The Silent Woman  

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

By Janet Malcolm, 1993

You should know

I first read Ariel as an undergrad. I later bought the Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. Then, I was assigned The Silent Woman for a grad school class.


There’s a question in this book: is the silent woman of the title Plath, or Plath’s sister-in-law, Olwyn Hughes? Hughes is the executrix of Plath’s estate, and her brother is often blamed by fans as the cause of Plath’s death. A tangled web, yes?

Malcolm goes on a sort of quest to find out more about the real relationship between Plath, Ted Hughes, and Olwyn Hughes. Different memoirs tell different stories, and while authorized biographers had to clear things with the Hugheses, unauthorized ones had little to no access to crucial documents. Even though Malcolm says what side she’s on, it’s hard to tell if she means it. After all, Malcolm is a journalist who hates journalism, a biographer who mistrusts biographies.

I’m not one of Malcolm’s biggest fans, but her story of digging up the truth – or, perhaps, a truth, which is kind of the point – is an intriguing one. Still, I was looking forward to hearing more about the Plath-Hughes family, and didn’t really learn much, so the book was a bit of a letdown to me.


Read it if…
…You’re a fan of Malcolm, Hughes, or Plath, and have read any of their work and/or biographies of any of them. Also, if you enjoy biographies and want to know more about how they’re put together, you might want to check it out.

The rest of the Internet

The LibraryThing entry.
Wikipedia on Janet Malcolm.
A Time Magazinearticle on Malcolm and the book.
Guy Frowny reviews the book.
LK at The Literate Kitten outlines must-reads for the Plath fan.

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