Baker & Taylor Examines the afterlife of the troubled poet, looking at how her estranged husband struggled to share Sylvia's work, yet maintain his privacy
Blackwell North Amer Janet Malcolm has produced a brilliant, elegantly reasoned meditation on the art of biography, in which she takes as her example the various biographies of the poet Sylvia Plath. The Silent Woman is an astonishing feat of criticism and literary detection. It is not a book about the life of Sylvia Plath, but about her afterlife: how her reputation was forged from the poems she wrote just before her suicide; how her estranged husband, the poet Ted Hughes, as executor of her estate, tried to serve two masters - Plath's art and his own need for privacy; and how it fell to his sister, Olwyn Hughes, as literary agent for the estate, to protect him by limiting access to Plath's work. The Silent Woman, in the end, embodies a paradox: even as Malcolm brings her skepticism to bear on the claims of biography to present the truth about a life, a portrait of Sylvia Plath emerges that gives us a sense of "knowing" this tragic poet in a way we have never known her before. The result is a provocative work that will dispel forever the innocence with which most of us have approached the reading of any biography. It will be talked about for years to come.