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Review of "Sylvia Plath"

By Sylvia Plath
Random House Audio, 1999
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 23rd 2001
Sylvia PlathSylvia Plath reads her own poetry carefully, enunciating each syllable and vowel, sounding very correct. Her poems from the late 1950s are reminiscent of Ted Hughes' work, describing iconic animals, the raven, the sow, and figures from myth. Only a few relate directly to her personal experience; Full Fathom Five (1958), for instance, is about her father. But by 1962 her poems are far more personal, self-revealing, and deliberately provocative. They are the works that made her famous, and Plath is still one of the central figures of the twentieth century to address the issue of suicide.

Plath was born of immigrant parents in Boston in 1932. Her father died when she was nine, and I'm sure the several biographies of Plath discuss what effect this loss had on her. Her first suicide attempt was when she was in college, and she writes about it often in her poetry. After treatment she returned to college and graduated summa cum laude. She married Ted Hughes in 1956, and was pregnant in 1959. She separated from Hughes in 1961, and killed herself in February, 1963.

It is the last eight poems in this collections of recordings that are most memorable, recorded in October, 1962, When reading, in Daddy (1962),

Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
it is very helpful to know how Plath herself reads these lines. She is a little theatrical, enjoying her ability to shock. As an audiodocument of one of the most famous poets of the twentieth century, this is a fascinating recording. As an expression of a woman who killed herself less than four months later, her readings are utterly compelling.

The audiobook is on tape, although the format of reading poetry is more suited to CDs, since a CD player allows one to listen to particular tracks again and again. The tape comes with a book of the poems as published - it is notable that the versions Plath reads are sometimes different than the published versions.


© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life. He is available to give talks on many philosophical or controversial issues in mental health.