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Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers

Janet Badia

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. i-iii

Title Page

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p. iv-iv

Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

Table of Contents

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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-x

...the nature of the path she’s undertaken. According to Ted Hughes, it’s a rather mad path that often leads the critic to her own “mental breakdown, neurotic collapse, domestic catastrophe,” all of which have “saved” him and his family “from several travesties” of literary criticism.1 Only the most “insensitive” of the critics, he added, succeeds. I must admit, these ...

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pp. xii-xv

...book were first planted; I am extremely grateful to those colleagues, friends, students, and onetime strangers who have helped the book on its long way. During the research stage, I benefited from the able assistance of several students and many librarians. Becky Click, Matthew Prochnow, Sara Blevins, and Chris Belcher helped collect and organize the vast ...

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Introduction: “There Is No Such Thing as a Death Girl”: Literary Bullying and the Plath Reader

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pp. 1-24

...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 collection The 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, ...

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Chapter 1. “Dissatisfied, Family-Hating Shrews”: Women Readers and the Politics of Plath’s Literary Reception

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pp. 25-60

...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 ...

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Chapter 2. “Oh, You Are Dark”: The Plath Reader in Popular Culture

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pp. 61-85

Loosely based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, the film 10 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 ...

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Chapter 3. “We Did Not Wish to Give the Impression”: Plath Fandom and the Question of Representation

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pp. 86-123

Because of the construction of the worman 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 ...

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Chapter 4. “A Fiercely Fought Defense”: Ted Hughes and the Plath Reader

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pp. 124-154

...to the status of feminism’s “patron saint,” A. Alvarez uses the occasion of his 1976 review of Letters Home to 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 ...

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Conclusion: “I Don’t Mean Any Harm”: Frieda Hughes, Plath Readers, and the Question of Resistance

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pp. 155-166

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 ...


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pp. 167-194


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pp. 195-217

Back Cover

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p. 218-218

E-ISBN-13: 9781613760055
E-ISBN-10: 1613760051
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558498952
Print-ISBN-10: 1558498958

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 5
Publication Year: 2011