Friday, February 8, 2013

A New Look at the Plath Legend: An American Isis by Carl Rollyson

As the first biography since the Ted Hughes files were made available, this is an important book for those interested in Plath, the person or the poetess. The book presents a new version of some of the perplexing incidents in the Plath legend. I've read several biographies and the diaries, but this is the first book that made me understand how driven she was. The world of the 1950s is brought to life giving a good backdrop for Plath's struggle for acclaim. The author manages this by giving data on her work and life rather than trying to psychoanalyze her. That said, the book had some things that turned me off.

My major irritation was the author's constant comparison of Plath to Marilyn Monroe. This seemed quite a stretch. The women didn't know each other. The solid data point is a dream Plath had where she conversed with Monroe. I appreciate that the author may have seen the likeness because he had also done a biography of Monroe. However, the reader was left questioning why these facile comparisons made it into the book.

The final chapters were probably the most illuminating. Several biographers have said that Plath met with a man the weekend before she died. Now it turns out that the man was Ted Hughes. This makes perfect sense. It seems to be another place where their understanding of each other wasn't accurate enough for Hughes to know that Plath need medical intervention.

I also enjoyed the appendices by people like Elizabeth Compton who hadn't spoken before. Her interview gave weight to the understanding of what occurred at Green Court.

I recommend this book if you're interested in Plath, particularly if you can overlook the Monroe references. I thought it was a reasonable, balanced approach and did provide new information to the general reader.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.