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This review is taken from PN Review 82, Volume 18 Number 2, November - December 1991.

REVIEWS FINDING A DEFINITION
Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (Virago) £14.99
Ronald Hayman, The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath (Heinemann) £16.99

These books are two sides of a debased coin. The more serious and accomplished is Jacqueline Rose's study of Plath's posthumous force. Although she makes shrewd judgements, informed by the psychoanalytic disciplines, these constrain her view of the poetry. The poems become evidence in her argument; they are not seen as experiences but as proofs of experience. For Ronald Hayman, the poems are not even that. They are merely eyewitness accounts.

Jacqueline Rose is concerned with fantasy. 'No writer,' she states, 'seems to reveal so clearly, so grotesquely, the forms of fantasy, of psychic and sexual investment, that can be involved in the constitution of literature itself.' Her fourth chapter, for instance, is called 'No Fantasy Without Protest' and explores the relation between sexuality and pain in a controversial reading of the poem 'The Rabbit-Catcher'.

The weakness of Rose's book is the weakness of so much current writing about Plath. It offers a sophisticated view of the poet and a naive view of the poems. The poet is shown in the eye of the storm - an icon of gender, politics, power - while the poems are allowed only a static, testimonial existence. At best, this is inconsistent; at worst it shows no understanding whatsoever that the experience of the poem re-structures the experience which gave rise to it. Rose treats the second as being determinate of the first.

Hayman does worse. Any suggestion that the poems have an identity outside the narrative ...


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