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Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath (Anne Stevenson)

  • Anne Stevenson

    This is the first authoritative biography of the poet Sylvia Plath, as complete, balanced, and objectively written as the facts allow. The writings of this tense, precocious, New England —bred woman — whose principal works were not published until after her suicide, at thirty, in London in 1963 — have branded a permanent mark on our library consciousness. The circumstances of her death, colored by the troubling brilliance of her novel The Bell Jar (published only days beforehand, under a pseudonym) and the fierce sensitivities of the real poems written in the previous autumn, helped to seed a perverse legend. Her family and friends have been helpless to dispel the posthumous miasma of fantasy, rumor, politics, and ghoulish gossip. Now, for the first time, a fully informed biographer, the poet Anne Stevenson, brings together the testimony of those who knew Plath best, saw her most, enjoyed or merely tolerated her company. Many of those interviewed have never before shared their experiences. Relying on published and unpublished sources, and benefiting fro the unstinting help of Plath’s sister-in-law Olwyn Hughes, Stevenson summons and interprets their testimony. Plath created a body of seething poetry which this book explores with a distinctive freshness and concentration. More than most poets, she drew on the circumstances of her own life for her poetry and prose. Her originality, however, owes far less to the ordinariness or strangeness of her experience than it does to the obsessive intensity with which she transformed and apotheosized events. Bitter Fame takes its title from a poem by Anna Akhmatova: “If you can’t give me love and peace, then give me bitter fame.” The fame of Sylvia Plath has left a bitter taste indeed; this first true biography goes far to elucidate her character and enhance her art.


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