Red comet The short life and blazing art of Sylvia Plath

Heather L. Clark

Book - 2020

"An engrossing new biography of Sylvia Plath focuses on her remarkable literary and intellectual growth and achievement, restoring the vivid creative woman behind the longtime Plath myths perpetuated by a pathology-based approach to her life and art. With a wealth of never-before-accessed materials, Heather Clark here brings to life the brilliant daughter of Wellesley, MA who had poetic ambition from a very young age, and was an accomplished, published writer of poems and stories before she... became the star English student at Smith College. Determined not to read Plath's work as if her every act, from childhood on, was a harbinger of her tragic fate, Clark presents new materials about Plath's scientist father, her juvenile writings, and her psychiatric treatment, and evokes a culture in transition in the mid-twentieth century, in the shadow of the atom bomb and the Holocaust, as she explores Sylvia's world: her early relationships and determination not to become a conventional woman and wife; her conflicted ties to her well-meaning, widowed mother; her troubles at the hands of an unenlightened mental health industry; her Cambridge years and thunderclap meeting with Ted Hughes, a marriage of true minds that would change the course of poetry in English; and much more. Clark's clear-eyed sympathy for Hughes, his lover Assia Wevill, and other demonized players in the arena of Plath's suicide promotes a deeper understanding of her final days, with their outpouring of first-rate poems. Along with illuminating readings of the poems themselves, Clark's meticulous, compassionate research brings us closer than ever to the spirited woman and visionary artist who blazed a trail that still lights the way for women poets the world over"--

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BIOGRAPHY/Plath, Sylvia
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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2020.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Item Description
"A Borzoi Book"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
xxix, 1118 pages, 32 unnumbered leaves of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 943-1072) and index.
ISBN
9780307961167
0307961168
Main Author
Heather L. Clark (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Sylvia Plath is a writer who generates deep cultural ambivalence: readers recognize the genius of the writing while also letting the details of Plath's life overdetermine and discolor the work. In her exhaustive new biography, Clark starts from scratch in defining Plath, carefully separating the popular myth of an unstable and overdramatic prodigy from the real Sylvia: troubled, yes, but also joyful in her reading, ruthlessly self-critical, and blazingly ambitious. Clark had access to material never before incorporated into a Plath biography, including letters and psychiatric records. This material not only fleshes out Plath herself, it also refocuses characters from the Plath-Hughes mythos, in particular Sylvia's mother, whose own memoir provides counterpoint to the fictional mother in Sylvia's novel, The Bell Jar, which has come to (mis)represent Plath's young adulthood. This additional material also prompts fresh readings of the poems, which makes the late work especially moving. In her introduction, Maggie Nelson writes, "To be called the Sylvia Plath of anything is a bad thing." Red Comet has the authority and insight to permanently correct that sentiment. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

A former Visiting Scholar at the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, Clark (The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes) draws on new material, including unpublished letters and manuscripts; court, police, and psychiatric records; and fresh interviews, to offer an accessible reading of Plath's life and work. Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Clark (The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes) offers a page-turning, meticulously researched biography of Sylvia Plath. Informed by never-before-accessed documents, Clark builds a narrative that gathers full force starting with Plath's ill-fated Mademoiselle internship at age 20, and continues through her career as an acclaimed poet, her marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes, and her suicide at age 30. Clarke highlights bestselling author Olive Higgins Prouty as a generous source of emotional and financial support throughout Plath's life, while casting doubts on the helpfulness of Ruth Barnhouse, Plath's close friend and her psychiatrist during the 1953 stay in a psychiatric ward that inspired her novel The Bell Jar. However, Clark places the greatest emphasis on the Hughes-Plath marriage, depicting it as a creatively charged and ultimately destructive partnership, in which Hughes's moments of gentleness and supportiveness existed alongside rage and abuse. Finally, Clark provides a new and convincing theory that Plath's suicide came about not impulsively, but in response to the possibility that she would again have to undergo the traumatic process of institutionalization. Clark's in-depth scholarship and fine writing result in a superb work that will deliver fresh revelations to Plath's many devoted fans. (Oct.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"An engrossing new biography of Sylvia Plath focuses on her remarkable literary and intellectual growth and achievement, restoring the vivid creative woman behind the longtime Plath myths perpetuated by a pathology-based approach to her life and art. With a wealth of never-before-accessed materials, Heather Clark here brings to life the brilliant daughter of Wellesley, MA who had poetic ambition from a very young age, and was an accomplished, published writer of poems and stories before she became the star English student at Smith College. Determined not to read Plath's work as if her every act, from childhood on, was a harbinger of her tragic fate, Clark presents new materials about Plath's scientist father, her juvenile writings, and her psychiatric treatment, and evokes a culture in transition in the mid-twentieth century, in the shadow of the atom bomb and the Holocaust, as she explores Sylvia's world: her early relationships and determination not to become a conventional woman and wife; her conflicted ties to her well-meaning, widowed mother; her troubles at the hands of an unenlightened mental health industry; her Cambridge years and thunderclap meeting with Ted Hughes, a marriage of true minds that would change the course of poetry in English; andmuch more. Clark's clear-eyed sympathy for Hughes, his lover Assia Wevill, and other demonized players in the arena of Plath's suicide promotes a deeper understanding of her final days, with their outpouring of first-rate poems. Along with illuminating readings of the poems themselves, Clark's meticulous, compassionate research brings us closer than ever to the spirited woman and visionary artist who blazed a trail that still lights the way for women poets the world over"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Focuses on Sylvia Plath's remarkable literary and intellectual achievements, while restoring the woman behind the long-held myths about her life and art. Illustrations.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • The highly anticipated biography of Sylvia Plath that focuses on her remarkable literary and intellectual achievements, while restoring the woman behind the long-held myths about her life and art.“One of the most beautiful biographies I've ever read." —Glennon Doyle, author of #1 New York Times Bestseller, UntamedWith a wealth of never-before-accessed materials, Heather Clark brings to life the brilliant Sylvia Plath, who had precocious poetic ambition and was an accomplished published writer even before she became a star at Smith College. Refusing to read Plath’s work as if her every act was a harbinger of her tragic fate, Clark considers the sociopolitical context as she thoroughly explores Plath’s world: her early relationships and determination not to become a conventional woman and wife; her troubles with an unenlightened mental health industry; her Cambridge years and thunderclap meeting with Ted Hughes; and much more.Clark’s clear-eyed portraits of Hughes, his lover Assia Wevill, and other demonized players in the arena of Plath’s suicide promote a deeper understanding of her final days. Along with illuminating readings of the poems themselves, Clark’s meticulous, compassionate research brings us closer than ever to the spirited woman and visionary artist who blazed a trail that still lights the way for women poets the world over.