27 May 2013

A Summary of Sylvia Plath's Ariel

The following is a Guest Blog post by Angel DeMonica, who attended the reading of Sylvia Plath's Ariel yesterday (26 May) at the Royal Festival Hall. I would like to thank Angel on behalf of myself and all of this blogs' readers sincerely for her write-up.

I hope to have other reviews of the reading from other attendees soon.

The evening was introduced by Plath's daughter, Frieda Hughes, who was dressed in a black cocktail dress and gold belt. She repeated much of the introduction to the Restored Ariel and was particularly keen to emphasize that Hughes took a "painstaking" approach to the 1965 edition. Frieda stressed that she sees Plath's ordering of the Ariel poems as the "historical version" and is convinced that Plath would have changed, adapted & extracted if she had lived longer, i.e. we shouldn't see it - in Frieda's view - as an incontrovertible original version. She said her mother "treated every emotional experience as a jewel, ring or a necklace" and that in the Ariel collection "she was caught in an act of revenge" in which her father later became a victim. She didn't mention the fact that Plath killed herself, but spoke of her death. Frieda complained that her mother has sometimes been "completely fabricated" and ended by saying the evening was an opportunity to hear her mother "presented exactly as she would want to be - through her poetry".

The forty readings followed, which lasted about an hour and a half. The poems of the Restored edition were read by a mixture of poets (Jo Shalcott, Gillian Clarke, Lavinia Greenlaw) and well-known actresses (Miranda Richardson, Juliet Stevenson, Anna Chancellor). It was a mixed bag I felt: ''Poppies in October" (one of my favourite poems) was terrible, read almost in monotone, "Medusa" was read breathily & quietly & with too little animation. But what was extraordinary was to hear the bee cycle and follow the narrative in its tense movement towards spring - this was a fantastic experience. The highlight for me was hearing Ruth Fainlight (on stage, with a walking stick) reading "Elm" - the poem Plath dedicated to her; and when the lights of the Royal Festival Hall were dimmed, Plath's image was beamed onto the screen and her voice came booming out of the speakers, reading "Daddy". Ultimately, I think, Plath herself is the best speaker of her poetry. But this was still a great opportunity to hear her poems as she said she wrote them - for the ear.

21 May 2013

On Sylvia Plath & the Archive

Just found this quote from David Trinidad on working with Sylvia Plath materials in the archive and thought it was worth spreading...
It’s an intimate act, one that connects you with a writer, his or her energy, in a very personal way.  It’s that intimacy, with Plath, that I find so exciting.  To get that close to the source of such tremendous vitality, creativity.
It is from an interview that appeared in the Sycamore Review entitled "'the past, the color pink': An Interview with David Trinidad."

You can read some of David Trinidad's poems and essays in several volumes of Plath Profiles. Some of the best are:

Hidden in Plain Sight: On Sylvia Plath's Missing Journals (Volume 3 Supplement, Fall 2010)
On the Road with Sylvia and Ted: Plath and Hughes's 1959 Trip Across America (Volume 4, Summer 2011)
Sylvia Plath: The Complete Pink (Volume 5, Summer 2012)
"Light Borrowing" from The New Yorker (Volume 6, Summer 2013)

17 May 2013

Surprise: Plath Profiles 6 Published!


Plath Profiles 6
 (Summer 2013) is now live online. The table of contents is as follows:

Special Features
Medicine in Sylvia Plath's October Poems by Tracy Brain

These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past by Gail Crowther and Peter K. Steinberg

Light Borrowing by David Trinidad

Essays and Poetry from the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symspoium
An introduction to "The Boston Trio": Sylvia Plath with Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton by Sarah-Jane Burton

When Ariel Found Mercy Street: The Influence of Anne Sexton on Sylvia Plath's Poetry by Katherine Rose Keenan

"Something in me said, now, you must see this": Reconciliation of Death and "the empty benches of memory" in Sylvia Plath's "Berck-Plage" by Maeve O'Brien

"An efficiency, a great beauty": Sylvia Plath's Ariel Titles by Rai Peterson

"She has folded them back": Incorporation and The Maternal Imagination by Catherine Leigh Reeves

A Cognitive Metaphor Approach to Analysing Potentially Schema-Refreshing Metaphors in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" by Amita J. Sanghvi

Lilly Library by Susan McMichael

Sylvia Plath Symposium 2012 by Gabriela Ramirez-Chavez

"O love, how did you get here?": The Presence of Questions in Sylvia Plath's Ariel by Chloe Honum

"A wind of such violence / Will tolerate no bystanding": Sylvia Plath, Ariel, and Mental Illness by Matthew Cronin

A Word with Many Edges: Sylvia Plath's Nomenclature for the Collection Ariel by Azadeh Feridounpour

The Drama of Confession: Orchestration of Emotion and Self-Disclosure in Ariel by Suzanne Richter

The Courage of Not Shutting Up by Adrianne Kalfopoulou

The Smoke and Mirrors of "The Couriers" by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Bee-ing There: The Existential Influence in Sylvia Plath's "Bee Poems" by Ashley McFarland

Bald Glyphs & Psychic Maps: An Examination of Sylvia Plath's "Sheep in Fog" by Rehan Qayoom

A Sociological Approach to Death wish in The Bell Jar by Akhtar Jamal Khan and Bibhudutt Dash

"Funny and Tender and Not a Desperate Woman:" Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, and Therapeutic Laughter by Andrea Krafft

Little Smiling Hooks by Bonnie Bolling

Refiguring Women: Metaphor, Metonymy, and Identity in Plath's Confessional Poetry by Whiney Naylor-Smith

The Confession of Love, Loss and Anger in Sylvia Plath's Poetry by Christina Pipos

The "Dead Mother" Effect on a Daughter, Sylvia Plath by Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

The Valor of My Tongue: Plath and Shakespeare by Baron Wormser

The Right Mind of Sylvia Plath: Magic, Myth and Metamorphosis by Carole Brooks Platt, Ph.D.

What Sylvia Plath Means to Me by Thomas Howard

Subject Sylvia by Meghan O'Rourke

from Art and Alchemy: On Creative Writing and Reading by Kate Braverman

Creative Writing
The Everlasting Monday by Megeen R. Mulholland, Ph.D.

Three Poems by Alessandra Bava

Perdita by Azadeh Feridounpour

A Bell Jar Lexicon by Anne Gorrick

August in Northampton by Jaime Jost

Your Lost Pine by Thomas Howard

The Plath Not Taken by Gabriela Ramirez-Chavez

Sylvia Plath's Eternal Buzz in the Sky by Kristina Zimbakova

For Sivvy by Tony Cockayne

Choice by Gabrielle Reeves

Review of Janet Badia, Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers by Anna Creadick

Review of Elizabeth Winder, Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Katherine Rose Keenan

Recent Sylvia Plath Biographies by Maeve O'Brien

Bee-Stung in October by Diann Blakely

American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson

Mad Girl's Lover Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted by Andrew Wilson

Claiming Sylvia Plath: The Poet as Exemplary Figure by Marianne Egeland

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder

Thanks and congratulations to all the contributors! As you may remember from my 1 March post, with the publication of this volume I will no longer be involved with Plath Profiles. "It's time to wave goodbye now." If you need me, I "caught a ride with the moon" and will be hanging out with the dream king.

15 May 2013

Plath Profiles 6 Sneak Peek: These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past

Now that Plath Profiles 6 is in production, I thought I might give a sneak peek at the paper Gail Crowther and I wrote: "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past". As you may know, Gail and I read a part of this paper in March at Plymouth University, England, where those in attendance heard some previously unknown Plath letter's read, as well as saw newly found photographs of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes that Gail found. We generally try to keep our findings under wraps but feel like now would be an appropriate time to possibly drum up some interest in the paper.

The paper begins with this brilliant quote taken from Anita Helle's The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath: "Archival histories consist of tales we tell about the archive, and of tales the archive tells" (5). This quote was a guiding force in this installment of the "These Ghostly Archives" series. We visited or corresponded with eleven archival collections at nine different repositories, in three countries!  Among them include:

Cheltenham Festival prize poems. British Library, London, England.
Eric Walter White, Second Accrual. Mills Memorial Library, McMastery University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Letters to Michael Carey. Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts.
Plath mss II. Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana.
Sylvia Plath Collection. Mortimer Rare Boom Room, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.
Harper's Magazine records. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Edward James Hughes papers. British Library, London, England.
Ann Skea Notebooks. British Library, London, England.

In addition to these traditional archives, we "hit the road" as it were and visit places Plath herself visited or in which she lived, places we call "the living archive." In the process we weave together an intertextual reading of Plath's journals, poems, etc. with images of these places.

We are excited for you to read the essay and hope that it continues nicely from the previous four that we have published. We had so much material we actually had to withhold discussing a decent chunk of stuff, so we are hopeful that the series will continue. We are also hot on the trail of new archival finds.

Still not exactly sure when the issue will be live but hopefully the wait will not be too long. But I might be lying, too... I might know exactly when Plath Profiles 6 will be published...

13 May 2013

What Sylvia Plath said & where she said it

Last week I posted a request for help in locating a quote attributed to Sylvia Plath in Meghan O'Rourke's 2004 essay "Subject Sylvia." I know a couple of people  have looked but I am pleased to say that I found the original quote and for their efforts I would like to give a massive shout-out of thanks. The quote is by Sylvia Plath, but it has nothing to do with any comment she said on the BBC "in the weeks before she died" as O'Rourke claims.

The original quote as written by Plath appeared in her review of C.A. Trypanis' volume of poetry Stones of Troy which was published in the Summer 1957 issue of Gemini, pages 98-103. The quote appears on page 102:
A similar sense of fresh, first-hand observation and reaction is revealed in Chartres. Again, we are contemplating a work of art: this time, the architecture and stained-glass windows of a French cathedral. The metaphor-moral is intrinsic to the poem, working back and forth on itself, not expressed prosaically at the close, like the moral of a fable. And in spite of questionable simile 'as free of flesh as sin' (isn't sin, ipso facto, inherent in the flesh?), the words and rhythms of the poem make the church leap alive in colour and light... 
So, quite possible the quote is taken out of context considering it is a critique of a Trypanis poem. But at least we have the source. This quote was reprinted in Linda Wagner[-Martin]'s Critical Essays on Sylvia Plath (G.K. Hall, 1984) on page 18.

The review -- like all of Plath's book reviews -- remains uncollected.

11 May 2013

Sylvia Plath said what? where?

In her March 2004 article, "Subject Sylvia" (Poetry, pp. 335-344), Meghan O'Rourke writes the following:
Plath took pains to invest her poems with a mythic severity, and in the weeks before she died spoke on the BBC about the need for the modern poet to draw on myth while making "the metaphor-moral ... intrinsic to the poem, working back and forth on itself, not expressed prosaically at the close, like the moral of a fable." (full text of article; link accessed 10 May 2013)

I am hoping that the power of social interneting can help to identify the source of this quote (above, in bold). "We" know Plath prepared a script of poems for the BBC circa 13/14 December 1962. These include poems such as "The Applicant," "Fog Sheep" ("Sheep in Fog"), "Lady Lazarus," "Ariel," "Death & Co.," "Nick and the Candlestick," "Letter in November," "Daddy," "Fever 103˚," "The Bee Meeting," "The Arrival of the Bee Box," and "Wintering."  However, the text does not appear in that script. The full-text of these poems and introductions appears in the several different places: the Plath Collection at Smith College, the Alvarez papers in the British Library, and some were printed in Ariel: The Restored Edition (2004).

Plath also reviewed, on 10 January 1963, Donald Hall's anthology Contemporary American Poetry. Smith College holds a typescript of this and the audio was released in the 2010 British Library CD The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. The text also does not appear either in this recorded program or in the typescript I have seen (keeping in mind there might be an alternate typescript out there).

So, my question for the faithful, resourceful readers of this blog is: Do you know from where this quote comes?

08 May 2013

Sylvia Plath Manuscripts at Bonhams

Bonhams London on New Bond Street held "The Roy Davids Collection. Part III. Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets. Second Session (L-Y)" today (see video with commentary). In the auction were four lots of Plath material and Plath-related material. I've been tracking the lots since the auction started and the space between updates and hitting refresh felt interminable. Here are the results:

Lot 332: MODERN POETS: ELIOT, AUDEN, HUGHES, SPENDER and MACNEICE: PORTRAITS OF T.S. ELIOT, W.H. AUDEN, TED HUGHES, STEPHEN SPENDER AND LOUIS MCNEICE TOGETHER BY MARK GERSON (b. 1921), vintage photograph, silver print, showing the 'Faber Poets' on the stairs at Faber and Faber, 24 Russell Square, signed in pencil on the mount by Gerson and with his stamp on the verso, framed and glazed, size of image 7 ½ x 9 ½ inches (19 x 24 cm), overall size 16 x 17 inches (41 x 43.5 cm), Faber's, 23 June 1960. Estimate: £3,000 - 3,500; US$ 4,700 - 5,400; €3,600 - 4,100. This lot did not sell.

Lot 372: PLATH, SYLVIA (1932-1963)] and TED HUGHES (1930-1998): THE COMPLETE WORKING PAPERS FOR THE FIRST VERSION OF TED HUGHES'S ESSAY ABOUT SYLVIA PLATH'S POEM, 'THE EVOLUTION OF SHEEP IN FOG,' 1988. Estimate: £4,500 - 5,000; US$ 7,000 - 7,800; €5,300 - 5,900. This lot sold for £9,999; US$ 15,525; €11,845.

Lot 373: THE COMPLETE WORKING PAPERS FOR HER KEY POEM 'SHEEP IN FOG': c. 75 lines in her handwriting, comprising autograph and typescript drafts and a typed completed version (15 lines), all but the first two separately dated and most of the typescripts with her name and address typed by her in the top right-hand corner, with extensive autograph deletions and revisions preserving numerous reconsidered readings; on three of the versos are typescripts, two with autograph revisions [from 'A Poem for Three Voices'], the other from a short story (character: Alison), the drafts for 'Sheep in Fog': 7 pages, large quarto, 23 Fitzroy Road, London NW1, 2 December 1962 and 'Revised 28 January 1963'. Estimate: £30,000 - 35,000; US$ 47,000 - 54,000; €36,000 - 41,000. This lot sold for £37,249; US$ 57,834; €44,124.

Lot 374: PLATH, SYLIVA (1932-1963) and TED HUGHES (1930-1998): AUTOGRAPH REVISED POETICAL DRAFTS BY EACH OF THEM ON THE SAME SHEET OF PAPER, ALSO WITH A TYPED POEM BY SYLVIA PLATH, [1961]. This lot contains a verse from Plath's poem "I am vertical" on the recto; and the verso features lines from a poem in Hughes' hand called "Endless". Estimate: £6,000 - 8,000; US$ 9,300 - 12,000; €7,100 - 9,500. This lot sold for £18,749; US$ 29,111; €22,210.

All links accessed on 8 May 2013.

07 May 2013

Seeing Sylvia Plath with Old Eyes

This is newness: every little tawdry
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,
Glinting and clinking in a saint's falsetto.
I am a fool. I admit it, I am a fool. I have been fooled. And likely not even for the last time. All year I've been fooled. So much media coverage on Sylvia Plath! It was supposed to be a sort of a dream year for the Plath scholar and fan. I was supposed to be having the time of my life...

...that's all there was to read about in the papers -- goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway. It had nothing to do with me...

Each Google News Alert sent my heart aflutter! Instead, it's turned into something else: my worst nightmare! Article after article after article on Plath: all saying the same thing. That is: all saying nothing! All promising sounding with sexy titles (and a few sexy authors) but nearly all delivering cliched, old-school, boring, emptiness. The Guardian kind of started it off pitting Olwyn Hughes against Elizabeth Sigmund. Again. The most recent appeared online Friday and in the Sunday 5 May 2013 print edition of the Sunday New York Times.

In regard to this recent article "Seeing Sylvia Plath with New Eyes" by Liesl Schillinger. I let out a rather big yawn. The article hit the usual, boilerplate facts: 50th anniversary of The Bell Jar, 50th anniversary of since her suicide, the estranged husband; the manuscript of poems...etc. All in the first paragraph. Nothing new there.

Second paragraph highlights the (reprisal) reading of Plath's own Ariel spearheaded by Frieda Hughes and including a line-up of only women...nothing new there. Remember when Ariel: The Restored Edition was published in 2004? Yeah, there was a public reading of the poems in New York City at that time... with an all-star line-up, too! And one that included men readers. (Read one such article on it; and another for good measure).

The third paragraph gets into some new material: certainly a new name (to me) in the Plathosphere. It's wonderful that Plath-length courses are being taught at the university level, but some overused keywords such as "problem," "insane," "depressive," "cutter", and "rage" blight the attempt to portray newness. Why is the "problem" of Plath the focus of the course? Why not teach the "solution"? And what is the course description? It's not stated at all in the article. Alas, I have found it...
The Problem of Sylvia Plath
How do we read a poet whose biography has overwhelmed the reputation of the work? In this course we will examine the nature of literary fame and read Plath's poems and fiction with a fresh and critical attention. We will study Ariel - Plath's posthumously published masterpiece in the edition assembled by her husband Ted Hughes, and compare it to the recently restored, facsimile edition assembled prior to her death by Plath herself. We will also read Plath's journals, letters, stories and novel. Additionally, we will read criticism, poems by Ted Hughes and parts of the one "official" biography of Plath - Bitter Fame, by Anne Stevenson. Prerequisites: None.

Well, largely the course description sounds same-old, same-old. Would love to know what the outcome of it is... "Fresh critical attention"? Like what? 1989's Bitter Fame? It is 2013, right? If he uses the 1998 reissue of Plath's abridged journals...well...I quit. In the rest of the article, additional hackneyed words appear, such as: "macabre," "tragedy," and "neurotic" to name a few.

The Tweeter in the fourth paragraph is a novel idea, but, it's not new and not newsworthy. If anything, Schillinger's alerted the estate of Sylvia Plath to a potential copyright violation! I get that the person that started @itssylviaplath is bringing Plath's words to the larger context of social media...but any search through Twitter for Plathian references may quickly lead one to be bored... Certainly what they find are stereotypical reactions, tasteless references to Plath's death, etc. The reference to Lena Dunham & her "obsession" again harkens back to a stereotypical way of referring to Plath's readers. But it also opens a sore wound for me. Not only is the forthcoming reading of Ariel all women: but that Dunham piece from The Guardian was also only female voices. In fact, the presence in Schillinger's article of Bennington professor Mark Wunderlich was refreshing: but he was the only male mentioned and interviewed. (I don't count references to Bill Clinton, Ted Hughes, or Muhammed Ali, etc. etc.) A "new" way to see Sylvia Plath would be more balanced with male and female voices represented from many countries. Come on New York Times!

Now, the article makes wonderful use of Elizabeth Winder's recent book Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. But, what about Carl Rollyson's American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath and Andrew Wilson's Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted. Both of which, like Winder, benefited by "[d]rawing from a trove of interviews, correspondence and diaries." Both Rollyson and Wilson present "new" photographic images of Sylvia Plath on the covers of their books (and inside, too). This is the more literal, new way to "see" Plath and far, far from the old way of seeing her. It seems to me that a host of other publications might have been mentioned that have made valuable, massive and "new" contributions to the literature on Sylvia Plath & the way her is perceived and received. A few are: Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual (edited by Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley), The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath (edited by Anita Helle), Plath Profiles, Representing Sylvia Plath (edited by Tracy Brain and Sally Bayley), and The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (by Heather Clark), for starters.

At the very end there is a slight shift towards Plath's poetics in quotes by Tracy K. Smith and Meghan O'Rourke, but there was nothing really "new" in them. In large part, I think the way Sylvia Plath is changing most dramatically starts within each of her readers: in each of us. We are impatient for the dawning of a new age where Plath can be read for her poetic control; her voice; the economy of her poetry and the rapid maturity that we see in such a short space of time. In a fast-paced world lead by social media, it's no wonder we want this change to take place overnight. But it isn't going happen that way. Collectively, the cultural response - the response at large, in popular culture, the media, etc - will be slower to take effect and slower to notice. It does seem that academia is well ahead of the curve. Point in their favor! Of course we want to say "We're seeing Plath in a whole new way" have it take effect right then and there. But it might not happen in our lifetime. It must mean something that the New York Times is seeing Plath with "new eyes" but the article betrays itself by not concretely presenting anything really new.

How much of this "new"-ness not being "new" is the result of my being hyper-aware of Plathiana? A lot, likely. So perhaps it is not "fair" of me to be on this diatribe in the first place? Speaking personally, there is I think more "new"-ness, for example, in any part of a "These Ghostly Archives" essay than in 1,000 articles published via news sources. It starts in the archives. It starts with Plath. It starts with those who knew her, such as what we learned from the leg work Rollyson, Wilson, and Winder did in their books. That is the direct path to the "new." It continues with publications of her work that present previously unpublished materials. There are massive amounts of unpublished stories, poems, letters, early diaries, etc. While the forthcoming Sylvia Plath: Drawings (Faber, 5 September 2013) looks like a start - and I am greedy to see it - it is a piggy back publication to both the out-of-print Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual (Oxford University Press, 2007) and limited edition Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings (Mayor Gallery, 2011). But in 2013 - 50 years after the publication of The Bell Jar and 50 years after her death and 51 years after she wrote and assembled the poems that were to become her Ariel - Plath's name and the legend and the myth and all that it means is simply and sadly fashionably in vogue. I'm looking forward...

05 May 2013

A Rhetorical Position: A Review of Claiming Sylvia Plath by Marianne Egeland

Look, I like to nitpick when I read a book or an article about Sylvia Plath where the author gets a fact wrong, or where the editing is abominable. There have been many instances, perhaps too many, where I have done this very thing on this blog. However, the level of nitpicking; condescension; the tone of nastiness; rampant simplistic commentary which is mask of moral/ethical judgment; the seeming inability to truly understand or acknowledge that the majority of writing on an author - on ANY author - is undertaken with a bias or an agenda; a pathological obsession of pointing out a writers' academic affiliation; and the mistaken assumption that writing on Sylvia Plath makes one either rich or famous or both in Claiming Sylvia Plath: The Poet as Exemplary Figure by Marianne Egeland (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013) is so distasteful so as to make the book - like this sentence - practically unreadable. That being said, the level of close reading and scrutiny evident in Claiming Sylvia Plath is commendable, but overall the book suffers from - put in the most non-academic fashion as possible - highfalutin bitchiness.

Claiming Sylvia Plath "is a study of five decades of Plath reception, of shifting hegemonic positions and issues addressed by the communities that have tried to make sense of her life and work" (4). The book aims "to demonstrate what may predictably happen when critics swear by a particular theory and end up with answers that support their chosen approach" (4). In writing about those who have written about Plath, Egeland places herself "outside the Plath institution" (6); however this is problematic as Egeland herself is as much a part of the "institution" as anyone that has ever written on Plath: critics, biographers, etc. Who is she to assign where she fits in and how dare she place herself outside of the "institution"? Especially given that she is the author of her own Plath biography (in Norwegian) as well as the author of at least one essay on Plath as well as a featured participant at a major international Plath conference (Oxford, 2007)! That Egeland has an interest in the "ethical questions" of writing about Plath gives me the absolute shivers: suggesting that by placing herself "outside the Plath institution" she has placed herself above everyone else. And this is dangerous territory. It is as though she were sitting there up in Norway-land with a lightning-bolt lance smiting Sylvia Plath scholars!

Egeland routinely criticizes authors for claiming to be the first to present Plath in a new light (most notably those writing on Plath's political interests and involvement). While not a novel thing to do, Egeland highlights narrative differences of the same events in biographies and discusses fictional coloring for the sake of story-telling. However, Egeland herself is not the first to point out that the genre of the Plath biography is problematic, nor is hers remotely the best writing on the topic. One does get the impression in Claiming Sylvia Plath that Egeland feels very passionately about Sylvia Plath: this is clear through the time it must have taken to accumulate and process all this information. The books back jacket claims that Claiming Sylvia Plath "suggests a host of possible answers" as to "why Sylvia Plath has been serviceable to so many and open to colonization." But these answers are hard to locate as the writing is so infected with pointing out the errors, misstatements, etc. that people have made over the decades. I saw no attempt to undertake or suggest a definitive way to read, review, criticize, biographize, and write about Sylvia Plath. That is because there is none. Plath's writing is literature. Literature is variable; as is the way we interpret it. It is subject to trends; theories being something like the next seasons colors in the fashion world. Egeland also fails to consider that through the years, people change their minds about impressions and opinions, especially when new information is revealed or published over time, or as archival material is made available.

The standards to which Egeland holds those who have written about Sylvia Plath (i.e. her peers) are both absurd and naïve. Some of the writing suggests Egeland is bored with her subject, such as this exemplary example from the chapter on "Critics": "The publication of Sylvia Plath's Collected Poems in 1981 gave critics an opportunity to reconsider her work and their own earlier reactions to it. Reviews once more covered the whole range" (my emphasis, 86). No duh. The book is littered with such banal and hollow-hearted statements.

Claiming Sylvia Plath is a foul effort at contributing to the literature about Sylvia Plath. The book is not such much about Sylvia Plath as it is about those have written about her. Egeland, as mentioned above the author of her own Norwegian language biography of Plath, takes on Critics, Feminists, Biographers, Psychologists, Friends, and those who "use and abuse" Plath. I, too, come somewhat under the gun in the "use and abuse" section, but feel I come out relatively unscathed. However, in the Biographers section, Egeland does not seem to hold herself to the same standard that she does Edward Butscher, Linda Wagner-Martin, Anne Stevenson, Paul Alexander, and Ronald Hayman. This is because she restricts her focus to English language works, but regardless it reeks of hypocrisy. Because her own biography of Plath is in her native tongue, we non-Norwegian speakers cannot therefore see how her own treatment of Plath is presumably better than those who have written about Plath's life in English.

Each chapter is set up with little chunks of text divided by subject or theme; this does make for easy reading and also allows one to skip around if particular area of study is not of interest. The notes are generally helpful though also frequently snotty. The reason to buy this book is the "Other Sources" in the Bibliography (the "Works by Sylvia Plath" section of the Bibliography is weak, as might be expected since the focus is less on Plath's creative and autobiographical writings than it is about the writing on Plath). However, it is good to a point. Stephen Tabor's bibliography is much better as it lists "everything" as it were, whereas Egeland only lists those articles to which she refers in the text. But it does update somewhat from Tabor. The section on the critics might have been better had she spent time focusing on the handful or so of reviews that appeared during Plath's lifetime (that Plath might have seen). Final verdict: For me, Claiming Sylvia Plath is a buzz kill. If you have to read it or are curious, check it out from your university library if they have it; but at circa $75 it might even be too pricey for them.

Lastly, the design of the book is awful. It is as heavy as a brick, is so tightly bound I probably developed tendinitis holding the pages open against the boards, and the dust wrapper flaps do not extend far enough, leading it to be constantly falling off the book. Furthermore, there is precious little space in the margin to comment on the text if one is prone to do so.

01 May 2013

Parting Ways with Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath's friend Elinor Klein described Plath's hair in her article "A Friend Recalls Sylvia Plath" published in Glamour (November 1966: 168, 182-184) as follows:
Her yellow hair, which had been lightened several shades from its natural light brown, was shoulder length and had been carefully trained to dip with a precise and provocative flourish over her left eyebrow. Her eyes were very dark, deeply set under heavy lids that give them a brooding quality in many of her photographs. Her cheekbones were high and pronounced, their prominence exaggerated by the faint, irregular brown scar that was the only physical reminder of the suicide attempt.
It might be safe to say that everyone going to the Lilly Library at Indiana University wants to see and to touch the cutting's they have of Plath's hair. As such we pay attention to Plath's hair both in images of her as well as in its appearances in her creative writing. At least I do...do you? Some famous appearances are: "A rose of jeopardy flames in my hair" from "Circus in Three Rings"; "The wind gagging my mouth with my own blown hair" from "The Rabbit Catcher"; "Warm rain greases my hair, extinguishes nothing" from "Burning the Letters"; and "And dried plates with my own dense hair" from "Stings", to name only a few.

However, it is not the use of Plath's hair as prop-imagery in her poetry that this post concerns itself. No, it is the photographic images of Plath and her hair. In the Journals of Sylvia Plath (Faber) (The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (Anchor)), image 16 "SP in front of the President's House, Smith College, 1954" was accidentally reversed when it was published. Below is the image as it appears in the book.

Note the part in her hair-part in the image above is on the left side of her head with her hair descending down over the right side of her face. However, per Klein (and many images of Plath), Plath parted her hair on the right so that it swooped over the left side of her face (and could cover her left eye and the scar she got from her first suicide attempt, for which I am told there is a charge to see). Also, the angle of the President's House is all wrong in the above image and believe me, I have traipsed all over this part of Smith's campus trying to find the angle: it doesn't exist. The original image is held in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith Collection. Below is a composite image with the incorrect image on the left and the correct one on the right.

Try covering up the one on the left. Do you agree, maybe, that Plath looks more "normal" or more like herself in the image on the right? From "Three Women": "The mirror gives back a woman without deformity."

Noticing this, I started looking at other images of Sylvia Plath, to see how many others might have been accidentally printed in reverse. You might be surprised...I certainly was. Unfortunately, many of the images printed in association with Andrew Wilson's brilliant Mad Girl's Love Song were accidentally flipped in the images that accompanied pre-publication articles and excerpts. This is no fault of Wilson's, obviously. It is most evident looking at the covers of Wilson's book and Carl Rollyson's American Isis: The Art and Life of Sylvia Plath. In Carl's book the part is clearly on the right side of Plath's head; and in Wilson's on the left.

Here are some of images below, composited together. In each case, the incorrect image is on the left and the correct one on the right.

How does this affect (or not affect) our vision or image of Sylvia Plath? As in, the way that we view her? Does it? I do think it changes the way Plath looks; there is something unsettling or discomforting about those printed in reverse. Of course this is how Plath would have see herself in a mirror. We know that mirror images were important to Plath and her poetics. She told us: "Mirrors can kill and talk, they are terrible rooms". Even in working on this post, I feel there to be "A disturbance in mirrors" which leaves me only to say: "Destroy your mirror and avoid mishaps." Now: "The mirrors are sheeted."
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