Monday, 20 June 2011

Plath at Mademoiselle Magazine, 1953.

My friend Katie left a link to a Plath photo on Facebook today. I thought it was too nice not to share the picture on my blog!

For those of you who own Sylvia Plath's Unabridged Journals, this picture of Plath and Elizabeth Bowen will be familiar, as it is included in the photographs section of the book. Plath interviewed Bowen for Mademoiselle magazine in 1953, the summer that would later become the inspiration for "The Bell Jar."

When I look at this photograph, my gaze always falls on the clothes Plath is wearing. Esther Greenwood felt trapped and confined in the clothes bought for her during her summer interning in New York, finally throwing them from the top of the Amazon Hotel roof at the end of her stay in the city.

"Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one's ashes, the grey scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York."

I look at the photograph of Sylvia and Bowen and wonder to what extent Plath's personal feelings mirrored that of Esther's. Did Plath feel as trapped and frustrated as Esther Greenwood behind the smiles of this photograph?


Peter K Steinberg said...


I'm glad that you're blogging again!

Thanks for posting this and asking the questions. I'm not really equipped to talk about fashion and social constructions, but my feelings when looking at the pictures in the contact sheet are that Plath must have felt confined and I wonder how much of that was due to her age as a 20-year-old? And a 20-year-old who was entering into a world that was kind of foreign to her. Whereas Bowen is far more casual in her attire. Perhaps that, too, comes/came with age?

I found the house where this interview took place a couple of years back and wrote a blog post about it over on my blog.

I certainly think The Bell Jar can be described as a roman á clef. But, I also believe (and this is not en vogue in academic circles) that the majority of Plath's writing is autobiographical: done with art and mastery, no doubt, but generating enough from - and with much evidence - her own experiences that to suggest otherwise it almost laughable.

Beautiful quote from The Bell Jar at the end of your post. Every time I go to Manhattan I think about doing this myself.


Zoë said...

Wonderful post, if you hadn't pointed it out it wouldn't have been something i'd have considered. I must give The Bell Jar a read again, from a twenty something perspective this time!

Gorgeous use of a quote too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shoutout in your post, Maeve! Glad you liked the photos, and that you found them as interesting as I did. I'd not thought of The Bell Jar link though, so thanks for posting about it!

Really sorry to hear that your Viva didn't go as well as you'd hoped, but I'm sure you'll wow them in August.

Christine Donovan said...

I saw one of these photos years ago in Letters Home and thought much the same - she's got that hat thing on the whole time, and her body language is just so uncomfortable,she looks as if she wants to be enjoying the experience so much, yet isn't really at all. Which is the whole theme of that part of The Bell Jar, the pained expression lurking underneath the suit.
However looking at photos of my mother at much the same age and date, it's pretty standard. Clothes that are much too formal, overstyled hair, nervous expression, I'm glad I wasn't young then.