Risky Business

Elaine Showalter

  • Telling Women’s Lives: The New Biography by Linda Wagner-Martin
    Rutgers, 201 pp, $22.95, July 1994, ISBN 0 8135 2092 4

Linda Wagner-Martin, a highly respected scholar of American literature who teaches at the University of North Carolina, was bewildered by the hostile reception in Britain of her biography of Sylvia Plath, published in 1987. Not only had she run into major conflicts with the Plath estate, she explains in her preface to Telling Women’s Lives, but some critics saw her as both an ‘unethical commercial writer’ and a radical feminist. ‘Who was this woman who was under siege by the British critics? I asked my husband and children, students and friends: was I the same Linda Wagner-Martin they had always known?’ Despite their predictably reassuring replies, Wagner-Martin felt that her life if not her personality had been changed in the process of writing Plath’s life. ‘Telling a woman’s life,’ she writes, ‘had become a dangerous cultural and literary project.’

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