The original influencer
People talk about selfie culture and social media as if filtering life to make it bearable is a new thing.
Those people clearly haven’t read a lot of Sylvia Plath. The long-dead poet remains a cultural obsession and she stays alive for us in three forms: her poetry (scary, full of hate and death), her journals (scarier, full of hate and death) and her letters (sweet, sugary, packed with giddy descriptions of parties and delicious things to eat). The girl who religiously wrote to her mother knew how to filter.
After Plath died, her mother published an edited version of her letters home with an introduction that outlined how close and loving their relationship was. This of course was, not negated exactly, but complicated by Plath’s journals in which she described her mother as “deadly as a cobra… What a luxury it would be to kill her, to strangle her skinny veined throat.”
Not that the angelic Plath her mother presented to the world hadn’t existed. The sanitised version of ourselves isn’t a lie, just not the whole truth. And we can never get to the whole truth of anyone, especially once they’ve been dead for 54 years. Although with Plath, hundreds have tried. They write endless books and bicker amongst themselves and even, in the case of Janet Malcolm’s The Silent Woman, write really good books about the bickering amongst themselves.
On page 10 there’s a review of Plath’s latest volume, syndicated from The Times, by John Carey who I have to say doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He writes that Plath was only interested in Ted Hughes because she couldn’t get with some other guy. Everyone knows that Ted wasn’t some drip that Sylvia settled for on a rebound. When she met him at a party she bit his face, which is a disturbed mid-century poet’s way of saying: “What are you doing after this?”
Carey also states that Hughes taught Plath how to write which is just... is this guy trying to get his house egged?
But then, what would I know? I never met Sylvia Plath either. The glittering, jagged fragments she left behind don’t fit together – which is probably why our fascination with her never dies.
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