The New York Times
Uncensored: Views and (Re)viewsby Joyce Carol Oates
In thirty-eight diverse and provocative pieces, Joyce Carol Oates freely speaks her mind on some of literature's greatest modern authors. Writing at the top of her form, she offers lively opinions and cogent analysis of the works of Sylvia Plath, E. L. Doctorow, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Anne Tyler, to name but a few. With illuminating thoughts on the state of fiction and the future of the short story, Oates demonstrates once again that she is not only one of our most talented contemporary novelists but also a superb critic of serious literature as well-enthralling us with her art, her keen intelligence, and the incomparable power of her words.
The New York Times
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Uncensored: Views & (Re)views
Uncensored Sylvia Plath
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Edited by Karen V. Kukil
Who in February 1963 could have predicted, when a thirty-year-old American poet named Sylvia Plath committed suicide in London, distraught over the breakup of her marriage to the Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes, that Plath would quickly emerge as one of the most celebrated and controversial of postwar poets writing in English; and this in a golden era of poetry distinguished by such figures as Theodore Roethke, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, May Swenson, Adrienne Rich, as well as W. H. Auden and T. S. Eliot? At the time of Plath's premature death she had published a single volume of poems that had received only moderate attention, The Colossus (1960), and a first novel, the Salingeresque The Bell Jar (which appeared a month before her death in England, under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas"), in addition to a number of strikingly bold poems in British and American magazines; her second, stronger volume of poems, Ariel, would not appear until 1965, by which time Plath's posthumous fame assured the book widespread attention, superlative reviews, and sales that would eventually make it one of the bestselling volumes of poetry to be published in England and America in the twentieth century. Plath's Collected Poems (1982), assembled and edited by Ted Hughes, would win a Pulitzer Prize.
"I am made, crudely, for success," Plath stated matter-of-factly in her journal in April 1958. Yet Plath could not have foreseen that her success would be almost entirely posthumous, and ironic: for, by killing herself impulsively and dying intestate, she delivered her precious fund of work, as well as her two young children Frieda and Nicholas, into the hands of her estranged husband, Hughes, and his proprietary sister Olywn, whom Plath had perceived as her enemies during the final, despairing weeks of her life. As her literary executor, Hughes had the power to publish what he wished of her work, or to publish it in radically "edited" (that is, expurgated) versions, like The Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982); or, if he wished, he might "lose" or even destroy it, as Hughes bluntly acknowledged he had done with two of the journal notebooks written during the last three years of Plath's life. As the surviving, perennially estranged husband, Hughes excised from Plath's journals what he called "nasty bits" and "intimacies," as he had eliminated from Ariel "some of the more personally aggressive poems," with the excuse that he wanted to spare their children further distress. This new, unabridged and unexpurgated edition of the journals assembled by Karen V. Kukil, assistant curator of rare books at Smith College, is "an exact and complete transcript of the twenty-three original manuscripts in the Sylvia Plath Collection," that suggests that the person Ted Hughes most wanted to spare from distress and exposure was himself.The Unabridged Journals document, in obsessive and exhausting detail Plath's undergraduate years at Smith College and her term as a Fulbright fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge; her marriage to Ted Hughes; and two years of teaching and writing in Northampton, Massachusetts, and in Boston. With the exception of appendices and fragments from 1960 to 1962, the most vivid of which describes the birth of Plath's second child, Nicholas, in January 1962, the Journals break off abruptly in November 1959 as Plath and Hughes, their marriage undercut by Plath's suspicions of Hughes's infidelity, prepare to return to England to live. The last entry of the 1959 journal is enigmatic as a typical Plath poem: "A bad day. A bad time. State of mind most important for work. A blithe, itchy eager state where the poem itself, the story itself is supreme."
The most memorable of Sylvia Plath's incantatory poems, many of them written during the final, turbulent weeks of her life, read as if they've been chiseled, with a fine surgical instrument, out of Arctic ice.
Her language is taut and original; her strategy elliptical; such poems as "Lesbos," "The Munich Mannequins," "Paralytic," "Daddy" (Plath's most notorious poem), and "Edge" (Plath's last poem, written in February 1963), and the prescient "Death & Co." linger long in the memory, with the power of malevolent nursery rhymes. For Plath, "The blood jet is poetry," and readers who might know little of the poet's private life can nonetheless feel the authenticity of Plath's recurring emotions: hurt, bewilderment, rage, stoic calm, bitter resignation. Like the greatest of her predecessors, Emily Dickinson, Plath understood that poetic truth is best told slantwise, in as few words as possible.
By contrast, the journals are a tumult of words, and present a very mixed aesthetic experience for even the sympathetic reader. As a corrective to Hughes's "editing," a wholly unedited version of Plath's material would seem justified, in theory at least. Uncritical admirers of Plath will find much here that is fascinating. Other readers may find much that is fascinating and repellent in equal measure. Nor is the book easy to read, for its organization is eccentric: following journal entries for 1959, for instance, we revert jarringly back to a fragment for 1951, listed by the editor as Appendix I. It would have been more practical for scattered fragments to have been integrated chronologically with the journals. The Unabridged Journals is impossible to read without a reliable biography in tandem, for it lacks a simple chronology of Plath's life and the editor's headnotes are scattered and minimal.Uncensored: Views & (Re)views. Copyright © by Joyce Oates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.
- Princeton, New Jersey
- Date of Birth:
- June 16, 1938
- Place of Birth:
- Lockport, New York
- B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961
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