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Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life (Literary Lives) Paperback – August 19, 2003
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From Library Journal
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'Readers who are familiar with Plath's writing and want to know more about its personal and professional contexts would do well to begin with this succinct, commonsensical study.' Library Journal
Top Customer Reviews
Regarding the narrative, there were some valuable bits of information on Plath's parents I had not seen anywhere else (perhaps only important to me, a Plath scholar), such as her doctor fearing she may have TB toward the end of her life. The lit crit, for the most part, was nothing new, but it very well may have been when the book came out in 1999. What delighted me, however (and what I wish I'd seen years ago) is that Wagner-Martin has built a solid foundation from where my own work takes off in Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath (2014, Stephen F. Austin State U Press). The eighth chapter, "The Journey Towards Ariel," gives a nice little summary of Ted Hughes' Cambridge crowd of shamans, astrologers, and mystic poets who held Robert Graves' The White Goddess as sacred text. In her tenth chapter, "Sylvia Plath's Triumphant Women Poems" she explores Mary Kurtzman's and Timothy Materer's writings about Plath's Tarot, Cabala, and occult pursuits, as well as Ted Hughes' mythic theories on Plath.
Somehow, Linda Wagner-Martin was able to get the copyright to quote unpublished lines from first drafts of Plath's work, and while most of us scholars had paid for copies of these, it's convenient and resourceful to have these to refer to against the final draft.
The book is a nice balance of Plath's poetry and prose, treating both genres with equal respect. It is certainly a must for Plath scholars.
Linda Wagner Martin's Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life (Macmillan Press, 1999; 2nd. ed. rev. and expanded, 2003) is a gem. What struck me in 1999 when it first came out was the fact that it discussed unpublished materials, be they letters, poems, prose, or other. Discouraged by the number of mediocre books I've read recently about Plath (particularly poems about Plath), I thought I'd give a critical work a read, just to reestablish a connection with good writing about Plath. A good critic can convince the reader that their approach to the subject is the right way, despite any amount of knowledge one may possess about the said subject. Wagner-Martin does this. In the Preface, she states that Plath's life was "genuinely a literary life. There was no other aim for Sylvia Plath..." It is with this in mind that Wagner-Martin writes one of the best critical books on Plath.
The themes in Plath's poetry and prose that Wagner-Martin examines include "Plath's Hospital Writing", "Plath's Poems about Women", as well as "Recalling the Bell Jar" and "Lifting the Bell Jar", amongst others. Each chapter is clearly written and easy to read, full of wonderful, original analysis and shows the constant connections and a continual narrative, in Plath's body of work. Wagner-Martin draws much of her information and analysis from her own experience in working on Plath, as well as the working papers for her 1987 biography, and includes interview transcriptions and correspondence with Plath's friends and family members. It shows the value of good archival research, looking at drafts of poems and their deleted or otherwise unused lines and unfinished ideas.Read more ›