Sylvia Plath Forum
Contributions: April 1999

Thanks for the forum - I enjoy it very much. I just had one comment. Ted Hughes' March, 1963 letter to Mrs. Plath regarding Sylvia Plath's death was not sealed until Hughes' death in October, 1998 - it was available at Lilly Library in 1996 when I visited there.

Lisa Harbo
Fairbanks, USA
Friday, April 30, 1999

Hi I'm doing a research paper on Sylvia Plath. In this research paper I am discussing her poem "Daddy". If you have any information on this poem please respond quickly. I would deeply appreciate any help. Thanks

Andrews, USA
Friday, April 30, 1999

I am doing a power point presentation for my English class and can't find any media clips for it. I've written two papers this year on Plath so I have all the information and pictures I need. Any information on sound clips or media clips would be appreciated. Karen

Kansas City, USA
Friday, April 30, 1999

To Paul: Thanks for clearing up the business about Hughes's alleged statement. I agree with you, to a large extent, that Stevenson's bio should not be accepted as definitive; however, I submit that it probably remains the most informative and the best-written among those that have been published. I'm afraid that this is faint praise at best, incidentally! Aside from Stevenson's work, which we've established was written under duress, the only other semi-satisfactory writings about Plath are Alvarez's and, with her entirely objective, "reporterly" perspective, Janet Malcolm's. A couple of nights ago I also re-read Clarissa Roche's famous essay about Plath (it appears in Edward Beutscher's "Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work"), and was surprised to see how even-handed it was; Roche as much as admits that Plath had projected a "perfect husband" image onto Ted-- one which he (or any other being, I should imagine) was ill-equipped to live up to.

On an unrelated note: I finally got around to reading the article in "The Guardian," and I found it oddly affecting. Elizabeth Sigmund, the source of much of the material, has remained one of Plath's few ardent, unassailable champions; I do not necessarily consider her the most reliable witness to the Plath-Hughes marriage, but what she has to say is always touched with such poignancy. I've always felt particularly sorry for Assia Wevill, the ostensible subject of the Guardian article, because it seems that living in the shadow of Plath must have been a hopeless, "I"- de-Winter-ish situation. Reading Sigmund's account only compounds the empathy I feel for her.

Jan Watson Collins
New York City, USA
Thursday, April 29, 1999

To Jan Watkins Collins, I must concede I too can't find any reference in "The Silent Woman" to Ted Hughes claiming the only interesting thing in Plath's life was her marriage to him. So I either imagined I read it there, exaggerated a less extreme statement; or the boostful claim, in all its simplicity, is actually in some other book or article I've read. Either way, it's my mistake the way I wrote it. This doesn't change my original assertion that Stevenson rushed through twenty-three years of Plath's life so that she could get to the main task of presenting "the Hugheses side of the story".

I also agree that Dido Merwin had every right to write her memoir of Sylvia Plath and to have it published. But that's not what's objected to. What's objected to is that this personal memoir, written after the fact, and in obvious response to criticism leveled at Ted Hughts, is put forward as the only 'truth' in a book that purports to be a full biography, but mainly deals with a seven year marriage that failed, and which attempts to place all the blame for the failure on one of the two people involved. I don't question that Plath had a difficult, and possibly psychotic, personality, and she was probably a terror to live with, but the way she's treated in 'Bitter Fame' remains, from my perspective, shameless. It reminds me of Jacqueline Rose's observation that everyone involved with the situation acts as if a crime was committed.

Paul Snyder
New York City, USA
Thursday, April 29, 1999

The use of the word 'genius' is usually meant to indicate someone who is exceptionally intelligent, bright, who is unusually gifted at birth or from childhood. Sometimes the label 'genious' is applied to prodigies (in music, chess, mathematics) but typically it's also used for applied intelligence (in writing, painting, cinema). Shakespeare's genious was different from Marilyn Monroe's, if only in that the true 'genious' of someone is what makes them different from others, not similar.

Plath's genius came very late; as if her life was but a series of rehearsals for the last year of her life. But her hard work prepared her for it - Edison said "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." She was a very good writer before, then graduated to the next level. Ted Hughes did the same thing with "Crow" - other poets don't have such a long time to work on their craft - others have hills & troughs. There is no clear definition of 'genius' (besides the dictionary - thanks Stewart!), it cannot be predicted.

Lena Friesen
Toronto, Canada
Wednesday, April 28, 1999

To whom it may concern: I am a freshman in college and I am having a difficult time understanding "Lorelei" written by Sylvia Plath. I do not have a paper to write, nor a project. Just a love for poetry. You have asked for our own interpretations before you offer yours so here goes:

I feel like the tone of the poem is sad. I think it may be about mermaids. It sounds as though Lorelei, who i think is a mermaid, is asking someone to die with her. She cries into the night along with the other mermaids. I have been trying to interpret this poem for over two weeks now with little success. Any help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much!


gen-ius (jeen'yuhs) n. pl. <gen-ius-es> for 2, 3, 8 <gen-i-i> (jee'nee ie ) for 6, 7, 9
1. an exceptional natural capacity of
intellect, esp. as shown in creative and
original work in science, art, music,
etc.: the genius of Mozart.
2. a person having such capacity.
3. natural ability or capacity; talent: a
genius for leadership.
4. distinctive character or spirit, as of a
nation, period, or language.
5. the guardian spirit of a place, person,
institution, etc.
6. a person who strongly influences for good
or ill the character, conduct, or
destiny of a person, place, or thing: an
evil genius.
7. JINN.
[1350-1400; ME < L: tutelary deity or genius of a
person; cf. GENUS]

Stewart Clarke
New York, USA
Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Rough Magic, reissued, is available now from bookstores. It's been given a face lift, sadly, as the previous paperback was goregous. This cover is still attractive and features the famous Cambridge 1957 head-shot of our Sylvia Plath! The book has a post-Birthday Letters/post-Hughes' death Introduction which is dated January 1999.

In it author Paul Alexander tells his readers about a myriad of undocumented interviews with Mrs. Plath during the writing of his Biography. The information in these interviews were printed in Rough Magic without credit to Mrs. Plath. I do not believe specific credit to Mrs. Plath is given in this new edition, but he is clear that it was the wish of Mrs. Plath that her name not be associated with Rough Magic until her death, 11 March 1994.

In a sense, one might now call this book a work of dual authorship!!

He bashed the Birthday Letters then goes on to tell that Hughes had previously told Mrs. Plath his feeling's about Plath's suicide. There was a letter Hughes wrote to Mrs. Plath in March 1963 (that was sealed until Hughes death at the Lilly Library in Indiana.) Alexander paraphrases Hughes letter, and I'll quote in full Alexander's paraphrase:

Actually, in a letter he sent to Mrs. Plath in March 1963, Hughes did reveal how he felt about Plath's suicide. Mrs. Plath deposited the letter in the Lilly Library at Indiana Unversity and sealed it until Hughes's death; it was recently made available to the public. In the letter Hughes confesses that his "madness" played a large part in Plath's final depression, which ended in her suicide. He also says he was hoping for a reconciliation with Plath in the form of a holiday vacation, but she died before he could arrange it. From the letter's tone and subject matter it is clear that Hughes felt more than slightly responsible for Plath's death. His guilt is palpable in the letter. If there is an eternity, Hughes ends his letter to Mrs. Plath, he would be "damned in it."

I am almost frightened to know what the author of Hecate's Cave could have done with this knowledge!

In the 23 April 1999 Guardian there is an article on Plath/Hughes/Wevill written by Plath friend Elizabeth Sigmund. It's about a pregnany Assia had about the time the Plath committed suicide and also an abortion just after the death of Sylvia Plath. It's a very interesting twist into what's been a revealing year thusfar. It's a very good indication of the information that should be coming forth over the next few years. The Guardian online can be found at You should register, it's free, find the Archives and type in Plath. Up to Sunday there are 23 articles mentioning Plath's name on the website since sometime in 1998.

Peter Steinberg
Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Tuesday, April 27, 1999

I am trying to find out information on Plath's poem: The Jailor. Do you know the meaning of this poem, and what are some online links to interpreattions of her poetry?

New York City, USA
Tuesday, April 27, 1999

I am a college student. In desperate need of some information on the poem "Balloons". I have read it several times and am not sure of the true meaning. If you have any words to help me I would greatly appreciate it. I see the different colors she uses in this poem. I am not sure of the meaning Christmas at the beginning except for it being Christ's birthday. Is that why there is balloons. Also, did she make the balloons into animals with souls? Did they live in poverty because of the straw mats, white walls, and dead furniture.

I am greatful for any help that you may be able to give me. Thank You!

Susan Wolff
Mertztown, USA
Tuesday, April 27, 1999

I often read the word "genius" there...

...Could somebody please explain to me what the word "genius" means ? How do you use it in the USA ? Is Shakespeare a genius ? And Walt Disney too ? Washington ? M. Monroe ? Is everybody a 'genius'sometimes ? Does the word "genius" sometimes mean the same thing as "world champion" ? (The German like the word "Genie" too...).

I don't want to provoke anybody, but : what do you mean exactly, when you write that Sylvia Plath is a genius ?

Michel K. Kappes
Brest, France
Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Daniel brings up a good point re: Sylvia's poems being tailor-made for the voice. Anyone who's heard Plath's BBC readings can attest to that. Which reminds me, in an admittedly tangential way, of why I think the Meg Ryan casting (and now the Gwyneth Paltrow casting) is such a travesty; neither one of those actresses have anything approaching Plath's low, full-throated voice, which was an inextricable part of her personality, as many of her acquaintances have recounted. Amusing to learn of the Paltrow casting, though; a couple of days ago I was discussing the Meg Ryan casting with my husband-- we were having a good laugh over it, as a matter of fact-- and he bitterly interjected that Gwyneth Paltrow was probably second-runner-up for the part, in the perverse collected mind that is Hollywood's.

Jan Watson Collins
New York City, USA
Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Well, how does one begin to talk about someone like Sylvia Plath. I'll try to relate my own story, as to how I came in contact with her work, and came to know of who she is.

I was in my school library, I am still in high school (18), and was looking for a book of poetry to read. Something to inspire me. Something to make me feel somewhat impressed. When I noticed in the broken lines of books, "Sylvia Plath- Winter Trees" and "Crossing the Water". Those are the only two books by Sylvia my school has. But as soon as I picked one up, I knew I was hooked. My favorite poem after i read those books was "Mirror" (or The Babysitters, or Facelift, its such a hard decision, to pick a favorite) A couple weeks later, in english, my teacher made us read the Poem "Tulips" and she didn't tell us who the author was. I hadn't read that one, but as soon as I started reading it, I knew who wrote it. Sylvia's voice is so distinct, and her metaphors are so profound, they are impossible to duplicate. I told her that I knew, and the next day, after she read it out loud to the class, she asked ME who wrote it. I was right :) She said the reason she didn't want to tell us the author, was because Sylvia had killed herself, so we might jump to conclusions about what the poem was about. That was how i really became interested in her work. I have since bought "Collected Poems" and I have decided a few favorite poems, besides the ones I have mentioned above. I really like "Lady Lazarus" "Daddy" "Family Reunion"(Juvenilia), "Last Words"(this poem makes me cry. It's always the same line too "They will wonder if I was important." It's so straight forward and so powerful). That's all I can think of right now. There are more though, believe me.

I guess what draws me to sylvia's work is her metaphor, as well as her completely original voice. To truly grasp the power of her poetry, it must be read aloud. It draws on the power of voice. The words of her poems are given more strength when they are spoken. Also, her poetry is not all rhyme(y) like other poets, but it flows smoothly, as if it does all rhyme. I don't know if that makes sense, but it should. Since I am still in high school, I'm surrounded by juveniles, not to be mean or anything. This year I am in charge of the Omnibus, our school's literary magazine (head editor!) and the poems I read put me to sleep. They are so cruddy, once again, not to be mean. I am tired of reading song lyrics though. I think that If i can guess the next line, without having to read, the poem is ruined, like I can do with most songs. Sylvia's poems are not predictable, that's another plus. I know it's pointless to stack high schooler poems against Sylvia Plath, but I c!an't help it. My standards are too high.

Thanks for reading. Please email me if you would like to discuss anything about anything with me. :)

Daniel Lucy
Grand Forks, ND, USA
Wednesday, April 21, 1999

According to an article in today's Salon Magazine (an on-line publication), the people who made the movie "Elizabeth" are to make a movie called "Ted and Sylvia" with Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath. No other information was given; but for this Forum hardly any more needs to be said.

For the record, I'd like to say that I saw the movie of "Emma" which starred Ms. Paltrow and I thought she was fine in it. But Plath's life is not a Jane Austen novel.

As soon as I can find out who is portraying Ted Hughes, I'll post it here!

Lena Friesen
Toronto, Canada
Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Peter, as far as Anne Stevenson saying Bitter Fame was a perfect companion to Birthday Letters, I didn't take it so much as ego or her wanting to cash in, but as an ironic statement: her reasons for wanting to distance herself from it when it came out were because the Hughes family had so much influence on it. As Janet Malcolm points out in The Silent Woman, Bitter Fame should be looked at as the Hughes family first public statement on the whole history. When viewed that way, it is indeed the only biography that could be seen as being a companion to Birthday Letters. I doubt that Stevenson is still very excited about it--although I confess I liked it, when taken in context--but I think her point is valid. It's the Hughes point-of-view.

Amy Rea
Chanhassen, USA
Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Peter, I think you're dead right about Alvarez. Although Ted Hughes felt violated by Alvarez's lengthy Plath-related prelude in "The Savage God," it remains one of the most lucid and unsettling portraits of Plath's last days-- who could forget that line about her hair having a sharp, unwashed scent like an animal's?-- & has become an indispensible part of her iconography. When I entered into the section where Janet Malcolm interviews Alvarez in "The Silent Woman," I couldn't have been more delighted by his intelligence and his candor.(An aside: I recommend a reading of the full text of "The Savage God" to any of you who'd like a fuller understanding of the etyology of the suicidal nature. It's a literary work, not a medical text, but still revealing in its own way).

Did anyone besides myself find the Paul Alexander ("Rough Magic" and the Linda Wagner-Martin book unpalatable? To be perfectly honest, I don't think either one of those cats could write their way out of a paper bag.Our poor, much-maligned Mrs. Stevenson is a veritable Tolstoy in comparison.

Jan Watson Collins
New York City, USA
Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Bitter Fame!! When I first read this book in 1997 I had a tough time of it. I had a tough time figuring out the title mostly. Literally Plath cannot be bitter about the fame she had. What's come following her death, the fame and the controversy, seem to have many thousands of people bitter. But I believe the title speaks more about the author(s) rather than the Subject!

If there is anyone person out there that could rightly write a biography of Sylvia Plath my guess would be not Anne Stevenson, not Meg Ryan, but A. Alvarez. I think no person in the entire Plath/Hughes/Stevenson drama has remained so cool and so smart about the Subject.

A long while ago, early-Decemer, an Alex from the UK posted about a book called The Journey Toward Ariel, Sylvia Plath's Poems of 1956-1959 by Nancy D. Hargrove. I found a copy and it is my current Plath read. Hargrove sets out to prove that the poet of The Colossus & Crossing the Water (though it be published later) is exactly the poet who produced Ariel. That Plath was progressing to this monumental work and not, as some critics have said, a work produced by a completely different author.

Well, I wanted to quote some lines from the first Chapter here. In response to the biography binge that occurred in the late 80's and early 90's Hargrove writes, seems to me more important to acknowledge that she was an enormously complex and many-faceted person who simply defies categorization, the most notorious of which is surely Butscher's 'bitch goddess' and the most recent of which is Stevenson's mean-spirited, unpleasant wife. The great variety of critical and biographical views of her, many of which are diametrically opposed, in intself suggests her complexity. In addition, those who knew her present widely differing portraits; as (Clarissa) Roche points out, 'Most of us who knew Sylvia Plath knew a different Sylvia Plath'... (Hargrove, 23).

There were biographies coming out it seems every year, or every other year. None of these are supposed to be agreeing with one another, that's why they were endorsed, written and published. Olwyn & Ted Hughes had a lot to say about the relationship with Sylvia Plath that wasn't permitted to be said prior to Stevenson's Pinocchio role. And that is exactly why we have the book the way it is. There was Butscher's account which turned Sylvia into a poetic tart, but that was pretty much word-of-mouth. A biography written by a man who didn't get to sleep with her. Stevenson's work is so good because it makes you hate it, not necessarily hate Plath. You have to read it because it is the authority, but you have to hate it because it's not what you wanted to know, per se.

I consider the newer edition on the book shelves today to be slightly worse than the original. It's got a post Birthday Letters introduction. I remember posting something about this nearly a year ago. In the new Intro, Stevenson writes that her book is the perfect compendium to Birthday Letters and The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. What a conceited thing to say. Eight or nine years ago she didn't want to accept the work as her's, and now she wants you to buy it make sense of the poetry?

Fair is fair, buy, read & learn: Rough Magic by Paul Alexander, Sylvia Plath: A Biography by Linda Wagner-Martin or special order Sylvia Plath, Revised by Caroline Barnard King Hall.

Peter Steinberg
Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Tuesday, April 20, 1999

I have to admit when i read "The Bell Jar" i was not sure at first how i would like it. i do not like sad books but this was an interesting book. It was sad but it did have a little humor to it. Truthfully i had never heard of Sylvia Plath until my teacher had us do a report on her at school and i found her life interesting.

She was bright and beautiful women and had so much to look forward to. Why she wanted to take her own life i will never understand....

Jennifer Carlock
murray county, USA
Tuesday, April 20, 1999

To Paul Snyder: I must respectfully disagree with (or at least express my befuddlement over) some of the points you put forth. Where in "The Silent Woman" does Hughes assert that the only interesting thing that happened in Plath's life was her marriage? This does not have a familiar ring at all-- it doesn't even smack of verite-- and it leads me to wonder if it's a wild paraphrase or perhaps a well-intended misinterpretation on the part of the reader.

On other matters-- one might include Butscher's book among those which peered behind the Plath "mask," but I found his treatment of the subject a bit superficial and unsatisfying in the way that self-help books that trivialize pathologies are unsatisfying. (By the way, has anyone read Butscher's "Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work?" Talk about bathos!) Two other niggling points: Dido Merwin arguably had a right to carp about Plath, as the two were thrown together as a result of their husbands' friendship and had no real alliance of their own; Merwin owes Plath no loyalty. As for Hughes, who owed Plath loyalty insofar as he was legally bound to her-- I recommend rereading "The Birthday Letters" for a view of his sometimes-valiant, sometimes painfully ineffectual efforts to placate his wife, whose determined extremism was such that no single individual could be responsible for her life OR her death.

Jan Watson Collins
New York City, USA
Tuesday, April 20, 1999

"Bitter Fame" was not the first biography to depict Sylvia Plath as less than sweetness and light. "Method and Madness", the first full biography, and my introduction to Plath in the late 1970's, presented her as a 'bitch goddess' and popularized the idea that throughout her life she hid behind a series of 'masks'. This was the only biography available until Linda Wagner-Martin's mildly feminist approach a decade later. However, her book was weakened by the lack of cooperation from the Plath estate. According to Anne Stevenson, what annoyed the estate the most was Wagner-Martin's refusal to accept as gospel truth Dido Merwin's interpretation of what was wrong with the Hughes/Plath marriage. Apparently, Owlyn was already anxious to present this to the public. However, we know that it was Stevenson's own book that gave the world Mrs. Merwin's undiluted views of her former friend.

I remember when I first read "Bitter Fame" that I thought it was a pretty decent biography. But I later changed my mind. No matter what's its literary merits, or how believable its image of Plath, nothing justifies that it was deliberately slanted to show only the negative aspects of its subject. To Elaine's list of the books flaws, I would like to add a small one of my own. I don't know if it's ever been commented upon, but the book hardly does justice to Plath's pre-Ted Hughes life. In all three of the other chronologically based biographies, Hughes meets Plath approximately half way through the book, but in "Bitter Fame" he shows up on page 71, or barely one fourth of the way in. But then I guess this isn't surprising since Janet Malcolm in "The Silent Woman" quotes Hughes as believing that the only thing interesting in his first wife's life was her marriage to him. And while I'm at it, at the risk of being charged a Ted Hughes 'basher', I have one more thing to add. While I don't doubt that his life was made unfairly miserable by extreme feminists, is it so strange to suggest that a man who first insists that his foreign born wife live in his native country, then buries (Plath's own description) her in the rural countryside, and finally starts an affair with another woman--which he makes no effort to conceal--four months after she gives birth to their second child, that this man acted like a--well, you can fill in the rest.

Paul Snyder
New York City, USA
Monday, April 19, 1999

Pamela St. Clair is quite right about the darkness "bubbling under the surface" of Plath's short stories. When I parenthetically dismissed them as being "inexorably limp," I was referring to what was ON the surface: well-behaved, formulaic prose that flattened themes which later appeared, far more affectingly rendered and rounded, in her poetry. Whether or not Plath could have one day conquered the fictional form is up for question, but judging by the difficulties and exasperation she expressed in her journals, I suspect that prose just wasn't her metiere. Not every writer can make that Thomas Hardy-esque crossover, after all!

As for the idea of Sylvia as a "difficult" friend or acquaintance, I can only refer back to this heartwrenching line from Ted Hughes, written to Anne Stevenson: "All those fierce reactions against her-- which she provoked so fiercely... were from my point of view simply disasters from which I had to protect her. It was like trying to protect a fox from my own hounds while the fox bit me. With a real fox in that situation, you would never doubt why it was biting you."

Jan Watson Collins
New York City, USA
Monday, April 19, 1999

I'd like to pick up on Jan Watson Collins' theme about what she sees as an absence of Sylvia's "not-niceness" in her short stories. On the contrary, I think her dark side bubbles beneath the surface in all of them even though she wrote the stories to conform to the demands of an optimistic post war culture to which the magazines that published her stories catered. From the jealous wife in the "Wishing Box" and the tormented secretary in "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams" to the macabre outcome of "The Fifty-Ninth Bear," Sylvia's spitefulness and insecurity seeps through as does her latent struggle to define herself in a culture that valued the demands of wifedom and motherhood over those of writing. A sense of doom opens many of her stories. In "The Day Mr. Prescott Died," a beautiful day announces a death: "It was a bright day, a hot day, the day old Mr. Prescott died." In "The Daughters of Blossom Street," Sylvia's black humor makes a hero out of a character the narrator unsympathetically despises. The title of that story suggests a certain light heartedness with the pictaresque "blossom street," yet the story opens: "As it turns out, I don't need any hurricane warnings over the seven a.m. news-and-weather to tell me today will be a bad day." Most of her stories focus around some type of outsider, an outsider who seems to harbor a dark or undesirable (to the character's community) secret. I wonder if Sylvia had continued to write and had poured Ariel-like energies into her prose, if she eventully would have generated darker complex stories.

It's too easy to either fault Sylvia for her alleged histrionics and pettiness or to steadfastly defend her against them (depending upon which camp you lean toward). Many seem to desire a "neat" category in which to place her, but she occupies that gray space inbetween the definable black or white of the nasty or nice. Like Coleridge, her Eolian harp played more music in the tempestuous winds than in the quiet breezes of a summer day.

Pamela St. Clair
New Haven, CT, USA
Sunday, April 18, 1999

In response to Jan's question about why readers are so upset when confronted with Sylvia's ugly side, I think it's because they want to believe that she couldn't have been so awful and still write so compellingly. Or to put it another way, I have a good friend who severely tries my patience--to put it mildly--on a somewhat regular basis. I have to admit, I've thought about walking away from the friendship, but one of the things that stops me is thinking about Plath and her "meanness" driving people away. Not that anyone should be willing to put up with any kind of abuse; but difficult people are just that--difficult. It doesn't reduce the value of Plath's work to say she was not always a "people person." It makes her more interesting, in my mind. But some readers want the saint, the myth, not the reality.

Amy Rea
Chanhassen, USA
Sunday, April 18, 1999

Well, I am glad to see some of the gracious support of "Bitter Fame,"; some of your comments have had the effect of making me feel a shade less harpy-ish for having posted as I did earlier. Indeed, Sylvia's "not-niceness" is evident in her creative work (with the possible exception of her inexorably limp short stories), and her traits of narcissism, spitefulness, -et alia- have been corroborated by aging writers of my acquaintance who knew Plath personally. I'd prefer not to name names here, as these mentors of mine have told me some of these anecdotes in confidence-- but let's just say that her histrionics and her pettiness were part and parcel of her personality and, by extension, her art.

Incidentally, I don't think Sylvia was "mean" per se; it sounds so reductive to say that she manifested the traits of her mental illness, but in some ways I think that's the truth-- pure and simple. (I am not speaking in a vacuum in regards to the subject of mental illness, by the way). I happen to think that Sylvia's extremites-- both on the page and as documented in her everyday doings-- are part of what make her so DELIGHTFUL. Why, I wonder, are some readers upset when confronted with her "ugly" side?

Jan Watson Collins
New York City, USA
Friday, April 16, 1999

It has been almost ten years since I first got my copy of Bitter Fame - I ordered it specially as I was so enthralled with Plath at the time. Then, I had only read Linda Wagner-Martin's bio, the English version, and had yet to read Edward Beutcher's biography. I had read no biographies of any authors before, and did not know what was and was not "done" in the proper literary sense, i.e. is it a good idea to include individual memoirs, is it good to collaborate with the subject's family, and is it good to hide this collaboration in the introduction instead of announcing it on the cover?

Bitter Fame was a difficult job for Anne Stevenson. I got the chance to praise her for it and she winced, as if she never wanted to think of it again, as if the whole process was like having teeth pulled. If it was a corrective, it in turned provoked Rough Magic and The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath to work as counter-correctives.

I think the general distaste for Bitter Fame lies not just in the book's portrayal of Plath but in the idea that Olywn Hughes used Stevenson as a dummy for her ideas, then profited from it, then complained to Janet Malcolm about how slow and stupid Stevenson was. Jack, doctrinaire is the right word. Stewart - your friend's comment is right. Plath was mean, with herself and about others. And a good biography should show that, it shouldn't whitewash it. But the opinions should come from the writer him/herself, and not from some "invisible hand". As it is, the negative view of Plath tips over (for me, anyhow) into the ridiculous, so by the time I reached Myers, Murphy and Merwin, I was practically waiting for Plath to be blamed for the decline of Western civilization. She was just a poet, a mother, a wife and yes, a genius. Not a saint or sinner but in between like all of us.

Lena Friesen
Toronto, Canada

Ladies' Home Journal has come out with a special periodical called The 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century. Sylvia Plath made it under the "Writers and Journalists" section. It features a photo of Plath looking innocently at the camera in a bright white dress, and has a small biography. LHJ printed a book sometime late last year, and it's the same material as the book but only $5.95, whereas the book soared about $30.00!

In Saturday's Guardian there was a two page article on Assia Gutmann Wevill (Hughes) & Ted Hughes. The article quoted a letter Hughes wrote to Assia's sister about two months after her suicide. The quote is this..."Assia was my true wife and the best friend I ever had..." The article also printed two photographs of Assia.

Peter Steinberg
Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Friday, April 16, 1999

As I've said before, I don't know how I'd feel about anyone -- mother, ex-boyfriend, children, friend, ex-friend, number-one fan -- being tasked with writing a definitive biography of me. My mother's version would glorify my achievements while tattling about my messiness and hairstyles; a past love must have had his reasons for NOT staying with me and would likely remember our petty fights more than any tenderness; and so on. On the same note, how believable would Plath's own rendition of her life be? Would we believe it more just because it would most likely put her in a better light than "Bitter Fame" did?

We Plath fans are fortunate to be privy to so many differing opinions of Sylvia Plath the artist, the woman, the daughter, the wife, the suicide. All of us were drawn to her for our own reasons, and despite the vastly different portraits we see in the various biographies, we are all compelled enough to sustain our interest. I agree that "The Silent Woman" should be read alongside ANY Plath biography; it's as intellectually detached as it can be while still indulging the Sivvy voyeur in all of us.

"Birthday Letters" is the icing on the birthday cake; a candid biography from Ted Hughes' point of view in verse. Thanks to all the bios, good and bad, we have a view of the artist that is probably as multifaceted as Plath herself was.

Nancy Gast-Romps
Falls Church, Virginia, USA
Thu, 15 Apr 1999

"Bitter Fame" is my Plath biography of choice precisely because of its irreverent tone and vivid memoirs from those ill-inclined to help preserve Plath’s status as victimized woman and martyred poet. The portrait rendered by Stevenson (and Olwyn and Dido and everyone else who apparently despised her) is the most convincing to me because it most closely melds with the persona projected by Plath’s own work, at least as I interpret it. Coming to "Bitter Fame" for the first time was an experience of revelation. I find it puzzling that the depiction of Plath by Stevenson should be so offensive to so many, or so shocking. As I’ve pointed out before, Plath’s own journals more than lend support to Stevenson’s characterization. One poet friend of mine’s reaction to reading Plath’s journals was quite to the point; "I don’t like Plath anymore," she said. "She’s mean." Plath’s "meanness" blazes forth in her work, no matter how many citizen firepersons attempt to give it the hose.

I think many have a vested ideological interest in maintaining an image of a Plath that stands far apart from the real McCoy. The ludicrously villainous portraits of Ted Hughes are the natural result of the overcompensation necessary when one half of the story is kept hidden. The result of this tactic is that Hughes simply becomes more and more compelling while saintly Sylvia fades away like last week’s lilies. I think Stevenson gives Plath a much needed transfusion.

See Peter Davison’s memoir "The Fading Smile" for further anecdotal tales of a less than spotless Sivvy.

Stewart Clarke
New York, USA
Thursday, April 15, 1999

In the latest issue of Biography magazine (May 1999), there's a 4 or 5 page article about Plath. It's mostly all old news for most dedicated Plath readers. But I should say that the article was even-handed and avoided that tiresome Hughes-bashing. In fact, it acknowledged the controversy surrounding Hughes' editorial decisions and whatnot, and it seemed to me that the author simply reported the facts without taking sides. There are some nice photos, especially a full-page sized photo of Plath from the Cambridge years--the one that appears in part on the cover of the latest edition of the journals. But, as I said, there were no startling revelations or new information in this article, but for those who voraciously seek anything and everything to do with Plath (i.e. people like yours truly), this will probably be a nice addition to your collection.

Crescent Springs, KY, USA

I have a few brief comments regarding the careful vivisection of Anne Stevenson's "Bitter Fame" which has appeared among this month's posts. First of all, I'd strongly advise that AS's biography only be read in tandem with Janet Malcolm's "The Silent Woman," which clearly delineates all the obstacles and legal hindrances that Stevenson faced once confronted with the Hughes estate (specifically, Olwyn). Malcolm's text is essential to understanding and empathizing with Stevenson's less-than-enviable position as a biographer.

Having said that, I must confess that I am generally puzzled by the continued outcry-- however well-articulated it may be-- against "Bitter Fame." I concede with Elaine that it does little to place Plath in her "sociohistorical context" (a context which is as yet unnamed, so far as I can tell), but I do not for an instant believe that the events described within "BF" are inauthentic. I do believe that the vindictive and-- dare I say it?-- hysterical Plath was a force that those closest to her had to contend with, and if Stevenson sounds at all unsympathetic, we can be fairly certain that this is simply Olwyn's frustration filtering through the biographer's voice. At other times when Stevenson's tone is colored with recriminations-- when describing Plath's promiscuity and deceptiveness with men, for example-- I daresay the absence of sympathy (or empathy) is justified.

There are moments in "Bitter Fame" when the maliciousness borders on the absurd-- Dido Merwin's "Vessel of Wrath" appendix is a much-cited example-- but I do not doubt that Mrs. Merwin perceived Plath in just this way, and from that standpoint I think it's an invaluable, vivid perspective-- refreshing, even, in light of some of the rose-tinted pap that Plath has inspired over the last couple of decades.

This is strictly my opinion, and I'd be most interested to hear others.

Jan Watson Collins
New York City, USA
Wednesday, April 14, 1999

I was wondering if anyone has seen a photograph or knows where one might find a photograph of Ted Hughes's deceased second wife. I think his poem about her in "The Birthday Letters" is one of the most remarkable in the entire volume.

Jan Watson Collins
New York City, USA
Wednesday, April 14, 1999

Hecate's Cave....ditto, what he said, what ?Demi Tass? said. Is someone being someone else? The play was difficult, though, in a strange way, I stayed awake and alert for the whole of it, fighting the two pints I had previously to make it more subtle.

I guess I can be considered a Plath purist. I wanted the story told the way it happened, or they way we've been told it happened. The words "inspired by Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes" still mean to me 'resemblence.' As Mr Stewart Clarke and Ms Demi Tass have pointed out, it was hard to make out anything regarding the play.

Several years ago I witnessed a play in Washington's Woolly Mammoth called "The Pyshich Life of Savages" by a more talented Amy Freed. This was another one of those plays "inspired" by the Confessional Poets. In this play were Plath (Sylvia Fluellen), Hughes (Ted Magus), Sexton (Anne Bittenhand), Lowell (Dr. Robert Stoner) & the voice of Emily Dickinson.

At any rate, the stage was simple, the actors off the mark a bit. It was the final dress rehersal and so we weren't made to pay! The two acts went from Cambridge 1955 to Devon 1962-62. The character development was as flat as imagery Plath used to convey an unpregnant women!

Where the play went wrong, beyond it's conception, is hard to tell. I had a run in with Delia before the play skipping from the loo to my seat. She was breathing and doing windmill stretching exercises. She had it all wrong and very well could have pulled a muscle in her upper back. I question along with Stewart, the creation of a play 'inspired' by & clearly stolen from a real life tragedy and the use of an actual photograph of Plath & Hughes on the playbill/postcard. Did the author think of contacting the estate for permission or was the perverted idea so awful that being ashamed made her write in different names and sewer poetry?

The only redeeming line to me about the play was spoken poorly. When a dried up Nial (middle name, first initial D.), at best a Grub Street writer without the poetry of Delia's hypnotic goblin, shouts to who knows who, "It's not about my poetry. It's not about your poetry. It's about poetry!" The lines are good, maybe the best that could have been spoken in this play. But I left the theatre and stepped amongst friends into a drizzling NY night, the sky lowering to the streets, not moved at all; wondering, where was the poetry?

Peter Steinberg
Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Wednesday, April 14, 1999

Well done, Elaine! I haven't read a more comprehensive and convincing description of the flaws in Stevenson's "Bitter Fame" than your reply to James.

In my own dealings with Olwyn, which were related to my article on "Berck-Plage," I was struck by her doctinaire approach to interpretation of the poem, as if she were pressuring me to interpret it her way. A similar "influence" seems to have "guided" Anne Stevenson, I would assume.

Jack Folsom
Sharon, Vermont, USA
Tuesday, April 13, 1999

I saw "Hectate's Cave". You don't need to. It's the sort of play that falls into the sub-genre of "Therapy Theater" - the sort of work written to heal the author's psyche at the audience's expense. (You can hear the author saying to friends, "Art is cathartic!") I wouldn't say Plath and/or Hughes fans need to worry; beyond the factual inspiration, there is no substantial correspondence between the characters and their real-life counterparts. What motivates the play and, to a lesser degree, the characters, is envy - envy of Plath & Hughes' talents, envy of Plath & Hughes' fame, and envy of Plath & Hughes' tragic relationship. The author has gone through an awful experience, but is incapable of translating that experience into the Plath-Hughes relationship with emotional authenticity or intellectual clarity.

2 more things:
1) Natasha's accent was so thick, I was impatiently waiting for her to say, "First wee kill Cordelia, and then Squirrel and Moose".
2) The waiter was outstanding.

Demi Tass
Washington DC, USA
Tuesday, April 13, 1999

Last night, trusty Forum fact finder Peter Steinberg, his innocent bystander of a friend, Charlie (who will undoubtedly never crack the cover of a Plath book again in his life), the intrepid Michael McGraw and I descended en masse upon Susan Tammanys Hecate's Cave at the Wings Theater here in glorious Gotham. Subtitled "A play inspired by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes", a more accurate description of Hecate's Cave might have read, The sexually paranoid ravings of a card carrying, Hughes-bashing Plath freak. In her portrayal of the Plath-Hughes marriage, Ms. Tammany has composed a delusional fantasia that resembles nothing so much as a cross between the Ingrid Bergman melodrama "Gaslight" and Marlowe's "The Jew of Malta".

Hecate's Cave concerns Delia, an irrepressible young American poet studying at Cambridge. With her corn-fed, almost Midwestern style of giggly exuberance, Delia might presumeably burst out like Mary Martin with a chorus of "I'm Just a Cockeyed Optimist" at the drop of a hat were it not for the terrible secret in her past (just take a guess). (I omit the names of the poor actors, for whom my heart bleeds, and for whom my dearest wish is that each of them gets a real show tomorrow so they can drop out). Poor, promising Delia falls in love with Nial, an oily, charming literary Machiavel who excels in trance, hypnosis, and forcing the spirits of the underworld to procure him book awards. The Marlovian Nial exudes a diabolical sexual charisma lost upon the audience but not upon Delia, who expresses her sexual thralldom by sticking her tongue out of one side of her mouth like Lily Tomlins Edith Ann and gushing, wide-eyed, Come to me, Wolf!

Marriage and mayhem ensue. No time is lost before Nial has Delia on a regular regimen of hypno-therapy in which she relives her suicide attempt (culminating with her mystical encounter with the Goblin) while Nial, ever mindful of the competition, frantically scribbles down Delias trance images to steal for his own poetry (much is made of volcanic magma and the phrase Hecate's Cave; and was it my imagination, or did the word clitoris pop up at certain high-pitched moments?). Being a succubus is not easy suspicious when the details of her unconscious begin to crop up in Nial's published works, Delia stalwartly refuses to be his hypno-subject any longer, even when the evil Nial threatens to murder their newborn daughter.

The marriage begins to flounder little bunnies start to turn up dead in traps, Nial beats Delia and wont let her write confessional verse, and presently he is making eyes at Natasha, the sultry Polish vamp who appears to make the plot thicken. Nial and Natasha tear off to the Continent to engage in illicit European love and, like most couples, begin to make plans for their future: Vat shall vee do about Delia? Natasha purrs. Shall vee kill her? Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, solemnly proclaims our playbill, but I must respectfully differ with Rilke. The beginning of terror actually occurs in Act Two of Hecate's Cave, at the moment in which one realizes where Ms. Tammany is leading us yes, Niles, shrouded in a heavy black coat rather like Darth Vader, uses hypnotic suggestion to bring about Delias gassy demise. Given the excerpts of her brilliant verse to which we've been subjected over the course of the evening, one wishes to help Delia get the gas started as she places her head inside the oven and drifts off into the ether reciting "Now I lay me down to sleep . . ."

One is left wondering what Ms. Tammany is up to. Is this parody? Absurdity piles upon absurdity, but the play is not the comic romp it may sound. In its deadly earnestness, Hecate's Cave resembles the bizarre enactment of some strange psychological fetish. It is depressing in the way that all bad theater is depressing it leaves one sitting incredulous, open-mouthed, gasping for oxygen. Afterward, we all agreed that we felt somehow violated. Changing the names but slapping the Hughes's wedding photo on the cover of the playbill, the author of this sickening spectacle ought to be ashamed of herself.

Stewart Clarke
New York, USA
Monday, April 12, 1999

I agree with James Williams that Stevenson does indeed write with flair. Indeed of all the biographies I’ve read on Plath hers is the best written by far - the others suffer from either academic turgidity or writing styles akin to Mills and Boone romances. On reflection, the very fact that Stevenson is such a talented writer and poet herself makes this biography even more flawed than I originally thought.

I think James, that you’re crediting Anne Stevenson with a “post-modern awareness” that she doesn’t have. In the Preface to her book (1989 hardback edition page xi) she actually states that: “This biography of Sylvia Plath has been written with a view to confronting some of the misunderstandings generated by her meteoric rise to fame, replacing them, as far as possible, with an objective account.”

Most readers, even those au fait with the literary theories developed in universities during the ‘80’s, come to biography with the expectation that they will be offered a work approaching the truth of the subject’s life. All writing necessarily involves an act of interpretation and maybe all writing in this genre is in some way fictive (Janet Malcolm’s “Silent Woman” is worth reading on this point) but this is not and should not be the same as fiction.

I feel that Stevenson’s puts a semi-fictional cast on Sylvia’s life which might be acceptable if she wasn’t claiming that she was writing objectively. And it is an interpretation which she didn’t really arrive at through her own work. This is Plath as seen by Ted’s sister Olwyn who Stevenson says herself, in her Author’s Note to the book, should have been credited as co-author.

I didn’t go into great detail in my book about my reasons behind describing “Bitter Fame” as seriously flawed because it was only intended as a general introduction to Plath’s work . But I’m willing to go into what I regard as some of the flaws here. Overall, I found a prevailing hostile tone pervading the work which often appeared through the language employed, disagreed with the interpretation put on numerous events of Plath’s life where even the relatively innocuous was often accorded an unpleasant motive and felt that Stevenson did not make a good enough attempt to place Plath in her socio-historical context, but tended at all times to see her as an interesting but fatally deranged person.

I have disliked some of the martyrology and hagiography which has developed around Plath. I doubt too whether she herself would have appreciated being primarily perceived as a victim. I’m sure that she was probably not the easiest person to be around or live with. How many creative geniuses are? But I feel that to write good biography one must have ideally some empathy or at least sympathy with one’s subject, a desire to understand what made them what they became or what inspired them.

There is very little plain human sympathy, much less empathy for Plath in “Bitter Fame”the whole book works from the premise that there was something mentally wrong with her from her earliest years. Stevenson tends to see most of the events of Sylvia’s life in terms of her individual psychology and assigns a pathological explanation to even fairly natural and common occurrences such as Sylvia’s early sibling rivalry with her brother Warren.

When the family moved and Sylvia was put into a different grade from the one she should have been in ( a fact I don’t remember reading in the other biographies) Stevenson immediately speculates that:

“Sylvia’s strangeness may have been a source of worry to her mother when the family moved.” (p 14)

As far as I’m aware, there is no evidence that Mrs. Plath considered her daughter “strange” at this age and Stevenson doesn’t advance any supporting information for this speculation. This seems yet another example of her attempt to imply that Sylvia suffered from intractable and inevitable psychological problems from a very early age.

Similarly, she gives great weight to Sylvia’s description of herself as having “ricocheted” (p 15) between extremes in her adolescence without any acknowledgement of the fact that such moodiness is common in the teenage years and that genius is rarely “normal” anyway.

Sylvia’s philosophical conjectures about the nature of existence, loneliness and the social distractions humanity has devised for avoiding its existential dilemma (quoted on p23) are such as any highly intellectual young person might indulge in, but this again is related in such a manner as to suggest imminent psychosis:

”Against these sunshine letters we have to see the moon side of Sylvia’s character, the side that went into her journals...... Indeed, the bright, optimistic persona she so often displayed seemed a willed stance to disguise her inner self......darkly expressed in her journals.” (p23)

Another example of subtle denigration occurs on page 41 when Stevenson, in talking about Plath’s “Mademoiselle” summer recounts the contents of a letter Sylvia had sent Aurelia about her meeting with a DJ, which was later included in a more detailed form in the “Bell Jar”:

“Either Sylvia expurgated the real story in this letter or the comparable scene with Lennie and Doreen in the novel is a brilliant fabrication.”

There is a twofold implied criticism here. Either Sylvia did not tell her mother the whole truth or the episode as it appears in the novel is a product of her imagination. Why be critical of either? Who would, especially in the 1950’s, give their mother the details of such a sordid sex scene? And being able to brilliantly fabricate is what novelists are supposed to do.

Sylvia’s motives for suggesting that her mother might move to England and live close to her are given purely selfish attributes when Stevenson writes:

“Clearly Sylvia, with her long-term future as a writer in mind, was angling for a babysitter as well as for a supportive mother (and typist) who would live close at hand.” (p248)

A more charitable interpretation might have focused on Sylvia’s concern for her mother’s well being after her retirement (Mrs. Plath had not had the best of health after her husband’s death), the desire to see more of her and the natural wish that her children might be able to develop as good a relationship with their grandmother as Sylvia had enjoyed with her grandparents. And many grandparents relish time spent with their grandchildren.

In a more subtle way Stevenson’s choice of vocabulary sets up connotations and reverberations of Plath’s supposed madness. For example, when she writes about the Plaths’ move after Otto’s death she describes him as being:

“dramatically a moonstruck glassed in compartment of Sylvia’s imagination” ( page12)

The use of the word “moonstruck” suggests some form of incipient lunacy in the young Sylvia.

Another example of words creating the image of a psychotic individual occurs later in the book when Stevenson describes the famous telephone incident. In a judgmental and hostile tone she writes that Sylvia “yanked off” (p.251) the telephone from the wall. In a similar vein she frequently uses the word “raved” whenever she writes about Sylvia’s conversations with friends in the months following Ted’s departure from Court Green.

The occasion which Elizabeth Sigmund (Compton) so has written about so movingly elsewhere, when a distraught Sylvia arrived at her house late at night is a further instance of the hostility underlying this account of Sylvia’s life. Most of the other biographers have captured the poignancy of this time in Sylvia’s life, a time when she must have been feeling desperate and vulnerable. Stevenson once again invokes the image of a madwoman, by employing the phrase: “drove wildly off to the Comptons” (p 251).

Although Stevenson makes a brief acknowledgement of the social background of the era in which Sylvia lived she goes on to largely ignore it as a factor in Plath’s development and judges her in a very individualistic way. In assessing Plath’s attraction to certain men she writes:

“Eddie Cohen, Richard Sassoon and Ted Hughes, all individualists with none of Sylvia’s need constantly to conform.” (p22)

In this analysis she is failing to acknowledge the different experiences of men and women in the 1950’s. There was pressure on all to conform but the burden was far greater on women who were dominated by the prevailing cultural ideal of the pretty, popular moron. Non-conformity is never easy but it is particularly difficult for someone who had gone through early emotional loss and felt as insecure as Sylvia did. A less hostile biographer might have accorded these factors more weight.

It is doubtless most unpostmodernist of me to still be concerned with the notion of the truth, but if it exists in Sylvia’s case it probably lies somewhere in between the tortured, innocent martyr and the torturing demon.

I hope this gives you some idea James of why I think this work is seriously flawed. In general it lacks balance and seeks as I said in my book, to present Plath as an overly demanding, rapacious woman living permanently on the edge of psychosis. I feel that it is Plath as viewed by the Hughes family and that it might have been more honest of them to write about Sylvia directly with either Olwyn’s or Ted’s name on the cover.

In fact when Ted did this some years later in “Birthday Letters” it was far more successful, moving and with a great sense of emotional truth. I wonder if the furore which “Bitter Fame” provoked, especially amongst many of Sylvia’s friends, was a factor in leading Hughes towards writing “Birthday Letters”?

In 1993, after I’d published my book, I met Anne Stevenson after a poetry reading, and had a brief conversation with her. I formed the impression that she regretted having written “Bitter Fame”, that she was somewhat unworldly and might have felt used by the Hughes’s. This admittedly subjective impression was later reinforced by Janet Malcolm’s assessment of her in “The Silent Woman”.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
Monday, April 12, 1999

I was just looking for and interpretation of Plath's, "Mirror". In need of desperate help.

Layne Clark
Columbia SC, USA
Monday, April 12, 1999

This is a query for Elaine Connell, really, since it refers quite specifically to her book, 'Killing the Angel'. I just recently got my lazy carcass round to re-reading Plath's work, with a casual view to a third-year dissertation on some related subject, and also read some criticism and biography, amongst which was EC's book, and Stevenson's biography 'Bitter Fame'. On page 39 of 'Killing the Angel in the House', Stevenson's biography is described as 'flawed in many respects...' 'Bitter Fame' strikes me as having certain shortcomings - a tendency toward an overtly narrative style which at times, perhaps, neglects details of setting, context and background in favour of the driving 'plot' of SP's life; also whilst Stevenson is conscious at every stage of Plath's psychological state, that psychology is at times over- simplified, (although I suspect broadly accurately). However, on balance A.S. writes biography with a certain flare - a postmodern awareness that biography is the art of constructing a fictional life, not recounting a factual one, just as Plath's poetry constructs a fictional self. Stevenson seems aware that whilst we can't reconstruct a life, we can re-enact the force and significance of that life, and in her choice of material she seems to me to show a broadly sensible and astute breadth.

Perhaps, Ms Connell, you could respond and let me know what major flaws there are which I'm missing in my reading - I'd be most grateful for your comments.

James Williams
Thursday, April 8, 1999

I am looking for criticism on the book the Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I am doing a report comparing Esther Green to J.D. Salinger's character Holden Caufield in The Catcher in the Rye. If anyone has any information on where I can get this information or you have sources I can contact, please e-mail me! Thanks

Baltimore, USA
Wednesday, April 7, 1999

To Peter Pal Toth-- The Magic Mirror was published in 1989 by a small press, The Embers Hand Press. There were only 200 printed for the public. They are all numbered & it is a very precious, very pretty book. You might try some Rare & Antiquarian online book searches as there are some out there for sale, waiting to find the arms of a loving, appreciative (slightly obsessed) Plath fan. I recommend I have heard other's use Bon chance!!

Peter Steinberg
Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Tuesday, April 6, 1999

Hi. Just a quick, rather bizarre question for everyone: I know that back in 1994 when Aurelia Plath died she was creamated, but does anyone know if her ashes are buried anywhere?? Like I said, bizarre, but I'm just curious. Thanks!!

Monday, April 5, 1999

Steve Gorrell
Urbana, IL, USA

It is so refreshing to be reminded of why I fell in love with Plath in the first place. As a student of American Literature and a teacher of High School Literarure, I often forget why I read poetry. Thank you for the words that got my mind going again. You have restored my faith.

Elsie Monroe
Stroudsburg PA, USA

To Peter Pal Toth -- SP's paper on Dostoevsky is on reserve at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. The paper, written in 1955, is entitled "The Magic Mirror: A Study of the Double in Two of Dostoevsky's Novels." The original typescript manuscript is housed there, along with Plath's preparatory notes, and notecards that she used to organize the paper as she wrote it. Since you do not live in the US, perhaps someone can refer you to a published copy of that work -- I am not sure if one exists, but if someone else does, I'm sure they'll advise you. I plan to visit the Lilly again in early May, and would be happy to look up something specific for you if you like. If so, e-mail me and let me know what you are looking for.

Carol Petrone
Southfield, MI, USA
Monday, April 5, 1999

I'd like to ask a question which is important me to understand Plath's thought on ambiguity of being. Who knows about something Sylvia Plath's paper (or dissertation) on Dostoyevski? Has it been published anytime, or how can I find it, or something about it?

Peter Pal Toth
Miskolc, Hungary
Saturday, April 3, 1999

I have been searching for information about Sylvia Plaths poem "Mirror". If anyone has any knowledge of it please e-mail me. I would also be interested in knowing more about Ted Hughes and Anne Sexton.

Denise Williamson
Bentonville, USA
Saturday, April 3, 1999

Has anyone read the book on Sylvia Plath written by Elisabeth Bronfen, a professor of English at the University of Zurich? A found it in a London bookstore last week. It's a title in a new British series called 'Writers and Their Work', and was published in 1998.

The book has its problems for the reader. It's weighted down with a lot of twisted prose and academic jargon. In this regard, Bronfen is a spiritual sister to Jacqueline Rose. Good grief. Do all English professors write like this? Also, Bronfen treats Sylvia as seriously damaged goods in the mental department. According to her, Plath displayed all of the characteristics of a classic 'hysteric.' Oh, well, nobody's perfect.

However, overall, I enjoyed the book, and think it makes a good contribution to the Plath debate. I particularly like the way she disputes Ted Hughes's 'wasted products' interpretation (with an interesting twist), and gives serious consideration to all of Sylvia Plath's output. This includes the letters to her mother which she believes acted as a corrective to the ambivalence of the journals. According to the author, Plath was able to fantasize that she was the competent, all-together person depicted in the letters, and not the troubled person she was forever picking apart in the journals--or something like this. Looked at this way, being forced to drop the pose at the end of her life was not a step towards unveiling her 'real self', whatever that means, but the slipping away, or at least weakening, of another lifeline.

It's a slim volume, but covers a lot of ground, including comments on Birthday Letters, and a long chapter on The Plath Myth. Worth tracking down.

Paul Snyder
New York City, USA
Friday, April 2, 1999

The cassette is a mixture of old and new. Side A: November Graveyard, Black Rook in Rainy Weather, Sow, On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad, On the Plethora of Dryads, All the Dead Dears, On the Decline of Oracles, Persues: The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering, Battle-Scene, Departure of the Ghost ( The Ghost's Leavetaking), Full Fathom Five, Lorelei. Side B: Point Shirley, Ariel, The Applicant, Lady Lazarus, Nick and the Candlestick, Purdah, A Birthday Present, Daddy, Fever 103.

As you can see, some of these poems have never been released to the Public before, and some have. Some poems take different shape in the Collected Poems than when they are here, read. There is an essay by J.D. McClatchy and the cassette is accompanied by a book (with the essay) and the poems (as they appear in the Collected Poems).

The book contains a "Books about" sections, featuring two out of print books, The Art of Sylvia Plath by Charles Newman and Chapters in a Mythology by Judith Kroll. Both can be found online. I recommend bibliofind at They specialize in out of print, rare and antiquarian titles.

There are a few photographs included and a few passages talking about particular poems taken from an Interview with Plath, a Letter and an essay.. All poems are dated (by year only). The book and box the tape come in are graced with Plath's signature. The series is The Voice of the Poet and included are James Merrill and WH Auden.

Scheduled for publication within a year is Sylvia Plath Reading Her Poems, or something like that. This is the reading, I am fairly certain, that she recorded in October 1962 for the BBC, with the Interview by Peter Orr.

(In short Hughes news, his children's story, The Iron Giant is slated for bookstores in late May or June. Birthday Letters is now in paperback in both the US & the UK. The cover is unfortunately the same in the US, but is different in the UK). His Tales from Ovid is finally in paperback in the US.)

Peter Steinberg
Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Thursday, April 1, 1999

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This forum is administered by Elaine Connell, author of Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House - second edition with new preface just out, December 1998. Elaine lives in Hebden Bridge, near where Sylvia Plath is buried and where Ted Hughes was born. Web Design by Pennine Pens. This forum is moderated - contributions which are inappropriate, anonymous or likely to offend may be edited or omitted.