Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

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by Elizabeth Winder
     
 

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"I dreamed of New York, I am going there."

On May 31, 1953, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City for a one-month stint at "the intellectual fashion magazine" Mademoiselle to be a guest editor for its prestigious annual college issue. Over the next twenty-six days, the bright, blond New England collegian lived

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Overview

"I dreamed of New York, I am going there."

On May 31, 1953, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City for a one-month stint at "the intellectual fashion magazine" Mademoiselle to be a guest editor for its prestigious annual college issue. Over the next twenty-six days, the bright, blond New England collegian lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended Balanchine ballets, watched a game at Yankee Stadium, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She typed rejection letters to writers from The New Yorker and ate an entire bowl of caviar at an advertising luncheon. She stalked Dylan Thomas and fought off an aggressive diamond-wielding delegate from the United Nations. She took hot baths, had her hair done, and discovered her signature drink (vodka, no ice). Young, beautiful, and on the cusp of an advantageous career, she was supposed to be having the time of her life.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with fellow guest editors whose memories infuse these pages, Elizabeth Winder reveals how these twenty-six days indelibly altered how Plath saw herself, her mother, her friendships, and her romantic relationships, and how this period shaped her emerging identity as a woman and as a writer. Pain, Parties, Work—the three words Plath used to describe that time—shows how Manhattan's alien atmosphere unleashed an anxiety that would stay with her for the rest of her all-too-short life.

Thoughtful and illuminating, this captivating portrait invites us to see Sylvia Plath before The Bell Jar, before she became an icon—a young woman with everything to live for.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
February 11, 2013, marked the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath's death and a plethora of new Plath-related publications. Here, poet Winder focuses on May 1953, the month Plath spent in New York City as a guest editor at Mademoiselle. Winder contextualizes this brief, intense period as the basis for Plath's autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar. Her life that month was harried, filled with glitz and exhaustion, and may have contributed largely to Plath's subsequent breakdown and first suicide attempt. The book is loosely organized, contains extensive sidebars, and possesses a poetic sensibility. Although the tone and arrangement appear more artistic than academic, the volume isn't frivolous and is largely based on original interviews or correspondence with 15 of the other 19 "girls" who were, along with Plath, guest editors. VERDICT Winder poignantly captures a snapshot of a time that directly inspired one of Plath's most famous works. She also captures Plath as bright, vivacious, and even brittle. For fans, particularly devotees of The Bell Jar.—Audrey Snowden, Orrington P.L., ME
Publishers Weekly
Marking the 50th anniversary of Plath’s death, poet Winder, in her nonfiction debut, sets out to reveal a lesser-known side of the iconic poet/novelist, paradoxically by chronicling one of the best-known periods in her life. The summer Plath spent as an intern at Mademoiselle magazine’s Manhattan offices, which inspired The Bell Jar, provides the heady context for Winder’s case that Plath was more than the “tortured artist” who committed suicide at age 30. Instead, Winder presents a woman who was an active participant in her midcentury cultural moment and pre–Feminine Mystique peer group. Extensive quotations from Plath’s fellow Mademoiselle “guest editors” reveal a fiercely ambitious young writer and a high-pressure workplace. We also visit the Barbizon Hotel, Grace Kelly’s one-time residence and the interns’ home for the summer—a “debutante’s pretty flophouse.” The former interns’ words are complemented by a lovingly detailed inventory, as Technicolor-vivid as a Douglas Sirk film, of the fashions and foods that filled Plath’s summer. Winder convincingly shows that Plath should be recognized as much for her enjoyment of life and her enduring works as for her tragic death. Readers already familiar with the starkly unromantic facts of Plath’s biography may be thrown by the glamorous, nostalgic picture of the author given here. Agent: David Kuhn, Kuhn Projects. (Apr.)
Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger
“A pixilated gem of a book. . . . In prose as delightful and lively as the champagne Sylvia liked to sip at the St. Regis ball, Winder has made Pain, Parties, Work a prose poem of the senses, and a true account of The Bell Jar.”
New York Times
“An illuminating biography . . . which floods clarifying light on a chapter of the poet’s early life that Plath painted in jaundiced tones in The Bell Jar.
More magazine
“Will recalibrate your mind and heart. . . . We knew about Plath’s ambition - and angst - but her penchant for flaming-red lipstick and princess heels was a bit of a surprise”
Slate
“Winder resuscitates a young woman who, while sick, is electrically alive to her first real adventure. . . . Captivating . . . [Winder] makes a compelling argument that in New York…Plath moved closer to finding the voice that would define her writing.”
Bookslut
“Winder describes the aesthetics of the era beautifully. . . . Reading this book sparks feelings of impossible nostalgia for someone who didn’t live through the fifties; in this way, it is an experience akin to watching Mad Men.”
Women's Wear Daily
“The book offers a new perspective on Plath’s life courtesy of Winder’s exhaustive research.”
USA Today
“Winder has painstakingly sketched a fully fleshed out portrait of Plath’s life during that hot, seminal summer, offering a glimpse into the raison d’etre behind Plath’s revered 1963 roman a clef, The Bell Jar. . . . Winder goes into the dizzying, delightful detail.”
O Magazine
“[An] accessible, eye-opening new biography.”
Meg Wolitzer
“The world of ’50s NYC, in all its glamour, is irresistible reading.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062085528
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/16/2013
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
482,138
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Winder is the author of a poetry collection. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Review, Antioch Review, American Letters, and other publications. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, and earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University.

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