Monday, 11 February 2013
SYLVIA PLATH - 50 YEAR ANNIVERSARY
This day fifty years ago Sylvia Plath took her own life. She was a mother of two and a writer. If she were alive today she would be 80 years old. I am a fan of her work - she wrote motherhood and inner turmoil so well - and her prose is as bright and energetic as her poetry. What would she have written if she had lived? Wonderful things, no doubt. She may even have grown into her own skin and mind more, and come to terms with her troubles.
Sylvia Plath was clever, beautiful, sensual and ambitious; she was an American living in England. One gets the impression that people were afraid of her (men and women) because they had never met anyone quite like her. Much of the world's opinion of her depends on the testimony of people who maybe were not the best witnesses: her estranged husband Ted Hughes and various friends of his; her mother with whom she had an up-and-down relationship since the death of her beloved father when she was just eight.
It bothers me that suicide is the word most often attached to Plath, as if that were the most important thing about her. The word is not attached to Ernest Hemingway or Vincent Van Gogh in the same way - neither they, nor their artistic output, is defined by the fact that they killed themselves. I also dislike the choice of title of the newest biography of Plath: Mad Girl's Love Song. It is the title of a Plath villanelle but hardly appropriate as a book title. Mad? Really?
So maybe today the best we can do to honour Sylvia Plath's memory is to remember her with sympathy and empathy as the brilliant writer and, at the end, distressed young mother that she was. And we can read her work - there is plenty online if you don't have one of her books. Alternatively you can listen to John Bowman's excellent programme from yesterday morning on RTÉ Radio 1 about her here. The contributions from Eavan Boland are particularly good.
The Guardian also ran a piece on Saturday where various women writers, including Lena Dunham and Sharon Olds, reflect on Sylvia Plath's legacy - lots of sympathetic viewpoints. In the article Jeanette Winterson says, about The Bell Jar and its author: 'The early 60s was a terrible time for women. Worse for clever ambitious women...The Bell Jar was a call to action because it is a diary of despair. Plath was gifted. She could have been great. Wrong generation. Wrong medication.' Read the full piece here.