An engrossing new biography of Sylvia Plath that focuses on her remarkable literary and intellectual growth and achievement, restoring the vivid creative woman behind the long-held myths perpetuated by a pathology-based approach to her life and art.
With a wealth of never-before-accessed materials, Heather Clark 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 in the early 1950s. 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 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.