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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A touchy subject
Much has been written about the life of Sylvia Plath, to such an extent that her life has become a mixture of poetry, speculation and anecdotal evidence. This book takes the 'saga' of Hughes and Plath as an illustration of the difficulties behind writing a biography. It explores both sides of the argument, from the demonising of Ted Hughes by Plath's friends and fans to...
Published on 31 July 2003

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11 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How not to write a biography.
I was quite surprised when I read Janet Malcom's biography of Sylvia Plath, to read anything but a biography of Sylvia Plath. It was certainly a very elegant and very clever reflection about the art of the biographer. It was also, in a strange way, a short biography of some of Plath's other biographers. It was most of all the inside story of what it is to...
Published on 23 Feb 2006 by Birtie


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A touchy subject, 31 July 2003
By A Customer
Much has been written about the life of Sylvia Plath, to such an extent that her life has become a mixture of poetry, speculation and anecdotal evidence. This book takes the 'saga' of Hughes and Plath as an illustration of the difficulties behind writing a biography. It explores both sides of the argument, from the demonising of Ted Hughes by Plath's friends and fans to the loyal defence the Plath estate (at the time of writing, under the control of Hughes' sister) and especially Ted Hughes. Highly readable as a biography of the genre of biography. Malcom writes sympathetically of the subject, and remembers that in the end, Plath's death was a tragic event that Hughes and their two children suffered. This book is a lighthouse of logical and sensible writing amongst what can sometimes be a struggle to cannonise Plath against the backdrop of her evil 'seducer' and destroyer.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant and Sly Meditation Upon the Pitfalls of Arriving at Objective Biographical Truth, 20 Jan 2013
This is a fascinating and illuminating book, which I first read several years ago in conjunction with Anne Stevenson's revisionist, wholly convincing and corrective biography of Plath, Bitter Fame. In response to some crude misreadings and glaring misrepresentations of Janet Malcolm's book by other reviewers here, two points need emphasising to would-be readers. Firstly, any attentive reading of the book makes it abundantly clear that Malcolm is most certainly not, as has been suggested, anti-Hughes. Secondly, this is not intended to be a biography; rather it is a brilliant and sly meditation upon the pitfalls of arriving at objective biographical "truth". The author's psychologically deft survey of historical texts about the Plath-Hughes story, and her playful unravelling of the nature of partisan opinions from both sides of the divide, yields some very subtle and thought provoking perspectives towards a greater understanding.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant read., 14 Feb 2006
I read this book in two days, it is so absorbing I could hardly put it down. If, like me, you have not read other biographies on SP it is an excellent introduction, combining an informal "gossipy" familiarity with the main characters with beautifully descriptive prose. I am now about to embark on reading some of the other works she describes, she has so enthused me with her subject that I now feel I almost "know" some of these people. A brilliant read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting slant, 9 July 2013
By 
Michelle Whall "Michelle" (Northumberland, England) - See all my reviews
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Well what more can really be written about SP and TH? I thought this was interesting in that it examined the thoughts and possible motivations of those who have been influential in contributing towards the "information" in circulation about these two poets. I enjoyed Janet Malcolm's style of writing which made this a fast and smooth read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written investigative journalism., 9 Aug 2010
By 
David Stewart (Glasgow, United Kingdom.) - See all my reviews
This review ought to begin with one of the few, but main, criticisms I have of it: it's not a biography of Sylvia Plath or Ted Hughes. Now, it doesn't purport to be one in its outline, but the cover is misleading; it suggests a biography.

This book is a very well written piece of investigative journalism, which explores the difficulities and nature of biography as a genre, using Plath and Hughes as its framework to do so. It really is well crafted: exquisitely written but perfectly readable. 'The Silent Woman' is essentially a detective story, in which Janet Malcolm tracks down those who went before her in documenting their own realities of what became the controversial subject of Plath, Hughes, and their relationship. There is unique and fresh insight into the communication between parties involved, but very little in the way of new information on Plath or Hughes' lives - I would therefore not recommend it to anyone unfamiliar with the general story of Sylvia Plath as this book does assume prior knowledge of the reader.

The fact that this book is not a biography is most likely the result of its own findings: that Plath and Hughes' relationship is a puzzle that has never definately been solved, and there was more to be written here on the nature of the genre, rather than attempting yet another biography.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Elusive Sylvia, 9 April 2014
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
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Janet Malcolm's well-written and fascinating little book is not so much a biography of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes as a thoughtful and often witty meditation on why Plath has proved both a compelling and well-nigh impossible subject for her biographers. Malcolm focuses particularly on the mixed reception of the one really serious biography of Plath to emerge (in contrast to the sensationalist efforts by Paul Alexander, Edward Butscher and Ronald Hayman and the short, slightly bland one by Linda Wagner-Martin), Anne Stevenson's 'Bitter Fame'. Why did the book cause such controversy? Which of the people interviewed in the book were reliable? Why didn't Hughes get involved? Why did Al Alvarez turn so violently against Stevenson? In tracing the genesis of the biography, Malcolm also provides fascinating information on Sylvia's friends, lovers and fallings-out. And her account of what it might have been like for Anne Stevenson to write the biography of Plath, and why it was so gruelling, is certainly worth reading. Occasionally I found Malcolm's tone a little pretentious. I don't see that the fact that Stevenson agreed to co-operate with Olwyn Hughes (who comes across as a decidedly odd if rather appealingly feisty woman) meant that she 'wanted another man in her life' - she simply had to co-operate with Olwyn if she wanted to write an authorised biography. Some of the later remarks about Stevenson, as when Malcolm compares her feelings about a spoiled lasagna to how she felt about her 'spoiled' biography, come across as decidedly melodramatic. We also don't perhaps hear enough from and about some of the people involved in the Stevenson biography - although Dido Merwin's essay on Plath is mentioned, we hear very little about the other two important testimonies in Stevenson's book (from Richard Murphy and Lucas Myers), and it's a shame Malcolm didn't talk more to some of Sylvia's more balanced friends such as Gillian Becker and Suzette Macedo about Stevenson's book. Nevertheless, there's a lot of fascinating material here, and some sly bits of humour (particularly in the portraits of Elizabeth Sigmund and Ed Cohen). Malcolm highlights what a complex and ever-changing personality Sylvia was, and importantly reminds us that her death was not just a tragedy for the world of poetry, but also, more importantly, for her husband and children. She also gives Anne Stevenson some much needed sympathy! Invaluable reading both for people interested in Plath and interested in embarking on a career as a biographer, or prolific reader of biographies.
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11 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How not to write a biography., 23 Feb 2006
I was quite surprised when I read Janet Malcom's biography of Sylvia Plath, to read anything but a biography of Sylvia Plath. It was certainly a very elegant and very clever reflection about the art of the biographer. It was also, in a strange way, a short biography of some of Plath's other biographers. It was most of all the inside story of what it is to investigate the life of an author, the legal fights to be able to quote or not to quote what had been written about him or her. Malcom's has managed the weird tour de force (that she described in the metaphore of the cluttered house at the end of her book)to write 200 pages about Sylvia Plath without saying anything about her. We understand that Sylvia Plath was a silent woman, but her biographer is certainly a discreet one. If you want to know better who was the author of these poems and that novel that have intrigued you, better look somewhere else.
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3 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreary Diatribe supporting the usual anti-Hughes myth!, 26 Jun 2007
By 
K. Booth "K S BOOTH" (FRANCE & ENGLAND) - See all my reviews
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This was a dreary diatribe supporting the usual and boringly repetitive anti-Hughes myth!

Malcolm not only repeats the many well-trodden stories of the "monster" Hughes and the "saint" Plath, but also adds her views of a "post-war cold and uncomfortable England" and continually harps on about slow trains and the bitterly cold weather!

She writes with typical arrogance of "poor uprooted and liberal East Coast girls" having to cope with "superior and old guard academics"......we all go home believing the American Dream and pitying poor 'Ole England!

I mention these facts, as they became boring in their repetition throughout the book - Hughes was portrayed as the cruel husband and Sylvia the cleverer and sad wife......I did not bother to finish the book, although I valiantly tried.

Disappointing and a waste of money!
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The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes
The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes by Janet Malcolm (Hardcover - 1994)
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