Cover image for Sylvia Plath : a literary life
Sylvia Plath : a literary life
Wagner-Martin, Linda.
Personal Author:
Second edition, revised and expanded.
Publication Information:
New York : Palgrave Macmillan, [2003]

Physical Description:
xi, 181 pages ; 22 cm.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3566.L27 Z964 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life examines the way Plath made herself into a writer. Close analysis of Plath's reading and apprenticeship writing both in fiction and poetry sheds considerable light on Plath's work in the late 1960s. In this updated edition there will be discussion of the aftermath of Plath's death including the publication of her Collected Poems edited by Ted Hughes which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1982. Biographies of Plath will be examined along with the publication of Hughes's Birthday Letters . A chronology maps out key events and publications both in Plath's lifetime and posthumously.

Author Notes

Linda Wagner-Martin is Frank Borden Hanes Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA. She has been a Guggenheim fellow, a Rockefeller awardee, and a resident at Bellagio, Bogliasco, and the Bunting Institute. She recently received the Hubbell Medal for lifetime service to American literature. Her 2013 A History of American Literature from 1950 to the Present is her 53rd book. She has written two other books for this series, one on Ernest Hemingway and the other, in both 1999 and 2003, on Sylvia Plath. She writes widely on twentieth-century American literature, biography, women's writing and pedagogy. Her publications include A Historical Guide to Ernest Hemingway (2000), William Faulkner: Six Decades of Criticism (2002), Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Hemingway: Eight Decades of Criticism (2009).

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Sylvia Plath exerts an unending fascination not only as a pathbreaking poet but as a martyr to sexism and withheld love. Her magnetism redoubled with the 1998 death of Ted Hughes, her husband and literary executor, and now Wagner-Martin, a well-published literary scholar and early biographer of Plath, brings the story up to date in her tidy contribution to the useful Literary Lives series. She begins by summarizing Plath's childhood, which was marked by her educator parents' deep involvement with books, and her father's unexpected death when she was eight. Already writing at that precocious age, Plath developed the habit of channeling all her emotions and fears onto the page. Wagner-Martin works strictly by the light of Plath's writings as she spins the oft-told tale of Plath's blazing creativity and fatal despair, and what emerges is a tragic tale of an artist envied and mistreated by those closest to her, and of a poet far more artistic than her reputation for being confessional implies. --Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

Feminist icon and patron saint of moody coffeehouse poets, Sylvia Plath has been so overexposed that it is hard to see her with fresh eyes. This book, part of a useful series that focuses on writers' working lives, builds on such works as Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (Harvard Univ., 1992) to remind readers that, Plath's well-known personal suffering notwithstanding, "to read to dismiss the artistry Plath demands of her writing, and often achieves in it." Thus, this study marks less a paradigm shift in Plath studies than a cutting away of the inessential and a consolidation of the best that is known. Collections that already have a substantial number of Plath studies, including Wagner-Martin's own Sylvia Plath: A Biography (1987), may not wish to add yet another item to an already groaning shelf, but readers who are familiar with Plath's writing and want to know more about its personal and professional contexts would do well to begin with this succinct, commonsensical study.√ĄDavid Kirby, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Wagner-Martin (Univ. of North Carolina) focuses on how Plath's story "interfaces with American culture during the 1930s, the 1940s, and the 1950s, and with British culture during the last decade of her life." The author discusses how Plath wanted to become "the great poet" and learned to draw from the real events of her life. Few of her stories or poems mention a mother; her father, Otto Plath, and his early death, surfaces "either as primary theme or as a subtle embroidery" in many of her poems and stories. Her one novel, The Bell Jar, with its objectified heroine, Esther, shows Plath's understanding of "the subtleties and the full ranges of mental and physical health." Traditional literary knowledge was of little use to Plath; she composed to "the true wildness of her imagination." She wrote about women who murdered the "Daddy person," gave birth to and nurtured children, and "have no use for anything that remains of their earlier lives." Although Wagner-Martin avoids connecting Plath's writings directly with her life, she believes that avoiding connections is nearly impossible. A few awkward sentences notwithstanding, this intelligent, focused study will enhance the reading of Plath's work. The author includes notes and a chronology. Recommended for all academic collections. J. Overmyer; Ohio State University

Table of Contents

Part I The Writing Life
Creating Lives
Creating the Persona of the Self
Recalling the Bell Jar
Lifting the Bell Jar
Plath's Hospital Writing
Defining Health
Part II The Journey Toward Ariel
Plath's Poems about Women
Plath's Triumphant Woman Poems
Getting Rid of Daddy
Sylvia Plath, The Poet and Her Writing Life
The Usurpation of Sylvia Plath's Narrative: Hughes's Birthday Letters
Bibliography (selected), Primary and Secondary