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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