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This article is taken from PN Review 94, Volume 20 Number 2, November - December 1993.

Red Scars and Rubies:the poetic tradgedy of Sylvia Plath Stephen T. Glynn

Sylvia Plath killed herself thirty years ago. She has now been dead for as long as she was alive, but the debate around her rages more fiercely than ever. There have been at least three full biographies in the past three years, each revealing that it is not the art, nor so much the life that now compels interest, but the death and posthumous existence. Her words and actions are appropriated to serve whatever cause is being argued. It seems that 'Now she is flying / More terrible than she ever was … Over the engine that killed her', and for many that engine is the work, her suicide leading them to conclude that she meant the most extreme of her poems. But did they feed the morbid urge? Did the words upon the page play their part in undermining and finally destroying the psychological and domestic life? Big questions, but ones raised from the moment death encased the work in its saddening hindsight. For thirty years now critics such as Hugh Kenner and A. Alvarez have suggested that 'in exploring the roots of [her] emotions, the obscurest springs of [her] personality… [Sylvia Plath] pushed death so much to the foreground of her consciousness that it became unavoidable.' (Alvarez, The Art of Sylvia Plath, 67-8). Kenner put it more succinctly: 'sincerity kills: If this is so then the Lawrentian ideal of 'direct utterance' could be said to have occasioned the death of Sylvia Plath.

In his Notes ...


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