10 September 2009

Second Serving: Sylvia Plath by Connie Ann Kirk

Connie Ann Kirk's 2004, Sylvia Plath: A Biography, was recently reissued by Prometheus Books. Unlike it's first appearance, this title is available at bookstores, making it one of the few introductory biographies available to a more commercial market (the 2004 Greenwood biography series edition being primarily a 'library' book).

On the back of the book, in big letters is "The blood jet is poetry and there is no stopping it." Those who know "Kindness" quite well will notice the addition of "and", which is not in the poem. This is sloppy. The blurb on the back of the book claims that by the time Plath died, she left behind a "popular novel, The Bell Jar", but we know this wasn't the case.

There is an over reliance on other biographies, and throughout the work, Plath and Hughes and the other players are referred to by their first names, as "Sylvia," "Ted," etc. Addressing Plath and the others in the familiar actually made it more difficult to read. The tone throughout was off, and I kept thinking I was reading something by Marcia Brown Stern, Jillian Becker or Elizabeth Sigmund, i.e. people that knew Plath and can get away with addressing the subject as such. There are also contradictions between the chronology in the front of the book and in the text. Etc. etc.

While the main facts are there, several errors from the first edition were not corrected in this new edition, frustrating this reviewer. Rather than list everything as I did with the errors contained in Bowman and Hurdle, I'll spare you the bitchy details of what's wrong with this book. When an author such as Kirk, a serial biographer, approaches a life like Sylvia Plath's, it is almost excusable to make mistakes. But, it is also quite inexcusable. The biographer must be painstakingly dedicated to getting the facts of their subject correct. Especially in an introductory work where their words may be responsible for intriguing and education a future fan or scholar. While this isn't the greatest introduction to Plath (and there are betters one's out there; and yes, as you might imagine, naturally my bias leans towards my own little biography of Plath), it is better than some of the fuller length treatments of Plath's life. The book itself is a handsome production.


panther said...

Unfortunately, the misquote from "Kindness", and the inaccurate reference to the "popular novel" gives me the impression, at least, that other things in the book aren't to be trusted, either.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Indeed. I was perhaps nicer than I should have been; a different reviewer on Amazon.com was much less forgiving...

My own kindness stems from also publishing a 'library' biography of Plath in 2004 in the hopes that its inherent faults and lapses do not lead other readers to be as dismissive. Though, I am naturally biased towards my own biography, I still tried to read Kirk's book objectively. And its own faults and lapses I find disagreeable to my Plathian expectations...

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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.
  • 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.