Poetry News

Kelly Coyne Discovers 'The Many Faces of Sylvia Plath'

By Harriet Staff
Sylvia Path, Letters of Sylvia Path, cover

Literary Hub posts Kelly Coyne's recent ruminations on Sylvia Plath's legacy, as revealed by a freshly-surfaced treasure trove of her "formerly obscured" letters. According to Coyne, "2017 has been an important year for Plath fans, marked by the discovery of two new Plath poems and formerly obscured letters that indicate domestic abuse at the hand of Ted Hughes, as well as an exhibit on her visual personas at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, which will be running until May 2018." Let's start rethinking with Coyne, from there: 

Given our age of digitally-modified self-portraits, and the facets of our identities the codes of each medium elicit—the self-deprecating honesty of Snapchat, the sparse and aesthetic and envy-inducing Instagram—it makes sense that we are fixated on Plath’s fluctuating presentations of her identity.

But in Plath’s case, these variations point to darker impulses. The performance of a false self, the “illusion,” that Plath outlines in the letter to her brother is what Alice Miller, whose seminal book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, attributes to Plath’s suicide. Miller’s gifted child is not gifted in the realm of conventional talent—as in, artistic talent or academic ability—but is rather particularly attuned to the needs of others. Her theory outlines a narcissistic parent-child relationship in which a parent uses their child as a mirror to affirm the parent’s own self, inducing in the child a development of identity dependent on disguising their own feelings and needs in favor of the parent’s. In healthy relationships, this dynamic is reversed. The gifted child must hide what Miller deems the true self behind a mask, in favor of reflecting a false self.

Read more at Literary Hub.

Originally Published: October 27th, 2017