The last days of Sylvia Plath

Carl E. Rollyson

Book - 2020

"In her last days, Sylvia Plath struggled to break out from the control of the towering figure of her husband Ted Hughes. In the antique mythology of his retinue, she had become the gorgon threatening to bring down the House of Hughes. Drawing on recently available court records, archives, and interviews, and reevaluating the memoirs of the formidable Hughes contingent who treated Plath as a female hysteric, Carl Rollyson rehabilitates the image of a woman too often viewed solely within the... confines of what Hughes and his collaborators wanted to be written. Rollyson is the first biographer to gain access to the papers of Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse at Smith College, a key figure in the poet's final days. Barnhouse was a therapist who may have been the only person to whom Plath believed she could reveal her whole self. Barnhouse went beyond the protocols of her profession, serving more as Plath's ally, seeking a way out of the imprisoning charisma of Ted Hughes and friends he counted on to support a regime of antipathy against her. The Last Days of Sylvia Plath focuses on the train of events that plagued Plath's last seven months when she tried to recover her own life in the midst of Hughes's alternating threats and reassurances. In a siege-like atmosphere a tormented Plath continued to write, reach out to friends, and care for her two children. Why Barnhouse seemed, in Hughes's malign view, his wife's undoing, and how biographers, Hughes, and his cohort parsed the events that led to the poet's death, form the charged and contentious story this book has to tell"--

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BIOGRAPHY/Plath, Sylvia
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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
Jackson : University Press of Mississippi [2020]
Language
English
Physical Description
xvi, 235 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9781496821225
149682122X
Main Author
Carl E. Rollyson (author)
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Chronology
  • Narrative
  • A counterfactual history
  • Sources and acknowledgments
  • Index.
Review by Choice Reviews

The Last Days of Sylvia Plath is a problematic book in several regards and adds little to the scholarship about the poet. To begin with, the title is misleading as the book focuses relatively little on Plath's last days. In addition, the title is borrowed from the subtitle of a 2003 book on Plath (Jillian Becker's Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Path). Rollyson (emer., Baruch College, CUNY) is not an even-handed scholar, instead making blatant his intense dislike for Ted Hughes and his "retinue"; very little nuance or analysis graces the text. The tone, and often the content, are ripped from gossip columns and carry the attendant whiff of prurience. The author excuses his rambling, often stream-of-consciousness style in his introduction: "The purpose of my digressions and disruptions is to come at the same events and issues from different angles, flashing backward and forward" (p. xi). The impact of this on readers is confusion and then frustration. Rollyson indulges too often in speculation, and he includes weird personal anecdotes as if these confirm Plath's experiences. Finally, the author provides woefully inadequate documentation for his sources. He does not include page numbers for quotations or required information for location of documents in archives. Summing Up: Not recommended.--E. R. Baer, Gustavus Adolphus CollegeElizabeth R. BaerGustavus Adolphus College Elizabeth R. Baer Choice Reviews 58:10 June 2021 Copyright 2021 American Library Association.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"In her last days, Sylvia Plath struggled to break out from the control of the towering figure of her husband Ted Hughes. In the antique mythology of his retinue, she had become the gorgon threatening to bring down the House of Hughes. Drawing on recently available court records, archives, and interviews, and reevaluating the memoirs of the formidable Hughes contingent who treated Plath as a female hysteric, Carl Rollyson rehabilitates the image of a woman too often viewed solely within the confines of what Hughes and his collaborators wanted to be written. Rollyson is the first biographer to gain access to the papers of Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse at Smith College, a key figure in the poet's final days. Barnhouse was a therapist who may have been the only person to whom Plath believed she could reveal her whole self. Barnhouse went beyond the protocols of her profession, serving more as Plath's ally, seeking a way out of the imprisoning charisma of Ted Hughes and friends he counted on to support a regime of antipathy against her. The Last Days of Sylvia Plath focuses on the train of events that plagued Plath's last seven months when she tried to recover her own life in the midst of Hughes's alternating threats and reassurances. In a siege-like atmosphere a tormented Plath continued to write, reach out to friends, and care for her two children. Why Barnhouse seemed, in Hughes's malign view, his wife's undoing, and how biographers, Hughes, and his cohort parsed the events that led to the poet's death, form thecharged and contentious story this book has to tell"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"A new, vivid account of the final months of the esteemed writer's life"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A new, vivid account of the final months of the esteemed writer’s life

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A new, vivid account of the final months of the esteemed writer's life