Popsugar Reading Challenge 2021 Book 43

Prompt: A book about a subject you are passionate about

Since I was at university I have been fascinated with the life and world of American poet Sylvia Plath. I have a whole shelf of her works, biographies and literary criticism. Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath of Heather Clark is a monster read and has taken a good few month’s to work through.

What it’s about?

From Goodreads:

The first biography of this great and tragic poet that takes advantage of a wealth of new material, this is an unusually balanced, comprehensive and definitive life of Sylvia Plath.


Determined not to read Plath’s work as if her every act, from childhood on, was a harbinger of her tragic fate, Clark presents new materials about Plath’s scientist father, her juvenile writings, and her psychiatric treatment, and evokes a culture in transition in the mid-twentieth century, in the shadow of the atom bomb and the Holocaust, as she explores Sylvia’s world: her early relationships and determination not to become a conventional woman and wife; her conflicted ties to her well-meaning, widowed mother; her troubles at the hands of an unenlightened mental-health industry; and her Cambridge years and thunderclap meeting with Ted Hughes, a true marriage of minds that would change the course of poetry in English.

Clark’s clear-eyed sympathy for Hughes, his lover Assia Wevill, and other demonized players in the arena of Plath’s suicide promotes a deeper understanding of her final days, with their outpouring of first-rate poems. Along with illuminating readings of the poems themselves, Clark’s meticulous, compassionate research brings us closer than ever to the spirited woman and visionary artist who blazed a trail that still lights the way for women poets the world over.

What I think:

Oh my goodness. What an absolutely epic read this was.

This book is painstakingly researched with access to new resources. All aspects of Plath’s life and work are explored. She is presented as brilliant, witty, charming, spiteful, melodramatic, selfish – complex and real.

Clark explores her relationships with family, especially her mother, friends and lovers and her marriage to Ted Hughes in depth. The in depth analysis of her writing adds to the narrative without reducing Plath to a confessional poet.

The extent of Plath’s intelligence, her own literary educational and influences is absolutely fascinating.

While some writers have reduced Plath by focusing on her death, her marriage or her experiences at college, this biography encompasses her whole life in meticulous detail.

I was particularly struck by the impact of social conventions and the expectations of women in the 50s and 60s and how this impacted on her reputation as a writer. Plath’s struggle with the contradictions between artist and homemaker are apparent in her poetry and journals. The juxtaposition between her day to day reality and the pictures she created for friends and family is stark.

This is an absolutely wonderful biography of a complex and real woman struggling with ordinary problems, mental health and ground breaking art.

If you are interested in Plath then this is absolutely the book to read. I will definitely be reading this again as there is just so much to learn.

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