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Like most avid readers of poetry, there resides a special place in my heart for Sylvia Plath. Which is quite funny since there remains a great deal about Plath: her upbringing, marriage, friendships, opinions regarding her work, and suicide which we still don’t completely comprehend. Instead of constructing a definitive portrait, Malcolm unpacks Plath’s confusing, contradictory mythologies with grace and analytical patience. This book is subtle, informed, relaxed, and unrelenting in all that it observes. In the end, Malcolm does not argue that there is one or many versions of the beloved poetess. Quite the contrary: there are many, many, different versions of us, the readers, who ensure, sometimes to the point of demise, that our mythology, our idea of Plath, is the real version which used to be alive—as if a poet ever truly dies.
In an astonishing feat of literary detection, one of the most provocative critics of our time and the author of In the Freud Archives and The Purloined Clinic offers an elegantly reasoned meditation on the art of biography. In The Silent Woman, Janet Malcolm examines the biographies of Sylvia Plath to create a book not about Plath’s life but about her afterlife: how her estranged husband, the poet Ted Hughes, as executor of her estate, tried to serve two masters—Plath’s art and his own need for privacy; and how it fell to his sister, Olwyn Hughes, as literary agent for the estate, to protect him by limiting access to Plath’s work.
Even as Malcolm brings her skepticism to bear on the claims of biography to present the truth about a life, a portrait of Sylvia Plath emerges that gives us a sense of “knowing” this tragic poet in a way we have never known her before. And she dispels forever the innocence with which most of us have approached the reading of any biography.
About the Author
Janet Malcolm's previous books are Diana and Nikon: Essays on Photography; Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession; In the Freud Archives; The Journalist and the Murderer; The Purloined Clinic: Selected Writings; The Silent Woman: Slyvia Plath and Ted Hughes; and The Crime of Sheila McGough. She lives in New York with her husband, Gardner Botsford.
"The Silent Woman is one of the deepest, loveliest, and most problematic things Janet Malcolm has written. It is so subtle, so patiently analytical, and so true that it is difficult to envisage anyone writing again about Plath and Hughes. She is the cat who has licked the plate clean. It has an almost disabling authority about it, a finality like a father's advice."--James Wood, The Guardian (London)
"Rich and theatrical."--The New York Times Book Review.
"Not since Virginia Woolf has anyone thought so trenchantly about the strange art of biography."--Christopher Benfey, Newsday
"There is more intellectual excitement in one of Malcolm's riffs than in many a thick academic tome . . . She is among the most intellectually provocative of authors . . . able to turn epiphanies of perception into explosions of insight."--David Lehman, Boston Globe
"It is the best-written and most stirring polemic of the year. Completely brilliant."--David Hare, The Times (London)
"The Journalist and the Murderer was a deeply thoughtful exposure of the moral problems of in-depth journalism . . . [The Silent Woman] contains some of the best thinking I know on both the practical and the philosophical problems of biography."--Bernard Crick, New Statesman & Society