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Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life (Literary Lives) Paperback – August 19, 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Feminist icon and patron saint of moody coffeehouse poets, Sylvia Plath has been so overexposed that it is hard to see her with fresh eyes. This book, part of a useful series that focuses on writers' working lives, builds on such works as Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (Harvard Univ., 1992) to remind readers that, Plath's well-known personal suffering notwithstanding, "to read autobiographically...is to dismiss the artistry Plath demands of her writing, and often achieves in it." Thus, this study marks less a paradigm shift in Plath studies than a cutting away of the inessential and a consolidation of the best that is known. Collections that already have a substantial number of Plath studies, including Wagner-Martin's own Sylvia Plath: A Biography (1987), may not wish to add yet another item to an already groaning shelf, but 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.ADavid Kirby, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 181 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 2 edition (October 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403916535
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403916532
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,748,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is an excellent look at what Plath wrote, her beginnings as a writer, the climates that she worked in and how her relations with her mother and her husband helped to shape her writing. While I would have liked to see more of how Plath's favorite authors influenced her, there is enough new material (letter and journal excerpts, as well as the author's observations) to make it a worthwhile addition to the ever-growing pile of books on the legendary Sylvia Plath. A good study for beginners and scholars alike.
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Format: Paperback
Written and published before Ariel: The Restored Edition was released, Linda Wagner-Martin's Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life is more literary criticism than biography. I don't think this is necessarily a fault, but readers may feel mislead by the title if they are expecting more of story. The book in fact begins as narrative, and then becomes critical studies around the third chapter.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
This critical study contains many good insights into Plath's writing, especially about how she deals with her sexual repressions, but the author's one-sided attitude toward Plath's relationship with Ted Hughes, and with men in general, flaws it. The author portrays Hughes as a kind of bluebeard, as Plath portrayed him in much of her later writing, but other information about Hughes shows that this was a considerable exaggeration. The author even distorts Plath's perception of Hughes when, for example, she writes that the protagonist of Plath's Ariel poem, "The Applicant," is female. The protagonist is a man being offered a wife by a kind of marriage bureau that wants to make sure that he is a flawed, damaged human being and then fits him with a "black suit" of artificial numbness before producing the naked female "sweety." Plath came to realize that Hughes wasn't the perfect being she wanted to have married-- most people realize something similar about their spouses-- but her problem was that she couldn't STAND it, which fits the definition of psycho-neurosis. Hughes underwent that realization too, and he couldn't STAND it either. Two extraordinarily strong, gifted people who couldn't tolerate each other's humanity-- that is hubris, the stuff of real tragedy.
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Format: Paperback
Having read so much drivel about Plath this year, I decided to turn back the clock a bit...

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.
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