Before and After a Poet's Suicide


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  • Title: Before and After a Poet's Suicide: The Reception of Sylvia Plath
  • Author(s): Marianne Egeland
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Books, Publishing & Libraries
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Book
  • Keywords: Reception Study, Literary Critique, Role of the Author
  • Volume: 11
  • Issue: 3
  • Year: 2014
  • ISSN: 1447-9516 (Print)
  • ISSN: 1447-9567 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Egeland, Marianne. 2014. "Before and After a Poet's Suicide: The Reception of Sylvia Plath." The International Journal of the Book 11 (3): 27-36. doi:10.18848/1447-9516/CGP/v11i03/37023.
  • Extent: 10 pages


Few modern authors have been the object of such intense interest as the American poet Sylvia Plath. In critical reception, there is a notable before-and-after division. Before she killed herself, reviewers mainly commented on literary aspects of her work. When the reason for her death became known, her personal story overshadowed the aesthetic evaluation of the two books she saw into print herself, as well as the many posthumous titles published in her name. Sylvia Plath thus demonstrates the relevance of Boris Tomashevsky’s argument in “Literature and Biography” (1923), that it is essential to consider how the biography of a poet operates in readers’ consciousness. The important thing is not the factual life and whether the perception of it is correct, but how the image of an author affects the understanding of her work. Tomashevsky distinguishes between “writers with biographies” and “writers without biographies,” between those who are the subject of anecdotes and biographical stories and those who are unknown to the public or appear as neutral. Poets moving from one category to the other, like Plath did, make for interesting study. Her case also raises a number of ethical questions.