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Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers

Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers

Janet Badia
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers
    Book Description:

    Depicted in popular films, television series, novels, poems, and countless media reports, Sylvia Plath’s women readers have become nearly as legendary as Plath herself, in large part because the depictions are seldom kind. If one is to believe the narrative told by literary and popular culture, Plath’s primary audience is a body of young, misguided women who uncritically—even pathologically—consume Plath’s writing with no awareness of how they harm the author’s reputation in the process. Janet Badia investigates the evolution of this narrative, tracing its origins, exposing the gaps and elisions that have defined it, and identifying it as a bullying mythology whose roots lie in a long history of ungenerous, if not outright misogynistic, rhetoric about women readers that has gathered new energy from the backlash against contemporary feminism. More than just an exposé of our cultural biases against women readers, Badia’s research also reveals how this mythology has shaped the production, reception, and evaluation of Plath’s body of writing, affecting everything from the Hughes family’s management of Plath’s writings to the direction of Plath scholarship today. Badia discusses a wide range of texts and issues whose significance has gone largely unnoticed, including the many book reviews that have been written about Plath’s publications; films and television shows that depict young Plath readers; editorials and fan tributes written about Plath; and Ted and (daughter) Frieda Hughes’s writings about Plath’s estate and audience.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-005-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: “There Is No Such Thing as a Death Girl”: Literary Bullying and the Plath Reader
    (pp. 1-24)

    In 2003 I completed work on an essay, “The ‘Priestess’ and Her ‘Cult’: Plath’s Confessional Poetics and the Mythology of Women Readers,” which later made its way into print in Anita Helle’s 2007 collectionThe Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath.¹ Although I had been researching and writing about Plath for several years, this essay marked my first sustained exploration into the topic of Plath’s readers. It begins, like chapter 2 of this book, with a brief description of the figure of Kat Stratford, one of the central characters of the 1999 film10 Things I Hate About You.² Kat...

  6. CHAPTER 1 “Dissatisfied, Family-Hating Shrews”: Women Readers and the Politics of Plath’s Literary Reception
    (pp. 25-60)

    The literary reception of Plath’s writing has been summarized by at least a few scholars and biographers over the years, including Linda Wagner-Martin and Paul Alexander.¹ These summaries are invaluable to readers looking for either an overview of how Plath’s work has been generally valued within the literary establishment, an indication of whether her individual works were received warmly or not, or some insight into how Plath may have felt about the few reviews that were written in her lifetime. While I focus on the reception history of Plath’s work in this chapter, I do not offer simply another summary...

  7. CHAPTER 2 “Oh, You Are Dark”: The Plath Reader in Popular Culture
    (pp. 61-85)

    Loosely based on Shakespeare’sTaming of the Shrew, the film10 Things I Hate About You(1999) tells the story of Kat Stratford, a darkly cynical and socially outcast teenager who has renounced dating after losing her virginity to the untrustworthy boy now pursuing her younger sister Bianca.¹ Having completely and contemptuously rejected the conventional high school scene, Kat is despised by her peers at Padua High and frequently referred to as a “heinous bitch.” While it is certainly true that Kat occasionally behaves badly—on one occasion she purposely smashes her own patchworked muscle car into her former boyfriend’s...

  8. CHAPTER 3 “We Did Not Wish to Give the Impression”: Plath Fandom and the Question of Representation
    (pp. 86-123)

    Because the construction of the woman reader discussed in the preceding chapters frequently assumes a relationship to Plath’s actual readers, I turn in this chapter to an examination of these real or historical readers, focusing in particular on the female fan culture that has surrounded Plath since the 1970s. As part of this examination, I consider several important and, for the most part, well-known examples of this fandom, including the radical feminist activist and poet Robin Morgan, whose poem “Arraignment” has become virtually synonymous with Plath fanaticism; the women who reportedly began protesting Ted Hughes’s poetry readings in the 1970s;...

  9. CHAPTER 4 “A Fiercely Fought Defense”: Ted Hughes and the Plath Reader
    (pp. 124-154)

    To convey his dissatisfaction with Plath’s elevation to the status of feminism’s “patron saint,” A. Alvarez uses the occasion of his 1976 review ofLetters Hometo consider the question of “what [Plath] would think” had she lived to experience her eventual success. While Alvarez admits that Plath’s success reflected the fulfillment of “all her wildest ambitions,” he ultimately concludes that the reality of that fulfillment would have “[broken] her heart all over again.” As I discussed in chapter 1, Alvarez’s conclusion is predicated on his perception of the undesirable nature of Plath’s path to posthumous success, a path built...

  10. CONCLUSION: “I Don’t Mean Any Harm”: Frieda Hughes, Plath Readers, and the Question of Resistance
    (pp. 155-166)

    If her public statements are any indication, Frieda Hughes inherited from her father, Ted Hughes, not only the rights to Plath’s literary estate but also his rather enigmatic attitude toward readers and their relationship to Plath’s writing. Although her time as literary executor has been relatively short so far, her statements seem even more pertinent than her father’s in light of what appears to be her eagerness (in contrast to her father) to participate in the public discourse about her mother’s readers, a reality brought to many people’s attention by the controversy that swirled around the 2003 filmSylvia. Frieda,¹...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 167-194)
  12. Index
    (pp. 195-202)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-203)