American Isis

The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath

Carl Rollyson

Picador

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The life and work of Sylvia Plath has taken on the proportions of legend. Educated at Smith College, she had a conflicted relationship with her mother, Aurelia. She then married the poet Ted Hughes and plunged into the Sturm und Drang of literary celebrity. Her poems were fought over, rejected, accepted—and ultimately embraced by readers everywhere. At age thirty she committed suicide by putting her head in an oven while her children slept on the floor above in rooms she had sealed off from the poisonous gas. Ariel, a collection of poems she wrote at white-hot speed during her final months, became a modern classic. Her novel, The Bell Jar, has become a part of the literary canon, appearing on student reading lists worldwide. On the fiftieth anniversary of her death, Carl Rollyson gives us a new biography of Plath that shows her as a powerful figure who embraced both high and low culture to become the Marilyn Monroe of modern literature, a writer who wanted nothing less than to become central to the mythology of modern consciousness. American Isis is the first biography of Sylvia Plath to use materials newly deposited in the Ted Hughes archive at the British Library—including forty-one letters between Plath and Hughes—to create a fresh and startling look at this American icon.
 

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CHAPTER 1
 

PRIMORDIAL CHILD OF TIME
(1932–50)
27 October 1932: Sylvia Plath born in Boston while her family lives in Winthrop, Massachusetts; 1934: Otto Plath publishes Bumblebees and Their Ways, a landmark study in entomology; 27 April 1935: Warren is born; 21 September 1938: The great New England hurricane; 5 November 1940: Otto Plath dies of an embolism after an amputation; 10 August 1941: Sylvia’s first poem is published in the Boston Herald; 7 December, The United States enters World War II; 1942: Aurelia Plath moves her family to Wellesley and begins teaching

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Reviews

Praise for American Isis

“The figure that emerges from Rollyson’s study is certainly compelling, and very much a woman of her moment and culture.”—Publishers Weekly

“Rollyson...has diligently combed the archives and interviewed Plath’s Smith College classmates and others who knew her. His workmanlike narrative gathers force when it reaches the inevitably fascinating marriage, which Rollyson compares to Monroe’s ill-fated union with playwright Arthur Miller.”—The Boston Globe

“Refreshingly judicious and often eloquent...Rollyson’s account credibly outlines the claustrophobic effects on Plath of social, familial, and marital pressures that may have proved her undoing.”—The Washington Post

“Concise, fast-moving, and reliable.”—The New York Times

“Garbo, Garland, Monroe, Plath, thrilling divas one and all. Carl Rollyson’s American Isis is a tour de force that reinvents Sylvia Plath for the 21st century. I was sorry to turn the final page.”—Marion Meade, author of Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney

“Carl Rollyson's impeccably researched, compulsively readable life of Sylvia Plath is likely to remain for years to come the definitive biography of this complex, fascinating woman. I could not put the book down.”—Donald Spoto, author of High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly and The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams

“An illuminating work on Plath by an accomplished biographer. While not underestimating Plath's troubled nature, Rollyson recognizes her as the agent of her own fame: a skilled mythmaker who worked hard to become not only a great poet but also an intellectual celebrity. Like Marilyn Monroe, who influenced her, she both shaped and reflected her times, becoming a symbol for our age.”—Lois Banner, Professor of History and Gender Studies, University of Southern California. Author of Marilyn Monroe: The Passion and the Paradox


In the Press

‘American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath,’ by Carl Rollyson - The Washington Post
Carl Rollyson offers a refreshingly judicious and even-handed new biography of the poet.
- The Washington Post


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About the Author

Carl Rollyson

Carl Rollyson is professor of journalism at Baruch College, The City University of New York and the author of twelve biographies including Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress and, with his wife, Lisa Paddock, Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon. He reviews biographies regularly for The Wall Street Journal, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Washington Post, The New Criterion, and other papers. He writes a column every two weeks for bibliobuffet.com. He lives in Cape May Court House, New Jersey.

Carl Rollyson

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Available Formats and Book Details

American Isis
The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath
Carl Rollyson

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback
Picador
March 2014
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781250043443
ISBN10: 1250043441
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 352 pages, Includes one 8-page black-and-white photograph section
$18.00

Hardcover

Hardcover
St. Martin's Press
January 2013
Hardcover
ISBN: 9780312640248
ISBN10: 0312640242
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches, 336 pages, Plus one 8-page black-and-white photograph insert
$29.99

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
St. Martin's Press
January 2013
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781250023155
ISBN10: 1250023157
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 288 pages
$9.99
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