Three-martini afternoons at the Ritz The rebellion of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton

Gail Crowther

Book - 2021

"A dual biography of poets, friends, and rivals Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton"--

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

BIOGRAPHY/Plath, Sylvia
1 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor BIOGRAPHY/Plath, Sylvia Checked In
New York : Gallery Books 2021.
Main Author
Gail Crowther (author)
First Gallery Books hardcover edition
Physical Description
xix, 280 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 273-280).
  • Introduction Kicking at the Door of Fame
  • Chapter 1. Rebels
  • Chapter 2. Early Days
  • Chapter 3. Sex
  • Chapter 4. Marriage
  • Chapter 5. Mothering
  • Chapter 6. Writing
  • Chapter 7. Mental Illness
  • Chapter 8. Suicide
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Crowther (The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath) places poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton side by side in this solid study that illuminates two "hugely ambitious women in a cultural moment that did not know how to deal with ambitious women." The poets met in 1959 in a workshop offered by Robert Lowell at Boston University and, though rivals, they admired each other's work. Both were unabashed about sex at a time of strict social mores, had tumultuous marriages, juggled child care and their writing careers, and died by suicide. Crowther also details their differences: while in class "Sexton was often late, all breezy and open, jangling with jewelry," Plath "was mostly silent and often turned up early"; Sexton was not private with her writing, while Plath "definitely was." Despite her excellent research, Crowther's style is sometimes distracting (After Plath discovered her husband was having an affair, the author writes, "It feels like she would have benefited from Sexton's support," as she "likely would have done Plath's hair and makeup and dragged her out to drink too much"). Nevertheless, this insightful account is a slick addition to the body of work on these two influential poets. Agent: Carrie Kania, Conville & Walsh. (Apr.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

That two among the 20th century's most influential poets grew up in the same town at the same time and ended up sharing a poetry workshop under a third, Robert Lowell, seems almost unbelievable. And yet here they are, two towering figures of modern American poetry: Sylvia Plath (1932--63) and Anne Sexton (1928--74), not only living strangely parallel lives, but also struggling with depression, societal expectations, gender roles, and--sadly--similar ends: suicide. In this compelling and extremely informative dual biography, feminist scholar Crowther (coauthor, Sylvia Plath in Devon) explores the sometimes-strained relations between these two writers and the forces that drove them. The focus is less on literary analysis than psychological and societal influences. Nevertheless, it is a thrilling read. Crowther skillfully walks readers through those inebriating early years when Plath and Sexton met as nervous young poets through their blossoming into major literary figures and into the darkness of their struggles with difficult marriages and depression. Offering a powerful and disturbing look into the forces that drive us to creativity and to our own destruction, with all its details of infidelities and hardships, cigarettes, and sorrows, this book leaves readers hungering for more of what these two literary comets burned with: the power of a little poetry. VERDICT Deliriously fast-paced and erudite, this is highly recommended for all literature, poetry, and women's studies collections.--Herman Sutter, St. Agnes Acad., Houston

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An unlikely friendship illuminates each poet's life. In the spring of 1959, Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) and Anne Sexton (1928-1974) were both students in a Boston University poetry writing workshop led by Robert Lowell. After class, along with classmate George Starbuck--Sexton's lover at the time--they would repair to the bar at the tony Ritz-Carlton, overlooking the Public Garden, to drink martinis and talk. "Family, poetry, husbands, sex, and Boston gossip in general were all fascinating topics," as were therapy and the women's attempts at suicide--"the center bolt of the relationship, the death connection." After Plath returned to England in late 1959, their friendship played out in letters that reveal rivalry, respect, and growing admiration. Drawing on biographies, published letters and journals, and archival sources, Crowther, author or co-author of three previous books on Plath, uses their meetings at the Ritz as a springboard for a sympathetic recounting of the poets' lives, underscoring their struggles against prevailing images of womanhood. Although in appearance and personality the two were quite different--Plath, "neat and self-contained," Sexton, "wilder and more flamboyant"--Crowther sees commonalities in their efforts to escape "the cultural and historical messages they had absorbed" about women's aspirations and behavior. Both, for example, tried to reconcile their creative drive and ambition with motherhood. Plath, a friend recalled, "desperately wanted to be a mother but was terrified it would get in the way of her poetry." Sexton, who was bipolar, plummeted into recurring depressions after her daughters were born. Crowther laments that "Plath and Sexton are portrayed as crazy, suicidal women, an attitude that impressively manages to sweep up sexism and stigma toward mental illness and suicide in one powerful ball of dismissal." As a corrective, she shows them as "so ahead of their time," with their works and the examples of their lives contributing still to "the long slow struggle that is social change." A perceptive dual biography. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.