- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Viking (October 1, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670818127
- ISBN-13: 978-0670818129
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,634,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath Hardcover – October 1, 1991
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From Publishers Weekly
Nearly 30 years after Plath's (1932-1963) suicide, her troubled life proves to be fertile ground for biographers, as witness this work by Alexander (editor of Ariel Ascending ), which may be the most objective portrayal yet of the controversial American poet. Choosing to write Plath's life without the consent and probable constraints of the estate, Alexander eschews quoting from Plath's work; his is not a literary study. Yet the results are impressive: a thorough, beautifully fashioned chronicle rich in new materials and significant minutiae, beginning with the convergence of her parents' lives, continuing with Plath's precocious childhood and tumultuous adulthood, and concluding with her posthumous literary career. The book's achievement is to record Plath's notable vicissitudes with respect and sensitivity, implying but not imposing an interpretation on complex, often ambiguous evidence. Though at times we may desire more direct analysis, Alexander's understated approach has the considerable virtue of allowing readers to determine for themselves--insofar as such questions can ever be answered--what forces nurtured Plath's extraordinary lyrical gifts and what finally ended them. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
It seems no longer possible to read Plath's poems and fictions without her life and suicide as guide. Ignore her death, and the fiction and most of the poems increasingly seem self-indulgent and less than first-rate, unable to support a major reputation half as well as her self-destructive behavior does. Because her estate--which is ruled over by Ted Hughes and his sister Olwyn, the villains in these biographies--denies authors permission to quote from Plath's work unless manuscripts are submitted for approval and changes, if requested, are made, readers are left with inadequate paraphrase, innuendo, gossip, and speculation, which then lead to controversy and mystery--which in their turn lead to sales and literary immortality. Alexander, editor of Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath, deserves some attention. Still, each biography finally fails, either because of padding with irrrelevant minutiae (Alexander's); or a melodramatic and Kitty Kelleyish tone (Hayman's); or the substitution of simplistic paraphrase for analyses, sensationalism for objectivity, mystery for understanding (both). The Plath Industry thrives, though the quality of its products decreases. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/91 and LJ 3/15/91.
- Vincent D. Balitas, Allentown Coll. , Center Valley, Pa.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
For many reasons, I put aside the part of me in which I store Plath's incredible and stunning poetry,for twenty years. I had read about Ted Hughes' "Birthday Letters", and years later the suicide of Nicholas Hughes, but they didn't rekindle my interest in Plath. Frankly, I didn't have the strength for it. I haven't read "Birthday Letters" or anything written by Hughes, other than introductions to Plath's collections. In spite of how very well I knew Plath's work, all the real-life drama enacted by Plath's surviving relatives evaded me, and I'm glad.
On February 11th this year the memories of the poetry began to haunt me. I allowed myself to realize just how much of it I memorized and how often it sneakily permeated by own points of view. It took me some time to find my yellowed, mildewed copy of Ariel buried in my garage, but in the meantime I'd searched for Plath works for my Kindle. All this "new" information! All this intrigue and mystery! I had no idea. I had seen Plath's talent as a remarkable accident that fell upon an ordinary woman who got sick of getting out of bed every morning. Learning that Ariel has been "restored" caused in me a visceral reaction, though I'm not sure why.
Thanks to the publication of the "complete" journals, and biographies such as Rough Magic, I am shaken by how wrong I was about Plath, the writer. Alexander does a wonderful job of showing the chronology of the writings with events in Plath's life. His viewpoint attempts to be Plath's, and, because of this, it can seem outrageously unfair to Hughes. However, since Plath's mind produced her writing, her point-of-view as expressed through her letters and journals is very interesting, and it adds even more levels of interpretation/meaning for me. In order to avoid seeing Plath as having several "screws loose" I had to remind myself just how long ago she lived. Her poetry transcends time so completely it makes it easy to forget that Plath lived during the aftermath of WWII, in the Cold War era, among suspicions about Brasilia, and the atrocities of Concentration Camps were being exposed. The world as Plath had been programmed to understand it, was turned inside out, in a very bad way. Things like Facebook and "texting" could not be imagined, so perhaps Plath's interest in Ouija boards and 1950s-style Western astrology isn't really indicative of naivete or mental illness.
If she truly believed she communed with the ghost of Yeats, and if there is any truth to the claims that she succumbed to Hughes' hypnosis of her (this book even suggests Hughes' hypnosis may have caused her suicide...)it's possible to fathom that a mind like hers' was undeniably curious.
After reading her journals, and this biography, I feel a longing. Of course, I wish I could have known Plath when she was alive. She was far, far more remarkable than I could have guessed, and I realize I "sold short" on her because I was so very far behind her in wisdom. Alexander explores how Plath's work seems to be timeless in its ability to inspire more levels of interpretation. He shows how her own living of her life was self-interpreted with levels of understanding and confusion most people are incapable of formulating. Alexander reminds readers that Plath had an extraordinarily high I.Q. so most people will never "catch up" to her no matter how long they live. The scope and meaning of Plath's work is, I think, still far beyond us.
Alexander's compassionate take on Plath proves she is not a poet who appeals only to Goth adolescent girls, and thanks are owed to Plath's writings because they contributed to positive societal change. Maybe these days more Daddies think before they attack, maybe more husbands ponder the outcome of empty affairs, maybe lithium is representative of human innovation rather than failure and embarrassment. Not only is it acceptable to say "f.u." to 1950s social boundaries and collective lobotomizing, it's vital, for women and men. Plath's writing supports feminism, sure, but it goes far beyond being a voice for women's rights. Her's is the voice of oppression in a world where beauty is sought and glimpsed, but it's continually destroyed. Fifty years after her death Plath's work reminds us to search for amazement in every moment.
minutiae but it lost another star because towards the end the book transfer was not well done and some sentences were incomplete and found later right in the middle of a paragraph.
I couldn't put this book down, and have told countless friends about it. I am now reading "Lover of Unreason:Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes"....... To read about her "rival" is mind -blowing. What a love story, both books.
In the end, you'll put this book down with a greater sense of compassion for Sylvia and a better understanding of who she really was: a loving mother and writer who tried, through her precious poetry and prose and the safety and security of a loving family, to shake the demons that followed her throughout her life, a life she considered "blessed." And you'll probably laugh a little and cry a little, and you'll miss her, because she was the type of person that you miss. And hopefully, you'll take a step back and realize that we ourselves are blessed, in just "knowing" her; that, in the story of her life and in her work, there are whispers-- graciously spoken and lovingly heard, left for us to understand and to keep.