08 May 2011

Book Review: Stepanka Neumann’s Sylvia Plath’s Ambivalent Depictions of the Female Identity Poetry

Review of Stepanka Neumann's Sylvia Plath's Ambivalent Depictions of the Female Identity Poetry (Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac, 2009) 177 pp. ISBN: 978-3-8300-4748-3

Stepanka Neumann's Sylvia Plath's Ambivalent Depictions of the Female Identity Poetry is an English translation of her originally titled Weibliche Identität und ihre literarischen Ausdrucksformen in den Werken von Sylvia Plath (Gender Studies - Interdisziplinäre Schriftenreihe zur Geschlechterforschung, Band 13 Hamburg 2009, 194 Seiten, ISBN 978-3-8300-4618-9).  I have no idea how the German original title reads, but imagine it might read better than the translation, which I find awkward. For example, I typed in the German title into Google Translate and it returned "Female identity and Its Literary Expression in the Works of Sylvia Plath," which I think is a far more successful title than the one it was ultimately given. And so this is a problem with translation...But before anyone thinks I am being eine Hündin, let me say I appreciate having had the opportunity to read this title, which I feel does fill the authors' thesis which is to attempt "to examine how images of the female (and, necessarily, of its 'contrary', the male) are productively viewed, not simply as manifestations of a romantic will to express an 'authentic' self, but a a series of projections and displacements resulting from what Toni Saldivar terms the 'Gnostic' mode, whereby the imagination rejects all existing forms and metaphors as inadequate to the need for self-realization" (1). And, I appreciate that they translated it into English at all, thus opening up a market to a potential large readership.

The book seems to directly battle Silvianne Blosser's A Poetics on Edge: The Poetry and Prose of Sylvia Plath while at the same time supporting and building upon Toni Salidvar's Sylvia Plath: Confessing the Fictive Self. Directly challenging Blosser and those other critics that read Plath and focus on the biographical elements within her writing, Neumann herself comes close adopting a biographical reading, particularly in her survey of "The Threatening Male in Plath's Poetry" (3.1.2), which examines "Event," "Burning the Letters," "Ode for Ted," and "The Other" among others. The danger here is that each of the poems is based either on biographical events and/or real people. No one can deny that Plath takes these occasions and does make art out of them, but to basically disapprove of critics who approach Plath's works from the biographical perspective and then to do it yourself leads this reviewer to have difficulty with aspects of the work.

The translation and editing of this English version leaves a lot to be desired. Especially to one who is distracted and frustrated by typographical errors. One must be forgiving because this is a work in a secondary language (though I do wonder how it reads in the original and am a little envious of those that can read German because I feel like they will have the upper hand). Negative aspects aired, I liked this book and though only 79 pages (there are 98 pages of Plath's poems as an appendix) it is a good study and one that will provide value to Plath’s readers more interested in scholarly criticism than biographical considerations.

5 comments :

Anonymous said...

Google Translate rocks! "Female Identity and its Literary Expression in the Works of Sylvia Plath" is much closer to the German original title - the only difference being that "Ausdrucksformen" is in plural, but that's difficult to render in English. So the Google Translate suggestion is pretty perfect!

Thanks for the heads-up about the book. I'm never going to be up-to-date with my Plath reading though at this rate :-)

~VC

Melanie Smith said...

Thank you Peter, I followed the link but that did not reveal to me how obne may purchase a copy? Suggestions kindly appreciated.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Melanie - You're welcome. That's strange that you couldn't find how to purchase a copy. I will email you my contact's email at the publisher. I apologize for not replying sooner - I was not notified as I usually am that a comment was left.

~VC - thank you for your German! It is hard to stay up-to-date with this stuff! I have non-Plath books (shocking!!) I'll never get to read because I give Plath priority.

pks

Rehan Qayoom said...

I'm not known to be muck of a stickler for grammatical accuracy but to start with, that title sucks.

Christina Domene said...

I have read this book and German and am afraid to say that its original language is probably not better than the English translation.

The language itself seems awkward and completely unidiomatic, there are innumerable typos that should have been eliminated before printing and publishing, and the grammar mistakes in English might not be mistranslations, but rather correct translations of original mistakes.

I cannot say much about content, as the faulty language really distracted me and made it hard to read thoroughly. Too bad - the topic of female identity in Plath's poetry seemed promising...

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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.

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