Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Why an Aurelia Plath Biography is Impossible (For Now)

Analyze the appeal to young women of this creative collage-style ad (1957)

Here's what's derailed my longtime goal to write a book-length Aurelia Plath biography in the classic birth-to-death mode:

-Insufficient material. After ten years I find Aurelia's childhood a blank except for what she tells in Letters Home. Hundreds of Aurelia's letters to Sylvia are missing. I'll wager that Aurelia withheld from archives and filed away some crucial letters and writings, hers and Sylvia's, and they're privately owned. Aurelia kept diaries or journals, she said so, but they'd look anemic alongside of Sylvia's. Aurelia's associates and friends didn't write and publish memoirs.

-Aurelia was a polite, generous, hard-working lady and caring mother and neighbor who did her best. I found in her life some exciting episodes and prefigurements and secrets, yet the lives of unglamorous people who never wrote poems or held office lack drama and are unlikely to sell.

-Lack of funds. I've funded most of my own research because I think it's worth it, but don't want in my lap a multi-year book project without a sponsor or publisher's backing. Lucky you if you have a working spouse.

-Permissions. I asked the distinguished Plath biographer Dr. Heather Clark about the hardest thing she faced while writing Red Comet, and she said "Permissions." What was difficult for Dr. Clark would drive an independent scholar insane.

-Shifting perspectives. Increasingly I'm viewing Aurelia and Sylvia Plath less in terms of their personal trivia and more in the context of the cards they were dealt and the forces acting on and against them. I'm thinking that they maintained their bond -- incomprehensible to most -- because they needed it.

I'll think of alternatives!

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