Thursday, March 19, 2009
Confession: I think Sylvia Plath was kind of an asshole
It was the summer Lorena Bobbitt cut her husbands dick off with a Ginsu knife...
I first read The Bell Jar when I was 11 years old. I often joke with my mom about how appropriate it was for her to hand that particular book to a girl that age- but she maintains that 11 would be the time to read something like that, considering how mental everyone is during puberty. I think now that it might have been because it's one of the few times in one's life where being an ungrateful twit seems like a rational personality option, and thus the book would be more appreciated at that age.
Truthfully- the only thing I *really* liked about it were the parts with Doreen- who seemed pretty bad ass, and I didn't quite approve of Plath's somewhat snide attitude towards her, anyway. Even when I read it later in highschool, I found it difficult to muster up a huge amount of sympathy for either Esther or Sylvia. It just wasn't in me to do it. I tried, but my head kept popping up with things like "Oh for godsakes. She should go out in the world and meet some people with real problems and then try feeling sorry for herself." She just seemed so ungrateful for the things and opportunities she was given. I don't know, I think I read Jonothan Kozol's Amazing Grace at around the same time- so my empathy level for such people was not exactly at an all time high.
It's not that I don't think she was a good writer, but I do think she was an asshole. It's perfectly possible to be an asshole and a writer at the same time. I can provide you with some examples if you like.
I think she was an asshole for killing herself with her kids in the damned apartment. I mean, I think you have to be pretty selfish if you're going to go and off yourself when you have children that are dependant on you, and, you know, might want a mother-- but to not care if your kids saw you lying there dead- well, you might as well be a sociopath.
I think she was an asshole because Olive Higgins Prouty was kind enough to finance her education, as well as her stay in the sanitarium- and she thought she'd pay her back by writing a scathing caricature of her as Philomena Guinea. That was a crappy thing to do. If someone paid for my school and my treatment in a fancy dancy sanitarium, I would probably have nothing but lovely things to say about them. But that's just me. What kind of an asshole to do you have to be to turn around and do that? And may I just mention that Prouty was alive and well at the time The Bell Jar was published (which, along with her snide depictions of other people, is why it was originally published under a psuedonym).
Would you want to be friends with Sylvia Plath? I sure wouldn't. Nothing you did would ever be enough for her. You'd probably have to sit and listen to her prattle on endlessly about her psychic pain for hours and hours, and she'd never say thank you- she'd just assume that the privilege of being privy to her deep thoughts and unending anguish was thanks enough. She'd deliver a lot of hidden stabs about you being "shallow" as well.
By the way, I happen to like Prouty a lot- she wrote the novels that two of my all time favorite movies were based on- Now, Voyager and Stella Dallas, which is how I started reading her books in the first place. She's actually pretty awesome, and I'd heartily recommend checking her out.
I've never found weakness and frailty to be especially charming qualities in a person. I think that part of what bothers me about Plath is actually something Bette Davis once said:
"The weak are the most treacherous of us all. They come to the strong and drain them. They are bottomless. They are insatiable. They are always parched and always bitter. They are everyone's concern and like vampires they suck out life's blood."