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by Ronald Hayman

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 1-55972-068-9
Publisher: Birch Lane Press

 Among the best Plath psychocritical investigations, by the author of Proust (1990), Brecht (1985), Kafka (1981), Nietzsche (1980), etc. Not a full-bodied life of Plath, Hayman's is a psychological weighing of the nature of the poet's suicide and its prefiguring in her works, deeds, letters, and so on. As ever, Ted Hughes, Plath's husband and now poet laureate of England, has nothing to do with the project; indeed, Hayman takes Hughes and his sister Olwyn to task for vetting earlier biographies by withholding permission to quote Plath unless Hughes or Olwyn had cut the more painful passages. (Hughes also destroyed Plath's last journal, saying he did not want their children to have to face such an upsetting work.) Plath, Hayman shows, sought her disciplinarian father's love; when he died when she was eight, she fell into a symbiotic tie with her mother Aurelia, a martyr to her children's welfare. Aurelia never told Sylvia that clinical depression ran among the women in Otto Plath's side of the family. Sylvia became a poet in part to shine in her mother's eye, grew into an academic workhorse, sold her first stories in her teens, became overloaded and failed her first pill-death effort at 20 (she took too many). That act, though, wrote the end of symbiosis with Aurelia. Sylvia transferred her superego to her psychiatrist; left America and married Hughes, with the commanding Hughes replacing father, mother, and doctor. When Hughes began seeing other women and finally separated to live with Assia Wevill, Sylvia--burdened with two children, drugged, depressed, schizophrenic, gushing razor-edged new poems in the midst of London's worst winter in a century--gassed herself. Four years later, so did Assia, killing her child--by Hughes--as well. Hayman brings new riches to Plath's story, stitching in imagery from the poems while showing that the poems of the last phase have to be read as far more intensely confessional than all that came before. (Eight pages of photographs--not seen.)