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Sally Bayley traces Plath’s emerging relationship to her journal persona and creed. Bayley focuses on the intense period of Plath’s late teenage years and early adulthood, including the beginnings of university education. She also reveals the importance of the diarists Plath read to Plath’s own journal activities and larger poetic practices. Of special importance is Virginia Woolf, and Bayley helps us to see afresh Plath’s off-quoted exhilaration at Woolf’s reference to cooking haddock and sausages, which says more about Plath herself than it does the subject of her comments. Bayley shows us how Plath’s ideas about the ‘melting’, emerging self, move from the journals and into poems such as ‘Ariel’ and ‘Lady Lazarus’.
Interest in Sylvia Plath continues to grow, as does the mythic status of her relationship with Ted Hughes, but Plath is a poet of enduring power in her own right. This book explores the many layers of her often unreliable and complex representations and the difficult relationship between the reader and her texts. The volume evaluates the historical, familial and cultural sources which Plath drew upon for material: from family photographs, letters and personal history to contemporary literary and cinematic holocaust texts. It examines Plath's creative processes: what she does with materials ranging from Romantic paintings to women's magazine fiction, how she transforms these in multiple drafts and the tools she uses to do this, including her use of colour. Finally the book investigates specific instances when Plath herself becomes the subject matter for other artists, writers, film makers and biographers.
In a sentence excised from her 1963 novel The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s heroine, Esther Greenwood, confesses to the unreliability of representation, even when it appears to arise from first-hand testimony: ‘I never told anybody my life story, though, or if I did, I made up a whopper.’ Esther warns against any easy acceptance of truthfulness. It is a caution that readers of all kinds of supposed representations of Plath would do well to heed.
Representing Sylvia Plath re-evaluates Plath’s body of work, adding to a growing movement in Plath studies that is suspicious of an older but still lingering school of Plath criticism that sees her as a ‘confessional’ writer. The topics and contributors to this volume have been selected to reflect a range of new developments in Plath Studies. All explore Plath’s own paradoxical notions of self-presentation. The essays share an interest in what Plath’s many poetic speakers hide, veil, and leave out, as well as what they say directly.
In the writing universe of Sylvia Plath, landscapes wield an almost incantatory power. Drawn in particular to the form of the tree, Plath adopted trees as the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich did: as an emblem of the solitary subject hovering on the edge of a sublime encounter. In Plath’s particular mythos, trees figure as aspects of the mind: ‘The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue’, as she put it in ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ (1961). These are poems that suggest a search for mental structure and compositional form, a process akin to what the speaker in ‘Stars Over the Dordogne’ (1961) describes as watching stars fall into a ‘twiggy | Picket of trees’. What forms and capacities are hidden within this dark picket, the speaker asks? And what is their relation to the world? How does the night sky that crowns the poem’s larger composition reflect what lies within the human mind? Like Kant, whose work she encountered as an undergraduate at Smith college, the speaker of ‘Stars Over the Dordogne’ looks into the night sky and ponders infinity. What can the mind see and hold in place? and what remains invisible, unknowable? asks the speaker, like the German idealist philosopher before her.
The inspiration for creating a short mixed-media film entitled The Girl Who Would Be God was found in Sylvia Plath’s diary entry of 13 November 1949. Her vivid descriptions of her domestic environment, and in particular the self-conscious sense of her emerging adult identity on the threshold between childhood and womanhood, seemed to contain an intrinsically filmic narrative: an immediate sense of mise en scène with a strong protagonist. The passage overflows with a sense of Plath’s emerging being; a young ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ debutante, full to the brim with self, blissful in her middle teenage years and wanting to retain this.
Plath’s adolescent narrative constructs the figure of a girl who is self-consciously writing in her room. It describes her view of the autumnal landscape framing an idyllic house (Fig. 2). In the background as she types are reminders of her recent romantic memories; these include the images of boyfriends that she has pinned up on her wall and a cardboard theatre that sits on her desk (Fig. 3). Casting herself as the protagonist in her own self-devised drama, the adolescent Plath is sentimental about her ebbing childhood and fearful of the future, including the possibility of marriage; at the same time she mines the power of her own enormous creative and intellectual potential.