Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Joys of a Hot Bath

In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath writes about the pleasures of a hot bath from the perspective of the novel’s narrator, Esther Greenwood.

Plath writes:

“There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say : “I’ll go take a hot bath.”

I meditate in the bath. The water needs to be very hot, so hot you can barely stand putting your foot in it. Then you lower yourself, inch by inch, till the water’s up to your neck.

I remember the ceiling over every bathtub I’ve stretched out in. I remember the texture of the ceilings and the cracks and the colors and the damp spots and the light fixtures. I remember the tubs, too:  the antique griffin-legged tubs, and the modern coffin-shaped tubs, and the fancy pink marble tubs overlooking indoor lily ponds, and I remember the shape and sizes of the water taps and the different sort of soap holders.

I never feel so much myself as when I’m in a hot bath.

I lay in that tub on the seventeenth floor of this hotel for-women-only, high up over the jazz and push of New York, for near onto an hour, and I felt myself growing pure again. I don’t believe in baptism or the waters of Jordan or anything like that, but I guess I feel about a hot bath the way those religious people feel about holy water.

I said to myself:  “Doreen is dissolving. Lenny Shepherd is dissolving. Frankie is dissolving. New York is dissolving, they are all dissolving away and none of them matter any more. I don’t know them, I have never known them and I am very pure. All that liquor and those sticky kisses I saw and the dirt that settled on my skin on the way back is turning into something pure.”

The longer I lay there in the clear hot water the purer I felt, and when I stepped out at last and wrapped myself in one of the big, soft white hotel bath towels I felt pure and sweet as a baby.”

- From: The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, during this hectic season when the holidays press and the end of the year work worries loom large, schedule some quality time with your bathtub, like Sylvia Plath’s Esther Greenwood does. 


  1. Aargh, you have no idea the emotions this stirs up in me! I haven't had a tub bath in more than three years. Our little cottage has only a shower, no bath tub. I knew I'd miss it, but had no idea exactly how much. Of course, a hot shower feels nice, too--but it just isn't the same. But then, I'll step out on my deck, and look at the snow-covered mountains across the valley, or the coyotes will start a'howlin', and I'll remember why we choose to live here, and that somethings are even better than a hot bath!

  2. I know what you mean! I've had residences with good bathtubs, no bathtubs and bad bathtubs. You always get by, but once in a while, there is nothing like a bath. On the other hand, there is also nothing like a spectacular view! Enjoy it (then make sure you get a bath tub the next time you stay in a hotel)!

  3. What is facinating and what I can relate to is the powerful need to feel pure and the dreadful sense that things have been sullied and might never be cleaned again.