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Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath (Penguin non-fiction) Paperback – 26 Jul 1990

2.9 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (26 July 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140103732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140103731
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 26,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Anne Stevenson is a fine and talented poet, but this biography was the result of a very ugly tussle with the Hughes estate, which originally commissioned Stevenson to see off Hughes's many critics (not all of them shrieking feminist-separatists). When she found evidence that contradicted their version of events they became very uncooperative, so that Stevenson had to struggle to appease them.
The biography contains daft passages as a result of this appeasement: my favourite is the long analysis of how very paranoid Plath was to continue to suspect Hughes of having an affair - when he WAS having an affair! On the other hand, the biog. doesn't help us much with understanding Hughes either because it's all so strained: for that you want Elaine Feinstein's far better biog. of Hughes himself. The best parts are the engagements with Plath's development as a writer.
It is honestly tragic that the lives of two of the finest poets of last century have been so ill served, not least by the custodians of their own writings. I suspect we won't get a good biography of Plath until another thirty or forty years have brought perspective to all concerned.
In the meantime, to understand Plath the best way forward is to read her own journals and (with due caution) letters home.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Interesting account of the life of Sylvia Plath, which was approved by Ted Hughes who had control of her estate and therefore copyright of her writings. He comes out blameless in this account certainly in the eyes of his friends and Sylvia sounds like she had a personality disorder, maybe a result of childhood trauma.
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Format: Paperback
I've just finished reading "Bitter Fame" by Anne Stevenson. It was a struggle, but I persisted because the good side of this book is its comprehensive marshalling of the facts about her life. Stevenson has done her research, and the description of the details of Sylvia Plath's life is well done. But it was a struggle, nonetheless, because Stevenson writes with a clear agenda in mind, which is that all of Sylvia Plath's problems, all of the tragedy of her life, was her fault and hers alone. The language is sodden with damning judgement, no detail is completely described without a negative connotation concerning Plath. In the end, it became wearisome, so much so that the book, in my view, fails its purpose, to isolate the blame for Plath's suffering and suicide to Plath herself, because the endless blame game provokes a reactionary response, a sympathy for Plath.

A secondary, related misson for this book is to exonerate Hughes of any responsibility for his wife's death. In order to achieve this, Stevenson simply leaves him out of much of the latter stages of Plath's life. He becomes like a ghost or a vague shadow, his name popping up in connection with some inconsequenteial detail here and there. There is one section, though, that is puzzling, as far as I'm concerned. When Plath and Hughes are living in Devon, at the start of the summer they split up, the Wevills visit them for a weekend. Stevenson relates an occasion when Assia Wevill is in the kitchen at the back of the house alone with Hughes. Sylvia, entering the front of the house, slips off her shoes and quietly approaches the kitchen to observe them. After that point, her manner towards Assia hardens.
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Format: Paperback
Anne Stevenson has written a masterful biography of the very difficult and complex Sylvia Plat, but it is more than a biography of Plath, it is a biography of bipolar illness in all its manifestations. As the author myself of a biography of another literary victim of this terrible illness, I credit Ms. Stevenson with her willingness to set before the reader the harsh realities of bipolar illness by letting Plath's own words tell part of the story while allowing others their say. What they say is not necessary what admirers of Plath want to hear but their words describe accurately their reactions to Plath's behaviour and their bewilderment when her actions seemed to have no explanation. Plath's treatment of Hughes -- destroying his manuscripts -- and others was appalling but it was also characteristic of the extremes of an illness that she could not control but that controlled her. Stevenson IS sympathetic to Plath and clearly cares about her as a person and respects her as a poet. This is a compelling biography that will, if read with an open mind, provide newcomers to Plath's world with insights and understanding that make the iconic Plath thoroughly human and tragically damaged. Ivor Gurney and Marion Scott: Song of Pain and Beauty
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By A Customer on 16 Mar. 2004
Format: Paperback
Anne Stevenson begins this book with a real dislike for Plath and her bi-polar or as she puts it "psychotic" fits. What she fails to see, (or maybe she just does not want to admit), that Ted Hughes is just as guilty of feeding Sylvias jealousy, her unstable behavior. He never "puts his foot down" to Plaths behavior or insists that Sylvia seek help with her depression, etc. Instead he leaves Plath after starting an affair with a friend of both of theirs without any concern for leaving his children with a woman he knows is unstable. Plath is a brilliant poet, but she suffers from bouts of depression, aggression (she destroys the book Hughes is working on in a fit of jealousy), and is prone to paranoia.
The job of the biographer is to lay out the facts and let the reader see into the life of the subject of the book. Stevenson takes sides, mostly with Hughes sister. The book comes off interesting (as Plath is an interesting subject), but tainted. Overall, it left a very bad taste on my palate for this authors work.
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