23 May 2008

Review of Sylvia Plath by Marnie Pomeroy

Marnie Pomeroy's contribution to the Greenwich Exchange Literary Series, published in 2006, is one of the briefest introductions to Sylvia Plath available. Its brevity is much more of a shortcoming than it ought to be. Plath's life and writing are well represented in full-length biographical and critical studies; but there is a need still to introduce her to both younger readers and new readers. Many of these younger and newer readers will start and end their introduction to Plath on the internet. Fortunately, there are a few decent and thorough web pages about Plath. That being said, there is - or there should be - a responsibility to make printed introductions readable, factually accurate and, as much as can be, authoritative while still being thorough given the limitations imposed by the series editor/publisher, etc. I found much to dislike in this book.

Two examples of where the book goes wrong follow...

On page 43, the author quotes a journal entry Plath made on 29 March 1958. This is the entry where Plath predicts her future title to be the "Poetess of America." Plath lists her contemporary rivals, "Edith Sitwell & Marianne Moore...May Swenson, Isabella Gardener & most close, Adrienne Cecil Rich." Inbetween Gardner and Rich, Pomeroy inserts "[Anne Sexton belongs here too]".

My problem with this is that it was another ten months or so before Sexton and Plath's met. I find it irresponsible to insert Sexton here for the following reason: Sexton's first published poem, according to Northouse and Walsh's Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton: A Reference Guide, was in August 1958. So, at the time Plath couldn't have considered Sexton a rival because it is likely she hadn't heard of her yet. When quoting Plath or anyone, for that matter, one must occasionally put words into her mouth. And this is likely what Pomeroy was doing. However, by inserting Sexton as a rival inside the quote, it left me with the impression that the insertion was 'necessary' because Plath left her out. Sexton first appears in Plath's Journals almost a full year later on 20 March 1959.

Apparently Wellesley is 45 miles west of Boston (Pg 5). The actual distance is about a third of that.

And lastly, just to be nit-picky, in one section discussing the poems "Mirror" appears under its actual title as well as under the title "Mirrors". This is just sloppy.

A selection of other, better introductions to Sylvia Plath's life and work are available. Titles include:

Sylvia Plath: Her life and work by Eileen Aird
Sylvia Plath: An introduction
by Susan Bassnett
Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house
by Elaine Connell
Sylvia Plath, revised
by Caroline King Barnard Hall
Sylvia Plath: A biography
by Connie Ann Kirk
Sylvia Plath by Robyn Marsack
Sylvia Plath by Peter K. Steinberg (I'm wicked biased)
Sylvia Plath: A literary life
by Linda Wagner-Martin

The poetry of Sylvia Plath
edited by Claire Brennan

These books are only a selection of the more introductory orientated books on Plath. They are better than Pomeroy's contribution not only because they are longer, but the writing is more clear and more focused. Additionally, there is a sense of expertise on the part of the writer and the discussion of Plath's works is much more thoughtful. In some ways, introductory pieces to Plath's life and works are more crucial than critical examinations or full-length treatises. Why? Introductions are first impressions.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.