Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted

Scribner. 2013. 368p. notes. index. ISBN 9781476710310. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781476714646. LIT
Poet and novelist Plath (1932–63, Ariel; The Bell Jar) became a literary legend in part because of her highly personal writing and the publicity surrounding her suicide in 1964 at age 30. Unlike other biographies of Plath, journalist Wilson's (Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith; Harold Robbins) effort details her life before she met and married writer Ted Hughes, revealing the nuances of her desperate and success-driven personality. As a scholarship student at Smith College, Plath was writing for major periodicals, engaged in a highly active social life with men, and achieving high honors academically. Wilson draws heavily from Plath's diary entries to divulge her deeper struggles, particularly those with her mother. Her writings offer clues to the possible reasons for her breakdown, suggesting that personal insecurities, financial instability, and loss of her father were significant factors.
VERDICT While Wilson takes readers inside the character of a gifted writer, the detailed accounts of Plath as a teenage socialite seem endless. Nonetheless, the biography succeeds in illuminating her exploits while making a significant contribution to Plath scholarship.

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