Sunday 17 March 2013

Mad Girl's Love Song

I do like a good literary biography and Andrew Wilson's account of Sylvia Plath's early years Mad Girl's Love Song is a very good biography with lots of intriguing detail.  This book should really be read alongside The Bell Jar as many of the events in the novel are autobiographical and the account of the first suicide attempt is particularly harrowing. No doubt, Plath was a tortured genius but there is light and humour in this biography

For example, on a trip to New York with boyfriend Richard Sassoon, Plath's suitcase is stolen from his parked car and some of her favourite belongings are taken - a blue cashmere sweater, a number of poetry books and her Chanel No 5.  When this is reported at the police station she becomes fascinated by the whole procedure and later composes the poem Item: Stolen, One Suitcase.

The book ends when Plath goes to Cambridge on a Fulbright scholarship and meets Ted Hughes.  I was left with a couple of lingering questions.  What happened to Eddie Cohen the young James Dean lookalike who kept up a long-term correspondence with Plath and acted as an informal critic of her work?  He seemed to be a voice of reason in her tumultuous life.  I also wondered why Plath seemed to dislike her mother so much. Aurelia was a highly intelligent woman who raised her children alone after the death of her husband.  She worked as a shorthand tutor to pay for their eduction.  There is a suggestion that her self-sacrifice created a constant sense of obligation in Sylvia which caused her resentment.

I now want to read a biography which covers the latter part of Plath's life and also some of the collections of her poetry if anyone has any recommendations.  I feel a reading project coming on ...

PS These jute bags by seasalt are very handy for lugging around heavy biographies!


Alex said...

I heard parts of this serialised on the radio sometime last month and was intrigued as both my book groups read 'the Bell Jar' last year, in one case coupling it with Ted Hughes 'Birthday Letters'. It's good to have some notion of the strength of the book when read entire. I'm afraid the TBR pile is going to expand again.

Peggy Ann said...

Sylvia Plath is an author I have never been introduced to until now and you have certainly piqued my interest!

Nadia said...

This book sounds like quite an interesting read - I like your idea of reading it alongside The Bell Jar ;)

Ellen said...

I read some extracts from this book in the paper, seemed very interesting. I think he tried to track down her first boyfriend but to no avail. Crikey, yet another to go on the tbr pile! Love the bag too!

Sunday Taylor said...

Did you see the film "Sylvia" with Gwyneth Paltrow. I liked that. Her life was very interesting and she was such a talented writer. I read The Bell Jar many years ago and I think I would enjoy rereading it.

Anbolyn said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Nicola, I am really enjoying the book! I am particularly fascinated by her time in Manhattan during the summer of her breakdown. There is a new book coming out in April called Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder that focuses on that period of Plath's life. said...

I just read The Bell Jar for the first time (where have I been??) and I loved it! Not at all depressing and loved the dark sarcasm of the humour. I shall definitely read this now. Getting into Plath big time! xCathy

KSL said...

Just bought both. I haven't read The Bell Jar since my college days. I wanted the new cover, but my local bookstore didn't have it. Like Sunday Taylor, I did love the movie too and liked it a lot.
Also reading Karin Fossum "The Caller" which is hard to put down - thanks for the recommendation.
New to your blog via Sunday Taylor. Love it!

Diana said...

Thanks for this recommendation. I read The Bell Jar at a crucial time in my life, and ever since I've felt this intangible connection to Sylvia Plath. She's so brilliant!

I'd also like to read her letters and journals. As far as her poetry goes, I read Ariel recently and thought it to be a fabulous collection.

Vintage Reading said...

Hi Alex, My book group read it too, we loved it. I'd like to read Birthday Letters and some of Plath's poetry. Ariel is on my wishlist.

Peggy, yes, a troubled genius I think.

Nadia, it works very well alongside The Bell Jar and of course you then realise how autobiographical the novel is.

Ellen, yes I read that in The Sunday Times I think. Fascinating article!

Sunday, no I've not seen the film. GP was very good as Austen's Emma, so I'd like to see her as Plath.

Anbolyn, I thought it was a very good biography, too. I was interested in her short story writing and her mother fascinated me, too! I'll look out for the new biog.

Cathy, yes, one she had a dark humour and I think that has been missed by biographers. My book group were discussing this in the pub the other night - you shoulda been there!

Kathy, hi, Plath fans always welcome here! I look forward to your review. I'm going to revist Scandi crime later in the year - I was thinking of trying Helene Tursten.

Diana, hi, I want to revisit Ariel, too. I like what you say about discovering Plath at an important stage in your life.

Susan said...

Oh now I have to read this! Yours is the first review I've come across, and I really enjoyed the bits you put in. Yes, this goes on my list.

I'd like to know what poetry books Sylvia carried around that were stolen. Who was a big influence on her, etc. Thanks so much for this review.