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First Chapters

Ursula Creagh, 3 June 1982

Life after Marriage: Scenes from Divorce 
by A. Alvarez.
Macmillan, 268 pp., £8.95, June 1982, 0 333 24161 4
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... formula that was perhaps worthy of repetition. The principal literary figure then in question was Sylvia Plath, a writer on whose work, and death, Alvarez became an authority. It was a very readable book and did much to awaken interest in Plath: but it also heralded the author’s addiction to plangent ...


John Bayley, 24 March 1994

Christina Rossetti: A Biography 
by Frances Thomas.
Virago, 448 pp., £9.99, February 1994, 1 85381 681 7
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... Frances Thomas makes the point that there may be a parallel between the way in which the young Sylvia Plath lost her father through death, and Christina hers when he withdrew into illness and impotence within the family. At 18, Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal about being ‘conditioned as a child to the ...

What’s this?

Ian Sansom: A. Alvarez, 24 August 2000

Where Did It All Go Right? 
by A. Alvarez.
Richard Cohen, 344 pp., £20, September 1999, 1 86066 173 4
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... for getting through to his creative under-life’, and criticising them for their effects on Sylvia Plath, on whom ‘Hughes’s creative strategies’, he claims, would have worked ... like, say, the ‘recovered memory’ games untrained rogue psychotherapists play on unwary patients – releasing the inner demons then stepping aside with no ...


Tom Paulin: Ted Hughes and the Hare, 29 November 2007

Letters of Ted Hughes 
edited by Christopher Reid.
Faber, 756 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 571 22138 7
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... Poetry in Translation which he founded with Daniel Weissbort).It is, however, his letters to Plath that are the outstanding feature of this volume. The first letter (March 1956) is very brief:Sylvia,That night was nothing but getting to know how smooth your body is. The memory of it goes through me like brandy.If you ...

‘I was there, I saw it’

Ian Sansom: Ted Hughes, 19 February 1998

Birthday Letters 
by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 198 pp., £14.99, January 1998, 0 571 19472 9
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... a phrase from his early poem ‘Famous Poet’, and that this did not go unnoticed by the gamine Sylvia Plath, who records being mesmerised, both by Hughes as a person and by his work. On 3 May 1956 she wrote to her mother to tell her that ‘Ted has written many virile, deep banging poems,’ and in her journal, describing their first meeting, she ...

Advice for the New Nineties

Julian Symons, 12 March 1992

HMS Glasshouse 
by Sean O’Brien.
Oxford, 56 pp., £5.99, November 1991, 0 19 282835 5
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The Hogweed Lass 
by Alan Dixon.
Poet and Printer, 33 pp., £3, September 1991, 0 900597 39 9
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Collected Poems 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 319 pp., £18.95, November 1991, 0 85635 923 8
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... students who move from ‘their latest adventures in learning to spell/To a common obsession with Sylvia Plath’. These are not all hymns to boredom, however – far from it. ‘Working on the Railway’ broods on a dream of past railway travel as the poet reads ‘Lost Railways of England’ instead of working. ‘From the Whalebone’ shows affection ...


Blake Morrison: On the Independent on Sunday , 27 May 1993

... pages I’d worked on at the Observer lay beside me (Ian Hamilton and Ted Hughes on the life of Sylvia Plath, Alison Lurie’s obituary of Mary McCarthy, Salman Rushdie on Graham Greene, Claire Tomalin on Coleridge, Anthony Burgess on Fielding, other reviews by Anita Brookner, Peter Conrad, Roy Foster and Hilary Mantel), and as the limits on the new ...


Ronald Blythe, 24 January 1980

A Writer’s Britain: Landscape in Literature 
by Margaret Drabble.
Thames and Hudson, 133 pp., £10.50, October 1980, 0 500 01219 9
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... Here is the Britain she has received from those who created it, whether it be Matthew Paris or Sylvia Plath. Like many novelists, she has an acute sense of association and she is able to come very close to the regional influences which formed – or deformed – certain talents. She understands what it is like for a writer to have to work in the wrong ...


Philip Terry, 6 May 2021

... mid-1970s, the poets I came across were the ones everybody was reading, all published by Faber: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell and, of course, Heaney. It seems extraordinary, now, that my father had known several of them. Larkin had been his friend in Belfast (and my mother’s boss in the library at Queen’s), and, later, at ...

Men are just boys

Marina Warner: Boys’ Play, 6 May 2021

No Boys Play Here: A Story of Shakespeare and My Family’s Missing Men 
by Sally Bayley.
William Collins, 253 pp., £14.99, January, 978 0 00 831888 8
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... and is often caustic about the journals of, for instance, Susan Sontag and Sylvia Plath. Her own accounts deliberately avoid soul-searching and the quest for self-discovery. In Girl with Dove, the funnier, less bleak of the two books, she imagines her neighbours as characters from a murder mystery; in this sequel, the dissolution ...

Little Do We Know

Mark Ford, 12 January 1995

The Annals of Chile 
by Paul Muldoon.
Faber, 191 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 0 571 17205 9
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... of Muldoon scholars. Much of ‘Yarrow’ reverts to 1963 – the ‘year MacNeice and Frost and Plath all kicked the bucket’ – when Muldoon was 12 and immersed in boys’ adventure fiction: his favourite books are remembered thick and fast: the Westerns of Jack Schaefer, King Solomon’s Mines, The Lost World, Kidnapped, The Sign of Four, Rob Roy, The ...

In Coleridge’s Bed

Ange Mlinko: Dead Poets Road Trip, 20 April 2017

Deaths of the Poets 
by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts.
Cape, 414 pp., £14.99, February 2017, 978 0 224 09754 3
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... of Fitzroy Road and Chalcot Road we meet the poet Jo Shapcott and we walk to the flat where Plath ended her life’). The gentle ‘we’ serves as a disembodied voiceover as we accompany the poets to Minneapolis’s Washington Avenue Bridge, where John Berryman jumped to his death; the White Horse Tavern, where Dylan Thomas supposedly drank the 18 ...

Doris and Me

Jenny Diski, 8 January 2015

... in Charrington Street, north of King’s Cross. I think of it as being just a few weeks after Sylvia Plath killed herself in early February 1963. The suicide was still very raw and much discussed by Doris’s friends. So at the earliest towards the end of February. In any case it was before Easter, which fell in April that year, because at long ...


Russell Davies, 18 June 1981

Short Lives 
by Katinka Matson.
Picador, 366 pp., £2.50, February 1981, 9780330262194
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... the will to live to the Father’s age. To be, indeed, Father. Nobody has put it more plainly than Sylvia Plath (‘Daddy, I have had to kill you/You died before I had time’). It all adds up to a pretty straightforward endorsement of father Freud, especially when we arrive at the unknown territory of the Bootman story and find the familiar story ...

Out of Ottawa

John Bayley, 21 November 1991

By Heart. Elizabeth Smart: A Life 
by Rosemary Sullivan.
Lime Tree, 415 pp., £17.99, October 1991, 0 413 45341 3
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... girl, from a rich and cultured Ottawa family, and in girlhood a great striver and succeeder, as Sylvia Plath was to be. To this ominous comparison it must be added that Elizabeth is apt to fatigue the reader by her normality, to a greater extent even than do accounts of the American poet. Self-groomed like her hairstyle and worn like a twinset, her ...

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