Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

Knopf. Oct. 2020. 1,152p. ISBN 9780307961167. $40. LIT
In this exhaustive biography, Clark (The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes) examines the life of one of the most important American writers and the most famous woman poet of the 20th century. Unlike other biographies of Plath (1932-63), Clark’s traces her subject’s literary and intellectual development rather than concentrating on her undoing through suicide. “To recover Plath from cliché,” Clark quotes extensively from previously unpublished primary sources such as letters and diaries, focusing on the poet’s works as well as her life. Central to the book is Plath’s struggle to reconcile her vocation as a writer with the era’s feminine ideal of wife and mother, a stereotype that did not work for her as she faced blatant sexism in academia and the literary world. Her turbulent relationship with her husband, superstar poet Ted Hughes, is limned in terms of the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, as they saw themselves. Together they wanted to be the most important poets of their generation. Other central themes include Plath’s efforts to come to terms with her conflicted relationship with her mother, her father’s death when she was only eight, and her lifelong battle with depression.
VERDICT A masterful biography that will especially interest literary scholars.
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