Thursday, April 18, 2013
Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder
For those unfamiliar, Plath was an amazing poet and writer whose suicide has come to define her, unfairly, as the patron saint of depressed teenage girls. Elizabeth Winder, a poet herself, wrote the book as a way to rewrite Plath’s story in popular culture, and, while I’m not sure the book will be enough to change public perception, Winder does a good job turning Plath into a fully-formed human being.
The layout of the book is interesting--it looks something like a magazine itself, with sidebars and images interspersed throughout the text, and the actual chapters vary in structure as well, from oral histories from Sylvia’s roommates on the trip to poetic excursions into the ephemera of Mademoiselle, the fashion world, and other, related topics. This makes for a fast read, but the information is good, and as a transformative tool for Plath, it works wonders.
Plath wasn’t the type to lock herself in a room to write. Instead, she gathered her inspiration from her experiences, particularly, as Winder notes, the concrete details of her experiences. Winder makes the case for Plath as an aesthete, appreciative of beauty for its own sake, one who believed the art needed no purpose but to exist. Not only was Plath a concrete thinker, she was also a social creature. She had a policy of never turning down a date, saying that even the worst of them provided material for her writing. Indeed, several of the dates mentioned here provide fodder for their lightly-fictionalized counterparts in The Bell Jar.
Plath’s fellow junior editors didn’t know what to make of her, and I don’t either, exactly, after reading Pain, Parties, Work. What I can say is that, between The Bell Jar and this book, my perspective on Plath has been challenged and upended. It’s challenged my sometime unintentionally sexist views on literature, and made me more open to trying other female authors who I might have previously dismissed. And I’m sure future readings of The Bell Jar will be greatly enhanced, knowing something about the story behind the story.