The orig­i­nal in­flu­encer

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS -

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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