The Haunting of Sylvia Plath by Jacqueline Rose
I’ve got a sea of books surrounding my bed. But for the sake of a semblance of order I will be looking at one book at a time, ‘The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, by Jacqueline Rose, published by Virago Press, 1991.
Let’s set the scene for the book I’ve chosen. It’s been raining here in Brisbane for a very long time. Each break in the tropical heat and downpour, I hit the hills and walk. This opportunity has been afforded to me for approximately two hours every day. This might be week three of the rain. It’s the kind of rain that brings more heat and stickiness. It’s swampish and sticky, and any chance of seeing a patch of blue sky makes me relieved. So it is this climate that I turn to a poetess of swampines, of humidity. I love Plath, her themes are problematic, sometimes too honest. She never shies away from a topic.
‘It was a place of force-
The wind gagging my mouth with my own blown hair,
Tearing off my voice, and the sea
Blinding me with its lights, the lives of the dead
Unreeling in it, spreading like oil’
From the first Stanza of ‘The Rabbit Catcher’
Plath explores the forces of nature and the force of sex. She is gagged, violated, constrained.(136)
A woman like me, who feels stuck on an island of my own making will easily find an unsettling but honest friendship with this poetess.
I am still in the throws of reading Rose’s account of Plath’s writing, and despite the criticism she recieved from reviewers ( whom were mainly involved in the Plath estate–ie Hughes) the book is really enjoyable to read. Rose has researched Plath’s body of work so well–she has utilised newspaper clippings and personal accounts. In the chapter, “The Body of the Writing’, there is the description of the ‘famous circle’ of Plath, Sexton, and Lowell. Rose makes mention of Anne Sexton’s description of meeting Plath. This is the kind of poetess meeting I wish I could have been witness to. Sexton says, ‘ We talked death with burned up intensity…Sucking on it!’ (35)
Rose considers in Plath’s writing the palpable connection between ‘body and language (that)sic knows no limit–not in the sense that it captures some aesthetic proces of a physicality without bounds, but because it touches on the limit'(35) Does this mean Plath’s work expresses the point of experience that might not be written about? Does she find a way to speak of the abject? Rose goes on to analyse Plath’s ‘Poem for a Birthday’, ‘Dark House’, ‘Maenad’, ‘The Beast’, ‘Flute notes from a Reedy Pond’, ‘Witch Burning’, and ‘The Stones’.
She examines Plath’s published collections, the censorship of her work ( or editing by Hughes her husband) and the way her work is presented after her death. ‘What starts to emerge is that the editing of Plath’s work engages not only issues of sexual politics and power, but also concepts of writing and poetic language–not only what physically can, but also what aesthetically should, and how it should, be read.'(74) There are many people who have a vested interest in directing, shaping, editing and attempting to control the interpretation of Plath’s work, not just Ted Hughes, but also her mother Aurelia and her sister-in-law Olwyn. This is a courageous book because it attempts to challenge the control of the Plath estate and to ask the question, who has control over Plath’s work. Her work, cannot be held static, the meaning of her words cannot be controlled by a selective few. This is part of the tragedy of Plath. So much of her poetry has been controlled by those intimates around her. So much of her work has been edited after her death. Rose is determined to re-open the poems, to analyse and attribute to them new meanings or reveal hidden possible meanings. There is never one version of reality, one truth, and to close Plath’s work off by censorship, by intimate assumption is to kill her twice over.