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Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness: A Biography 2nd Revised Edition

14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0971059825
ISBN-10: 0971059829
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Butscher explodes, once and for all the romantic myth of Sylvia Plath as extremist poet who died for the sake of art . . . the very opposite seems to be true."  —Jonathan Yarley, Washington Post Book World

About the Author

Edward Butscher is the biographer of Adelaide Crapsey, Conrad Aiken, and Peter Wild; author of poetry collections Child in the House and Poems about Silence; and the editor of Silvia Plath the Woman and the Work. He lives in East Hampton, New York.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Schaffner Press, Inc.; 2nd Revised edition (October 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0971059829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971059825
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #925,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Renee on December 27, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This superbly written biography of Sylvia Plath completely threw me. Sylvia Plath has been a poetic heroine of mine for years. I thought that reading about her life would bring me closer to her and her poetry, but it actually pushed me away. I found myself having difficulty relating to her zealous ambition, Puritanical work ethic and neurotic need to impress others.

Sylvia Plath was extremely intelligent (her IQ was once measured at about 160!); but Sylvia was no lazy genius. She was a perfectly punctual, continuously straight-A student, from grade school through college. Plath was a classic perfectionist and an over-achiever. She worked tirelessly and with a single-mindedness that boggles me. Her biographer Edward Butscher argues that Plath's neurotic need for public approval was created by the loss of her father, Otto Plath, who died when she was only eight years old.

While the popular conception of suicidal people is often as emotionally unstable individuals who are "out of control," Sylvia Plath had an extraordinary amount of self-control. Much as she crafted her poems, with persistence and precision, Sylvia constructed a `surface self' in order to please and impress the public. She certainly succeeded in impressing people, and still does, decades after her death.

I was particularly disturbed by Butscher's description of the collegiate Sylvia writing her poems with "the same joyless persistence she gave to her studies." (49) He considers her early poems "socially acceptable artifacts, crafty, superficial vehicles of linguistic excellence created almost solely for the purpose of gaining recognition and attention." (49-50) From what I had read of Sylvia Plath's poetry, I had believed that she wrote from the same passionate necessity that drove my own writing.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By anon on September 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
Fascinating and detailed, I read this substantial book everywhere: standing on the subway, seated on the bus, reclined on my couch, hidden under my desk, waiting at stoplights. It is beautifully written, informative in the extreme and enlightening about the ambition, drive, commitment and discipline that goes into the making of a star poet (or writer).

The author is a wordsmith who truly understands, and helps the reader to understand, the creative process and the poetic voice. I did not want the book to end but still found myself rushing toward the denouement of Plath's last days as if the book were a mystery novel and, hoping against hope, the culprit or victim might yet be someone else. Butscher brilliantly connects all the dots including Plath's state of mind and the significance of the timing of her poems.

My caveats are: Ted Hughes remains a less well developed figure against the glowing Sylvia. I would have liked a more developed portrait of the much maligned Ted. I still don't know how tall Hughes was (nor Sylvia for that matter), what women found attractive about him, how he came to be a poet, etc. Butscher relies heavily on a Freudian analysis of Plath's motivations for almost every twist and turn of her brilliant but blighted existence. I find mother-blame just too done! Read the book though!
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Kcpeyton on March 13, 2010
Format: Paperback
Anything about Sylvia Plath is interesting, and I love reading about her life. But the more I read of this book, the more annoyed I became at the author because he came off as so condescending towards Sylvia Plath. His attitude seemed condescending, almost as if he was holding her in contempt. I didn't enjoy his analysis of her poems, largely because, instead of quoting the poem or even just individual stanzas, he paraphrased the poems he was discussing, only directly quoting certain lines. That is not good enough. To paraphrase a poem and then conduct an analysis of it is just not, to my mind, appropriate. Also, I like a biographer to be either neutral about the person he is discussing, or to show some admiration and fondness for the subject. In this book, I got the sense that the author didn't like Sylvia very much. He may not feel this way at all, but the way he writes and the way he approaches her poems is as if he is looking down at her, as if she were just a petulant girl. She deserves better than that. She deserves to be respected as a solid poet who created images with words no one else had ever before created, even if, maybe especially because, those images are very hard to look at. She earned a place next to Ted Hughes and Robert Lowell as a major confessional poet, and I think those who write about her life should respect her.

I wound up switching to Bitter Fame by Anne Stevenson, and it's a much better experience.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Carl Rollyson on March 25, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As Plath's first biographer, Butscher was bound to make certain errors. As a historian of the genre, I can tell you this is inevitable, no matter how scrupulous the author tries to be. Butscher was denied access to certain sources because at the time Lois Ames was writing the authorized biography and the Plath estate refused to cooperate with Butscher. He persevered, however, and was able to interview many important sources. Certainly all Plath biographers are in his debt
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By N. Napora on August 23, 2007
Format: Paperback
I purchased this book as a reference for an Abnormal Psychology class where I wrote a paper on Sylvia Plath. The information and the facts are real, but the book isn't completely objective. Quite a few times I caught myself thinking that the author had some kind of 'hero worship' about Plath. He would explain some of her odd behaviors and rampages as excusable because she was gifted and intellectual. In one chapter he says that the girls Sylvia hung out with basically had no brains and couldn't think for themselves, and did whatever she wanted them to do. However, it served it's purpose for my paper.
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