SYLVIA PLATH: Method and Madness by Edward Butscher

SYLVIA PLATH: Method and Madness

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KIRKUS REVIEW

One cannot say that Mr. Butscher, who teaches at a New York high school, has not applied himself in this combination biography/ex-e-ge-sis of Sylvia Plath via all the sources he could use or contact (primarily A. Alvarez, Peter Davison, teachers and her patron). Or forget that it is the first complete book on Sylvia, however winterkilling to both the legend and the talent. It seems wanton in a short space to review the facts of her life and death, already so well-known, except for the conjecture (Alvarez') behind the final act. Butscher likes to examine everything: he also overexamines and overinterprets much, including a childhood poem ""Hear the crickets chirping/ In the dewy grass./ Bright little fireflies/ Twinkle as they pass."" The rationale of this little twinkle-twinkle becomes ""pure escapism. . . [proving] a discontented drive toward harmony."" Freudianly, and perhaps rightly, Butscher sees Sylvia's ""Daddy"" as her lifelong Electra obsession; more rightly (now that the letters have become available to us, not to him) mother Aurelia is seen as a ""pusher"" whom Sylvia handled with ""affected compatibility"" while keeping the lady at a considerable distance from what really mattered to Sylvia. In the beginning autodidact Butscher seems neither to like nor admire her, the ""creaking sham,"" the ""self-conscious arrogance,"" the abiding narcissism which was of course the wellspring of her work--that work which was to be her ""personal salvation"" until Ted Hughes becomes her ""final salvation"" some pages later--only it didn't work out that way. The infidelity was not only an unforgivable affront but violated her very genuine sense of monogamous marriage: ""Ted has become a little man. It isn't what he's done, it's that he lied."" At the end Butscher states that ""the final irony,"" in ""a career dedicated to literary irony"" (was it? what does that mean anyway?) was her posthumous critical and commercial success; a paragraph later the ""final irony"" becomes Ted's decision to bury her in the family plot. Before that there has been both careless and bad writing which Sylvia doesn't deserve: ""her splitting personality yanked at her from both sides"" or ""her borning poetic voice."" Surely there will be a better (already borning?) summation to come.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1975
ISBN: 0971059829
Publisher: Seabury