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Death and Life of Sylvia Plath Hardcover – September 1, 1991


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 235 pages
  • Publisher: Birch Lane Pr; First edition. edition (September 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559720689
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559720687
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,812,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

Among the best Plath psychocritical investigations, by the author of Proust (1990), Brecht (1985), Kafka (1981), Nietzsche (1980), etc. Not a full-bodied life of Plath, Hayman's is a psychological weighing of the nature of the poet's suicide and its prefiguring in her works, deeds, letters, and so on. As ever, Ted Hughes, Plath's husband and now poet laureate of England, has nothing to do with the project; indeed, Hayman takes Hughes and his sister Olwyn to task for vetting earlier biographies by withholding permission to quote Plath unless Hughes or Olwyn had cut the more painful passages. (Hughes also destroyed Plath's last journal, saying he did not want their children to have to face such an upsetting work.) Plath, Hayman shows, sought her disciplinarian father's love; when he died when she was eight, she fell into a symbiotic tie with her mother Aurelia, a martyr to her children's welfare. Aurelia never told Sylvia that clinical depression ran among the women in Otto Plath's side of the family. Sylvia became a poet in part to shine in her mother's eye, grew into an academic workhorse, sold her first stories in her teens, became overloaded and failed her first pill-death effort at 20 (she took too many). That act, though, wrote the end of symbiosis with Aurelia. Sylvia transferred her superego to her psychiatrist; left America and married Hughes, with the commanding Hughes replacing father, mother, and doctor. When Hughes began seeing other women and finally separated to live with Assia Wevill, Sylvia--burdened with two children, drugged, depressed, schizophrenic, gushing razor-edged new poems in the midst of London's worst winter in a century--gassed herself. Four years later, so did Assia, killing her child--by Hughes--as well. Hayman brings new riches to Plath's story, stitching in imagery from the poems while showing that the poems of the last phase have to be read as far more intensely confessional than all that came before. (Eight pages of photographs--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Ronald Hayman has worked in the theatre as an actor and director. His books include biographies of Nietzsche, Kafka, Brecht, Sartre and Proust. He writes for the Independent and the Guardian, broadcasts regularly and writes the Radio 3 comedy series Such Rotten Luck. He lives in London. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By stephen liem on October 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The main problem of writing a biography of Sylvia Plath is the roadblocks that are constantly being thrown out by her husband's controlling estates. Unlike other biographers, Hayman has managed to be honest and critical about who Plath is, and how she was treated by people around her, including her husband and his mistress. Hayman addresses critically and honestly Plath's husband controlling nature. He controlled her life when she was alive, but worse still he controlled her totally after she died. There are many crucial works and correspondences of Plath that were destroyed, or mysteriously disappeared (presumable by her husband). Hayman argues that these materials are extremely valuable to understand more Plath's life as suicide.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Vanessa Alexandra on October 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Ronald Hayman provides excellent insight into Sylvia Plath's life, effectively using much analysis of her poetry to tell her biography.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Carl Rollyson on March 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
Hayman is part of the first wave of Plath biographies. He is hard on Ted Hughes but with justification. Rather than presenting a full dress version of Plath's life, Haymen chooses to focus, as his title suggests, on her suicide and why she took her life. Much new material has come to light
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Emilie on February 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
I liked how the book begins with the days before her suicide and then rolls into her life. It mirrors the title of "The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath". Her fame skyrocketed after her suicide, but there were so many events of her life that deserve attention.
The writing style is stifled, no real emotion, and gives the impression of being the author's doctoral thesis (I do not know if this is the case at all). It follows a very formulaic style to the point where as a reader, I was able to predict what he was going to say next.
It was a very good book nevertheless and I do recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Fixed Stars Govern a Life on July 25, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath, despite the ghastly suicide-focused name, is a solid, smart book. Hayman does not spend a lot of time on the pre-Hughes life, but rather cuts right to the marriage and Ted Hughes' training and shaping of Plath through meditation, exercises and overall expectations of her. And he indeed dwells on her death and the after-Plath events. These are fascinating, to be sure, but always leave me frustrated that no one is really seeing the genius of her work, as it is clouded by so much drama.

Not yet mentioned in previous reviews here is that Hayman takes time to focus on pivotal Plath poems in this book such as "Poem for a Birthday" and "Tulips." He analyzes them in the context of Plath's autobiography, which I personally feel is limiting and narrow-visioned, but relevant nonetheless. With all the biographers' and critics' struggles over being unable to freely quote Plath, Hayman uses his own technique of changing Plath's poems from their traditional first person narrative to a third person one, yet keeping all the lines and images in order. For instance, on page 154 about "Tulips," he says: "She has given her name and clothes to the nurses, her history to the anaesthetist, her body to the surgeons. She's at peace, she's nobody." It continues on. It's amazing he got away with it; I'm glad he did because it helps us to follow and understand better than what I have had to do personally in much of my work (e.g., "When Plath uses the X image in line six...").

This is a biography full of small details that are important to the Plath scholar, such as when and where reviews of her work were published, what kind of car she drove, etc. There is also a lovely series of about twenty black and white pictures, essential to Plath fans.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Clyde L. Harris Jr. on June 27, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one dark book,it definitely not for light reading. But, it does give us an insight into the life of a woman with amazing talent for writing. A person could make a movie from this book. There is depression,an unfaithful husband,her death and the later death of the consort of the husband, which both Sylvia Plath and the other woman died the same way.
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