If you’re a regularly reader, you’ll know that I live to investigate Sylvia Plath; the confessional poet has been of great importance to me since I read The Bell Jar at thirteen. Recently, Doctor Gail Crowther has written the book, The Haunted Reader And Sylvia Plath;I spoke to her to find out more about it.
You have recently written a new book, The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath. What inspired you to write this book?
I suppose the interest came from my own personal attachment to Plath which I formed when I was 13. I love so many writers, but my reading relationship with Plath feels quite unique and I increasingly noticed this seemed to be the case with other people too. I grew more curious about what was going on at that convergence between reader and writer, and the subsequent nature of the relationship that developed. So I decided to try and find out a bit more about it. This involved carrying out primary research over a number of years, using a method I called creative autobiography, to discover what sort of attachments readers had with Plath. I was especially interested in those who formed strong attachments, and the results of that research are The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath.
What do you think is the relevance of Freud when analysing people such as Plath?
Well my book does not actually analyse Plath, but rather her readers. I was so resistant to using Freud at first because, as a feminist, I really struggle to get beyond some of the problematic gender politics in his work. I explored other psychoanalytic theorists and other concepts such as projection and introjection. I also looked more generally at theories of reading and fandom. But as soon as I read ‘Identification’ by Freud as well as ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ and Narcissism’, I realised that constructing a framework from his theories was going to best help me explore what was going on.
Did your impressions of Plath change at all?
Not really, though I was really pleased to discover just how powerful and positive a role she plays in peoples’ lives. She is a real constant, and despite the often stereotypical depiction of Plath in popular culture as a suicidal misery, readers who become attached to her see a very different Plath – they see a vibrant, funny, insightful Plath…which of course she was.
What do you think about the seemingly mythologised fandom round Plath?
I think Plath herself and those who read her and become attached to her, have had a very rough time indeed. The fact that the expression the ‘Cult of Plath’ is used says it all really. I do think in recent years a revision is taking place and hopefully Plath will emerge from this as a more rounded cultural figure. Certainly the publication of her Letters over the next year or so will make a massive difference to how she is understood. Her voices in those letters are astonishing – multiple, playful, serious, anguished, hilarious, teasing, passionate, stroppy. Once Plath becomes fully recognised for the woman she was, I think (hope) this positivity will transfer to her readers too.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
Yes. I have one more Plath piece to research and write which will be an essay for a forthcoming book, Sylvia Plath in Context (edited by Tracy Brain). This will explore Plath and religion, an area that is surprisingly under-researched I think , given all that imagery in her poems. Then hopefully around May a book I co-wrote with Peter K. Steinberg will be released, called These Ghostly Archives, sharing our archival experiences and delights. When books get published in quick succession it seems like they must be speedy projects, but The Haunted Reader took almost ten years to research and publish, and These Ghostly Archives is the product of eight years of research – so these things take time before they actually appear in print.
Then I have a couple of non-Plath projects bubbling away, but I also hope to give my writing brain a little bit of a rest. Though not for very long.
Random: what do you prefer-heels or flats?
In my head, heels. In reality, flats.