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Anne Sexton: A Biography Hardcover – 31 Oct 1991

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Trade); 1st Edition edition (31 Oct. 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395353629
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395353622
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 16.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 273,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
ANNE SEXTON BEGAN writing poetry as a teenager, like many of us, then stopped, like most of us. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rhianna Knapp on 17 Sept. 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Diane Wood Middlebrook's account of Anne Sexton's life is both absorbing and well written, with Sexton's life being neatly divided into sensible chunks for the less than casual reader - which makes it ideal for the university student who does not have time to commit to the whole biography, but who wants to go one step further than an index search. Saying this, however, once you start it is very hard to put down. Sexton's life is fascinating: raised by questionable parents and traumatised by the mental illness of her Aunt "Nana" (also called Anne), Sexton developed into an adult with a tendency to fall into trances, and experience severe hysteria. Indeed, despite the fact she gave international and highly dramatic poetry readings, she often needed a chaperone to accompany her outdoors due to her intense fear
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By pyschedelictypewriter on 4 Dec. 2013
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If you can get hold of a copy and whether you're a fan of Anne Sexton or not, I heartily recommend this penetrating and fascinating biography of an icon of 20th century poetry, excellently composed by Diane Wood Middlebrook.
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By P. Voller on 10 July 2013
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loved it.spoiled but brilliant...i can't help feeling she needed a good talking to.but well there you go!be warned it can be a difficult read.but worth it.
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By Amazon Customer on 6 April 2015
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love this book
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 29 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A psychoanalytic assessment of Sexton. 22 May 2000
By hermione31 - Published on
Format: Paperback
This novel utilizes records from the thousands of hours of therapy Sexton underwent (most notably with Dr. Martin Orne). As a result of this, the slant of this biography is more psychological than previous books. It is scrupulously detailed though, which is a real treat for those who want to know what her life was on a micro-level. It is fascinating to read the excerpts of her therapy sessions and then be able to relate her actions to her psychological state of mind and see how all of it influenced her poetry.
This is not a particularly literary biography - so if you are a PhD in Literature, it probably won't add anything to your understanding of Sexton's use of meter or rhyme schemes. It rigorously follows the events of her life but does not spend much time on her formative years. However, the scope and depth of Middlebrook's psychological research is wonderful, and someone who appreciates both psychology and literature will enjoy this book immeasureably.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A well rounded biography of a great confessional poet. 21 Jan. 2000
By Christian Engler - Published on
Format: Paperback
Diane Wood Middlebrook's biography of Anne Sexton was balanced and insightful enough so as not to be too intrusive; it is simple and direct, as I believe this biography ought to be. It could be much more. True. But that would somehow seem indecent. It is a written work that will tantalize many readers to want to know more of Sexton's earlier life and later chaotic often disgusting behavior. Anne Sexton did indeed have some major psychological problems. She envied Sylvia Plath's suicide and inflicted mental abuse on her family that trangressed the boundries of chaotic. She has often been criticized for the themes that she used in her poetry: her mental breakdowns, her severe shortcomings as a wife and mother, her liberal use of female bodily sexuality, her 'womanism' and other scattered amorphous problems that she endured but that is not fully covered with very much depth in this work. To deny Sexton's mentle problems or attribute her abhorrent behavior to simple staments that she 'wanted attention' is to cast away the deamons that led her to commit suicide in the first place or write the highly noted poems "The Operation" in All My Pretty Ones, for which she garnered a National Book Award nomination or "Mother And Jack And The Rain" or "Menstruation At Forty" in Live or Die, for which she won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. This biography has also been condemmed for the use of private conversations that Sexton had with her psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Orne, a fact that had and still does many in the profession gravely unhappy. In the forward and book jacket to The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton by her friend and fellow poet, Maxine Kumin, she states: "The stuff of Anne's life, mercilessly dissected, is here in the poems. Of all the confessional poets, none has had quite Sexton's 'courage to make a clean breast of it' ...Anne Sexton has earned her place in the cannon." Whatever her morals (or lack of them) or major priorities which always came second, she was one hell of a fantastic, little understood poet who truly added something unique to the genre.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Essential reading for biography and poetry fans alike 14 Aug. 2003
By A. Thayer - Published on
Format: Paperback
You don't have to be a poetry afficianado to find this uniquely well-researched biography fascinating. Middlebrook makes ample use of the beautiful-but-mad-housewife-turned-poet angle, but does the more challenging job of examining the contradictions between Sexton and her work. Controversial access to Sexton's therapy records aside, Middlebrook explores the humanity behind a disturbed (and disturbing) woman who used any means at her disposal--sex, therapy (at the same time, in some instances), alcohol, drugs, her children and her poetry--in an attempt to stay afloat.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
a fascinating, brutally honest examination of a dead poet laid bare 28 Dec. 2005
By Renee - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Biographies are a tricky business. To tell the truth about a person's life, to be fair and thorough without being unkind is a fine line to tread. Diane Middlebrook certainly didn't flinch at giving the reader the dirt on Anne Sexton. From her series of extra-marital affairs to her daughter's memories of Sexton's inappropriate, incestuous behavior--all of it was fair game in Middlebrook's book. She even quoted from audiotapes of Anne Sexton's therapy sessions. This is a biography of a woman brutally exposed, psychologically naked and under a spotlight; strangely, I think that Anne Sexton would be at peace with this enormous invasion of her privacy.

In addition to the lurid personal details and the deep analyses of Sexton's troubled psyche, Middlebrook shows the reader Sexton's intense determination and devotion to becoming a famous poet. Anne would sit at her typewriter for hours everyday, working on poems. She was also very aware of the benefits of creating a dramatic public persona.

Sexton would walk up on stage in a striking black cocktail dress with red lipstick and a seductive swagger. Her throaty voice would cast a spell over the audience as she read her poems. "I am a middle-aged witch. . ." she would begin, and the room would be spell-bound by both her glamour and her bold confessional poetry. But underneath it all, she was a nervous wreck, unable to give a reading without a quick shot of liquor to make her knees stop shaking!

Diane Middlebrook's biography was so piercing, so unforgiving, it was, at times, truly uncomfortable to read. I felt almost voyeuristic, pouring over these shocking private details of Anne Sexton's life. Yet, Middlebrook's book did give me an amazingly powerful feeling of intimacy with one of my favorite poets. She revealed the fragile, flawed Anne Sexton behind the public shell of dark glamour.

Any fans of Sexton's poetry that want to understand the woman behind the words should go ahead and get this book; just be forewarned that Middlebrook does not try to flatter Sexton, only to be truthful.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Attended by devils 6 Jan. 2009
By F. J. Craveiro de Carvalho - Published on
Format: Paperback
Since references to Ms Sexton's work in Portugal are almost non-existent, I cannot remember why I became interested in her. I have some idea that the british poet Neil Curry very favourably mentioned to me the book by the same author on the Plath/Hughes case and perhaps that led me to Sexton's biography.

This work is certainly as accurate as any biography can be. The author was invited by one of Ms Sexton's daughters to write it, so she must have had access to all the material available which gives a firm foundation.
As an author, we can only be surprised how someone with such little formal education and in a relatively short time was able to produced work which earned praise, a Pulitzer prize included.

As opposed to that, Ms Sexton private life was tragic. "Attended by devils", I'm borrowing from a Joan Plowright's sentence on her husband, Laurence Olivier, she was so disturbed that she was unable to perform the simplest everyday life activities and most of her life she was under psychiatric care. She depended on other people even to cross a road, a strongest example cannot be given.

We can only imagine the nightmare that her husband, and later her daughters, had to endure during some 25 years. All the time a mother-in-law was there to provide some stability to household life and her husband was prepared to put up with a lot of suffering (he knew about Sexton's multiple sexual affairs, for example) always hoping that she would get better and for a normal family life.
Since people are not saints, it is only understandable that from time to time there were terrible anger outbursts.

This biography raises a few non-trivial questions.

First, in my opinion, nothing but medical care legitimates the access to the medical archives of a patient. I strongly disapprove of their being used in this work.

Second, at a differently level, it is utterly disgusting that a psychiatrist, or a medical doctor for that matter, allows himself to get sexually involved with a patient. I see no reason for him not to be banned from the profession right away.

Third, it is clear that with the remarkable exceptions of Dr Orne and his mother among probably others, some people treating Anne were incompetent, the last one not being even a psychiatrist but a psychiatric social worker... How is it possible that with her medical history, full of suicide attempts, alcoholism, hospital stays and so on, someone can say that "... Sexton had recently shown significant gains and that the decision to seek a divorce was reasonable"? (page 371, opinion of Dr Chase).

Sexton went ahead with the divorce, both daughters were angry at the way
she treated their father, some friends tried to talk her out of that decision, provided care and, nothing that were not to be expected, got
fed up.

The foreword, written by Dr Martin T. Orne, after all the man who suggested she try poetry, ends as follows:

Sadly, if in therapy Anne had been encouraged to hold on to the vital supports that had helped herbuild the innovative career that meant so much to her and others, it is my view that Anne Sexton would be alive today.

Well, it is a rather assertive statement BUT she might.
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