The Last Days of Sylvia Plath
256 pages, 6 x 9
24 b&w illustrations
Hardcover
Release Date:01 Apr 2020
ISBN:9781496821225
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The Last Days of Sylvia Plath

University Press of Mississippi

In her last days, Sylvia Plath struggled to break out from the control of the towering figure of her husband Ted Hughes. In the antique mythology of his retinue, she had become the gorgon threatening to bring down the House of Hughes. Drawing on recently available court records, archives, and interviews, and reevaluating the memoirs of the formidable Hughes contingent who treated Plath as a female hysteric, Carl Rollyson rehabilitates the image of a woman too often viewed solely within the confines of what Hughes and his collaborators wanted to be written.

Rollyson is the first biographer to gain access to the papers of Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse at Smith College, a key figure in the poet’s final days. Barnhouse was a therapist who may have been the only person to whom Plath believed she could reveal her whole self. Barnhouse went beyond the protocols of her profession, serving more as Plath’s ally, seeking a way out of the imprisoning charisma of Ted Hughes and friends he counted on to support a regime of antipathy against her.

The Last Days of Sylvia Plath focuses on the train of events that plagued Plath’s last seven months when she tried to recover her own life in the midst of Hughes’s alternating threats and reassurances. In a siege-like atmosphere a tormented Plath continued to write, reach out to friends, and care for her two children. Why Barnhouse seemed, in Hughes’s malign view, his wife’s undoing, and how biographers, Hughes, and his cohort parsed the events that led to the poet’s death, form the charged and contentious story this book has to tell.

Carl Rollyson is professor emeritus of journalism at Baruch College, CUNY. He is author of a dozen biographies, including American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath; Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography; A Real American Character: The Life of Walter Brennan; Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews; and Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Revised and Updated, the latter three published by University Press of Mississippi. His reviews of biography have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New Criterion, and other major periodicals.
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