Sylvia Plath’s Letters Reveal a Writer Split in Two

James Nieves/The New York Times In 1951, Sylvia Plath signed off on a letter to her mother: “The only quiet woman is a dead one.” Was anyone ever so wrong? Twelve years later, Plath would kill herself in her London flat on a winter morning, while her small children slept in the next room and her husband was off with another woman. But she has never stopped speaking to us. There have been the posthumously published poems, journals and juvenilia. And she’s been famously spoken for — villainized and valorized in a plethora (Plathora?) of biographies and critical studies, a film, an opera. She’s been made to stand in for the plight of the female writer, the plight of the wronged woman, the plight of mental illness and — in “The Silent Woman,” Janet Malcolm’s survey of this hive of activity — the very problem of biography itself. In 2003, a reader of this newspaper named Horace Hone spoke for the weary when he wrote in to protest “Sylvia,” a biopic starring Gwyneth Paltrow: “Enough already.” Mr. Hone, I’m afraid I have bad news. Plath’s letters have been collected for the first time, edited by Peter K. Steinberg, an […]

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