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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 ...

Fame at last

Elaine Showalter, 7 November 1991

Anne Sexton: A Biography 
by Diane Wood Middlebrook.
Virago, 488 pp., £20, November 1991, 1 85381 406 7
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... Lady Lazarus, the come-back queen. ‘I do not want to be known as the mad-suicide poet, the live Sylvia Plath,’ she told her students at Boston University: but she auditioned for the role and rehearsed it in book after book until she wrapped herself in her mother’s fur coat and gassed herself in October 1974. There was no ironic mask in her ...

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 ...


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 ...


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 ...

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 ...


Ian Hamilton: Poets Laureate, 7 January 1999

... of the poems in Birthday Letters were composed around this time: Hughes had just finished editing Plath’s journals, in which she gave her version of certain key episodes in their courtship and marriage.) It soon became clear, though, why Hughes wanted to be Poet Laureate. As he perceived them, the Royals were not the Royals as rendered by Spitting Image and ...

Special Frocks

Jenny Turner: Justine Picardie, 5 January 2006

My Mother’s Wedding Dress: The Fabric of Our Lives 
by Justine Picardie.
Picador, 336 pp., £12.99, September 2005, 0 330 41306 6
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... driving her car one-handed down winding country lanes. A great many epigraphs, from Freud, Flugel, Sylvia Plath, appear to signal grand intentions. Some chapters also end with Trinny-and-Susannah-style tips: ‘solid black shoes with very pale tights’ look like ‘pigs’ trotters’, apparently, but ‘clothes are about self-expression’ so ‘feel ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...


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 ...


Sylvia Lawson, 20 April 1989

Daddy, we hardly knew you 
by Germaine Greer.
Hamish Hamilton, 312 pp., £13.95, March 1989, 0 241 12538 3
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... and incantations’, and the epigraphs, from Sophocles to Akhmatova, Tsvetayeva and Sylvia Plath, deepen the resonance. The Shakespeare scholar knows perfectly what she is doing in reversing the drama of the daughterless father; she had clung to the crumbs and rags of fatherly love and veracity, then has to let them blow away in the ...

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