The Most Interesting Writing About Sylvia Plath on the 50th Anniversary of Her Death


Fifty years ago today, Sylvia Plath killed herself, at the painfully young age of 30, and just a few weeks after the publication of her first and only novel, The Bell Jar. Needless to say, we’ve spent much of the day reading about the famed poet, whose literary legacy and personal mythology is as strong as ever, and discovering things we didn’t know. Just in case you don’t have the time to pour over tons of articles today, we thought we’d point you towards some of the most interesting pieces on the poet. Check them out after the jump, and if we’ve missed a gem of an article, link us to it in the comments! After all, you can’t have too much Sylvia.

There Are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia Plath” by Ashley Fetters at The Atlantic

As part of an interview with Peter K. Steinberg, author of the 2004 biography Sylvia Plath:

I’ve been digging around for some obituaries or press coverage of Sylvia Plath’s suicide 50 years ago, and I’ve been very surprised at how little I’ve—well, at the fact that I’ve been able to find none. It sounds like something similar happened to you.

Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I think part of it is that it was a suicide. There’s a scene in The Bell Jar where Esther Greenwood says that the only newspaper they read in their house was the Christian Science Monitor, which treats suicides and murders as though they never happened. So part of my thinking is that possibly, [her mother] Aurelia Plath didn’t want the actual details of Sylvia’s death to be known. I certainly think Ted Hughes didn’t either.”

Sylvia Plath: reflections on her legacy” at The Guardian

Lena Dunham: “I wonder if Plath would have been saved had she been born in a different time: in a time when psycho-pharmacologists are no more shameful to visit than hairdressers and women write celebrated personal essays about being bad mothers and cutters and are reclaiming the word slut. Would she have been a riot grrrl, embracing an angry feminist aesthetic? Addicted to Xanax? A blogger for Slate? Would she, like me, have found a cosy coffeehouse environment on the internet, a way to connect with people who understood her aesthetic and validated her experience? Would she have been less dependent on the approval of viewers and critics and more aware of the positive effect her book was having on splintered psyches and girls with short bangs everywhere? Or would that kind of connectedness and access to unmitigated and misspelled negativity have driven her even madder?”

A Great Many Plathitudes: The Doom Myth Of Sylvia Plath,” by Melissa Bradshaw at The Quietus

“Like many people – from Girls creator Lena Dunham, to the theorist and academic Jacqueline Rose – who have been talking about Plath lately, I have ironically introduced my argument with exactly that topic and occasion (the anniversary of her suicide) from which people argue her work should be separated. I want to point out something about the reception of Plath, not since her death but since Ariel was published, that I think is more pernicious than what has lead to the two refrains above: the way that her work has been read, often unconsciously, as if she were always going to kill herself. To move Sylvia Plath and her work in the way that it deserves, into the twenty first century, and to hand her over in the best possible way to a new generation of readers, this narrative must be exorcised.”

Sylvia Plath: Jillian Becker on the poet’s last days,” at the BBC

“He came back and told me that he wished she had stayed on with us, that he didn’t think she could cope on her own.

I knew he was right, yet I wasn’t entirely sorry she had left. I would not have to go on being nurse to her and her children.

My daughters would not have to give up their rooms. I would have no more interrupted nights.

And pity tires the heart.

For which thoughts I was to endure long remorse.

On the Monday morning at about eight o’clock the phone rang. I answered, and Dr Horder told me Sylvia had put her head in the gas oven and was dead.”

‘Daddy’ Is Mommy: Is Sylvia Plath’s famous poem really about her mother?,” by Katie Roiphe in Slate

“Quite sensibly biographers and critics have always thought that Plath’s most famous poem, “Daddy,” was about her father. I would like to float out the theory that it is really about her mother. … Before you dismiss this as crazy or irritating, bear with me for a moment. In reading the angry, crashing lines of the poem—“Every woman adores a Fascist/The boot in the face, the brute/Brute heart of a brute like you”—one naturally thinks that she must be talking about a male oppressor, about her father. But Plath’s father, a German entomologist who loved bees, and died after a long period of sickness when Sylvia was 8, was a paler figure in her life, a less looming or domineering force than her mother; of course, one can harbor strong, mysterious feelings about a parent who died when one is young, but it is her mother with whom she is locked in a furious lifelong struggle.”

The Marilyn Monroe in Sylvia Plath: A Q&A with Plath’s Latest Biographer,” by Joanna Scutts at Biographile

You begin your book by calling Sylvia Plath “the Marilyn Monroe of modern literature.” Can you say more about that comparison, and how it shaped your writing?

Carl Rollyson: “It’s always struck me that Sylvia Plath was unusual for a woman of her generation in the range of her interests. She had such an interest in poetry, in prose, and in wanting to be a greater poet, but at the same time she saw no problem with also being a popular writer, for Ladies’ Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, and other kinds of magazines. When you look at her journals, she really wanted to have a wide range of appeal. That made me think of Marilyn Monroe, in part because Sylvia Plath dreamed about Marilyn Monroe, and I thought that for a writer of Plath’s age and seriousness, to dream about Monroe was really quite striking – and not only to dream about her, but to take Monroe seriously as someone who would give her advice, comfort her, appear as a kind of fairy godmother. When I read biographies of Plath, biographers would say that this was odd or strange, but because of my own work on Monroe I thought no, that’s exactly what Sylvia Plath is. This is a woman firing on all cylinders, who wants to be that kind of cynosure or center of attention, that marks her as a figure in the culture.”

Andrew Wilson on Plath Behind the Glass,” by Callie Beusman at Interview

“CALLIE BEUSMAN: Plath mythologized herself, was mythologized by her lovers, and continues to be mythologized by casual readers and academics. I’m interested in how much of this is through Plath’s doing and how much happened after she became a literary figure.

ANDREW WILSON: She did constantly mythologize herself, as did many of the people who knew her. I think it’s really fascinating, because she did open herself up—like she says—like an anatomical Venus so her psyche could be exposed for all the “peanut-crunching crowd” to see. That opens up to this tendency, this desire, for us to mythologize her. She obviously saw herself as some kind of Electra figure. She also saw herself as Alice in Wonderland, and, to some extent, as Isabel Archer—so not just mythological characters, but fictional characters as well. But also I think it’s important to remember that, fundamentally, she was a real person living at a real time. The reason that I call my book Mad Girl’s Love Song is really not to call her mad as in the insane sense, but to refer to the fact that she was an angry young woman, and that sense of feminine anger really comes through in her journals and her poetry. I think that many, many women and many people connected with Plath’s poetry and her work to such an extent because they saw her as a person, as a real woman dealing with very real concerns.”

What You Don’t Know About Sylvia Plath,” by Carl Rollyson at The Huffington Post

“Sylvia sought out and basked in the sun all her life. In her story, “Tongues of Stone,” a woman coming out of a depression feels every fiber of her mind and body flare with the “everlasting rising sun.” When she tired of a lover who spoke constantly to her in French, she wrote to a friend that she craved “good healthy vulgar american sun, sweat, and song…entendu?” She associated sunbathing with the sheer joy of existence. She loved the sunny kitchen in the first flat she shared with Ted Hughes in London. She took her life in the sunless, bleak winter of 1963—when the pipes froze, and the cold weather seemed to bring the world into stasis.”