Friday, 11 February 2011

Upcoming Plath Books and opinions

Today is the 48th Anniversary of Sylvia's death. Instead of dwelling on the sad anniversary of today, like Peter Steinberg over at what I believe to be the best Plath blog/information site online, Sylvia Plath Info; I want to focus on her lasting legacy and the great contribution she made to literature. Looking on today I was thrilled to see so many books pending release on the subject of Sylvia Plath. And even more so to see an upcoming book from Sally Bayley and Tracy Brain - two of the foremost scholars on Plath today.

The amazon blurb for 'Representing Sylvia Plath' states: This book explores the many layers of her often unreliable and complex representations and the difficult relationship between the reader and her texts. The volume evaluates the historical, familial and cultural sources which Plath drew upon for material: from family photographs, letters and personal history to contemporary literary and cinematic holocaust texts. It examines Plath's creative processes: what she does with materials ranging from Romantic paintings to women's magazine fiction, how she transforms these in multiple drafts and the tools she uses to do this, including her use of colour. Finally the book investigates specific instances when Plath herself becomes the subject matter for other artists, writers, film makers and biographers.

I think this is going to prove a very interesting and worthwhile read, forwarding the thoughts and discussions from another great Plath text: 'Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual. The fact Sally Bayley is on board for both of these raises my expectations!

I really do beleve that right now is the best time to be exploring the life and work of Sylvia Plath. Even casual Plath fans are aware of the stigma attached to her work - the casual dismissing of her poetry as 'crazy' or the complete overlooking of her poetry in favour of her personal life. What scholars like Kathleen Connors, Bayley and Tracy Brain are doing is opening up the whole spectrum in which we view Sylvia Plath. I feel that it is so important to stop looking at the personal elements now and focus on actual materials that can be analysed. The 'Eye Rhymes' book is full of wonderful drawings Plath did in her girlhood, detailing her feelings towards war, art, the role of women and how she viewed herself (the pictures below illustrate this - they are some of Plath's own drawings from her younger days). In analysing these paintings, new conclusions were drawn in 'Eye Rhymes': I can only imagine the same suit will follow in this new publication. 'Representing Sylvia Plath' will be available from 31 August, 2011.

I guess the point of this post is - and this is relevant to even the casual Plath fan - it is important for me to assert my belief that Plath criticism is only now becoming something of substance. So many friends of mine with just a passing interest in Plath have had their brains ruined by ill-informed biographies and can no longer view the poems as anything other than biographical. Although it may seem daunting to perhaps chose a more critically-minded book, if you want to learn more about Sylvia Plath, I would honestly say, choosing something academic rather than biographic is the best bet when it comes to Plath. I aim to make a section of Recommended Academic Plath Books as a sub-section of this blog, but if you require any suggestions at all, don't hesitate to email me:)

While critics, too are very guilty of allowing their personal agendas to hold sway in their work, I believe that biographers are the main perpetrators of this crime. Indeed I feel there is a strong case for argument that Plath's life story has been told and re-told so many times, there really is no place left for a biography. Until the Hughes Trunk at Emory University is opened in 2023, which may or may not hold more Plath information (perhaps the maroon-backed ledgers?) everything to do with Plath, biographically-speaking has been covered.

Sitting here, on the anniversary of her death, I can think of nothing more honourable of a way in acknowledging Sylvia Plath than to throw out all the slurs and allegations and every bit of knowledge you, as reader have, about Plath and her life and relationships. Take the poems and read them. Read them out loud! Let the beautiful words affect you in whatever way you will react to them. And enjoy. Sylvia Plath was a brilliant mind, and she is gone far too soon. But her legacy lives on and every day I learn something new about myself from reading her poems or looking at intelligent interpretation of her work. So in that way, I guess, she lives on. I would urge all other Plath fans to do the same!:)

To finish, here's a list of some other upcoming Plath books:
The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers
And Letters Home has just been released for the Kindle:)


Peter K Steinberg said...

Maeve, Thank you for the compliment! It means so much to me. I like to think of Plath's own words about poetry:

"Surely the great use of poetry is its pleasure--not its influence as religious and political propaganda. Certain poems and lines of poetry seem as solid and 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 very lucky, farther than a lifetime."


Melanie Smith said...

So true, it is so important that a poem is tried on its own merits. I always hope my students can approach and appreciate a poem for its words, their power or beauty or what they convey. Biography is certainly imortant but it can limit a reading of and connection with the piece.

Heather Clark's book it wonderful, there is a piece that has elements of biography,, the work itself, the era etc etc that interweave wonderfully. Such an insightful and important work.

Christine Donovan said...

Maeve, you left a comment on my blog post which frankly I don't understand. I wasn't writing about Sylvia or her writing so much as the whole subject of suicide and depression. The article I quoted was full of sentences which assumed knowledge of Nicholas' mental state - which is wholly repugnant. I have been suicidal, and anyone assuming to know what I felt at that time would, most probably, have been wrong.
As a Ph.D student please be aware that Sylvia Plath studies are riddled with people who assume to know the truth. The person who I assume knew most of the truth was Ted, as he was her husband. He knew she burned his manuscripts, rearranged the order of her poems mercilessly and was happy to destroy his personal possessions, so saying he was the only one who did this is a bit one sided.
And as for legal action, I believe the people who should protect - or try to protect - the dead are their family.
I haven't read all your posts, but do you recommend Janet Malcolm's excellent book The Silent Woman. It's the most balanced view of Sylvia I've ever read in my thirty years of Plath interest.

nesha said...

this is such an insightful post...

The Plath Diaries said...

@ Christine -
Hi Christine. My comments on your blog related to the newspaper article you referenced and the following quote:

"It makes me hugely angry to see on Google newspaper articles like this while Freida Hughes is still alive, and makes me think Ted was completely right in sueing the pants off everyone who defamed Sylvia. It's the classic 'your ma's to blame for everything' school of thought, which, heaven help us, if that was true we'd never have got out of the stone age. "

I was just commenting that as much as there are newspaper stories filled with gossip like the one you quoted about Nicholas; there is another side to Plath commentary fuelled by the Hughes Estate.

I said:

"Just because they [the family] knew her doesn't mean than they are the sole voices in Plath interpretation. In fact, with T.H's track record of burning her manuscripts, re-ordering poems, and even writing 'Birthday Letters' - it cannot be said that he is the sole voice of interpretation. Who is he to sue others for their criticisms: lewd as they may be!

I don't agree with the perpetuating of the "Plath myth" that many newspapers strive to do (as the article you quoted) but I don't deny their right to existence."

I quoted Frieda's poem about "your Sylvia suicide doll" because I wanted to use it as an example in contrast with the article you linked about Nicholas - perhaps I did not make this clear enough in my comment to you.

My point is: whether people knew Sylvia Plath or not - they will present the side of her that they want to present. But it is the poetry that we, as readers can use to step away from the gossip and the "who did what" marriage anaylsis and actually see the beauty in the work.

I do think your comment to me in this blog reply' "And as for legal action, I believe the people who should protect - or try to protect - the dead are their family" is a little naive and illustrates the complexity of how Plath's life and work was handled post-death. I don't want to start burning bras here and raging about the Hughes estate but yes I agree: there should have been forces at work to 'protect' Sylvia Plath post-death. A better job should have been done in seeing her life was not entwined with her writing so much so that the writing, for many, cannot be read without the biographical information. The fact is, the Hughes estate made a shoddy job of 'protecting' Plath and in their literary critiques, Frieda and Ted are often guilty of fanning the flames that result in newspaper articles like the one you referenced.

I agree wholeheartedly with your belief that depression and suicides are like a terminal illness and I could go on about this in great depth, but I am trying to keep this blog as academic as possible - focus on the writing and interpretation as much as I can.

The general point I was trying to make is I guess that as repugnant as those news articles are, Hughes et al cannot be held wholly unresponsible for their existance.

Thank you for your concern as to my PhD studies, don't worry I am well aware of the different people out there assuming to know the truth. If I could offer you some constructive criticism it would be to perhaps not accept the Hughes Estate as law when it comes to Plath. Question the handling of her work, the essays Hughes has written on Plath; the role he had to play in her posthumous publishing. It's definitely not a case of black and white but there are a lot of greys out there!

Many thanks for your comment - it's always great to hear from another Plath enthusiast :)

The Plath Diaries said...

@ nesha - Thanks so much for your comment!

The Plath Diaries said...

@ Melanie Smith - Thanks so much for your comment Melanie, I look forward to reading that new Plath book! :)