Sunday, April 7, 2013

American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath, by Carl Rollyson. St. Martin’s Press, 2013

When I was in school around 1970, we were told that Sylvia Plath committed suicide because her husband, poet Ted Hughes, was an arrogant egotist who used her as a typist and suppressed her creativity and that it was his infidelity that finally drove her to suicide; it was the feminist stand at the time. This new biography, which draws on sources that were unavailable until after Ted Hughes death, shows a very different and far more complex story. Plath was not a woman forced into the shadows; if she was ever in the shadows, she put herself there.

Plath based her life on an idealized image in her head, an image that not only had her cast as an over achieving writer but as perfect wife and mother-even, at age 20, making a suicide attempt when her academic career was not going as she planned. She suffered from (and was treated multiple times for) depression and yet found the energy to take care of a home and children, write as much as Hughes did, and type his work. She was a driven woman, fighting to stay on top of everything including her demons. And she was fragile. That Hughes’ infidelity finally drove her over the edge is probably true, but Hughes was not the monster he’s been made out to be. Nor was Plath the vicious madwoman that Hughes’ sister, Olwyn, has described.

Rollyson drew largely on the Ted Hughes archive at the British Library, which includes many letters between Plath and Hughes and other unpublished papers and on interviews with friends of Plath and Hughes, which has enabled a balanced picture of Plath to emerge from the dust. It’s easily readable and as gripping as any novel. The book is a great addition to the Plath biographies. 

This book was given to me by the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. The link above is an affiliate link; if you click through it and buy the book, I receive a tiny amount of money. 

No comments:

Post a Comment