Sylvia Plath - the woman and her time: an intertextual approach

Brennan, Claire Josephine (1996) Sylvia Plath - the woman and her time: an intertextual approach. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Criticism of Sylvia Plath's writing has tended to privilege her personal history over the social and historical context that to a large extent constructs the personal. This thesis is concerned with placing the writing of Plath within its social and historical context, and aims to illustrate, through considering the process of the construction of self through society, the extent to which Plath's writing is involved with an era. Recent discussions considering Plath from a feminist perspective have concentrated on the expression of a woman's consciousness which arises from a sexualized, gendered conflict. While these discussions are relevant to this thesis, I argue for a more contextualized view of Plath's writing which insists on reading the conflicts and tensions of the writing as consistent with specific historical and social pressures.

As an introduction to considering the way in which a self is constructed in Plath's writing, this thesis briefly considers the way in which Plath has been created by her biographers. This chapter reflects the critical response to Plath's work. The second chapter '"My Emulous Urge": American Women's Magazines' begins to engage with the idea of intertextuality and explores the relationship between Plath's writing and women's magazines. By considering Plath's involvement, both as a reader and as a young publisher, the styling, format and ideology is seen to influence aspects of Plath's writing. Initially prepared to construct a social self through the prescriptions of the magazines, Plath's writing undertakes a process of self construction which struggles with compliance and redefinition. This is considered in relation to the iconography of the female self.

The third chapter "The Domestic State: Personal and Political", discusses the domestic context of much of Plath's writing, suggesting the significance of place and era in the consideration of mothering. Parallels are drawn between the isolated, inner worlds of the housewife, and the tensions generated by the American politics of the Cold War. Through figures such as Dr Spock, Ethel Rosenberg and J Edgar Hoover, Plath's writing can be seen to be imbued with fears and strictures of the time. This is further developed to consider the role of hospitalization in Plath's writing, which is seen as part of the social conditioning of women in this era. The final chapter to consider Plath's own awareness of context, 'Waist deep in History', considers the struggle for the articulation of a historical self in relation to historical events of the twentieth century. The impact of the Holocaust is considered in both an American and European context, finally suggesting that a historically sensitive and political voice is evident in Plath's writing.

In conclusion, it has seemed important to recognize the contextualisation of Plath by other writers, in particular the generation of American writers who share a past with Plath, but who are unable to discuss the present.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Hobsbaum, Professor Philip
Date of Award: 1996
Depositing User: Mrs Marie Cairney
Unique ID: glathesis:1996-74339
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 15 Aug 2019 15:35
Last Modified: 16 Aug 2019 14:31
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.74339

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