26 December 2011

2011 Sylvia Plath Info Year In Review

If it felt like a big year for Sylvia Plath it is because it was. There were periods of quiet, but that is fine as it gives us a chance to rest, reflect, write, etc.  I do find it hard to sum up a year but have in the past so will attempt to continue now...

Sadly, we lost two valuable contributors to Plath scholarship. In June, Jim Long passed away. And before that, quietly in February, Nephie Christodoulides. Nephie is the author of numerous articles on Plath, H.D. and others. Her book Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking: Motherhood in Sylvia Plath's Work was published in 2005 by Rodopi Editions in Amsterdam. You can read a review of Nephie's book by fellow Plath scholar Toni Saldivar here.

Books about Plath published this year were many and each provides valuable insight and a great contribution to the scholarship in Plath studies.

The year started off with a "bang, smash" in Heather Clark's The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes (review). We had time to digest this before a very busy summer and fall that saw Janet Badia’s Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers (review), Tracy Brain and Sally Bayley's Representing Sylvia Plath (review), and Janet McCann's Critical Insights: The Bell Jar (review forthcoming) Plath appeared in one fictional book, Arlaina Tibensky's young adult novel And Then Things Fall Apart (review) Poetry "about Plath" written by David Trinidad and Christine Walde were published, too.  These are two very fine examples of Plath's readers responding and reacting to her work. And, with the good you have to take the bad... Lucas Myers' recent memoir An Essential Self: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath which is an example of time spent that we will never get back.  But, to end on a good note, Plath Profiles 4 was published in July and featured a special section "Plath and Place" as guest edited by Gail Crowther. These essays, poems, and images are highly evocative of Sylvia Plath and the world she inhabited.

Perhaps the biggest news of the year came in October with the announcement of the exhibition in London of "Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings" which was curated by her daughter Frieda Hughes. Not afraid to ruffle feathers, it was learned (at least, by me) soon after the exhibit opened on 2 November that Frieda Hughes had put the drawings for sale and they were readily bought up by collectors, dealers, and maybe some other type of person. Many would have preferred these be sold to or donated to an archive where they would be made useful to Plath's researchers, but this was not the case. Time will tell how many will appear on the open market. If I catch wind of where some of them will reside and am allowed to do so I will pass on any information I can. The catalogue for the exhibition is marvelous, and offers full color pictures of the drawings in the exhibit (review).

As for this blog, in addition to a redesign I hope you enjoyed the content presented. A favorite of mine are the "Did you know..." posts, which I hope provides interesting factoids of information that may not have been previously known or thought about much.  In the winter and spring I did a big review of the archive of sold lots from the big auctions houses (Bonhams, Christie's, Sotheby's, Heritage) that featured Plath items. This turned up some interesting finds, and I hope all the links in each post to the lots still work.

I did have some fun - often at your expense and the expense of others, but also at mine -  in my 1st April post and in my faux book covers in my reviews of Sylvia Plath & the Mythology of Men Readers and Representing Sylvia Plath. Let not the mockery overshadow that these books do make significant contributions and advances in our understanding of Plath.

It was a grand year for meeting people. The platform of the blog enables me to reach hundreds or thousands of mostly anonymous people.  So, when it is possible to see someone live and in living color it adds something very real to the whole experience. In February I meet Heather Clark and Andrew Wilson. I later met Carl Rollyson and Stephen Gould Axelrod. More on Clark, Wilson, and Rollyson below.... In October I missed the chance to meet Maeve O'Brien of "The Plath Diaries" blog which I regret profoundly; and in November I met Gillian Groszewski.  I was very lucky to have spent roughly a month with Gail Crowther as she visited the US for the first time. We got up to some great Plathing in New York, Boston, Cape Cod, Northampton, Winthrop, and Wellesley, among other places. We even made a little video on Nahant... Gail spent a week at the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith and based on that and some archival work I have done, we will shortly be at work on a "These Ghostly Archvies 4," I hope. In the meantime, Gail contributed a Guest "Did you know..." Post in September as a result of that week...

And with what has passed, we look forward to what will come. In the long view, we learned that we should look forward to a few new biographies of Plath. Carl Rollyson, author of biographies on Lillian Hellman, Amy Lowell, Rebecca West, Marilyn Monroe, and many others, has turned his attention to Plath and will have a full-length biography entitled American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath, which will be published circa February 2013. The writer Andrew Wilson, author of The Lying Tongue, Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, and Shadow of the Titanic, is writing a biography of Plath from 1932 to roughly early 1956. Two words: highly anticipated! Two more words: completely unique! This is one that I am certain will shed a lot of light and focus on a comparatively ignored period of Plath's life. Andrew's book will be published by Simon & Schuster in UK and its Scribner imprint in the US. And in a few years, we have to look forward to a literary biography of Plath by Heather Clark, author of the recent The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes. Good luck to you all and thank you for your work.

Time will tell what else we can look forward to in 2012, but keep your eyes open for Plath Profiles 5 (and if you are writing something for it, thank you!). The deadline as in years past is on 1 April. On 30 April, Luke Ferretter's excellent critical study on Sylvia Plath's Fiction will be published in paperback (US and UK).  I have it in hardback and I will definitely buy it in paperback, too. According to Amazon.co.uk, a new issue of Janet Malcolm's The Silent Woman is expected on 7 June. Hopefully there will be more!

I have renewed the ownership of my website "A celebration, this is" for five years. So, with any luck you will keep hitting it and finding its content somewhat and somehow useful.  In the past I have listed the most and least popular pages on the site... so, the most popular pages were the biography page, the poetry works page, the Bell Jar page, photos 1960-1963,  and the prose works page. The least popular were … well, let's not beat a dead horse.... And, between the blog and the website, there have been more than 110,000 hits!

Something to read:

A number of people (well, two in the last few months) have sent me a link to "Jane and Sylvia" by Ruth Fainlight, which appeared in Crossroads, the journal of the Poetry Society of America, in Spring 2004. However, It first appeared with slightly different text on 12 December 2003 in the TLS under the title "Jane and Sylvia and Me."  Thanks Julia and Carmen!

And, Carl Rollyson has just published the provocative "Proprietary Biography" over on Bibliobuffet.com. A very recommended read.

Thank you all for reading theis blog, for following it, for leaving comments, and for your emails. Remember to check A Piece of Plathery and The Plath Diaries for other Plath blogishness. If you want to guest post on something just let me know, I am very open to this kind of thing and want as many voices out there as possible. Happy New Year.

22 December 2011

A Very Sylvia Plath Christmas

Back in 2009, I made an Otto Plath cookie.  I decided to make this year, 2011, a very Sylvia Plath Christmas. ** 

Inspired by "The Applicant,"

"We make new stock from the salt."

And, further inspired by "Daddy,"

Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.


There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.

** Disclaimer: Several sugar cookies were harmed in the making of this update.

20 December 2011

Did you know... Sylvia Plath's Mid-Life

Sylvia Plath lived from 27 October 1932 to 11 February 1963. This was 11,064 days; or 30 years, 3 months, 15 days. Sylvia Plath's mid-life was, then, 5532 days.

Did you know that that date -Sylvia Plath's mid-life - fell on 20 December 1947 (a Saturday that year). She was 15 years, 1 month, and 23 days; in tenth grade, in her first year at Gamaliel Bradford High School, and it was during this school year she took her first class, English 21, with Wilbury Crockett. In this class, the readings and assignments were vigorous, and not for those seeking only to be generally educated. Many of Plath's papers from this class are now held at the Lilly Library, and from examining them, we know which books she read, many of which are cataloged in LibraryThing.

One of the poems Plath wrote this year was "I Thought That I Could Not Be Hurt." Her activities that year included basketball, orchestra, and she worked for the school newspaper, The Bradford. It was in this first year at Bradford High, Plath also went through an initiation process that she later remembered in her story "Initiation."

By this point, Plath had published poems and artworks 21 times in national (Boston Herald) and local (Wellesley town and schools) publications, and she had written and assembled a number of poems into a book she called "Poems" (now held by the Morgan Library: click here and  here and here for more information). Plath was also in correspondence with her German pen-pal Hans-Joachim Neupert. Photocopies of these letters are held by Smith College, and some of the topics of which they discuss are education in America, student life, her hopes, fears, religion, and personal philosophy. Some letters also contain drawings by Plath.

So much attention is paid to the last seven years of Plath's life: the poems and other writings, the letters, the drama of her meeting Ted Hughes, her marriage and its breakdown, etc. But it would be interesting to compare the subjects above and sentiments Plath presented as an early-to-mid teenager with what we know of Plath's later politico-historico interests, involvement, and opinions. An examination of Plath's creative writings at that time would also be interesting: it is where she learned the skills she would use throughout her life to create poems, to market them, and to assemble and order them in collections. It serves a reminder that her life was so short but that she accomplished so incredibly much.

For Christmas that year, five days after she hit her mid-life, Plath received a copy of the Stephen Vincent Benet Pocket Book.

16 December 2011

More books by and about Sylvia Plath in Kindle Editions

Adding to their enviable Kindle edition selection, the British have had available since June in Kindle format the following book: Sylvia Plath's Selected Poems

Plath's American publishers have to get on the ball here...Back in January, I posted that via Amazon.com, you can ask for them to consider titles for publication in a Kindle edition. So, please visit that post and start clicking so that we can get Kindle editions available to us, too! In November, The Colossus was made available to US Kindle owners... 

Another "new" book of interest perhaps, to readers of Sylvia Plath, that is available to Kindle owners (or Kindle app downloaders) is the 2007 book Letters of Ted Hughes edited by Christopher Reid. US readers click here; for those in the UK, you can find this book for your Kindle's here.

And now (now... now...) the book (book … book) that nobody (nobody...nobody) read (read..read)... Chelsea House is making easier for you to read the book that nobody read... Sylvia Plath, part of the Great Writers series, by yours truly is now available in Kindle format. In the US; and in the UK

13 December 2011

Ted Hughes Memorial Radio Broadcast

Earlier this week, BBC Radio 4 aired "Ted Hughes Memorial Tones." It is a 58 minute long program about his recent memorializing in Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey. The program can be listened to until 17 December. Among those interviewed were Seamus Heaney, Carol Hughes, and Melvyn Bragg, who is the narrator. As can be fathomed, topics discussed include Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and Court Green. In addition, there are audio snippets of Hughes reading, as well as from the "Two of a Kind" interview from 1961.

11 December 2011

Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings ending this week

If you are in London this week, plan to see "Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings" at the Mayor Gallery now for the exhibit is coming down by the 16th. Our friend in Plath, Gail Crowther, visited the cloudy city this weekend and send on some more pictures of the exhibit.... Thanks Gail!

The first picture is the Willow tree from Grantchester. Perhaps this is the one where she placed her Earthenware head...

This picture shows many of the drawings. The second one on the long wall from the corner, you can see, is missing. This is one of a few that are no longer in the gallery and presumably already with their new owner...

Here is another view of the willow, as well as of "Horse Chestnut," "Horse Chestnuts," and "Cow."

If you visited the exhibit and want to write a guest post about the experience please send me an email!

07 December 2011

Marsha Bryant essay on Sylvia Plath in new book

Marsha Bryant, author of several articles on Sylvia Plath, has recently published Women's Poetry and Popular Culture through Palgrave Macmillan.  In this book will be the chapter "Everyday Ariel: Sylvia Plath and the Dream Kitchen." The book was published on 25 November 2011. ISBN: 9780230609419; cost: £52.00. Other chapters look at H.D., Stevie Smith, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ai, and Carol Ann Duffy.

Articles on Plath by Bryant include:

"Plath, Domesticity, and the Art of Advertising." College Literature 29:3. Summer 2002: 17-34.

"IMAX Authorship: Teaching Plath and her Unabridged Journals." Pedagogy 2:4. Spring 2004: 241-262.

"Ariel's Kitchen: Plath, Ladies' Home Journal, and the Domestic Surreal." In The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007: 211-235.

04 December 2011

Ted Hughes in Poets Corner & Some Sylvia Plath, too

On Tuesday 6 December 2011, Ted Hughes will be memorialized in Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey in London. Frieda Hughes, Carol Hughes, and Seamus Heaney are three among the many expected to attend the service. This news broke in early 2010. A more recent article appeared on Westminster Abbey's website in early November.

The Mayor Gallery in London, which is exhibiting "Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings" through 16 December, recently informed me that they have three rare copies of the limited edition Pursuit for sale. Copies are £1,000 and were formerly in the possession of Frieda Hughes. The book was limited to 100 numbered copies and these three copies are numbered 20, 22, and 23. I have a photograph of the title page of Pursuit on my website.

There are also a few copies of The Crystal Gazer still available, numbered sequentially 271-277.

Bloomsbury Auctions will be selling two copies of The Bell Jar on their Books, Manuscripts, Maps and Works on Paper auction on 14 and 15 December 2011. Lot 386. [Plath (Sylvia)], "Victoria Lucas". The Bell Jar, first edition, original boards, a little cocked, central crease to spine, 1963; The Bell Jar, first faber edition, original boards, dust-jacket, light surface soiling to lower panel, a little creased at head, spine ends rubbed, 1963, 8vo (2) est. £200 – £300.

On 22 November 2011, Sotheby's Milan sold in Lot 79, an oil on canvas copy of Giorgio De Chirico's Le Muse Inquietanti, which was executed in 1962. The image online shows the shocking vibrancy of de Chirico's masterpiece in colors like none I have ever seen in trolling around the internet. I could not read the Italian in catalog description, so translated it via Google Translate and hope that you enjoy the below. There were a couple of words that were hung up, but the basic understanding of the catalog description should not be too affected...

"Meanwhile, the shades of night descended on Ferrara. Neared the time when the sweet night, sitting on an invisible throne, would have drained, with a gesture full of tenderness and grace, the contents of her horn. Sprinkle berries so SLEEPING countries and cities of half the earth. " Giorgio de Chirico, Memoirs, London, 1962, p.. 86

"The first version of The Disquieting Muses goes back to 1917 and was defined by James Thrall Soby as one of the most important works painted by the master de Chirico. The work was performed by the artist while he was hospitalized in Ferrara during the First World War during which he met Carlo Carra, an artist with whom he perfected the standards of Metaphysical painting, artistic period already undertaken by de Chirico, and for some years during which he performed his most important works. The second version of the work was dated 1924 addressed to Paul Eluard and his wife behind their explicit request. The work was greatly admired and is also for this reason that later de Chirico shoot the same subject several times. This version, released in the early sixties is part of the new phase metaphysical artist has already been done for some years. The sense of anxiety that reigns the atmosphere of the work is mainly due to the description of a deserted city where low light and long shadows formed by sharply defined outlines, create a space exaggeratedly a vacuum. Suspended in space no smoking chimneys emerge, as non-functioning and belonging while being flanked by the contemporary era architecture of the past. The latter as the Este Castle symbol of Ferrara, a city defined by de Chirico's 'perfect city', with the representation of the Doric column, which brings the artist to Greece, his birthplace, underline the melancholic atmosphere, typical of the artist, for places that apparengono lived a past date. In this composition space is lived by dummies have only the appearance but not the human substance and classical statues that recall the ancient Greece temporally and geographically very distant. In addition to a sad, troubled and deliberately unrealistic this is perhaps the connection with the dream that strikes the viewer. In 1916 both Freud (1900) that Jung (1909) had published their theories about dreams and some intellectuals of the time they were fascinated, not at home the work in question contains all the laws that regulate and decipher the dream according to psychoanalysis. It should also be added vhe unreal and the static timing of this composition gives the viewer more easily to a nightmare in which everything while apparently not real because it is created by our subconscious. This concern would seem created by Permit us to overcome the appearance space for dialogue between the viewer and the mystery. The poet Plath in Sylvia 1957 was inspired by precisely this work of de Chirico for the composition of a poem whose title was 'The Disquieting Muses'."

01 December 2011

Articles on Sylvia Plath

Recently found the following citations for articles on Sylvia Plath which either have appeared or will appear in journals or in books...

Aragno, Anna. "Silent Cries, Dancing Tears: The Metapsychology of Art Revisited/Revised." Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 59: 2. April 2011: 239-288

Boswell, Matthew. "Poetry. Sylvia Plath, Ariel (1965) and Other Poems." In Holocaust Impiety in Literature, Popular Music and Film. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Leake, Elizabeth. "The Corpus and the Corpse: Amelia Rosselli, Jacques Derrida, Sylvia Plath, Sarah Kofman." In After Words: Suicide and Authorship in Twentieth-Century Italy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011: 65-103.

Lester D., and McSwain S. "A Text Analysis of the Poems of Sylvia Plath". Psychological Reports 109:1. 2011:  73-76.

Piatti-Farnell, Lorna. "'At My Cooking I Feel It Looking': Food, Domestic Fantasies, and Consumer Anxiety in Sylvia Plath's Writing." In Jones, Darryl, Elizabeth McCarthy, and Bernice M. Murphy. It Came from the 1950s!: Popular Culture, Popular Anxieties. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011: 198-215.

Swiontkowski, Gale. "Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and the Allure of Incest." In Harold Bloom (ed.) American Women Poets. New York: Bloom's Literary Criticism, 2011. [A reprint from Swiontkowski's Imagining Incest: Sexton, Plath, Rich, and Olds on Life with Daddy. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 2003: 31-56.]

20 November 2011

Review of Representing Sylvia Plath

The majority of the eleven essays in Representing Sylvia Plath (249 pages, ISBN: 978-1-107-00675-1, Cambridge University Press, 2011, also available in two digital editions via the publisher: Mobipocket eBook and Adobe eBook Reader) draw from papers given at the Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium held at Oxford in 2007. The book is divided into three sections: Contexts, Poetics and Composition, and Representation. The focus of the essays is on the poetry, with somewhat token attention given to Plath's letters and short fiction. Though referenced nine times, The Bell Jar is largely not discussed.

With some exceptions, Representing Sylvia Plath seems to consciously avoid an explicit consideration of Plath's biographical representations - of how Plath directly represents her self/life in her creative works- and this omission is a disservice to a writer who was, according to a close contemporary -Ted Hughes- her own best subject. In his "Introduction" to Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, Hughes writes, "It was only when she gave up that effort to 'get outside' herself, and finally accepted the fact that her painful subjectivity was her real theme, and that the plunge into herself was her only real direction…that she suddenly found herself in full possession of her genius" (5). Hughes also comments in that introduction that even the "arbitrary surreal symbols" of Plath's Ariel poems "are really impassioned reorganizations of relevant fact" (2). In their introduction to the book, Brain and Bayley go to lengths to point out what they perceive as the general unreliability of Plath's speakers through the guises of their veils, specifically seeming to target or caution those that read Plath's works as biographical or factual (note: this is different from a confessional consideration). Bayley and Brain claim the essays add "to a growing movement in Plath studies that is suspicious of an older but still lingering school of Plath criticism that sees her as a 'confessional' writer" (1). But it seems to me that considering Plath as a "confessional" writer has for a long time been out of fashion. So, where and why they bring this up is a mystery.

The thesis by which Brain and Bayley base their book and their theme of the unreliability of Plath's texts (her speakers & personas) is from an excised line from a draft of The Bell Jar, "I never told anybody my life story, though, or if I did, I made up a whopper" (1). To base such a thesis upon a "fictional" character while simultaneously issuing a caution against reading any literality into the fictional character (or speakers, in the case of the poems) - and then telling us not to trust how the real person presents herself in her writing - strikes me as odd. (Lest we forget, in the case of The Bell Jar Plath went through a very thorough consideration of potentially libelous content in the novel with her British editor James Michie ... see letter to Michie, 14 November 1961, held at Smith College.) Plath's novel has autobiographical elements; it is based on her biography. So, too, does much of her poetry and her short fiction. To deny this is simply stubborn. But then it is important to remember that certain academics need to try to make things complicated... The creative genius of Plath is how she wrote about herself in the selected mediums she did, and how she mythologized that self and connected it up "to the larger things, the bigger things such as Hiroshima and Dachau and so on" (Orr). How she took those real life physical and emotional experiences, such as attending a bee meeting which she captured in her Journals, and turned them into art is fascinating. The gestation period between event and composition in this case June to October 1962 (excluding the false start of "Stings" in August which goes to show that the transformation was not yet complete) is a topic that would add richly to how Plath represented herself. To further belabor my the point, to disdain of ye olde confessional (or biographical) reading of Plath and then turn around and edit a book which explores "Plath's own self-presentations" (how she presents herself) is strongly hypocritical.

Two highlights in Representing Sylvia Plath are Kathleen Connor's "Madonna (of the Refrigerator): Mapping Sylvia Plath's Double in 'The Babysitters' Drafts" and Luke Ferretter's "'Procrustean Identity': Sylvia Plath's Women's Magazine Fiction." Connors essay uses Plath’s journals, journalism, and biography to effectively illustrate an instance where Plath represents herself creative in the form a poem. It is the crowning achievement in the book and as it accepts Plath's biography as a focal point of inspiration of the poem discussed, it should not come as a surprise as to why I liked it so much. The information contained in Ferretter's paper was so fresh when first given in October 2007 at the Plath Symposium, before his full length critical study on the subject of Plath's fiction was published in 2010 (read my review). People who have read that book and then read this essay might feel that they have somehow gone backwards. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant essay. It is worthwhile, too, to point out that Ferretter's paper might have worked better in the Contexts section given the richness of background material at the start of the essay. These two essays make wonderful use of Plath's archives, showing important perspectives in the creative process. Essays by Jonathan Ellis (Plath's letters), Sally Bayley (tree imagery), and especially Anita Helle (use of photographs), have moments of revelation and excellence.

The rest of this review will focus on the last part of the book, Representation. This section will interest primarily those interested in what happens to Plath in the minds of others (writers, artists, etc. - even certain biographers) and is a by-product of how Plath inspires and how one interprets her; and thus "represents" Sylvia Plath in a very literal, surrogate format. Lynda K. Bundtzen's essay the exception - and her essay is certainly the best essay of the three in this section - it is not particularly an area of Plath studies in which I am interested. In fact, the last two chapters of Representing Sylvia Plath step away from a direct study of Plath's works and the discussion leads away from something which Plath produced to something produced in reaction to something Plath produced. I largely fail to see how this improves either our (or my) understanding of Sylvia Plath or how it contributes to the scholarship, and this lets the book down. Which is a shame, as I typically read eagerly anything by both Brain and Bayley. Conversely, I do find that I have similar opinions to much of what Brain discusses in her piece.

As anyone who either attended the Plath Symposium in Oxford or read about it in one of my daily reviews of event knows, the title of the book comes from Tracy Brain's own paper delivered on 28 October 2007 (and given again on at least one occasion, 20 November 2007 in London). This presents a crucial, critical conflict to my reading of this book because what Brain does in her essay (renamed to "Fictionalising Sylvia Plath") is wholly different to what the other contributors do. The same goes for the regrettable Chapter 11... So my expectation in a book by this current name automatically refers back to the circumstances in which the topic was first introduced: a discussion of the fictional representations of Sylvia Plath. (It should be noted that another paper given at Oxford, and published in early 2009, also discusses biofictive representations of Plath. See Annika J. Hagstrom's "Stasis in Darkness: Sylvia Plath as a Fictive Character" in English Studies 90, 2009.) This is my own hurdle to get over but it is not coming easily.

I agree with P.H. Davies that Brain's essay could be the subject of its own volume. This would enable a couple of things: she could attempt to answer the myriad moralistic, rhetorical questions she poses as well as discuss what I see as a large gap in her essay, which is a failure to consider as fully as she does the fiction, the poetry inspired by Plath. Most of the poetry inspired by Plath is lamentable, but there are a couple of people that do it well: namely, David Trinidad and Christine Walde. Likewise, in the last chapter, a failure to recognize a wider pool of artists who respond to and "represent" Sylvia Plath is a narrow shortcoming, particularly as it ignores the complicated brilliance and originality of the artwork of Kristina Zimbakova, whose artwork was prominently displayed and widely admired at the Oxford Symposium. Simply put, the last chapter feels like a Mean Girls-esque insider’s club, six-degrees of separation clique. Say what you will, but an essay on interpretive dance with image stills of that dance does not translate well in to print. Perhaps a DVD should have been included that contained visual access to all the work discussed in Chapter 11?

Throughout the book there are a number of instances where a full familiarity of artwork discussed by Plath's and others will require the reader to also have with them either Eye Rhymes or a time machine. Nervaux-Gavoty's essay makes little sense without Eye Rhymes, especially when she refers to works still not published and that would require a visit to the Lilly Library to see. This is simply unfair to most readers; and to boot the art discussed is not detailed in a sufficient way to help the reader "see" the work considered. Bayley refers to Vine's "sylvia robin" which was destroyed by the artist after it was displayed in London. The description of this piece, with a red bird perched near the Plath figure as "as visual equivalent of a Hallmark card taken to its most grotesque conclusion," confirms that we are indeed not missing anything (229). Credit to Vine then for sparing us. A DVD -or more illustrations at the least- would have given the reader something to refer to; as it stands for this and a host of other reasons the last chapter should be disregarded.

For editors who have been critical over how Plath's own works have been edited, I expected more from a work that they edited. Some oversights that are more annoying than the rest are: the recording Plath made on 30 October was not done for the BBC, but for the British Council and the Woodberry Poetry Room. Plath did record "Berck-Plage" for the BBC on 29 October; however, the session and interview with Peter Orr the following day was unrelated to the BBC. These poems may have aired on the BBC, but that is not the same thing. It is Wober, not Weber (pages 37 & 52). Also, there are several nearly shameful instances of sloppy editing in the dating of poems in Chapter 11. There are many more but I am trying to be less picky. If the editors/authors would like a list of things to be corrected in future printings of the book I would be happy to supply one.

At $85 (cheaper in digital edition formats) one would expect full color illustrations throughout, not just the cheap boldness of a shocking and colorful cover to try to draw you in. The illustrations in the final chapter could have made a much greater impact in color. For example, full color would have enabled the inclusion of Figure 8 "Color script" (page 210) from The Girl Who Would Be God to be less pointless and more affecting. They are not, but the essays in this book feel disparate: though nearly all of them individually shine, these are not essays written intentionally for a book on the theme of "Representing Sylvia Plath" and as such they fail to be purposeful and cohesive in the way that essays in Eye Rhymes or The Unraveling Archive are. As many of the essays were originally conceived and/or presented in 2007 or earlier, they may not be therefore considered as "new developments" in scholarship on Sylvia Plath (1). To quote from Ferretter's essay (who in turn was quoting a rejection letter Plath received), the book is missing an "indefinable something" (156). Thus, this is a good though uneven book; and not worth the heavy price which will alienate the majority of Plath's readers.

To close, the cover art for the book is atrocious. Honestly: blue eyes? If one were to judge a book by its cover one would not pick this book up. Though unacknowledged in the text dealing with Vine in Chapter 11, the cover image is of course a (heinous) "representation" of Plath's 1956 photograph with Ted Hughes. Stella Vine's representations of Sylvia Plath are unoriginal, misguided, dreary, and quite damaging to Plath's still somewhat fragile image in popular culture, and in this regard I am referring to the disgusting casual ease with which people tend either to mock Plath's suicide or feel that the suicide in some way defines everything about her. It is hardly the view of Plath which many of us are fighting to adjust and has been more prevalent in recent years when one considers Plath's own writing, what Karen Kukil calls Plath's "zest for life." The image looks like the exaggerated teenage offspring which was the result of a confounding three-way between Dorian Gray's haggard portrait, the Joker and Amy Winehouse. It is crass and represents not Sylvia Plath, but bad art and poor taste.

At the request of some of the comments from my review of Janet Badia's book and from personal emails received ... Represent THIS!

17 November 2011

Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings - Installation Photographs

The Mayor Gallery has posted their installation photographs from the Sylvia Plath exhibit, which closes in just under a months time.

Over on the TLS blog, Thea Lenarduzzi posted, on 10 November, "Sylvia Plath, the doodler." The majority of these are not doodles, and the majority of the article is not on the drawings...

16 November 2011

Sylvia Plath at the Boston Book Fair

Before we look at Plath at the Boston Book Fair, I have recently learned that several limited edition books of Plath's published by the Rainbow Press are for sale through the Mayor Gallery in London. These books are being sold by both Frieda Hughes and her aunt, Olwyn Hughes. It appears that there is almost a complete liquidation of Plath by her daughter. That appalling thought notwithstanding, I have seen these books in libraries and they are nice books and the second two, Dialogue Over a Ouija Board and Lyonnesse, at that price point, are quite reasonable given their rarity. Lyonnesse is particularly nice as the endpapers contain a facsimile of Plath's poem "Lyonnesse," though under its original title "Amnesiac: The Man With Amnesia."

Crystal Gazer and Other Poems £250
Rainbow Press, London, 1971
Limited edition of 400 (only 25 available)
There is a reproduction of the 'Study of a Figurine' in this book.

Dialogue over a Ouija Board £350
With a drawing by Leonard Baskin
Rainbow Press, 1981
Limited edition of 140 (only 10 available)

Lyonnesse £350
Rainbow Press, London, 1971
Limited edition of 90 (only 10 available)

Should anyone be interested in buying me a copy of the above please let me know and I'll give you my shipping address! If you are interested in Plath's posthumous limited edition publications, I have collected images from booksellers and private collectors and have them on this page of my website for Sylvia Plath.

The Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair

Overall there was less of a bibliographic presence for Plath at this years Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. But, even still there were really some beautiful Plath books on show and overall, some stunning other volumes as well.

The first thing you saw when you walked in the door this year was the booth of James S. Jaffe. And, prominently displayed is his recently reduced price first Heinemann edition of The Colossus which Plath signed for Theodore Roethke. Years ago the book was priced at $50,000; then it rose to $65,000, but now it is back down to its more reasonable $50,000 price tag.

The next booth I stopped in at was Between the Covers from New Jersey.  They had on hand beautiful first editions of Ariel (Harper, $475) and Crossing the Water (Faber, $450). Additionally, they had their recent acquisition of Plath’s copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay's The King’s Henchman ($10,000). The book includes a book plate with Plath's signature, as well as an inscription from Plath’s mother. Connected to Between’s booth was Ken Lopez who had the drawing Plath did of a teenage friend.

Caliban Book Shop of Pittsburgh had a decent edition of Bumblebees and Their Ways by Plath's father for $250.  I have seen the dust wrapper before, but only online. In person it is really attractive.

A nice book dealer, Paul Foster of London, had three Plath books: A Day in June, The Green Rock, and a rebound Ariel (in fine leather binding). The fine leather bindings bother me; I think it means a first edition of the book was found in a crumby dust wrapper, or lacking a dust wrapper, or with damage to the original boards so they rebind it and thus are still able to charge a lot for it, in this instance £500. I understand I think why book sellers do this but I do not like it.

A couple of book stalls had first Harper & Row editions of The Bell Jar (Jeff Hirsch, $350, and G. Curwen Books, $475).  The online price, on abebooks.com, for Curwen’s copy is $400. Hmmmmmm...

Royal Books of Baltimore had a first Knopf edition of The Colossus for $950 (I've seen nicer, for less). 

Athena Rare Books from Connecticut had four Plath books on hand, each stunning and lovely. They had first Faber editions of Ariel ($1200), Crossing the Water ($400), and Winter Trees ($250). Additionally, they have a copy (#8) of The Magic Mirror ($750).

The pièce de résistance is Jonkers Rare Books $11,000 copy of the first Heinemann Victoria Lucas The Bell Jar. In a nearly perfect, exquisite dust wrapper, the book looks as fresh as it must have when it was printed in later 1962 or early 1963.

Whilst I have not the means, someone out there is buying Plath as a few books I had seen in years before were no longer there. Dealers are pretty open that things have sold. So, I am happy for the person who is or the people who are buying these books. Jonkers had a delicious copy of Ariel: Sold. (They actually had two and they both sold) B & B had a lovely Heinemann Colossus with a review slip: Sold. In fact, there used to be more than a dozen copies of the Heinemann Colossus and the Heinemann Bell Jar listed on abebooks.com and now there are far fewer. I did leave with a purchase though from our good friend in poetry, Jett Whitehead. A first edition, third printing of Ted Hughes' The Hawk in the Rain (Harper & Row). Set me back only three and a half Hamilton's.  I have long wanted this in hardback for a few of the poems that I like, as well as for the dedication "To Sylvia."

All in all a great fair as usual. Any time one can walk around and talk with book dealers, get a little education on the books & the trade, hold precious volumes (a copy of The Great Gatsby for $192,000) is a good time. Speaking of The Great Gatsby... Although, I have linked to this before (13 August 2010  and 22 August 2007), you can read "A Description" by Park Bucker of Plath's copy of Great Gatsby, which is held by the University of South Carolina and joins other Fitzgerldiana as part of the The Matthew J. and Arlyn Bruccoli Collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

14 November 2011

Images from Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings

The following images of the Sylvia Plath exhibit on at the Mayor Gallery were sent to me from Sarsaparilla Esperanza Gomez. Thank you Ms. Gomez.

The pictures are shown in the L-shaped part at the back of the gallery and are displayed quite crowded with little space between them. Reminds me of Plath's description of her father's headstone in her Journals, "headstones together, as if the dead were sleeping head to head in a poorhouse." You can get an idea of the frames from the photos: thin mahogony ones.

I am aware that the gallery itself had installation photographs taken last week, so we can expect to see more of what the exhibit looks like then.

12 November 2011

More on Sylvia Plath's Drawings

Earlier this year we were pleased with a Plath doodle.  Then came the exhibit in London at the Mayor Gallery of "Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings". This led me to "the Google" and I found the following drawing made by a very young Plath.

This comes from an article called "Some Relics of Childhood" by Rodney Phillips, which appeared in issue 9 of Cabinet Magazine and was published in Winter 2002/3.

The book Plath traced the cat and the dog from, Manners Can Be Fun, sounds like a great read and one that certainly could help me in life (though I'm not sure the book advocated eating all of Dido Merwin’s food in France in 1961 but we can hardly blame Plath for that).  The dog, too, came from this book. I found a cover online of a revised edition (1958), which features a very similar looking dog in the bottom left. For those that don't or won't see the interest in this kind of thing, remember that Plath's learning to trace drawings can be correlated to her apprenticeship in writing as she imitated writers she admired (Stevens, Auden, Thomas, etc.).

And, there is one more article to pass on to you today on the Plath exhibit in London. It is by Ann Binlot, appeared on 9 November on Artinfo.com and is titled "New London Drawings Show Reveals Sylvia Plath's Lesser-Known Lines."

09 November 2011

Boston Book Fair & Sylvia Plath on Kindle

This weekend (11-13 November 2011) is the 35th Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair to be held as usual at the Hynes Convention Center. As usual I will walk around and obsess and drool over all things Plath and report back back books, prices and what not. Hopefully will score some photographs, too, to share with you. Read about the fair in 2010 here. And I did two posts in 2008: the first and the second... The blog over at the valuable Fine Books & Collections also has a preview and Plath made the list of neat items to see.

Unrelated to the Boston Book Fair...US readers will finally have a new Kindle option of a Sylvia Plath book. The Colossus will be released in Kindle format on 23 November. Let’s hope this is the first step is allowing electronic access to Plath’s works to this market. The book will be published via Random House Digital, Inc.

Again, if you are interested in helping to make Plath's books available through Kindle, you can have your say. Please read the last bit of this post from January.

07 November 2011

Sylvia Plath: Double Jeopardy

Sylvia Plath was the $800 answer today on Jeopardy's category "Verse Case Scenario".

The best part is, the guy that got it right's first name was Buddy!

Sorry about the flash glare. For those concerned, the line is "Dying is an art..."  This is Plath's second recent appearance on Jeopardy.

More Reviews of Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings

Two new reviews to mention today on the exhibit of "Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings." Sam Leith at The Observer reviews quite favorably the exhibit in "These drawings give us a whole new Sylvia Plath – sprightly, witty and fun" which appeared on 6 November 2011.

B.K. at The Economist lightly reviews in "Sylvia Plath’s Drawings: An Unbearable Lightness" on 7 November 2011.  It is clear that many prefer Plath's poetry; however, it seems these people are trying to compare apples to oranges. This is why Plath wanted to publish The Bell Jar under a pseudonym, isn't it? Because she did not want -among other reasons- for her novel to be judged as the work of a poet. Same goes for the drawings...

06 November 2011

Catalogue Review: Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings

Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings. (London: The Mayor Gallery, 2011), 63 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9558367-8-7. Illustrated. Hardcover, no dust wrapper, as issued.

The catalogue for the exhibit of "Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings" is a gem. The bold red cover is of a quintessential Plathian nature, and is reminiscent of the exhibition catalogue for Karen V. Kukil and Stephen Enniss' "No Other Appetite": Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Blood Jet of Poetry (Grolier Club, 2005). Published in a limited edition to 1,000 copies, the full color scans throughout are bound to delight Plath's readers (scholars, fans: we are all in this together).

The introduction by Frieda Hughes was largely published in a slightly different format in both her Vogue UK ("Drawings from the Past," November 2011, pp 103-104) and Observer ("Lines of Beauty," 22 October 2011, p 22) articles.  It is a cool, factual, point-to-point introduction that lacks an emotional connection to the work it precedes. This might stem from the fact that the exhibit was a business transaction for her; she needn't attempt to sell her readers because the work will sell (and has sold) itself.  After all, Sylvia Plath said it best herself:

"There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart--
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes."

Although the plates within the catalogue are divided into sections (Drawings from England, Drawings from France, Drawings from Spain, Drawings from the U.S.A.), this is not rendered in the books table of contents. Rather, the list of plates are just that, a list, which is difficult to read. This mash-up of titles was likely done to conserve space, but in an exhibition catalogue of artwork, the design and aesthetics of the book layout should trump cheapness every once in awhile. Add the extra page, charge an extra quid. The book concludes with a brief biography (really a timeline, date of Plath & Hughes' wedding is incorrect) and an even more brief bibliography of works by Plath.

The font & formatting throughout looks inconsistent and as a result is somewhat distracting. The pagination ends on page 59 with the last plate, though the text carries on for four more pages through page 63. Weirdly, the table of contents lists the plates as going to page 55, though they in fact go through page 59. The drawing of Ted Hughes, withdrawn from the sale according to Michael Glover (Independent review, 4 November 2011), does not appear in the catalogue though it was featured at least twice: in Frieda Hughes' article "Lines of Beauty," and the article by Beth Roberts ("Sylvia Plath Drawings at the Mayor Gallery," The Telegraph, 25 October 2011), so that a full overview of the exhibit as it was originally planned can be seen.

Plath did at least three sketches of Ted Hughes. In October 2005, one was put up for auction and sold for £27,600 (then $49,000) to the National Portrait Gallery in London. Another sketch of Ted Hughes by Plath appears in Eye Rhymes, p. 104, though its location is not explicitly identified in the text, it must be at either Emory, Indiana, or Smith. One must wonder, as we always seem to do with things about Sylvia Plath: what else is there...

All that taken into consideration & most likely disregarded, one will and should buy this book for the illustrations and the illustrations only. At only £10 (with shipping to America will run you about $26), I would have paid double. As the drawings were for sale and nearly all have been sold at this point in time, the catalogue will be the only enduring way in which these creations by Plath can be seen as a whole. As these were not available through the archives that contributed largely to the book Eye Rhymes (ed. Connors and Bayley, 2007, and sadly now out of print), the drawings by Sylvia Plath in the catalogue add a richer dimension to our understanding of Sylvia Plath as Artist. At a disadvantage having not seen the exhibit in person (if someone would like to buy me a round-trip to London, please email me), the catalogue is a successful surrogate, and I highly recommend buying a copy, or two.

04 November 2011

A Review of Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings

Michael Glover at The Independent coolly reviews the exhibition "Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings" which is now on at the Mayor Gallery in London. The subtitle to the review, "Plath the tortured poet's pictures are too polite to be a big draw" says all you'll need to read... But he just does not get it. Or, at least he does not get Plath.

Glover asks, "What we really want to know about this exhibition is this: how does it connect with the rest of her tragic life? Are these drawings pent, febrile and tortured in the way that many of the greatest of the poems are pent, febrile and tortured? Have the things that she is drawing – flowers, animals, bottles, trees – been turned into terrible symbols of themselves?"

Several of the drawings in the exhibit show a duplicitous or two-sided curiosity in objects, which directly relates to a large theme in Plath's writings. There are two drawings of the "Pleasures of Odds and Ends"; two of horse chestnuts (or conkers). There are two bulls, two stoves. Even two shoes in the same composition from different angles. Five sketches and drawings of boats.   Plath's speaker in "Death & Co." states right from the start: "Two, of course there are two."  That Glover fails to see this aspect in the drawings is an oversight of which perhaps he might be forgiven as he's clearly not really up on his Plath.  Plath's pen and ink drawings are every bit as inquisitive as the speaker of "The Applicant." Her selectivity of inspiration now on exhibit does indeed ask, "First, are you our sort of person?" But for person substitute in "subject." Her eye for detail direct relates to the fitting out of a spouse: 

"Do you wear
A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,

Stitches to show something's missing? No, no? Then
How can we give you a thing?
Stop crying.
Open your hand.
Empty? Empty. Here is a hand

To fill it and willing
To bring teacups..."

These images all could have easily fit into her drawings (a kettle actually did)... I ask Glover, Why do we want to focus on the tragedy of her life? What does that accomplish? This exhibit is an appreciation of her life & some of the things she created: something into which she put, temporarily, all of her heart and soul and concentration. Call me Captain Obvious, but Sylvia Plath's death was tragic. Not her life.

02 November 2011

Sylvia Plath Exhibit Opens in London

The Mayor Gallery exhibit of "Sylvia Plath's Drawings" opens today at their space at 22A Cork Street in London. Containing 44 drawings, this is the first British exhibition of Plath's artwork.  In the "Current" section of their website, it is possible to view all 44 drawings. Bravo!

In 2002 at the Sylvia Plath 70th Year Symposium held at Indiana University, many of Plath's creations were exhibited from the collections of both Smith College and Indiana University.

Yesterday, Matilda Battersby of the Indpendent wrote "Unseen Sylvia Plath Drawings Go on Show." The page containing the article has been loading painfully slowly, so your patience is I'm sure appreciated.

01 November 2011

The Black Car by Christine Walde

Recently published by Baseline Press, The Black Car by Christine Walde features poems inspired by Sylvia Plath. In these poems we join Walde on an journey into Plath's brief sojourn to Canada in the summer of 1959. Subtitled Reflections on Lethe, The Black Car also finds its poetry sourced from H.D., Charles Baudelaire, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. The poems are completely original and in Walde's own unmistakable voice.  In the "Afterword," we learn a bit about the books genesis; the prose and the story are inspiring.

Exquisitely produced in a limited edition that is sure not to last,
The Black Car is a book worth owning and cherishing. 36 pp., ISBN 978-0-9869570-1-7, $10. The cover is of St. Armand Canal, and the flyleaf of Tibetan Cloud. The book is available for on-line purchase through the link above.

Christine Walde (London, Ontario) is the author of the novel,
The Candy Darlings (Penguin Canada and Houghton Mifflin). A second novel, Burning Down Tiger Mountain, is forthcoming. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Vallum, Carousel, Plath Profiles, Descant, Quill and Quire, and The Globe and Mail.  Her Plath Profiles poems appear in volume 2 (Two Poems), volume 3 (Three Poems), and volume 4 (Mr. & Mrs. Hughes, Camping).

You can read more about
The Black Car here.

27 October 2011

On Sylvia Plath’s 79th Birthday …

Readers of this blog, Plath Profiles, and contemporary American poetry will be familiar with the name of the poet and writer David Trinidad. Recently Dear Prudence, his new and selected poems, was published by Turtle Point Press and within its wonderful pages are a number of poems on Sylvia Plath.

Trinidad has a way of getting at the essence of Sylvia Plath in his poems.  His poetry shows evidence of his passion for Plath, and there is truthfulness in his methodological use of her archival materials and creative works. And of course, the range of poems held within the older, selected titles is moving. Seeing a poets progression through the medium of a new and selected volume is inspiring. I admire him and his poetry a great deal, and cannot recommend this book enough. Trinidad’s poetry is candid, intimate, and deeply affecting.  

The book is also available in a Kindle edition.

Other writing by David Trinidad worth your while is (and available free online): On the Road with Sylvia and Ted: Plath and Hughes's 1959 Trip Across America, Hidden in Plain Sight: On Sylvia Plath's Missing Journals, and Three Poems.

25 October 2011

More Sylvia Plath Drawings Online

The Telegraph has additional images and information about the forthcoming show of Sylvia Plath's drawings on at the Mayor Gallery in London (2 November - 16 December).

An additional article on the exhibit appeared on Spoonfed.co.uk.

22 October 2011

Frieda Hughes on Sylvia Plath's art

In The Observer, issue printed on 23 October 2011, Frieda Hughes has more to say on her mother, Sylvia Plath's, art in "Lines of Beauty: The Art of Sylvia Plath."  Excellently, included is a gallery of 11of  Plath's drawings.

Thank you for sharing this artwork with us, Ms. Hughes.

18 October 2011

Minority Report: A Review of Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers by Janet Badia

The essays in Janet Badia's Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers are tightly wound around the central thesis that there is a "reliance of literary and popular culture on the tropes meant to disparage Plath's fans, especially the young women readers among them, as uncritical consumers, as Plath addicts, and even as literary cannibals" (2). In following a discourse that "rather unabashedly constructs women readers as a body of uncritical, misguided [and] pathological readers, she traces this discourses "eruptions and evolutions throughout literary and popular culture in order to demonstrate the significant effect it has has on the production, reception, and evaluation of Plath's oeuvre" (8). She does so effectively, expertly, and carefully.

Not being female - and I did check relatively recently - leaves me possibly at somewhat of a disadvantage to read, and to be so bold as to review, a book whose focus is squarely opposite to whatever faculties I bring to it as a result of my born gender. It is a deficiency I can do nothing about. But rather than shy away from Badia's book - and its use, reliance, and concern for feminist approaches - I found myself captivated, riveted, convinced and unable to let the book sit closed for too long. The book is so good and so finely written I was happy to lose sleep over it.

Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers both is and is not a book about Sylvia Plath. It does not engage in literary criticism of works Plath produced, but rather it chronicles and analyzes Plath's reception by her critics, her readers, and by her Estate and heirs. In brief...The first chapter examines "the anxieties about women readers that permeate the vast collection of to reviews written about Plath's work" situating "these anxieties not only within the context of Plath's career [and] within the broader discourse about gender and reading that has shaped literary culture over the past few decades" (25). Chapter Two investigates Plath as her work appears in popular culture and what that means for the public's understanding of Plath and her work. In doing so, Badia gives examples "which feature a young woman who reads Sylvia Plath's work" and "the ways in which [these instances] trivialize and even pathologize young women's reading" (63). In Chapter Three the focus turns from the popular culture (or, fictive), to "an examination of these real or historical readers, focusing in particular on the female fan culture that has surrounded Plath since the 1970s" (86). This is largely an expose on Robin Morgan's poem "Arraignment" and the heckling of Ted Hughes' public appearances, and the controversies surrounding Sylvia Plath's gravesite. As it stands, it is the most explicitly feminist-oriented chapter. The fourth chapter looks at "Ted Hughes and the Plath Reader," at his "opinion pieces, personal letters, and interviews, as well as selections from their [Frieda Hughes & Ted Hughes] poetry that speak, often quite directly, to the question of how each has regarded Plath's audience and her posthumous success" (125). The conclusion turns directly towards Frieda Hughes, who has taken a much more public approach to dealing with Plath's readers than her father had been.

In the Introduction, however, I found the most that I could relate to as a reader of Sylvia Plath. This is not to say that Badia's writing and focus on women readers will exclude those of the lesser sex. It doesn't. But I do hope it leads to discussion on this blog or via emails. And when it comes to "Literary Bullying and the Plath Reader" there is possibly a more likely chance that male readers are equally as women accused, unjustly, of reading Plath for "uncritical consumption" (7). At least, for this male reader of Plath, I feel this is the case. The central portion of the introduction I feel vilifies, rightly, literary bullying and cites as examples of such the writings of Judith Kroll, Jon Rosenblatt, Harold Bloom, Mary Lynn Broe, Tracy Brain, and Christina Britzolakis. These writers and critics (and teachers) are illustrative examples and not by any means a comprehensive list of offenders and Badia by no means discounts their work. Neither do I. As stated above, Badia's study does not concern itself with Plath's writings explicitly. But it does concern itself with how Plath's writings are consumed by her readers. Essentially there is a sharp divide between literary critics and, to use Badia's terms, those "uncritical" consumers of Plath's writings. Literary critics possess the faculties "to see the deeper meaning of Plath's poetry" (11). Uncritical consumers, or possibly the "generally educated" - regardless of their gender - apparently do not. But it is apparent that the "deeper meaning" some glean from any writers or artists work is a construction, a fabrication, a connecting of things that may or may not be present in the writing analyzed.

In that regard, literary criticism is a genre of fiction, something to which there is both a high degree of instability and improbability than something more fact based, such as Plath's biography. There are definable truths to Plath's life. That is not to say everything is known, but much is. And, in this light there are definable truths about Plath's creative writing as it pertains to its source of inspiration (her life, her emotional experiences, etc.) The application of theoretical methodologies is perhaps the most damaging and unstable of them all in assessing the value of creative writing. When one reads, or wants to read, the (auto)biography into or out of Plath's creative works it does provide an opportunity, at least, to pin down something historically concrete and irrefutable into an otherwise wide open, limitless, shifting, and trending field of interpretation. What it comes down to is that no one way of reading is right and that no one way of reading is wrong. We may and we will and we should disagree, but often in the tones of voices employed by the critics that Badia mentions as bullies we (generally speaking the uncritical consumer, irregardless of gender) are made to feel wrong. It isn't lost on me that the tone of this review has turned aggressive and that I, too, am being a bully. This is intentional. In critics minds the generally educated seem to get it wrong because they over-identify with Plath's writing (and life) or perhaps read too much of Plath's life in her writing. That doesn't make Plath's writing confessional and it doesn't make Plath a confessional poet. It makes her universal to the human experience.

If you will allow me to step (further) onto my soapbox for a bit, isn't it just simply the point that people are reading? For example, I do not have the slightest interest in the Harry Potter books, but I enjoy the fact that they are popular and that people of all ages and backgrounds read and enjoy them. Sometimes even making readers out of non-readers! And as educators, shouldn't they (generally) be supportive of all possible meanings that those readers derive from the writing? Maybe not. But, who are they (generally) to say that someones interpretation is wrong or lesser? It's the appreciation of the work that matters. In a 1961 interview, Plath herself said, "And I don't have a single gripe about people not appreciating poetry. For example, I don't like water skiing myself, why should I complain if some other people don't like poetry" (Tyler)? Plath expanded this comment - and this illustrates my rambling point somewhat - in "Context," an essay she wrote in 1962: "Surely the great use of poetry is its pleasure...Certain poems and lines of poetry seems as miraculous to me as church altars or the coronation of queens must seem to people who revere quite different images. I am not worried that poems reach relatively few people. As it is, they go surprisingly far - among strangers, around the world, even. Farther than the words of a classroom teacher or the prescriptions of a doctor; if they are lucky, farther than a lifetime."

One thing about the book design I really love is the Notes section. Not only are the notes informative, but the header for each pages lists the page range in the text for the notes contained on that page. Simple, brilliant.

As for the cover. Not very impressed. Stereotypical comes to mind? I find the images of women in a bathtub and on top of a laundry machine a bit … sexist? Maybe? Why exhibit women readers in this fashion? Is it meant to be tongue in cheek? The ghostly poem/letter extending down the page is beautiful; however, I certainly don't think either of their reading positions to be very comfortable, and the cover of Ariel is perhaps the worst Photoshop job I've ever seen, with exceptions being all of the images below... Who sits in the bath with (probably) no water in a long sleeve-buttoned blouse? And who sits, like that, on a washing machine. Mind you, I love the spin cycle as much as anyone...but this is probably a confession left for another time entirely. I tried out both positions, as can be see seen below...

This inspired me to design the cover for the forthcoming Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Men Readers.

Buy Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers by Janet Badia!
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