Before and After a Poet's Suicide: The Reception of Sylvia Plath

By Marianne Egeland.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: May 2, 2014 $US5.00

Few modern authors have been the object of such intense interest as the American poet Sylvia Plath. In critical reception, there is a notable before-and-after division. Before she killed herself, reviewers mainly commented on literary aspects of her work. When the reason for her death became known, her personal story overshadowed the aesthetic evaluation of the two books she saw into print herself, as well as the many posthumous titles published in her name. Sylvia Plath thus demonstrates the relevance of Boris Tomashevsky’s argument in “Literature and Biography” (1923), that it is essential to consider how the biography of a poet operates in readers’ consciousness. The important thing is not the factual life and whether the perception of it is correct, but how the image of an author affects the understanding of her work. Tomashevsky distinguishes between “writers with biographies” and “writers without biographies,” between those who are the subject of anecdotes and biographical stories and those who are unknown to the public or appear as neutral. Poets moving from one category to the other, like Plath did, make for interesting study. Her case also raises a number of ethical questions.

Keywords: Reception Study, Literary Critique, Role of the Author

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 11, Issue 3, May 2014, pp.27-36. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: May 2, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 278.814KB)).

Marianne Egeland

Professor of Comparative Literature, Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, University of Oslo, Norway, Oslo, Norway

I have published books on the perception of time in Mexican literature, on Sylvia Plath, The Norwegian University Press, and the biography as a literary and historic genre. My doctoral thesis is on the rhetoric of biography. At the University of Oslo I coordinate a programme in practical literature, offering courses in publishing, editing and criticism. Before returning to the university, I worked in academic publishing at the Norwegian University Press. I have studied Comparative Literature, Social Anthropolgy and English at universities in Norway. I have also studied in Minnesota, Mexico City and Oxford. I am interested in the sosiology of literature, in reception studies, and the role of the author as well as in questions concerning literary taste and canon. My newest book is entitled "Claiming Sylvia Plath: The Poet as Exemplary Figure" (2013)

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