Book Review: Mirrored in a Glowing Cover: Carl Rollyson’s The Last Days of Sylvia Plath

3rd July 2020

Aleksandra Majak, University of Oxford

Carl Rollyson, The Last Days of Sylvia Plath (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2020)

Content warning: violence

In his preface to The Last Days of Sylvia Plath, Carl Rollyson says that every biography is also an autobiography, expressing an implicit belief that something in the author’s own life qualifies them to speak to the life of another. As I read this line, I recalled my first encounter with Sylvia Plath, opening the blue Faber volume of her lyric on the ‘Morning Song’. The poem’s simultaneous seeking and rejecting of motherly love felt instantly familiar, yet also deeply uncomfortable. Later, I have come to believe that to write about Plath is not only to confront the public myths and tropes of her life, work, and suicidal death, but also one’s own psychobiographical motives. In other words, to ask: what is it that speaks to me personally about the author known as, in the words of American critic M.L. Rosenthal, a ‘confessional’ poet? Through trying to answer this question, the readers of biography could not only discover something new about the most well-known American female poet, but perhaps also about themselves.

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