Slyvia Plath with the ego of Madonna’


Ethan Gullet

Illustration by Ethan Gullett

Paris Cantu, Staff Wirter

During the rise of third-wave feminism, Elizabeth Wurtzel provided her unique voice that commanded attention with narcissistic “sad girl” tones. At age 27, Wurtzel published her first book, “Prozac Nation,” which dominated the feminine memoir scene of the 90s.

Her book details her depression and gradual progression into mental instability, and later, substance abuse. She chronicles the follies of feminine youth tainted by mental illness. In the prologue, Wetzel compares herself to “one of those people like Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath who are just better off dead.”

Perhaps this is what set the tone for a later review from The New York Times Review of Books that labeled her writing “Sylvia Plath with the ego of Madonna,” revealing her personality to be equal parts sadness and narcissism. Wetzel was a proponent of what she called “do-me feminism,” a branch comparable to third-wave feminism before third-wave feminism began.

A woman willing to write about mental illness with a unique sheerness, Wurtzel started a movement of confessional female writers, who are unafraid to fully account their lives and leaving nothing unwritten. Her half-privileged, half-struggling persona, whose influence is found in every female memoirist and every “sad girl” Twitter personality, provided the likes of Melissa Broder and Rebecca Solnit a place in the publishing world to be transparent with their writing.

Akin to other Generation X literary and cultural pioneers, Wurtzel died young at age 52 on Jan. 7, 2020, of breast cancer. A woman “early for history,” she was unapologetically disruptive in her writing, and changed the conversation on mental illness and women with larger-than-life personalities. In her own words, “I am the original mean girl.”