Review: American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath

American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath
American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have read some of Plath’s work (poetry, Bell Jar, but not a lot and none of it recently. This book came my way and I thought I’d educate myself on this legendary New England writer.

I was a little taken aback in Rollyson’s Author’s Note, in which he disparages all Plath biographers that have come before. He also writes that this book is not for the Plath novice – He assumes a familiarity with her works and quotes from them very little. I almost stopped reading right there, thinking I might not be prepared for this text. Still, I thought I could get something out of it, and I did.

Are footnotes unfashionable now? I’m not an academic anymore, but it was weird to see so many quotes and no footnotes. There’s an index, and an extensive bibliography in the back, but direct quotes and assertions are not connected to their sources.

Also, Rollyson’s style is big, hyperbolic. I often felt like I couldn’t quite trust what he was telling his readers. The frequent typos and repetitions of certain themes (comparisons to Sontag and Monroe) and his odd and undeveloped assertion that rape wasn’t as big a deal for women in the 1950s than it is now (?!), that women could expect that kind of treatment from their dates, added to this unease. So, I now know a bunch more about Sylvia Plath but I don’t know how much of it to believe. I’d be interested to know if other readers have similar thoughts.

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