01 August 2011

The secret (has been) out

Back in January I mentioned that Carmela Ciuraru's Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms (ISBN: 9780061735264) was to be published in June. It was and now suddenly it is August.

Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms "includes a series of brief biographical explorations of the secretive writers behind some of history's most famous and enduring pseudonyms."

The chapter on Plath covers pages 180-193. Each chapter features a quirky kind of teaser in a decorative font, Plath's being "She found sexual satisfaction in picking her nose" (180). What this has to do with her pseudonym is beyond me and kind of made me nervous to read the chapter! So too did the use of the familial "Sylvia" in the text and generalizing statements like "Plath's biography is familiar to just about every English literature student, reader of contemporary poetry, and suicidal teenager" (182). Adding to my apprehension was a sentence that kind of make no sense: "She was toxic because she was so seductive, and seductive because she was so toxic" (182). WTFDTEM? (What the f--- does that even mean)

The material dealing with the pseudonym and The Bell Jar is almost minimal. And as for it being "a (secret) history" of Plath's pseudonym: non-existent. On the whole I suppose it is a passable review of Plath's life and some of the real events portrayed fictionally in the novel. However, there was not any new information for me (and yes, I did expect something). Was Plath secretive about her novel? Maybe kind of, but not really. She refers to the novel in several letters home and in correspondence to friends. The award of a Saxton grant to write the novel appeared in newspapers such as the New York Times (21 Nov 1961) and Boston Globe (17 December 1961). She is elusive about the subject of the novel, yes. She published under a pseudonym, yes. She was dismissive of it, calling it a pot-boiler; but Plath was generally dismissive about any of her writing more then a few months old. But she is not technically secretive. Maybe it is a questions of semantics...

But what I did expect from Ciuraru's chapter on Plath was something critical, illuminating, and sharp. Something interesting! Something that would be a revelation: a secret uncovered. Instead, chronology was often disregarded: "...as her children lay sleeping, she sealed off the door to their bedroom with wet towels and opened their window wide" (190). And, there was just enough:

cliche: "She was living in a dreary London flat" (189);

hyperbole: "There was no telephone and electricity was intermittent" (189) & "As usual, Aurelia made everything about her..." (192), and;

bad metaphor: "'The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt,' Plath was once wrote, but when it did creep in, she pounded it like a Whac-a-Mole..." (184)

to make the chapter forgettable.

I am adding this book to a growing number of titles that will appear in the soon-to-be-released arcade game "Whac-a-Plath-Book-That-Sucks."


Anonymous said...

How does this trash get published, Peter? I don't get it...Harper was also responsible for publishing that terrible "Death Becomes Them" by Alix Strauss, which I see has made it on to your 'Whac-a-Plath-Book-That-Sucks' machine - good call! I think I shall be making my own home-made dartboard with revolving book covers for these titles, too ;-)

Peter K Steinberg said...

~VC! I haven't a clue how this trash keeps getting published. The book itself is a good idea I think (though not in the case with the Strauss book). I guess Harper's is making some money off this stuff, which must be a motivating factor...

I was thinking about trying to make an app for smart phones in which random terrible books on Plath, and certain evil figures from the Plath story, do pop up so we can whac 'em.


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

That was a great WHACK!, Peter. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and won't waste my time.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Julia! Thanks for your comment. Some of it may be of interest to some, but if you choose to skip it well, that's a half-hour I'm jealous of! I was going to buy the book but opted for the slightly freer option of going to the bookshop and photographing the pages!


Anonymous said...

OMG!just speechless.
i was reading that with my eyes wide open (and i generally very seldom get shocked about something in my life), unbelieving and..well,just yuck!

to forget.

but not to be forgiven.


Melanie Smith said...

Ooh I would play that. Bang dodgy book! Got you!

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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 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, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • 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: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • 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.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (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, Volume 1, 1940-1956. 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. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • 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. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • 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. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.