom I'm off?" Esther could feel Rose's shrewd eyes checking over her hat, her gloves, her patent leather heels, as she tamed and picked her gingerly way up the cobbles to the back garden. Tom was planting roller berries in the newly spaded square behind the empty stables. The baby sat in the path on a pile of red earth, ladling dirt into her lap with a battered spoon.

Esther felt her little grievances about Tom's not shaving and his letting the baby play in the dirt fade at the sight of the two of them, quiet and in perfect accord. "Tom!",She rested her white glove, without thinking, on the earth-crusted wooden gate. "I'm off now. If I'm late getting back will you boil the baby an egg?"

Tom straightened and shouted some word of encouragement that foundered between them in the dense November air, and the baby turned in the direction of Esther's voice, her mouth black as if she had been eating dirt. But Esther slipped away, before the baby could heave up and toddle after her, to where Rose and Mrs. Nolan were waiting at the bottom of the court.

Esther let them through the seven-foot-high, stockade-like gate and latched it behind them. Then Rose crooked out her two elbows, and Mrs. Nolan took one, and Esther took the other, and the three women teetered in their best shoes down the stony lane past Rose's cottage, and the cottage of the old blind man and his spinster sister at the bottom, and into the road.

"We're meeting in the church today." Rose tongued a peppermint drop into her cheek and passed the twist of tinfoil round. Both Esther and Mrs. Nolan refused politely. "We don't always meet in church, though. Only when there's new members joining UP. )I

Mrs. Nolan rolled her pale eyes skyward, whether in general consternation or simply at the prospect of church, Esther couldn't tell. "Are you new in town, too? " she asked Mrs. Nolan across Rose's front, leaning forward a little.

Mrs. Nolan gave a short, joyless laugh. "I've been here six years."

"Why, you must know everybody by now!"

"Hardly a soul," Mrs. Nolan intoned, causing misgivings, like a flock of chilly-toed birds, to clutter at Esther's heart. If Mrs. Nolan, an Englishwoman by her looks and accent, and a pub-keeper's wife as well, felt herself a stranger in Devon after six years, what hope had Esther, an American, of infiltrating that rooted society ever at all?

The three women proceeded, arm in arm, along the road under the high, holly-hedged boundary of Esther's acre, past her front gate and on under the red cob wall of the churchyard.

Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams
Short Stories, Prose, and Diary Excerpts
. Copyright © by Sylvia Plath. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Posted July 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Plath's prose

    The Johnny Panic short story is a classic if you're an SP fan.

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