Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reading The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath

The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath
Edited by Anita Helle (2007)
University of Michigan Press
277 pgs.

Sylvia Plath is probably one of the most mythologized and scrutinized women poets of our time.

There was more to this poet than her death and the manner in which she died. This book attempts to see the woman behind the myth.

With the exception of two or three essays, this book caught my attention. The Unraveling Archive explores familiar and not so familiar avenues of the poets life, each author (with different levels of knowledge and experience on the subject of Plath) offering a fresh perspective.

One essay that particularly caught my attention was The Political Education of Sylvia Plath by Robin Peel. No biographer has delved into this aspect of Plath quite as Peel has. If politics were such an integral part of Plath’s consciousness (as were poetry, art, etc.), why hasn’t it been given more consideration in the past? Peel even states, on several occasions, that much (if not all) of Plath’s political musings were not included in Letters Home. Peel also makes note of how her political involvement-how she was suddenly not so involved- coincided with the meeting (and eventual marriage) of Hughes.

Motherhood is perhaps the most prevalent of subjects (if not the most) in Plath’s later writing. Ariel’s Kitchen delves into this aspect with unique insight.

Others include Marsha Bryant’s Ariel’s Kitchen: Plath, Ladies’ Home Journal and the Domestic Surreal, Lynda K. Buntzen’s Poetic Arson and Sylvia Plath’s Burning the Letters as well as Diane Middlebrook’s Creative Partnership: Sources for ‘The Rabbit Catcher’.

Plath was a woman who colored outside the lines in the literary arena, as well as the domestic, in an era where models and molds were to be strictly adhered to. She was just 'before her time', trying to survive in the cookie cutter 1950's.

This is a very accessible book. Whether you are a Plath fan or not, readers are bound to find something of interest in this book, for example, the intricacies of a creative literary relationship between husband and wife: the competitions and jealousies as well as rewards.

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