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This article is taken from PN Review 74, Volume 16 Number 6, July - August 1990.

Sylvia Plath and the Romantic Heritage Anne Stevenson

Literary criticism assumes the existence of a history of culture - the culture of a particular milieu or of a particular individual. If the merging of the work of art into the general history of culture results in losing sight of the individual artist, it is impossible, on the other hand, to think of the latter without recurring to the former. Tendencies, themes, and mannerisms current in a writer's own day provide an indispensable aid to the interpretation of his work.

Mario Praz. Introduction to The Romantic Agony

When a biography of a popular writer attracts reviews as vitriolic as those many critics have heaped on Bitter Fame, my life of Sylvia Plath, an author can only assume that her book has offended some entrenched cultural prejudice. The purpose of this article is not to defend that book or to explain the painful circumstances of its composition. Instead, I want to step back from all issues involving personal blame and accusation, from all emotional opinions relating to the causes of Plath's suicide and the difficulties encountered by her biographers. I will sidestep even the more relevant factor of Sylvia Plath's presumed mental instability, though psychiatrists who have corresponded with me since Bitter Fame was published tell me that many passages in her journals give evidence of a 'borderline psychosis', or at least of an ultra hysterical, paranoid personality.

Madness, however, has been a good friend to poets since poetry began, and I have ...


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