The life and work of Sylvia Plath has taken on the proportions of myth. Educated at Smith, she had an epically conflict-filled relationship with her mother, Aurelia. She then married the poet Ted Hughes and plunged into the Sturm und Drang of married life in the full glare of the world of English and American letters. Her poems were fought over, rejected, accepted and, ultimately, embraced by readers everywhere. Dead at 30, she committed suicide by putting her head in an oven while her children slept.
Her poetry collection entitled Ariel became a modern classic. Her novel The Bell Jar has a fixed place on student reading lists.
American Isis is the first Plath biography benefiting from the new Ted Hughes archive at the British Library, which includes 41 letters between Plath and Hughes as well as a host of unpublished papers.
The Sylvia Plath that Carl Rollyson brings to us in American Isis is no shrinking violet overshadowed by Ted Hughes; she is a modern-day Isis, a powerful force that embraced high and low culture to establish herself in the literary firmament.
"The figure that emerges from Rollyson's study is certainly compelling, and very much a woman of her moment and culture." (Publishers Weekly)
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Sylvia Plath/ Marilyn Monroe, spot the difference!
The biography I considered buying before choosing this one
While the later chapters of the book were well researched, the author's claim to avoid the boilerplate of previous biographies made the book seem disjointed and anecdotal. Rollyson also sensationalises Plath, seeming to argue that her decision to commit suicide was a shrewd career move. But the thing that drove me absolutely crazy, and which I can't believe an editor didn't pull him up on, is the constant, forced comparison to Marilyn Monroe, just because he also wrote a biography of the actress. By the fifth section beginning 'Like Marilyn Monroe....' I was seething. It was like bad undergraduate work - 'And now I'm going to draw a vague and unaccountable comparison with this other thing I know something about'. Grrrr...