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Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  782 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Though Plath has become a modern legendary figure, this is the first fully informed account of her life as a poet. With new material of all sorts, Stevenson recounts the struggle between fantasy and reality that blessed the artist but placed a curse on the woman. Photos.
Hardcover, 413 pages
Published August 1st 1989 by Houghton Mifflin
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Caitlin
At first, I liked this biography and there are parts of it that I did find helpful in understanding Plath's life and poetry, but there were also aspects of the book that I found problematic, such as Stevenson's unwillingness to hold Ted accountable for the decisions he made while never hesitating to excoriate Plath's behavior. And don't get me wrong, I have no antipathy for Ted Hughes. What I object to is the relentless criticism of Plath that permeates the book. Furthermore, most of this critic ...more
April
As much as I felt (as is always a risk with biographies) certain aspects of Sylvia's life were dreadfully misrepresented (eg her and Teds marriage) it does offer quite a beautiful interpretation of her life as a poet, including fascinating analysis of her creations and psyche. One of the many pictures of the Plath enigma; a woman truly "at sea in an alien world."

I doubt I'm the right person to judge or confirm certain details/descriptions about her life and person (I'd be the first to admit tha
...more
Melissa Jean


This book is unfair to Sylvia Plath, seemingly in an attempt to appease those who are still alive and have control over her estate. I take greatest issue not with the glossing over of Ted Hughes' abandonment and infidelity to Sylvia (and leaving her a single mother in the 1960s) but Stevenson's failure to present Sylvia's alleged "mood swings" and "difficulty" as what they were--the suffering of a woman mentally ill for much of her life at a time when there was little sympathy for those who suf
...more
Maria Ch
At first I really liked this biography but as I continued reading and getting to the second part that focuses on Plath’s marriage to Ted Hughes, I felt the biographer was unreliable in her representation of their marriage and biased against Plath, even going as far as to suggest that it was her jealousy that caused Hughe’s affairs (that are simply mentioned throughout the book). She attempts to paint a picture of Hughes as the perfect husband who was often embarrassed by his wife’s mood swings b ...more
Jennifer
So unbelievably biased against Sylvia Plath that I often found 'Bitter Fame' difficult to read. I can imagine that Plath was a difficult person, but the level of influence from the Hughes estate taints the biography; there are far too many irrelevant passages describing Plath's bitchy journal entries and undermining her character for my liking.
TheMadHatter
Mar 03, 2014 TheMadHatter marked it as did-not-finish
Shelves: autobiography
I have NEVER not finished a book before. NEVER. I remember reading Lady Chatterley's Lover over the space of a year. 1-2 pages a day. Hated it. But I had to finish. The bad thing was, it stopped me from reading anything else as I didn't want to start anything new while I had that unfinished task over my head.

Flash forward 20+ years and I for the first time ever am going to mark a book as DNF (I even created a goodreads category :-)).

Why this book? Was it that bad? No. It is just that I found it
...more
Doug
It's a good biography and shows the human side of Sylvia, warts and all, in an objective manner, while praising the poems themselves and using them frequently to illustrate Sylvia's state of mind at the time she wrote them. The book should be viewed as a supplement to another good bio in order to get more of the details of Sylvia's life. What I didn't like was the short "memoir" of Sylvia in the appendices by her former friend Dido Merwin, which is almost unrelentingly uncomplimentary and artifi ...more
Julia
I learnt a lot about Sylvia Plath but there is also quite a lot not to like about this biography. Given the involvement Stevenson had with Ted's sister when writing the book, readers will notice the vast amount of times Ted is portrayed as a flawless, kind man. Ted is never shown in a bad light (if he was I have missed it) and the little snide remarks from Olwyn Huges is evident throughout. Sylvia is shown as a violent, angry, 'crazy' woman. The quotes given by Sylvia in regards to Olwyn are fre ...more
Sean de la Rosa
Sylvias life tragically ended at the age of 30 after she gassed herself in her London Apartment. She was churning out some of her best work just prior to her suicide - the Bell Jar had only recently been released. Interestingly, Sylvia had a chance encounter with the famous author, Doris Lessing just before her death. Doris found Sylvia far too animated for her likening - a comment she regretted after hearing of the suicide.

The biographer steers away from unnecessary emotive writing and facts. T
...more
Nathaniel
Stevenson critically engages with her subject, and in way that pops the hype surrounding good ol' Sylvia Plath. Stevenson's obsession with Plath's neuroses, though, made it a repetitive read.
Gabrielle
My first biography. Interesting, but I still prefer supernatural stories.
Allison
I just can't do it. I can't get over the influence.
Gary Scott Gebert
Sylvia Plath's poetry was the first poetry I truly tried to understand. After reading this book I came to understand her words a bit more than one wanted to for personal reasons. But, the telling of Plath's early beginnings was an important step in measuring her real success, or perceived lack of in 1963. I have become more aware of how the process works...meaning to be a writer, especially one who draws from inner struggles and with blood creates such wonderful work.

Anne Stevenson's perspective
...more
Gary Daly
A difficult journey for the reader. You watch this great obsessive and creative mind battle through a web of social, professional and family networks that for Sylvia never seem to match the pattern recognition of her imagination. If this biography told me one thing it was how the lives of artists and creative individuals are not in anyway different from the rest of us. We all have our emotional and psychological issues to manage and work through it's just that we place people on pedestals becaus ...more
Caroline
It seems as though all the Sylvia Plath biographies are seen as falling into a particular "camp" - this one is seen as being more sympathetic to Plath, that one to Hughes - which is kind of weird, seeing as how that means that readers and writers are essentially "taking sides" as regards a marriage that is over and done with, from a historical standpoint. It's irresistible. "Bitter Fame" is one of those books regarded as casting Plath in a less than favorable light. But the thing is, it's not ex ...more
Ilze
It's a pity that Ted Hughes and his sister (Olwyn) interfered with Stevenson's work so much. If they'd just have let her be, much controversy and speculation could've been avoided. This book almost needs to be read along with Birthday Letters in order to see how much pain Plath did in fact inflict by her behaviour. Hughes was merely trying to protect her public image - and he shouldn't have fooled himself, the children would've heard the truth somewhere along the line anyway. Many people feel th ...more
Susan Katz
The best biography of Plath I've read - even-handed, literate, sympathetic to Plath but not conned by the myths that have sprung up around her. I found particularly interesting and convincing the first-hand accounts by people like Dido Merwin, not a special friend of Hughes or of Plath but a friendly and unbiased observer.
Lisa
Marvellously written, terribly sad.
Homeschoolmama
Nov 22, 2008 Homeschoolmama added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Someone suffering from insomnia
I am giving up on this book. It is overdue at the library and I'm still only on p 100. It is just the same old story, from page to page, reads very dry. I'm going to check out her journals and the other books ( I think it is called Letters to Home) that Gary recommended. Thanks Gary.
Stephanie
Great, great biography about Sylvia Plath. Sylvia is my favorite writer, so to learn about her life was really great. I felt it helped me understand her writing better. Sometimes biographies are hard to read if they are all dates and numbers, but this was a really well written biography.
Steve Robinson
An excellent and interesting read on the life of poet Sylvia Plath. This book was helpful in giving me a better understanding of her poetry and of the deep depression that led to her suicide at he age of thirty.
Stephanie
On a Plath kick, and wanted to know more about her. Made for an interesting read. Especially like the perspective direct from some players in her life.
Lynette Twaddle
A really good biography. I think perhaps Hughes gets a bit more of an edit than perhaps he deserves, but a good read.
victoria
A gossipy yet very informative & in depth biography of the life of Sivy, as she often signed letters to her mother.
Marsmannix
Very in-depth analysis of Plath's work and psychological forces at work in her life.
Lily Patchett
Fantastic biographer -- very sensitive portrayal of Sylvia Plath and those in her life.
Susie
Life-affirming even through death.
Natalie Wright
Natalie Wright marked it as to-read
Jul 28, 2015
Tris Everdeen
Tris Everdeen marked it as to-read
Jul 28, 2015
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FABClub (Female A...: Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath (August '14 MM) 3 8 Sep 13, 2014 03:16PM  
  • Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness
  • Sylvia Plath: A Biography
  • Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath
  • The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
  • Her Husband: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath - A Marriage
  • The Haunting of Sylvia Plath
  • Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes' Doomed Love
  • Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and the Story of Birthday Letters
  • Letters Home
  • The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath
  • Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted
  • Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters
  • Wintering : A Novel of Sylvia Plath
  • Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet
  • The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers
  • My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson
  • Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath
  • Louise Brooks
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Anne Stevenson is an American-British poet and writer.
More about Anne Stevenson...
Poems 1955-2005 Selected Poems The Collected Poems of Anne Stevenson, 1955-1995 Restoring the Dance: Seeking God's Order A game of statues

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