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Anne Sexton: A Biography Paperback – October 27, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Middlebrook's balanced biography reconstructs the life of the late poet in extraordinary detail. Photos. New afterword. Author tour . ( Nov. )no mention of controversy over use of tapes, and ensuing bestsellerdom? surely this is what new afterword is about/we don't have information on this/also it never hit PW's bestseller list/pk
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this rich and enthralling biography of American confessional poet Sexton, Middlebrook (English, Stanford) approaches Sexton's life and work with a masterful balance of objectivity and empathy, weaving a compulsively readable tale of Sexton's transformation from housewife to award-winning poet while she battled severe mental illness. Middlebrook's analysis of the relationship of Sexton's illness to her art is rendered more immediate and more powerful by her skillful use of tapes of Sexton's psychotherapy sessions. Avoiding literary and psychoanalytical jargon, Middlebrook judiciously assesses Sexton's work and describes the familial, psychological, and sociological determinants of Sexton's illness, which finally drove her to suicide in 1974. Highly recommended for research collections in literature and women's studies, for collections in psychiatry, and for general readers, even if it were not the only biography of Sexton available. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/91.
- Ellen Finnie Duranceau, MIT Lib., Cambridge
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (October 27, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679741828
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679741824
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #333,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By hermione31 on May 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
This novel utilizes records from the thousands of hours of therapy Sexton underwent (most notably with Dr. Martin Orne). As a result of this, the slant of this biography is more psychological than previous books. It is scrupulously detailed though, which is a real treat for those who want to know what her life was on a micro-level. It is fascinating to read the excerpts of her therapy sessions and then be able to relate her actions to her psychological state of mind and see how all of it influenced her poetry.
This is not a particularly literary biography - so if you are a PhD in Literature, it probably won't add anything to your understanding of Sexton's use of meter or rhyme schemes. It rigorously follows the events of her life but does not spend much time on her formative years. However, the scope and depth of Middlebrook's psychological research is wonderful, and someone who appreciates both psychology and literature will enjoy this book immeasureably.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Christian Engler on January 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
Diane Wood Middlebrook's biography of Anne Sexton was balanced and insightful enough so as not to be too intrusive; it is simple and direct, as I believe this biography ought to be. It could be much more. True. But that would somehow seem indecent. It is a written work that will tantalize many readers to want to know more of Sexton's earlier life and later chaotic often disgusting behavior. Anne Sexton did indeed have some major psychological problems. She envied Sylvia Plath's suicide and inflicted mental abuse on her family that trangressed the boundries of chaotic. She has often been criticized for the themes that she used in her poetry: her mental breakdowns, her severe shortcomings as a wife and mother, her liberal use of female bodily sexuality, her 'womanism' and other scattered amorphous problems that she endured but that is not fully covered with very much depth in this work. To deny Sexton's mentle problems or attribute her abhorrent behavior to simple staments that she 'wanted attention' is to cast away the deamons that led her to commit suicide in the first place or write the highly noted poems "The Operation" in All My Pretty Ones, for which she garnered a National Book Award nomination or "Mother And Jack And The Rain" or "Menstruation At Forty" in Live or Die, for which she won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. This biography has also been condemmed for the use of private conversations that Sexton had with her psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Orne, a fact that had and still does many in the profession gravely unhappy. In the forward and book jacket to The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton by her friend and fellow poet, Maxine Kumin, she states: "The stuff of Anne's life, mercilessly dissected, is here in the poems.Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Thayer on August 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
You don't have to be a poetry afficianado to find this uniquely well-researched biography fascinating. Middlebrook makes ample use of the beautiful-but-mad-housewife-turned-poet angle, but does the more challenging job of examining the contradictions between Sexton and her work. Controversial access to Sexton's therapy records aside, Middlebrook explores the humanity behind a disturbed (and disturbing) woman who used any means at her disposal--sex, therapy (at the same time, in some instances), alcohol, drugs, her children and her poetry--in an attempt to stay afloat.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Renee on December 27, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Biographies are a tricky business. To tell the truth about a person's life, to be fair and thorough without being unkind is a fine line to tread. Diane Middlebrook certainly didn't flinch at giving the reader the dirt on Anne Sexton. From her series of extra-marital affairs to her daughter's memories of Sexton's inappropriate, incestuous behavior--all of it was fair game in Middlebrook's book. She even quoted from audiotapes of Anne Sexton's therapy sessions. This is a biography of a woman brutally exposed, psychologically naked and under a spotlight; strangely, I think that Anne Sexton would be at peace with this enormous invasion of her privacy.

In addition to the lurid personal details and the deep analyses of Sexton's troubled psyche, Middlebrook shows the reader Sexton's intense determination and devotion to becoming a famous poet. Anne would sit at her typewriter for hours everyday, working on poems. She was also very aware of the benefits of creating a dramatic public persona.

Sexton would walk up on stage in a striking black cocktail dress with red lipstick and a seductive swagger. Her throaty voice would cast a spell over the audience as she read her poems. "I am a middle-aged witch. . ." she would begin, and the room would be spell-bound by both her glamour and her bold confessional poetry. But underneath it all, she was a nervous wreck, unable to give a reading without a quick shot of liquor to make her knees stop shaking!

Diane Middlebrook's biography was so piercing, so unforgiving, it was, at times, truly uncomfortable to read. I felt almost voyeuristic, pouring over these shocking private details of Anne Sexton's life. Yet, Middlebrook's book did give me an amazingly powerful feeling of intimacy with one of my favorite poets.
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