American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath

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On the fiftieth anniversary of her death, a startling new vision of Plath—the first to draw from the recently-opened Ted Hughes archive

The life and work of Sylvia Plath has taken on the proportions of myth. Educated at Smith, she had an epically conflict-filled relationship with her mother, Aurelia. She then married the poet Ted Hughes and plunged into the sturm and drang of married life in the full glare of the world of English and American letters. Her poems were fought over, rejected, accepted and, ultimately, embraced by readers everywhere. Dead at thirty, she committed suicide by putting her head in an oven while her children slept.

Her poetry collection titled Ariel became a modern classic. Her novel The Bell Jar has a fixed place on student reading lists. American Isis will be the first Plath bio benefitting from the new Ted Hughes archive at the British Library which includes forty one letters between Plath and Hughes as well as a host of unpublished papers. The Sylvia Plath Carl Rollyson brings to us in American Isis is no shrinking Violet overshadowed by Ted Hughes, she is a modern day Isis, a powerful force that embraced high and low culture to establish herself in the literary firmament.

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About the author

CARL ROLLYSON is professor of journalism at Baruch College, The City University of New York and the author of twelve biographies including Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress and, with his wife, Lisa Paddock, Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon. He reviews biographies regularly for The Wall Street Journal, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Washington Post, The New Criterion, and other papers. He writes a column every two weeks for bibliobuffet.com. He lives in Cape May Court House, New Jersey.

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Additional Information

Publisher
St. Martin's Press
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Published on
Jan 29, 2013
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9781250023155
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Literary
Biography & Autobiography / Women
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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A new biography of Sylvia Plath, a literary icon who continues to haunt, fascinate, and enthrall even now, fifty years after her death

On February 25 , 1956, twenty-three-year-old Sylvia Plath walked into a party and immediately spotted Ted Hughes. This encounter—now one of the most famous in all of literary history—was recorded by Plath in her journal, where she described Hughes as a “big, dark, hunky boy.” Sylvia viewed Ted as something of a colossus, and to this day his enormous shadow has obscured her life and work. The sensational aspects of the Plath-Hughes relationship have dominated the cultural landscape to such an extent that their story has taken on the resonance of a modern myth.

Before she met Ted, Plath had lived a complex, creative, and disturbing life. Her father had died when she was only eight; she had gone out with literally hundreds of men, had been unofficially engaged, had tried to commit suicide, and had written more than two hundred poems. Mad Girl’s Love Song chronicles these early years, traces the sources of her mental instability, and examines how a range of personal, economic, and societal factors—the real disquieting muses— conspired against her.

Drawing on exclusive interviews with friends and lovers who have never spoken openly about Plath before and using previously unavailable archives and papers, this is the first book to focus on the early life of the twentieth century’s most popular and enduring female poet. Mad Girl’s Love Song reclaims Sylvia Plath from the tangle of emotions associated with her relationship with Ted Hughes and reveals the origins of her unsettled and unsettling voice.
"I dreamed of New York, I am going there."

On May 31, 1953, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City for a one-month stint at "the intellectual fashion magazine" Mademoiselle to be a guest editor for its prestigious annual college issue. Over the next twenty-six days, the bright, blond New England collegian lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended Balanchine ballets, watched a game at Yankee Stadium, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She typed rejection letters to writers from The New Yorker and ate an entire bowl of caviar at an advertising luncheon. She stalked Dylan Thomas and fought off an aggressive diamond-wielding delegate from the United Nations. She took hot baths, had her hair done, and discovered her signature drink (vodka, no ice). Young, beautiful, and on the cusp of an advantageous career, she was supposed to be having the time of her life.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with fellow guest editors whose memories infuse these pages, Elizabeth Winder reveals how these twenty-six days indelibly altered how Plath saw herself, her mother, her friendships, and her romantic relationships, and how this period shaped her emerging identity as a woman and as a writer. Pain, Parties, Work—the three words Plath used to describe that time—shows how Manhattan's alien atmosphere unleashed an anxiety that would stay with her for the rest of her all-too-short life.

Thoughtful and illuminating, this captivating portrait invites us to see Sylvia Plath before The Bell Jar, before she became an icon—a young woman with everything to live for.

With the publication of Susan Sontag's diaries, the development of her career can now be evaluated in a more genetic sense, so that the origins of her ideas and plans for publication are made plain in the context of her role as a public intellectual, who is increasingly aware of her impact on her culture. In Understanding Susan Sontag, Carl Rollyson not only provides an introduction to her essays, novels, plays, films, diaries, and uncollected work published in various periodicals, he now has a lens through which to reevaluate classic texts such as Against Interpretation and On Photography, providing both students and advanced scholars a renewed sense of her importance and impact. Rollyson devotes separate chapters to Sontag’s biography; her early novels; her landmark essay collections Against Interpretation and Styles of Radical Will; her films; her major mid-career books, On Photography and its sequel, Regarding the Pain of Others; and Illness as Metaphor and its sequel, AIDS and Its Metaphors, together with her groundbreaking short story, “The Way We Live Now.” Sontag’s later essay collections and biographical profiles, collected in Under the Sign of Saturn, Where the Stress Falls, and At The Same Time: Essays and Speeches, also receive a fresh assessment, as does her later work in short fiction, the novel, and drama, with a chapter discussing I, etcetera; two historical novels, The Volcano Lover and In America; and her plays, A Parsifal, Alice in Bed, and her adaptation of Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea. Chapters on her diaries and uncollected prose, along with a primary and secondary bibliography, complete this comprehensive study.
This first biography of Susan Sontag (1933-2004) is now fully revised and updated, providing an even more intimate portrayal of the influential writer's life and career. The authors base this revision on Sontag's newly released private correspondence--including emails--and the letters and memoirs of those who knew her best. The authors reveal as never before her early years in Tucson and Los Angeles, her conflicted relationship with her mother, her longing for her absent father, and her precocious achievements at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago. Papers, diaries, and lecture notes, many accessible for the first time, spark a passionate fire in this biography.

The authors follow Sontag as she abruptly ends an early first marriage, establishes herself in Paris, and embraces the open lifestyle she began as a teenager in Berkeley. As a single mother she struggled with teaching at Columbia University and other colleges while aiming for a career as a novelist and essayist. Eventually she made her own way in New York City after acquiring her one and only publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

In her later years Sontag became a world figure, a tastemaker, dramatist, and political activist who risked her life in besieged Sarajevo. Love affairs with men and women troubled her. Diagnosed with cancer, she responded with determination, and her experience with illness inspired some of her best writing. This biography shows Sontag always craving "more life" at whatever cost and depicts her harrowing final decline even as she resisted terminal cancer. Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon, Revised and Updated presents in candid and stark relief a new assessment of a heroic and controversial figure.

This first biography of Susan Sontag (1933-2004) is now fully revised and updated, providing an even more intimate portrayal of the influential writer's life and career. The authors base this revision on Sontag's newly released private correspondence--including emails--and the letters and memoirs of those who knew her best. The authors reveal as never before her early years in Tucson and Los Angeles, her conflicted relationship with her mother, her longing for her absent father, and her precocious achievements at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago. Papers, diaries, and lecture notes, many accessible for the first time, spark a passionate fire in this biography.

The authors follow Sontag as she abruptly ends an early first marriage, establishes herself in Paris, and embraces the open lifestyle she began as a teenager in Berkeley. As a single mother she struggled with teaching at Columbia University and other colleges while aiming for a career as a novelist and essayist. Eventually she made her own way in New York City after acquiring her one and only publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

In her later years Sontag became a world figure, a tastemaker, dramatist, and political activist who risked her life in besieged Sarajevo. Love affairs with men and women troubled her. Diagnosed with cancer, she responded with determination, and her experience with illness inspired some of her best writing. This biography shows Sontag always craving "more life" at whatever cost and depicts her harrowing final decline even as she resisted terminal cancer. Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon, Revised and Updated presents in candid and stark relief a new assessment of a heroic and controversial figure.

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