Book Review: ‘Loving Sylvia Plath’ attends to polarizing writer’s circumstances more than her work

A popular form of writing nowadays is one that involves reexamining the lives of people, often members of marginalized groups, who have otherwise been flattened or shortchanged by history.

How has society’s assumptions or prejudices informed how a person is remembered, many authors are asking, and what information is available to us that may tell a more complete story?

These are the questions Emily Van Duyne, an associate professor at Stockton University, asks in “Loving Sylvia Plath: A Reclamation.” The author rejects the trope that Plath was nothing more than a bad mother who struggled with mental illness and a morbid poet, whose life was merely a preface to her infamous self-inflicted death.

Instead, Van Duyne maintains Plath ought to be remembered as a complicated woman, a formidable writer — one who outshined her husband, Ted Hughes — and almost certainly a victim of domestic abuse.

This book is not, for the most part, a hermeneutic study or close reading of Plath’s writings. Rather, Van Duyne’s source material for this reclaimed portrait of Plath are her circumstances.

Van Duyne seeks to subvert the commonly accepted narrative of Plath’s life and what drove her to end it, which was primarily constructed by Hughes.

Those wanting a primer on reading Plath or a comprehensive biography should look elsewhere to the plethora of extant literature on the enigmatic literary giant. But “Loving Sylvia Plath: A Reclamation” should be seen as supplementary material for those seeking to better understand the circumstances surrounding her final years.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.