Messages from August - September 2004
Hi Kenneth, in town are you? So, what do you think of good old Portland? The nice weather is over, and it's back to the rains. I don't have a problem with the rain, a true Oregonian never suffers from seasonal depression and rarely carries anything other than a scarf. We happily trudge through it, determined. If you spend a lot of time downtown, or near PGE park then perhaps we do pass each other blissfully unaware. Hope you enjoy your visit here in town. Check out the museum at the Justice Center (East entrance) and the Oregon Historical Society, (next to the art museum) they are musts. My father has a history book at the Oregon His. Society, which he wrote, Who Really Killed Chief Paulina? and it's excellent, a real mystery solved.
I agree that the Becker memoir was honest, and made a great deal of common sense to me. I really enjoyed it, it was long overdue and although far too brief, it was quite illuminating and she was finally able to defend herself against the long held belief by many, thanks to Time Magazine I think, that she and her husband had "let" Sylvia "go home too soon". The magazine had laid the blame on these two innocent people who had only opened their home to a troubled and lonely woman, only to be blamed for her suicide, how sad and unjust.
In any event, it is a good addition to the continuing story of one other individuals perspective. One other bit to the puzzle. The next important bit will be Ms. Negev's addition to the saga. Darn! it's so unfair we all have to wait one more year, but I guess that means it will be even better huh? She's working out the kinks and it will be a really important contribution to the public's ever growing fascination with this story, timeless and romantic as any Greek tragedy.
I have been asked to write a presentation entitled 'How do Sylvia Plath's references to her children reflect her attitude towards motherhood?' I wish to write a completley unbiased commentary and just explore different interpretations. If anyone has any ideas or contributions they would be most welcome!
As a graduate student at the University of Texas in Austin in the 70s, I was told by my grad advisor that he didn't think my proposed topic for a Ph.D. dissertation, the Beat poets, was worth the effort. I asked him who he thought worthy. He mentioned a few and then said that he thought not enough had been written about Sylvia Plath. I agreed to do my dissertation on her, although I had read only two of her poems up to that point. (I just wanted the Ph.D.) In the course of reading her poems and what had been written on her, I became mesmerized and convinced that she was one of the best poets I'd ever read.
My dissertation, "The Poetic Voice of Sylvia Plath" (U. of Texas, 1978), remains, I think (not so humbly), a good introduction to anyone new to Plath. I am, however, no scholar and didn't pursue an academic career; I write plays, etc. A few years after I'd left U. of Texas, a grad school friend of mine wrote to say that new material on Plath revealed that the break-up of her marriage was largely the result of her husband's affair with Alyssa Wevill, the wife of a prof there at UT, David Wevill. I was stunned! I knew David slightly, as a grad student knows a grad prof he hasn't had a class from, and it was mind-boggling to think that I'd been laboring over a dissertation on Sylvia without having a clue that the husband of the woman who broke up her marriage was right down the hall! Later I learned that Judith Kroll was at U. of Texas and recalled that she had written one of the early books about Plath and her poetry; I wrote her asking if David was still there. She replied that he was, and so I wrote to him, introducing myself and asking -- with all due respect -- if he would be willing to talk with me about Plath (post-dissertation). I never heard from him and decided not to pursue him/it. To this day I want to kick myself for not realizing who he was when I needed to know it, but as my grad friend accurately pointed out, "You would have just bugged the shit out of him." Maybe it was best we never talked. Still . ..
Hi Morney- I certainly didn't mean to completely dismiss Alexander. Clearly, though (as been pointed out) he should stick to what he's good at. I haven't read his biography of Salinger, and have no plans to; but one can only imagine what kind of "life" Alexander could fashion out of that one:-)
Some specific examples of what I'm talking about in Rough Magic; first, there is the notorious Benidorm "hillside strangler" scene (page 194 of the Da Capo edition). Perhaps I'm uninformed, but, to my knowledge, this event has never been otherwise verified.
On page 219, we've got something even worse: "Several nights later, Ted and Sylvia, still mad, got into a physical fight. Sylvia ended up with a sprained thumb, Ted raw fingernail marks on his face. 'I got hit and saw stars...for the first time...blinding red and white stars exploding in the black void of snarls and bitings' Sylvia remembered"
However, if we read Plath's own journals, the actual description of this incident (unedited) is this: "I had a sprained thumb, Ted bloody claw marks, for a week, and I remember hurling a glass with all my force across a dark room; instead of shattering the glass rebounded and remained intact; I got hit and saw stars." Obviously Alexander knew what the source of Plath's "injury' was; he simply left it out to suit his own purposes! He summarizes Plath's "Medusa" as, simply, "a poem about a woman who is victimized by a monster;" his description of "Daddy" is just as inadequate. I'll stop now...sorry...it just vexes me, you know:-)
Therresa, your ideas about Assia being the basis of some of Plath's most celebrated poems is very interesting (I know we've discussed it some via email-). In particular, the opening line of "Lesbos" comes to mind: "viciousness in the kitchen/the potatoes hiss." We all know the story of Assia being asked to peel the spuds on her ill fated visit...telling, methinks.
Lisa A. Flowers
Re: "vindictiveness" in literature, my personal favorites are Djuna Barnes's Nightwood and Alexander Theroux's Darconville's Cat. Both, of course, are simultaneously accounts of great suffering....hence, the artistry of malice.
Lisa A. Flowers
Hi Natasha, your post was extremely interesting. I have to say my feelings about Rough Magic and Paul Alexander have undergone several rapid changes in the last few days (hours even!). I am interested to hear that it is available in bookshops in the UK - I didn't know that, I thought it was just available via Amazon. Unfortunately, I have already 'wasted my time' reading it! One thing I do feel though, I have to admit, is that I actually want to read it again now. When I first read it I knew none of the things I know now about it or the writer (and I was also not entirely 'clear headed' at the time for reasons I won't bore anyone with here!) - and I would be very interested to read it now with an extremely critical eye. I would like to read it bearing in mind everything I know now (and everything everyone here has mentioned - especially what Lisa said about the adolescent way he wrote about her poetry - because I don't think I even noticed that, I was so caught up in my "oooh a new book about Sylvia" feeling...yes, that makes me sound very mature..ha). I would be interested to see what I get from it now that 'the honeymoon is over' with Mr Alexander so to speak as far as I'm concerned. Since I have it already at least I won't be spending anymore money on it :)
Has anyone ever run across any color photos (specifically) of Assia Wevill?
Lisa A. Flowers
Natasha, I think there's Yorkshire and Yorkshire. The Calder Valley and what has become known as "Bronte country", over here in the west of the county, has always tended to be rather more eccentric and "wild" than the more metropolitan areas. I agree that Paul Alexander probably over emphasised the Wuthering Heights type atmosphere in Rough Magic. But when I first moved to the Calder Valley almost thirty years ago in 1975 I was suprised to find how "isolated and backward" this area was. I came across superstitions and beliefs which made me feel that I'd been transported back to the nineteenth century so I could identify with his account of life here in the 1950's.
Morney (unfortunately for us all!) Rough Magic is available in the UK. In fact, I'm pretty sure there's just been a new edition of it published (I saw it in Borders in York). But I wouldn't waste your time reading it. There are several factual errors (for example, he says that Cambridge University was made up of 'several' colleges, whereas in fact there are more than thirty), and as a Yorkshire lass myself I was amused to hear my county during the 1950s described as a 'wild, isolated and backward' place where many of the 'superstitious' locals 'still had a knowledge of witchcraft, passed down to them through the generations'.This was all news to my mother, who had grown up here in the 1950s, and whose maternal side of the famiy had lived in Yorkshire for generations! It reads as though he thought Wuthering Heights was a piece of social commentary set during the 20th century! Clearly he didn't know that my 'backward' little county was in fact, along with Lancashire, the first industrialised place in the entire world!!
I also thought that the stuff he wrote about Plath's supposed abortion in 1956 lacked any credibility whatsoever!!Whywould anyone living in England travel all the way to New York for a backstreet abortion when they could get one just as cheaply (and dangerously) in London?!The inclusion of this sort of sensationalist, incredible material, added solely to sell the book without any real respect for Plath's memory (or anyone else's, for that matter), her children, and - let's not forget - the Hughes family, is symptomatic of the book in general. It is dire!!
After reading your post, Lisa, I must respectfully disagree with myself too actually! Although I did say that I think some bits of Rough Magic are biased against TH, I underplay that - in my mind and when I'm recommending it. Reading your post and thinking about it a bit more, I realised that. I think I was so enjoying it when I started it (and it was so long since I'd read anything new about her) that I was rather dismayed when the book descended at points into what I felt was speculation about TH - and very distasteful speculation at that - the worst I think I mentioned before, the suggestion that TH hypnotized Sylvia and suggested to her that she kill herself. I have to admit, actually, that I skipped over the last few pages of the book because I didn't want to read anything else like that. I have selective amnesia when it comes to this book. I had so wanted to enjoy it that I managed to 'blank out' all the bits that I didn't like - but in fact, you're absolutely right, those parts of it (and others) discredit the writer. It is a while since I read it now and as I've got further away from it, I've let myself forget the bits I didn't like.
I had been raving about it so much at first that my mum was desperate to read it so I bought it for her birthday. By the time she was about to read it, I had just finished it and was constantly texting her by mobile to 'take the bits about TH with a pinch of salt please!' Poor mum...I think I spoiled it for her a bit! But that may not be a bad thing in the end.
Since then I have read about the play Edge. This is...what? I'm not sure...either based on Rough Magic or actually written by Paul Alexander? Although I think I would be interested to see it, I have read one of the most outrageous things that the leading lady, Angelica Torn, supposedly said (supposedly....I don't know if she really did or not of course.) She said that there was evidence that TH was in the flat when Sylvia killed herself. Naturally she doesn't elaborate on this 'evidence.' I'm sure that would be a lovely thing for her children to read now. Apart from finding it highly unlikely even if it were just the two of them in the flat, I hardly think he would allow that to happen with the children in the flat. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, she goes on to completely discredit herself by saying "After all he was the Poet Laureate and he was in with the royal family." Uhhh.....okay! Apart from the little fact that he was Poet Laureate two decades after Sylvia died, that doesn't automatically make you 'in' with the royal family. Even if he was, I find it highly unlikely that the royal family is in the habit of 'bumping off' everyone their friends find inconvenient. I know TH was supposedly friends with Prince Charles in later years...sharing a love of nature, mysticism...maybe even conversations about having a 'difficult wife' - who knows?! Now...if it were Princess Diana that Angelica Torn had been talking about, I might believe it, but Sylvia Plath? Yeah, right.
Anyhow, I suppose my main point is that I wish to retract my recommendation of Rough Magic as the best bio! I still think it's worth reading - but Lisa's post and a very interesting email I just received from someone who obviously read my post and knew Aurelia Plath ) have made me think again and rediscover my little misgivings about Rough Magic and build on them.
Well, a lively board this week--Therresa, yes, a wonderful story; but, once again, only half the story. As it developed, the professor's wife had left him because she had devoted her thesis to Plath (still an underground heroine at that stage); which focus broke up their marriage, and so she divorced him and took their daughter, and there was more history attached to that--so, can you know if his dislike for Hughes had to do with his person or his effect? was it post facto? How does that color his recollections? Unknowable.
Also, a knack for caricature is part of the writer's equipment; see Galbraith on Evelyn Waugh's habit of tipping any flaw into cartoon territory, Virginia Woolf's sister Vanessa noting how whenever (as a child) Virginia was in a rage she shouted abuse "and as she's so clever they always hurt," Oscar Wilde's role at school as giver of deathless nicknames, the Westerner who said "I'd rather have any man in the world down on me than Sam Clements, he never forgave," etc., etc....
Alexander is a first-rate researcher, but a second-rate writer--but Ariel Ascending is still a great sourcebook, as is his biography; as long as he assembles the evidence for you, bias doesn't matter, you can rearrange to taste. Bias is never the problem, honesty is. The Becker book is essential, I think; interesting for how, for her, as she says, it demystified the idea of "Romantic poets" for her once and for all--"unmisted by love or dislike." Very honest.
Tenly of Santa Cruz, read John Frederick Nims on Plath's craft, it's in several anthologies--Art of Sylvia Plath, Butscher, et. al. and, hi Trish!--up there in the Seattle rains--and here I am in Portland doing research on Custer, and Therresa and I probably pass each other in the streets and don't know it, or she'd advise me on how, as a sensitive male, I can frame a reply to Gina Collings' comment about her faraway yet voluptuous body--(I imagine a chorus here, 'don't you dare')....
Hi Kim, I found this blurb about "Little Fugue" at a Library Journal site: "In this first novel from a Flannery O'Connor Award winner, Sylvia Plath's death is shown to have hugely affected her husband, his mistress, and a pie-eyed young devotee named Robert Anderson."
Even though I admired Kate Moses's Wintering, this novel summary leaves me wary. I think it's the "pie-eyed" that worries me. Is Robert Anderson the writer who wrote somewhere (I don't remember where, of course) a memoir-type piece about his encountering SP as a young boy when out and about with his mother?
I have been trying to figure out the metrical feet and symbols for "Words" but it has proven very difficult as I am not very adept at the process. The first word "Axes" seems to start the poem off in an iambic monometer, but then the poem changes and I get lost, is that possibly purposeful on Plath's part or is there a rhythm that I am not understanding? Words rhyme connecting "rings" and "traveling." "Echoes" is repeated, but I am at a loss to figure out the Metrical feet and symbols. Any help offered would be very kind of you. Thank you.
Therresa, whilst Sylvia was slim for most of her short life, she did have a couple of times when she gained a considerable amount of weight and became one of the "heavy women". She put on thirty pounds as a result of the insulin coma treatment she was given during her mental breakdown and weighed over 170lbs during her second pregnancy. I wonder if some of the contempt comes from her experience of how differently the world treats far women from how it treats slim ones?
Hi Kenneth, Thank you for the story, that is a wonderful bit of sharing. It's stories like that that really provide an additional look into what life must have been like for Assia. Thank you again, I really enjoyed reading it. Yes, I am still at the local university here in town, a double major still and will be a senior soon, and having a wonderful time. I am in no hurry, and do cherish my time there as a woman in her late thirties, and having to "pay" for it too gives me a special awareness of how precious my time there is. It is a cold cruel world isn't it? Oh, the stories I could tell! We are in complete agreement on that score, although I am having a tremendously good time doing what I'm doing nonetheless.
Gina, I wanted to respond to your intersting observation on SP's attitude toward overweight individuals, particularly women, and I too have noticed it. It seems to me that this attitude really took on a life of its own when she began writing several poems in protest against Assia Wevill, after the affair and toward the end of her life, when she was still consumed with that hatred. Remember she was distraught with hatred for Assia Wevill only the day before her suicide, it was'nt a passing fancy for her, it was an all out obsession. SP's later poems to me were a direct attack on Assia and I think that she would include bits about overweight women as a kind of slam against Assia's well known thick waist and squarish middle. There are many references in several of SP's poems that I believe were inspired by a desire to "get to" Assia. How many poets have done this very thing? "Artistic license and creativity" does not diminish the fact that many writers and poets can also be extremely vindictive, petty individuals. Was sylvia? I believe she probably was, like many people.
Her poem "Lesbos " "The Rival" and "Edge" have direct links to Assia. These poems to me (and many others) have a direct and very visual presentation of her rapport with Assia. I have my own interpretation of SP's poems which to some are not popular and I suppose as before I will be censored because of it, but I will defend my manner of interpreting the later poems of SP to the end, as being mainly inspired by this hatred of Assia Wevill. What did Ted Hughes say in one of his poems in Birthday Letters? That she, SP had discovered the "mystery of hatred". There are many key words and allusions that lead me to think as I do, but it is only one of many opinions, although in my opinion, a truly informed one, and an unusual and provocative angle, touched with just a bit of courage and originality.
Thank you for bringing up an interesting point. I think also that she was so incredibly thin, svelte and lithe and always had been, simply made it easy for her to perhaps become a bit smug. I too am fascinated by SP, but we can still discuss her mysteries and wonder about them. It's not a bad thing to wonder about why she would be motivated to make unkind references to heavy women, to me it is simply another captivating part of who she was. That cattiness was always there, even to her death she possessed a playful kind of desire to mix it up. And perhaps most captivating of all was the lovely and complex Assia. I also, like many others am chewing at the bit in expectation of Ms Negev's Biograhpy of Assia. Assia was a lovely woman, a veritable smorgasbord of contradictions and complexity. I WILL be the first in line at the local bookstore here in town when the book finally comes hot of the presses.
When it comes out let's all throw a wild party okay? We could have a "Woodstock" like get together,drums, dancing, music! Whadaya say people? No chickening out! Let's get cracking!
Re: the Alexander biography, I must respectfully disagree with Morney. I agree that the book is unique in that its section, "A Posthumous Life" contained information that, at the time, was unprecedented in any biography of Plath. But the book on the whole was in fact quite biased, occupying itself primarily with largely insubstantiated attacks against Ted Hughes. If Bitter Fame (a biography I thought was quite a bit better ) was "anti Plath," Rough Magic presents Hughes.....not to mention his entire family....in the same critical light.
At times, Alexander often loses his objectivity entirely and seems to practically go berserk. His detestation of Hughes is palpable, and he loses credibility because of it. (Many, of course, have expressed contempt for Hughes's womanizing, etc; but few have done so with such tactlessness and reckless aggression.) I also find Alexander's commentary and analysis on/of Plath's poetry to be rather adolescent. It is clear that he had great empathy for Plath and a great regard for her art, and was concerned that her side of the story be told; but it seems to me that his involvement with Aurelia Plath became, finally, too close to the bone to encompass a well rounded biography. And this is a shame, especially since, as Morney pointed out, he did have access to interviews and information that those before him had not.
Lisa A. Flowers
Visiting here today was the funniest point of my day I must say!
Hi again, Katherine...there you go - two completely opposite ends of the spectrum on Rough Magic! The most biased and the worst or the least biased and the best!! (umm..I'm not laughing at you saying that, Lisa, it just really tickled me! and it reminded how good debate and differing opinions are!)
I just wanted to mention the Jillian Becker book Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath, Katherine. I don't know if you'd think it would be interesting for your friend or not. On the downside, it's very short...but (in my opinion) that's only a downside because it is so interesting. Jillian and her husband Gerry were the friends Sylvia stayed with over the last weekend before her suicide - it is an interesting account (though she goes off on a tangent I feel at the end). I don't know how lesser known it is - I know it seemed to be in the other SP community I'm in - and I certainly didn't know about it until recently.
Thanks Arlindo, for finding "Lullaby", I was so pleased to come here and see it.
Thank you, Arlindo, for "Lullaby." I'm only surprised that it took me so long to discover this beautiful,succinct,moving little poem.
Morney...about the film discussion board...I'd hardly say you were overreacting; if anything, maybe I was:-) "Sylvia" is a difficult film not to vehemently dislike, as (again) the "atistic licenses" it takes are so self indulgent and cliched. By all means, throw a hissy fit over it...I did:-)
Lisa A. Flowers
Kenneth, I've been too busy to consult this board for quite a while, and when I finally logged no today, there was your terrific post about TH and Assia, as recalled by the "over civilized professor." Great descriptions...thank you for reminding me why I love this board so much.
I've just finished reading The Journals of SP. Now the library can have it back after them having pestered me for it for the past month! Must say, I really enjoyed it. I just wondered, does anyone know what was the gynaecological complication that caused SP to bleed so much when she lost her virginity? She refers to it a few times in the Journals and also in TBJ.
Another thing ~ I made loads of parallels between mine and Sylvia's life, as I'm sure a lot of you have. (After all, we must all be quite sensitive souls to be drawn to her writing, so I assure you, I don't mean this in a big~headed sense at all.) However, I found myself more than a little disillusioned with SP's attitude towards overweight people, particularly overweight women. Considering how, in 50's America, SP has the intelligence and sensitivity to question and criticise the traditional roles of men and women, I would have thought she would also have seen past the stereotype of the dowdy, fat woman. The fact that she doesn't, disconcerts me somewhat ~ I myself am a voluptuous woman and have never been short of male admirers. Has anyone else noticed this, if so, what do you think of my views here? I still think she rocks, though!
I found "Lullaby", the poem by Richard Murphy (b. 1927):
Before you'd given death a name
Like bear or crocodile, death came
To take your mother out one night.
But when she'd said her last good night
You cried, "I don't want you to go",
So in her arms she took you too.
from The Hip Flask: Short Poems From Ireland, edited by Frank Ormsby The Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 2000 ISBN 0-85640-681-
There is a new book coming out called Little Fugue: A Novel by Robert Anderson. Release date is December 28, 2004. The listing on Amazon.com does not give a summary of the plot, but the subject catagories include Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, author's spouses, suicide victims, etc., so I think we can confidently assume there is more of a Plath connection than simply the title. Also, Diane Middlebrook's Her Husband is now out in paperback in the US. I've heard that the US cable channel A&E is doing a program on Plath - anyone else have information on this that they can share?
I was wondering if anyone had any creative ideas on how to present a visual summarizing the life of Sylvia Plath. I want to make something truly astounding, but cannot seem to get the creative juices flowing. Any suggestions?
Katherine, I don't believe there's much about Plath that can be classified as little known or obscure anymore; but then, I'm no expert, and perhaps there are memoirs and other writings out there (such as the book recently mentioned by Kenneth Jones) that might fall into the category you mentioned. Though your friend is probably (even undoubtedly) familiar with it, one of my favorites is Ariel Ascending, a collection of essays about Plath edited by Paul Alexander ( a gifted editor, he would go on, rather inexplicably, to write the most biased biography of Plath ever published...and, IMO, the worst).
Anyway, the book remains curiously hard to find (though it is by no means unavailable). It contains Alvarez's memoir of Sylvia, which, of course, can also be found in his book The Savage God; and a simply wonderful essay by Elizabeth Hardwick (the best piece in the collection, in my opinion).
On another note....I was as dismayed as anyone else to learn that the publication date of Negev's biography of Assia Wevill had been pushed back. What can one do, though...quality takes a long time to assemble. We'll just have to chomp our bits and snort and froth in our pens until then:-)
And on another note...in an early volume of Joyce Carol Oates's poetry (I cannot recall the title) there is a poem that seems, rather unmistakably, to be about the Wevill/Plath/Hughes triangle. Does anyone know what I'm talking about?
Lisa A. Flowers
Hi Katherine. I'm not sure how lesser known this book is, but the one I always seem to be recommending is Rough Magic by Paul Alexander. I know there are a lot of other good books re Sylvia - but I have to say this is the best biography I have yet read (and I have read...umm...a few!). It seems to have some information in it that hasn't appeared in other bios (and a lot of photos I hadn't seen before). I think it's also, on one hand, less 'biased' because he didn't try to get permission from the guardians of her estate to write it (hence, I think, it not being published in the UK - although it is easy to get on the UK amazon site) - therefore he seems to have been able to be a bit more 'free' in what he writes about her. On the other hand, though, he had unprecedented access to interviews with Aurelia Plath...which, although helpful I'm sure, made me aware I ought to take it with a little pinch of salt (bearing in mind that Sylvia's mother often had a 'filtered' view of Sylvia's life because of the way Sylvia presented her life to her mother - and also because I don't think Aurelia thought much of Ted...maybe not surprising, but I don't think she liked him before she knew anything about him anyway. Maybe she wouldn't have liked anyone Sylvia married - who knows, some mothers are like that!). By the end of the book I did feel that Alexander went rather too far in some of his statements about Ted Hughes - presenting some of his 'ideas' of what might have happened as fact rather than speculation (I think the worst of this was his suggestion that since Ted liked hypnotizing Sylvia, perhaps he had hypnotized her and suggested that she kill herself.) Despite this, though, it is an amazing read - and, I think, a lot 'fuller' than any other biography.
Also, just in case anyone hasn't heard about this yet - I have read that the fully original Ariel is going to be published - in November in the UK, I'm not sure about outside the UK. I knew of course that TH had reordered the sequence of poems, but I'm not sure that I knew some were actually missed out (he 'mislaid' them, according to him) and some were added in). Some were kept out because they referred to people who were still alive at the time. Anyway, this is good news! Apart from the fact that of course it means me making another trip to amazon! But that's nothing new.
(Oh, and Lisa...I just wanted to say in reference to your post on the discussion board about the film, I hope to God I haven't made anyone feel like they need to point out that they're agreeing with me incase I throw another 'hissy fit' like before! I'm joking...I thank you for saying so, Lisa, but I swear I was overreacting and it won't happen again. Well, it might, but just ignore me!)
I have a friend who just adores Sylvia Plath and is doing her senior thesis on her. She already has many of her books. But I am trying to think of something I can get her for a present having to do with Plath. Maybe a book that is not very well known, but amazing reading. If you can be of any help, that would be great!
Therresa, I think I've posted this before, but in case not--I spoke with an Eng-prof who had dinner with Hughes in '66 or so--I ran into him (the professor) in a used book store where I'd found a copy of Ariel, and he said, "Oh I had dinner with Hughes when I was a teacher at the Sorbonne, about putting on his classical play." (I've forgotten the title of it).... He said Hughes was pretty full of himself, ("I didn't like him" were the exact words, but this prof is a very, hm, demure fellow I guess would be the word, ultra-civilized--you know the type--French-rationalist, clarity of logic and all that--Hughes struck him as rather barbaric)--"and his wife was this quiet shadow who came in and served the food and never said a word all the time I was there." I told him, "Oh, that was Assia Wevill, who later committed suicide in imitation of Plath," and the prof's reaction was, (shrug), "I'm not surprised, she seemed so quiet. she just stayed in the background all through that dinner, while the men talked." --and, T., are you at PSU, or where, student-slave?--enjoy those years in the galley while you have them, it's a cold cruel world out there.
Paul, thank you so much for sharing that information about Richard Murphy. It is absolutely fascinating. I've been looking for a copy of 'Lullaby' online but can't find it, so I look forward to someone having better luck than me!
Therresa (forgive me if I've spelled that wrong, everytime I type it I spell it differently...)...like you, I am absolutely fascinated with knowing more about Assia and Shura. I also feel very strongly about David Wevill. I hate the fact that he so often seems (to me) to be 'overlooked.' All these events...they happened to him as much as to the others and I just feel that he seems to be forgotten so often. Do you know of the book of his selected poems called Departures? It was published here in the UK last year, so I'm not sure if it's already been published in the US. I got it a few months ago and was completely gripped. There are so many poems in there that moved me to tears. The strange thing was that I found myself reading it from back to front each time I picked it up - even when I was flicking through it. The book is very much a kind of progression of the gradual losses in his life...and I realised that subconsciously I was trying to reverse that process by reading it backwards! Ok, that sounds mad, but I was! It has a lovely foreward to it that he wrote - it's online somewhere, that's where I read it first - he says something about being blessed with a living family, but the ghosts from the past are always there...they are there in the poems, there is always a female shadow. I have to say my heart aches for him. I see he teaches poetry at the Uni of Texas in Austin....if I ever win the lottery, I will be going there to do the 2 year MA in creative writing!!
I hear from Eilat Negev that her book about Assia is due for a fall publication next year now...I was already dying to read it, but after her email I am even more desperate! (not to put any pressure on her if she happened to read this! I'm trying to write a poem for 2 friends just now & they've both told me how much they're waiting for it which has completely stopped me from being able to write it!). I feel a full account of her life is long overdue and I am so glad someone is finally putting that right.
Lisa, I found the poem you asked for on a webpage and I know it is in the Complete Poems which Ted Hughes published after her tragic death.
(Hanne is right. It's on page 43 of the 1981 British edition - EC)
Tuesday, November 30th 7:30 pm
Sylvia Plath's Ariel: The Restored Edition READ IN ITS ENTIRETY
The manuscript of Ariel Plath left behind when she died in 1963 is different from the volume that was published to worldwide acclaim. On this evening the poems will be read according to her original selection and arrangement. Readers include Frank Bidart, Jorie Graham, Katha Pollitt, Helen Vendler, and others, introduced by Plath's daughter Frieda Hughes.
Admission is $10 / $7 for PSA and Academy of American Poets Members / $5 for Students.
Co-presented with the Academy of American Poets, HarperCollins Publishers, and the Center for the Humanities.
Proshansky Auditorium Concourse Level, The Graduate Center, CUNY 365 5th Avenue, NYC (between 34th and 35th Streets)
Peter K Steinberg
Thank you very much, Paul James Betty (if I may use your full name:-)-yes, I know the memoirs you speak of; it was the article you enclosed links to, actually, that in fact originally alerted me to the still-elusive "Lullaby" (I've looked a bit for it myself, to no avail).
Out of all Anne Stevenson's informants, Murphy seemed to display the most tact and restraint when discussing the disintegrating marriage of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Olwyn Hughes is better, though nonetheless (and perhaps understandingly) biased. But Dido Merwin certainly does protest too much. Her still bitter jealousy and drive to "set the story straight" seem undiminished by time; though...intererestingly... her grievances seemed to have been more or less water under the bridge until Sylvia started getting famous; and (please don't interpret this as disrespectful or flippant)Merwin herself was forced to confront her own mortality. Sure, perhaps all of us would have done the same in her place; but as Merwin's account of the evening that produced "Stars Over The Dordogne" becomes mysteriously (inexplicably is a better word) more sinister, one cannot help but think of Hemingway's painfully inept characterizations of nearly everybody (with the exception of Ezra Pound, the early-Hadley, & F.Puss, the cat) in "A Moveable Feast." His observations about F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example, sound a great deal like Merwin's about Sylvia...we're not entirely certain if we can take them seriously...and after enough time has passed, we're not entirely certain we can believe them at all. But such (of course) is the dilemma of biography.
Therresa, good to see you, girl, and do hope you or Paul can find that piece for us.Thanks very much to both of you for looking:-)
Lisa A. Flowers
Lisa, I don't have the text of 'Lullaby' to hand but I will post it when I do, unless someone beats me to it! As you have mentioned Richard Murphy, I wonder if forum readers have read the interview he did with the Irish Times in 2000. This is the relevant passage from the interview ...
'Every poet has certain poems that readers think of first. With Murphy, it has to be `The Cleggan Disaster' and `Sailing to an Island'. A good poem never ages, the lines still glint untarnished across the years, such as those that open `The Cleggan Disaster':
Five boats were shooting their nets in the bay
After dark. It was cold and late October.
The hulls hissed and rolled on the sea's black hearth
In the shadow of stacks close to the island.
`The Cleggan Disaster' has resonances in literature beyond being Murphy's signature poem. The poem won the Cheltenham Prize in 1962, and one of the judges who chose it was Sylvia Plath. From a distance, she was beguiled by the west of Ireland sea-washed aura of that poem and others of Murphy's. In July, she wrote to tell him that his poem had won, and to ask if there was "any chance of Ted and me coming to Bofin . . . I have always desired, above many things, a friend with a boat."
Plath and Hughes did visit that September, and Murphy put them up, sailed them to Inishbofin on his boat, brought them to both Lady Gregory's Coole Park and Yeats's Thoor Ballylee, and played the host until Hughes went to fish with the painter Barrie Cooke in Clare - and Plath departed abruptly shortly after for England.
Ten years ago, Murphy contributed a memoir fragment about that visit to Bitter Fame, Anne Stevenson's controversial biography of Plath. Murphy reports that Plath made a pass at him while in Ireland.
What kind of reaction did he get to it? Murphy's face contorts, and he speaks quickly. "Ted asked me to write it. I wrote it as if I had my hands tied behind my back, giving evidence to the jury. It was being said in America that Ted brought Sylvia to the west of Ireland and then abandoned her there without money or tickets, which was not the case, as I explained." He pauses, looking weary.
"I'm going to revise that piece now that both of them are gone," he continues. "It was not written with freedom. What disturbed me about the incident was the violation of hospitality - one of my guests was asking me to betray my other guest, her husband. I wasn't blaming her as a woman for making a pass. People have said I blamed her for unfeminine conduct. But it wasn't that; it was the fact they were both guests in my house."
And, if circumstances had been different, would he have wanted to explore the opportunity that Plath offered him? "No, no, no. I found her a fascinating person, but no."
Murphy later wrote `Lullaby' for Shura Wevill, the small daughter of Assia Wevill, whom she took with her when she committed suicide after the breakdown of her subsequent relationship with Hughes: a spare and tender lyric of elegy, like a cradle in which to rock the memory of the lost child.'The full interview in PDF format :
I think that if Plath did make a pass at Murphy then I can only think that she was feeling unloved and neglected and in some way is reaching out for comfort and reassurance. That her advance was rejected will have done nothing but confirm her wretched view of herself.
Hope this is of interest to you all.
The book is Nora Johnson's Coast to Coast; A Family Romance, Simon & Schuster, $25, 274 pages, Illustrated. The review was by Michiko Kakutani.
So I'm witty and full of verve eh? I'm flattered, thank you Theresa. I'm also deeply, deeply apologetic if I seem slightly violent in any of my reactions. I just think melodrama makes life more fun.
A book that I think one could compare in style to The Bell Jar is perhaps Wasted by Marya Hornbaacher and in talent, Mouthing The Words by Camilla Gibb
Hi Lisa, thanks for the tip. You know how I love any information that has to do with Assia Wevill and/or Shura! I certainly hope someone will be in a position to post that elegy you mentioned entitled "Lullaby". If not I will hunt down a copy myself. I was more than happy to share with you my copies of the poems by David Wevill via email, and found those poems to be just wonderful, simple, sentimental and melancholy. I was glad you posted them on the forum, as I didn't have time at that juncture in my life as a university slave (second term junior) to straight A's and B's, volunteer work etc.
If anyone else has any heretofore unknown information and or stories on Assia Wevill speak now or forever hold your peace. No, really! Cough it up! I think there are enough of us who would love to hear something that perhaps we haven't heard before. Where have you been Lisa? Keep posting, I look forward to your comments and insights.
Has anyone seen today's New York Times--in the Weekend section, a Hollywood memoir written by a Smithie who knew Plath ("bouncing page-boy bob and teeth like Chiclets, and no sense of humor")? Has anyone read this book yet?
Don't worry, this is my last comment on this matter I promise! I would like to thank Therresa Kennedy for her post. I'm very glad that I came back here and saw it.
I have been reading this forum for quite a while now - I find it very interesting and very informative (I think I've read some of your 'hot water' experiences!). I don't think it's wrong to thoroughly enjoy that kind of thing! Actually, I usually do too - I usually enjoy debating and I usually have a sense of humour.
In my case, I will be the first to admit that I take things too personally at the moment when it comes to anything Sylvia-related. I have been researching her life and work for 20+ years and from that point of view I find it irritating to have someone appearing to assume that I'm an idiot who knows nothing about her, simply because I made a short suggestion. To be honest, though, more than irritating me, it did really get me down. This is something which is entirely to do with me and my mental state lately. Since I've found this forum, I've read it every day, it's added a lot to my life (which does just consist of things I can do inside!) and although I know quite a bit about Sylvia Plath, I enjoy more just reading the discussions and I've only posted short replies to questions when I thought I might be able to help. I have to admit that the whole Prozac Nation thing made me feel like never coming back here again because if I can't take criticism then I shouldn't be here! I don't require everyone to agree with me - debate is a wonderful thing - but I felt ridiculed, to be honest! Not that it would be the first time that's happened!
I realise this post isn't really SP-related, Elaine, but I hope you won't mind posting it because I would really like to say thank you to Therresa for her post, because it makes me sure that I will be carrying on reading here as much as I was. No doubt I would have eventually anyway, I find it a little hard to stay away from! Whether I post again is a different matter!! (yes, that's a joke...I suppose I do have a sense of humour sometimes).
Anyway, for once I have a question and I wonder if anyone here can help me at all. Does anyone know why 'Mad Girl's Love Song' isn't in the Collected Poems? I know only some of her juvenilia (sp?) is at the back, but the list of her early poems is meant to be complete isn't it? & it isn't listed there either. I know it's one of the copies of The Bell Jar at the back in the Lois Ames 'biography' (how many copies of TBJ do I have now?!! hmmm...) & I know Paul Alexander mentions the fact that it's missing in his book Rough Magic, but I've never read any explanation for it. Anyone know anything?? Thank you!
Hi Vass! I've just finished my A levels and for that piece of coursework you're talking about (andI'm sure all English A level students will know the one!) I compared The Bell Jar to Tess of the d'Urbervilles (exploring the idea that the both the heroines' positions as women in fundamentally misogynistic societies is what leads to their unfortunate fates).I know you've said you've already chosen to compare it to Jane Eyre, but maybe others will find this post useful, anyway. I saw someone further down had written about comparing it to Villette: if anyone wants to try this, they should read Tracey Brain's excellent The Other Sylvia Plath (a piece of academic criticism, not yet another biography/hagiography)in which the author devotes a whole chapter to comparing the two novels in detail, as well as exploring similarities to Woolf. I still found this book extremely useful, (unusually, it explores Plath's work from a position that there is much more to her work than just thinly-disguised autobiography) even though I didn't compare The Bell Jar with Bronte or Woolf, and anyone thinking about doing projects on Plath's works should (in my humble opinion) try and locate this book (luckily, it was in my local library. I live in Doncaster, so it shouldn't be too much of a hassle for your local library to get if from mine, Vass, if they don't have it. Way better than York Notes).
Another useful novel for anyone doing this sort of project would be Kate Chopin's The Awakening(great book,set in 1890s New Orleans, and nice and short too!), as it too concerns itself with the issue what happens when a women is awakened to the inequality of the society in which she lives, ending with the heroine seemingly committing suicide (sorry if I've spoiled the ending for anyone there!) Hope it all goes well with your coursework!!
Your comments were well taken, at least in regard to my interpretation of them. You were only attempting to help provide suggestions for Vass's paper topic, and that is to your credit. Comments on this site can get a bit energetic at times, I have myself been the victim of some, what I thought, were unjust criticisms regarding some of my posts and some of my unusual and rather bizarre opinions regarding the [SP, TH, AW love triangle, and double suicide-murder] I will be the first to admit, sometimes my opinions and my willingness to share them have gottem me in hot water, which I thoroughly enjoy. (Is that wrong?) I love debate and rattling the chain, but that's just me, I am sure it is the result of some defect in my character, some scar from childhood that was never properly dealt with.
Don't let it get you down or irritate you, Ciara has a rather frank and open manner of expressing herself, and at times she can be very amusing, insightful and entertaining, as I hope in some manner I can be, when I have the time for attempted bedazzlement with my goofy writing syle and manner of posting.
This can be an extremely fun site to visit and very informative too. Continue to read and post, and don't let those individuals who post overly critical comments get to you.
Take care people, keep your sense of humor and keep smiling!
I wonder if there are any moving pictures of Sylvia Plath? If there is are they available in some way?
I've just found that Richard Murphy wrote an elegy for Assia Wevill's daughter, Shura, entitled "Lullaby"....would someone be so kind as to post it here?
Lisa A. Flowers
I'd like to respond to Ciara's post about Prozac Nation and TBJ because it was me that suggested using them as a comparison.
I'm not arguing about it, because I don't see the point...it's just different opinions in the end. Besides that, I agree with some of what Ciara says - especially the bit about TBJ being written as a novel, whereas Prozac Nation was written as a more straightforwardly autobiographical book. I forgot to say half of what I meant to say in the post at the time anyway & emailed the original poster to add some bits, that being one of them.
I would really like to point out that much as Prozac Nation helped me on a personal level because it just happened to be what I needed to read at the time, I didn't say and don't think that anyone, let alone Elizabeth Wurtzel, really comes close to Sylvia as far as being a gifted writer goes. I suggested it because they have similarities in that they are both about someone having a breakdown, being in hospital for it, having depression and many more - but the similarities are written about differently enough for it to be possible to use them as a comparison. I also felt that they show the difference in reactions to mental illness in the 30 years between the times they were written.
Although I don't agree that Prozac Nation is terrible or that it got published through "sheer luck," that's just my opinion and liking it or not liking it doesn't really have anything to do with whether it can be used as a comparison or not.
My suggesting them as a comparison doesn't mean that I am trying to compare them as writers and implying that they are both as gifted as each other or that I'm saying the books are the same. It was simply a suggestion for a possible comparison for a paper. If I'd written a post saying that I thought both these books are as wonderful as each other, both writers are/were as gifted as each other and they are on the same level - then I could understand such a vehement response.
I guess what I mean is that I don't understand such a vehement response to a post that didn't actually say what seems to have been inferred from it. I was actually just trying to help out - and I don't think that anyone really needs to come to Sylvia's "defence" on account of my post, because apart from not putting her in the same category as Elizabeth Wurtzel as a writer in the first place, Sylvia Plath is the most gifted writer I have ever read, in my opinion.
Thank you all for your thought provoking and varied suggestions relating to my query.
I have, after careful consideration, decided on comparing The Bell Jar with Jane Eyre, as the considerable gap between the publication of both novels will provide me with some great opportunities to comment on the social context behind the books.
Further to this, I have been gathering as much criticism I can find on TBJ - however, this is not as much as I would have hoped. If anyone can point me to a particularly useful book, website, article, etc, I would be extremely grateful.
Hello Ciara, I heartily agree with your stance on Prozac Nation and how it is a poor book to in any manner contrast to SP's The Bell Jar. There are no comparisons are there, between those two books? None that I can see in any event. Your posts are always witty and full of verve, I really enjoy them, thank you. I am certain Vass will in due time find the appropriate and proper book to use for her paper purposes in that regard. She certainly has gotten loads of helpful advice from this forum, some of it actually might be of some use to her.
Also, Gina, it is true that Sylvia Plath was highly disturbed and was really on a collision course to eventual self-destruction and suicide. She had had suicidal ideation for years before her death and had also in numerous conversations with her friend Anne Sexton explored this kind of naive infatuation with and preoccupation with ending ones life and how and why it can be justified.
A great many posters have gone over these very issues and in some of the previous posts you will find many examples of heated debate in this regard. There were so many various victims in the whole thing that it can at times become rather dizzying to attempt to assign blame to any one individual, I have attempted to do this myself but have discovered that it is a fruitless endeavor. I will always feel profoundly sad and sorry for poor old TH, he certainly didn't have a great deal of luck did he? Best regards to you all.
"Wurtzel['s Prozac Nation] is ... cliched and irritating, [not] written as a novel, unlike Plath's and reads as the whining rant of a spoiled brat."
ITA, edited Ciara. Prozac Nation is not a carefully crafted novel but a glorified & over-rated potboiler.
Not all of her writing is "terrible," however: the articles she published in the Harvard Crimson as an undergraduate are witty and clichÈ-free.
I just found this site, and it seems really interesting. I just thought that I would write in response to the last post concerning the comparison between Jane Eyre and The Bell Jar. Though initially I was also puzzled about this comparison, I think that the main character in TBJ, or Sylvia herself, would likely be able to relate to Bertha, Rochester's wife. There is something about the portrayl of the pariah in the attic that screams "Sylvia Plath" to me. Jean Rhys' is an interesting novel about the events leading up to Jane Eyre from Bertha's perspective. I haven't read either JE or WSS in awhile, but next time I do, I will likely try to detect similarities with TBJ.
I recently e mailed about the TH library, but on re-reading I'm not sure my question was completely clear. I know the Emory website, lists the general categories, but what I want to know is whether there is a book list avaliable, item by item for the general public?
Vass, some further thoughts...I hope I betray no great secrets of the teacher's guild when I say, the point of comparison is to find something that piques your interest; suggestions by others may come, but they'll be mechanical if they don't interest you. That's how (good) editors encourage their writers, too--they throw ideas around, and when the writer seems to catch fire at some topic--either negative or positive doesn't matter, as long as there's some heat--, the editor says "good, write that one up for me."
So, I could suggest, well, Akhmatova, or Isadora Duncan's My Life, or Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, or Poe as a comparison in American Gothic, or Wuthering Heights for English Gothic, or Woolf's Voyage Out or To the Lighthouse--but, really, it's the resemblances that strike you. --Certainly there's been someone in the last ten years who's done a CD, a book of poems, a play, or a movie, that rings certain changes that call Plath to mind, for you?--because otherwise, it'll be word-slinging, with no fire in it...end of speech.
While reading across some posts dated early in the month I came across one which claimed Elizabeth Wurtzel's, Prozac Nation was similar to The Bell Jar. I felt I must come to Plath's defence on that one. Wurtzel is a terrible writer, cliched and irritating, her book isn't written as a novel, unlike Plath's and reads as the whining rant of a spoiled brat. Her book got published through sheer luck and a space in the market to cater for illiterate depressed teenagers (and please don't construe that comment as derogatory toward either teenagers or depressives as I can tick both those boxes). I simply don't see the comparison between a gifted writer and a moaning teenager.
I did some research in the Hughes archives at Emory last November. The archives - manuscripts, letters, etc. - have been cataloged and there is a thick binder one can go thru to find (hopefully) what it is they are looking for, or just peruse. It's so large that I don't know that you could have a copy sent to you - probably not. The library on the other hand was still being cataloged and the cataloging is likely still in process today as there are about 6000 titles total. When I was there I was unable to see any books. There is an Emory Special Collections Reference librarian you can contact Stephen Ennis is the Director of Special Collections and Archives. Hope this is helpful!
I was the person who suggested that Vass might compare The Bell Jar with Jane Eyre, Gina. Both protagonists are young females who have to make their own way in the world with few advantages except their considerable intellects and acute powers of social observation. Both are trapped in times where the qualities they possess aren't valued in females by the societies in which they live. And both carve out a form of independent existence which suits them against strong pressures to conform to the social norm. Of course there are quite profound differences between the heroines and the novels which I think are even more interesting than the similarities. But I don't want to write Vass's paper for her!
Naomi and Nancy; if they've just received the TH library at Emory, they're probably still cataloguing it; maybe, if you ask the right people, that job can be yours....(bring letters of recommendation)...so, be extra nice to your professors; starting today....
Claire; true. Who was it said Plath in person was like the Winged Victory of Samothrace? "There was nothing ethereal about Sylvia." It's in Butscher's Woman and Work, I think.
Gina; you're right, I think; TH may have been the trigger, but the gun was loaded long before--there are suicide references in the journals, and two attempts, before she ever met Hughes; he was caught in her pattern, just as surely as he in hers; that's why it's a debate, rather than a foregone conclusion.
and, surely, there's no one in the world actually named Rhiannon Dance? --well, if there's a John Cheese (nee Cleese), why not...
Claudette, I wish I could humor you with a big long post defending Hughes as a father (why should anyone have to anyway when both his children feel that he was a good father to them....and their opinion is obviously the important one) but unfortunately, these days I only have time to briefly read posts and even that is infrequent lately. Thanks for thinking of me though...glad to see I've left a lasting impression! :)
Responsable de l'Office de Tourisme de Vence, je prÈpare une brochure sur les personnalitÈs qui ont un rapport avec Vence. Il paraÓt que Sylvia Plath serait venue Vence, et aurait Ècrit un poËme sur la Chapelle Matisse. Poiuvez vous m'aider ?
(Acting for the Vence Tourist Office I am preparing a brochure on famous people who have a connection with Vence. It seems that Sylvia Plath may have come here to Vence and wrote a poem on the Matisse Chapel. Can you help me? Trans. EC)
Kenneth Jones, fascinating list of works to compare with The Bell Jar. Proof that the "footnote" can be more engaging than the actual text. Do tell which Woolf text you are in mind of -- or is it VW's entire oeuvre? Your other choices bear fascinating comparison -- do elaborate; like any classic, I think The Bell Jar can be discussed in comparison with any and all books of the Western cannon -- including, for a timely reference, Julia Child's French Chef Cookbook -- why not?
Hi again! Thanks to all who answered my last message. This time, I have a few points I'd like to make. Firstly, after having scanned the posts, Kenneth mentioned Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. I read this a few months ago. Like TBJ, it's a very believable account of a woman's breakdown. One can't help but emphasise with the (unnamed) lady.
Someone (sorry, I don't recall your name), suggested similarities between TBJ and Jane Eyre. Having read both texts recently, I'm very interested to hear what these similarities are, because, to me, they are not obvious! Please enlighten me, because I am always happy to hear such views, especially when they relate to SP ~ I have to admit, I am totally obsessed with her!
I'm currently reading The Journals of SP, 1950~1962(Faber). The library service in my town is very good. When I can't find the required text in the book shops, I'll order it from there. Anyway, I ordered it from the library, waited quite a while for it, and then it came! However, they wanted it back after just one week! Yeh, right..... I am doing a Literature degree, and to be honest, I haven't much time to read anything but the set books, I just tend to read for pleasure whenever I can manage it, which isn't often. So I told them I'd bring it back after a week. However, I'm very naughty ~ I lied. They'll have it back when I've finished it, not a second before! What impresses me about SP so much here is that, at 18, she writes with a skill you wouldn't expect from a 50 year old... and with such honesty. She mentions about defecating over a handmirror in her locked bathroom when she was a kiddy. I wonder if she knew her journals would one day be published?
My final point is this. All this talk about TH being responsible for her death. Who can say, really, what drove Sylvia over the edge? So he was an unfaithful husband, that's indisputable, but many intelligent women find themselves in the same situation and do not take their lives. What we can't doubt is that SP was extremely sensitive and prone to depression and suicidal thoughts. There is no "cure" for depression, and as a sufferer of anxiety and depression, I know this. Speaking for myself, I've learnt strategies for coping with the really bad days, but I accept that for many depressives, the inner turmoil becomes so overwhelming that there is only one way out... As for any suggestion that, in SP's case, this act was "selfish", because she had children, I'd refute this. Surely, a suicidal person has effectively lost their identity. Consequently, they are truly convinced that they are truly useless, even to their loved ones, who they feel will be better off without them. Has anyone ever considered that post~natal depression may have been a factor?
The Ted Hughes library was recently aquired by Emory University, USA (these include I believe some books owned or given by Sylvia Plath.) I am trying to find out if there is a catalogue of the Hughes Library (I believe there are about 3000 items) I emailed the library at Emory but received no reply. Does anyone know if it is possible to find out what is in the TH library without actually going there?
Vass, Elaine Connell offered a good book for Bell Jar comparison. Another work to consider is Charlotte Bronte's Villette. The heroines in both novels, Esther Greenwood/Lucy Snowe, travel to an unfamliar environment (New York/France), experience an emotional upheaval, and in consequence, turn psychologically introspective. Villette, published in 1853, is rather amazing in this regard. I read it over ten years ago but remember being blown away by Snowe's musing about repression...a few decades before Freud. By the way, Plath read Villette. I'm fairly certain she refers to it in her Journals. Some where, some page. I couldn't find the reference.
Kenneth - I appreciate your response about Letters to Sylvia. I will try an inter-library loan.
On another topic...I've read in this Forum and one or two of the Plath/Hughes books, that Hughes' locked archival "trunk" at Emory University will be opened in 2022/23. Unfortunately, Emory's catalog listing for the Ted Hughes Papers notes that it will be closed until 2022 OR "the lifetime of Carol Hughes, whichever is greater." As Carol Hughes is a relative spring chicken of about 56 (she was 22 when she wed Hughes in 1970), it appears as if the trunk won't be opened for quite awhile. I think the Plath fans are going to have to stay very healthy, and then some. Where's that wheatgrass juice?
Ted told Sylvia that he was "surprised" at how many pots and pans the feeding of little Frieda created. Does this sound like a man who was intimately involved with the day-to-day care of his small daughter? I'm just sayin'...Hi, Stephanie in Canada! I fully expect you to defend the position!
I saw the play of Edge in London, a week after I saw the film Sylvia. Contrary to anything anyone else seems to have had to say about it, I found it absolutely mesmerising. When I left the cinema after seeing Sylvia I felt deflated, almost as though someone had punctured my favourite balloon. When I left The King's Head after 'Edge, I felt as though I had got it back again.
Angelica Torn was absolutely stunning, and for me, she made Sylvia into a living woman again. You could feel the electricity in her performance, and above all, I think, that she liked and admired Plath. Gwyneth Paltrow, on the other hand had just made me wonder why on earth (if Sylvia Plath was the way she was portrayed in the film), anyone had anything to do with her.
I really would recommend Edge, especially to anyone who is not so familiar with Sylvia's life. It was gripping, I was on the edge of my seat, even though everyone was well aware of the fatal conclusion. I found it a fitting piece on Plath, as well as an extremely well-constructed piece of theatre and black humour to die for!
Claire Cozler (Mobbs)
Hi Vass, I know what you're going through, have been there myself and sometimes it is good to network and get suggestions about potential paper topics. When I'm stumped, that is what I do as well. I'm not altogether certain in what context or what type of literature your professor has suggested or would like you to juxtapose, but if you are going to juxtapose any of Plath's work, for example her novel The Bell Jar, or even her poetry, another good book, within the 30 year mark, to do a comparison to in any capacity would be the novel The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton. Both stories are about women whoose lives are torn apart, the various struggles they go through and in some manner conquer or come to terms with. The Book of Ruth is one of my favorite novels, although it is not for the weak of heart, it is a wrenching, graphic and fearless account of the seamier sides of American life, but still one of my favorites, full of compassion and understanding for even the most defeated and defective of characters, a true classic of Americana story telling. Good luck to you in school and I hope this helps in some manner.
Dear Vass, Re: A level work I am also required to do this and the comparison text I am using is Antonia White's Beyond the Glass. This is a book which charts the main character's downfall through mental illness. The book is set earlier than TBJ but you may find that it is useful.
In connection with the discussion of Plath's use of 'foot' in her poetry, this is from my book Chapters in a Mythology: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath (Harper & Row, 1976):
"When Plath said that "Daddy" was about "a girl with an Electra complex" (that is, with the female version of an Oedipus complex), she gave a clue to what may be a play on words in the poem. "Oedipus" means "swell-foot," and therefore the speaker's identification of herself as a "foot" may be a private way of saying "I am Oedipus" and incorporating an allusion to the Electra complex into the poem." (Plath made this remark about the "Electra complex" in the 1962 BBC broadcast in which she read some of her poems, including "Daddy.") Earlier connections: Plath says: "I dream that I am Oedipus" in "The Eye-Mote" and she writes about visiting her father's grave in "Electra on Azalea Path" both of which appeared in her first book of poems.
Some interesting ideas here Vass. I think that The Bell Jar is the definitive female Bildungsroman of the 20th century and as such I think it would be interesting to compare it with its 19th century counterpart, Jane Eyre. There would be enough similaritites and differences to produce an interesting paper. Let us know what you decide to do.
Just thought I'd throw this in while I have it in hand--while researching grant-in-aid, I found out this about the Lily Library where the Plath papers, many of them, are kept; they give grants up to $1,500 twice a year to people to live in Bloomington and use the Lily Library. Here's the text....
Everett Helm Visiting Fellowships. Indiana University, Lily Library, 1200 East Seventh Street, Bloomington IN 47405-6600, 812-855-2452, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Purpose; to provide funding to graduate students and scholars interested in using the resources of Indiana University's Lilly Library.
Eligibility; Eligible to apply for these fellowships are graduate students, postdoctorates, and other scholars who need to use the resources at Indiana University's Lilly Library. Applicants must reside outside the Bloomington area. There is no special application form. Applicants are asked to submit a brief research proposal (up to 3 pages) which emphasizes the relationship of the Lilly collections to the project, a resume, and a proposed budget. Financial data. Up to $1,500. Funds may be used to cover travel, living, and research expenses.
Duration. These fellowships are intended to cover short-term visits to the library.
Limitations. Fellowships must be used within 1 year of the award date. Recipients are expected to be in residence in Bloomington during the period of the award.
Number awarded; Several each year.
Deadline; March or September of each year.
Peter Steinberg, this one's for you....any other takers? Aside from the Plath file, they also have heavy collections in early printing, medieval manuscripts, voyages of exploration and European expansion, US history, British history, European and other history, Am Lit, Brit lit, Euro lit, child lit, film radio & telly, and--ta-daa!--business history.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines....They'll "pay" you to research Plath!
Footnote; what about comparing The Bell Jar to--gosh, that thirty-years difference makes it tough. First thing that comes to my mind would be , Virginia Woolf"; after that, Tristram Shandy. Lots of other options; Return of Martin Guerre....Proces du condemnation de Jeanne d'Arc...Shaw's Saint Joan...Goethe's or Marlowe's Faust...Emily Dickinson's Letters....Gilman's Yellow Wallpaper.. Booker T Washington, Up From Slavery..Dostoevsky....Dickens....Therese of Lisieux....John of the Cross...Sappho....Medea....Oedipus....
--isn't there a song out there called "Sylvia"? --and even if there is, composing a song of your own could be neato...I think it's cited some years back in the archives here...
--and, Nancy, re compensation--wish I could, but I don't have it anymore; I remember turning up the Antaeus with Lynn Lawner's Letters from Sylvia in the free boxes at Green Apple--I xeroxed and then tossed the original, cause it was so heavy to drag around...the archive is already over $140 just in Xeroxing fees alone, let alone ILL fees...if I remember aright, it was $3 Inter-Library Loan, something like that; surely no more than $5...
Vass - I'm sure there are others, but the first one that springs to mind for me anyway would be Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel. It was published in 1995 I think - it has similarities to TBJ in that it's about the writer's breakdown (more directly autobiographical than TBJ though) and she (Elizabeth) refers to Sylvia a few times in her book. One of the book review quotes on the back says "Sylvia Plath with the ego of Madonna" !
Kenneth- The Smith Alumnae Quarterly that features Letters from Sylvia by Gordon Lameyer is the February 1976 issue.
Peter K Steinberg
Kenneth - I, too, have been on the hunt for the Gordon Lameyer bio/letters of Sylvia. According to the bibliography in Linda Wagner-Martin's book, Letters to Sylvia was published in the Feb. 1976 issue of SAQ. This appears to be a rare animal [I've worn out three sets of moccasins], so if it shows up in your view finder, please keep me in mind. Happy to compensate.
After reading some extremely insightful, and indeed interesting, comments on this forum, I believe this is perhaps the best place for me to ask advice regarding a certain paper I must write for my A Level English Literature.
The essay has to be a comparison between a piece of prose, and another piece of literature (which can be prose, poetry or drama). The two works have to have been written at least 30 years apart from one another.
Having recently read, and been deeply moved and inspired by Plath's, I would very much like to use this for this task. However, I am finding it difficult to discover another piece of literature (preferably prose) to compare TBJ to.
I would very much appreciate any suggestions on this matter.
Cory, I checked on amazon.com and you can get The Bed Book there. Although it says "out of print - limited availability" you can find several copies for sale in the second-hand shop if you click on the 'new and used' link.
I was first introduced to Sylvia Plath's poetry in high school back in 1990. Her writing has taught me a lot about my self. Anyone who wants to discuss her poetry with me is more than welcome to contact me at my e-mail address. I will give you my address and/or phone number after we have conversed a couple of times through e-mail. If any one lives in New Jersey or if they want to travel a bit I would like to start a disscusion group to meet and discuss Sylvia Plath's work as well as other poets including her husband's work. I personally have for a lot of years avoided his work untill I read his last book Birthday Letters I bought the book after seeing the movie Sylvia even though some of the historical aspects of the film were wrong according to Sylvia Plath's journals. The movie gave me a different view of Ted Hughes. For all of you who have seen the movie I actually cried at the end the first couple of times I saw it. Also, does any one know where I can get a copy of Sylvia Plath's children's book The Bed Book I was told at Barnes and Noble that it was out of print.