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American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath
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American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath

3.51  ·  Rating Details ·  362 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
The life and work of Sylvia Plath has taken on the proportions of legend. Educated at Smith College, she had a conflicted relationship with her mother, Aurelia. She then married the poet Ted Hughes and plunged into the Sturm und Drang of literary celebrity. Her poems were fought over, rejected, accepted—and ultimately embraced by readers everywhere. At age thirty she commi ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by Picador (first published January 22nd 2013)
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Community Reviews

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Mar 25, 2014 Joseph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Just a short review because I wasn't planning on reviewing the book and secondly it was a "for fun" read.

I didn't know much about Plath except from reading The Bell Jar and knowing she took her own life. I didn't even know she was a poet; I have since bought a collection of her poetry. I was after some basic background on the author that everyone seems to know. I got much more than that from American Isis. My initial thoughts were this woman is brilliant and crazy. Why doesn't anyone see the las
Mar 02, 2013 Cynthia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I found “American Isis” interesting though I became fed up with his multiple comparisons between Sylvia Plath and Marilyn Monroe. He did make a good point that they both loved fame and sought it yet it damaged them. The 1950’s were a time of stereotypes and both of them tried to conform and still express their unique vision. Both committed suicide. Enough said, but Rollyson draws far too many parallels. Their artistic fields were very different. By definition writers need solitude and cre
Mar 11, 2013 Diane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, having studied Plath for the last 15 years, I came at this book figuring that there wasn't anything new that would be said, and indeed there wasn't. Like the other reviewers, I found the constant comparisons with Marilyn Monroe to be rather offensive as attempting to paint two vastly different women with the same brush--academically, it's a poor argument to get seriously sucked into no matter how interesting the comparison might be, and I thought it a bit of a cheap plug for his books abou ...more
Feb 18, 2013 Nancy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A New Look at the Plath Legend

As the first biography since the Ted Hughes files were made available, this is an important book for those interested in Plath, the person or the poetess. The book presents a new version of some of the perplexing incidents in the Plath legend. I've read several biographies and the diaries, but this is the first book that made me understand how driven she was. The world of the 1950s is brought to life giving a good backdrop for Plath's struggle for acclaim. The autho
Feb 25, 2013 Martha rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I can't figure out why author Carl Rollyson felt the need to write this book. There's nothing new here about Sylvia Plath, the writing is stilted, and the editing is awful, with mistakes everywhere (example on page 47 where Mrs. Cantor is spelled Cantor and Canter within two lines). I don't think Rollyson was able to empathize with his subject, though there's a familiar tone that I found creepy. She seems somewhat interchangeable with Marilyn Monroe, to whom he compares Plath numerous times thr ...more
I can only imagine why a book with this title was remaindered.

That aside, the tedious comparisons between Sylvia Plath and Marilyn Monroe really just helped pull this biography in a million directions, in addition to a half hearted analysis of all the biographies of Plath after her death. Either make the book about suicide, Plath's struggle to reconcile her poetic talents with the expectation/demands of motherhood, or admit that The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes already covered the
Heather Fineisen
Skip it. Speculative at best There are more comprehensive, factual books on Plath.
Apr 16, 2013 Louise rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, writers
The book had a lot of promise. 1) It is one of the first (the first?) to benefit from the files of Ted Hughes. 2) The author had an intriguing thesis. He proposed to show Sylvia Plath's suicide as a premeditated step to establish her place in literature. 3) The title implies that Plath is the ideal wife and mother receiver of the hope and prayers of all. Unfortunately none of this is realized. The benefit of the Hughes papers does not show. The material on Plath is so gossipy and disjointed that ...more
Deborah Markus
Let me get my quibbles out of the way first, because I want to focus on the strengths of this biography.

I disagree strongly with Rollyson's decision to refer to Plath by what were apparently childhood nicknames early on in this biography. Throughout the book, he quietly switches between "Sylvia," "Sylvia Plath," and "Plath," which is fine. And in the first paragraph of the first chapter, there's nothing wrong with his saying that "Sylvia Plath liked to tell the story of her mother setting her i
Feb 01, 2013 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to preface this review by stating that I am a huge fan of Plath's work and am utterly fascinated by her life. I've read several other biographies, though this is the newest.

For those who aren't fans of Plath or familiar with her work, this could be a difficult read. The tone veers towards being dry at times, and the text features many references to poems. Those unfamiliar with said poems would potentially lose some of the impact of where Rollyson quotes them.

For fans who have read other b
A fine biography for a superficial view of S.P.--worth the read if you've already read one or two Plath biographies, but definitely not for the first-time reader who's looking for a thorough account of Plath's life. The book did contribute some new details. Chapter 8 is particularly interesting, as are a couple of the short appendices.

I'm a big fan of both Plath and Marilyn Monroe, but I thought the repeated parallels drawn between the two was distracting. Also, having read a few Plath biographi
Feb 01, 2013 Joannah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, ebooks
This review refers to the NetGalley edition.

I'm giving this book 3.5 stars, but I am rounding down to 3 on GoodReads because it seemed to drag on forever. See, I adore Sylvia Plath and I was immediately intrigued at the idea of a new biography written after the opening of the Hughes archives, so I jumped at the chance to read and review it. I found it interesting, if slow, and seemingly thorough.

The downside is that while the author writes well, it reads like a college essay for a literature cl
Feb 18, 2013 Stef rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plath
Some interesting new primary sources. A fast read, if you're familiar with the backstory and the Plath...industry, I guess. But an editor should really, really have caught the egregious du Maurier misquote toward the end: it seems a silly thing to focus on, but it made me wonder what else might have been missed.
Nicole D.
I don't read a lot of biographies. The reason is because of books like this. It's everything I'd feared biographies would be (even though I've read and loved a number of good ones.)

The author starts out by telling us that he's going to dispense with the formalities. He's not going to do the Sylvia (or Syl or Siv or Sivvy as he likes to call her. I just call her "SP" one syllable - sounds like "psst", but backwards) we know and love. He says "...I have dispensed with a good deal of the boilerplat
Apr 07, 2013 Laurie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I was in school around 1970, we were told that Sylvia Plath committed suicide because her husband, poet Ted Hughes, was an arrogant egotist who used her as a typist and suppressed her creativity and that it was his infidelity that finally drove her to suicide; it was the feminist stand at the time. This new biography, which draws on sources that were unavailable until after Ted Hughes death, shows a very different and far more complex story. Plath was not a woman forced into the shadows; if ...more
I have read some of Plath's work (poetry, Bell Jar, but not a lot and none of it recently. This book came my way and I thought I'd educate myself on this legendary New England writer.

I was a little taken aback in Rollyson's Author's Note, in which he disparages all Plath biographers that have come before. He also writes that this book is not for the Plath novice - He assumes a familiarity with her works and quotes from them very little. I almost stopped reading right there, thinking I might not
Feb 02, 2013 Blanket rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is boring and doesn't offer any new insights into SP's life. The author has a nasty habit of comparing Plath to other women (Marilyn Monroe, Susan Sontag) in ways that seem random until you realize he wrote biographies on them, too. Knowing that SP shared superficial similarities to two women I'm not interested in reading about really does nothing to broaden my understanding of her.

Things finally pick up in the last chapter, which covers the Hughes family's (mis)handling of Plath's es
Ingrid Lola
Feb 05, 2013 Ingrid Lola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great
The absolute best part of this biography is its last chapter, "In the Temple of Isis." This chapter is an excellent and illuminating overview of the evolution of Plath studies since Sylvia Plath's death in 1963, which is possibly just as, if not more dramatic than the poet's life and could fill a book in itself.

Personally, I think Sylvia Plath's poetry is infinitesimally more interesting and inspiring than her life and suicide, but I quite liked this biography. The Marilyn Monroe references both
Marcia Guimaraes
I was hoping I'd find some new information on Sylvia Plath or, at least, a new perspective on what is already known. However, all the author does here is to rewrite Plath's letters in his own words. So, basically, if you have read Letters Home, you don't need to read this. I also don't get why Rollyson keeps writing about Marilyn Monroe - I've read some Monroe's biographies and she and Plath have nothing in common. So, why insisting on comparing the two of them? I don't see the point of it here. ...more
Lorri Steinbacher
Meh. It's not like I was waiting for any new revelations, pretty sure that for a Plath biography to break any new ground you would have to orchestrate some kind of unique conclusion, some metaphoric insight or something. Instead, it felt like Rollyson tacked anything interesting that he "uncovered" into the Appendices. I am also not buying the Plath/Marilyn Monroe correlations.
Anna Maria Ballester Bohn
Nothing vey new, really. Like other reviewers, I found the comparisons with Marilyn annoying, and also like others, the last chapter that deals with the battles over her image was the best. He should have written a book about that instead.
Feb 23, 2013 Judy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I stopped before the end. I am not a great fan of psychoanalytical biographies; I spend too much time disagreeing with the author's point of view. It's too bad because I was really looking forward to this book.
And sometimes a biography tells you more about the author than the subject.
May 23, 2017 Chelsea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
lol you can tell this was written by a man
I hadn’t read the reviews on this before I ordered it. I found it at a bargain (sorry, but that is the only way I buy biographies. I don’t really like them but feel, like so many readers, that one must read them. I tend to get them from the library or not at all. The exception to that rule must be Sylvia Plath because I own two of hers.) Then I saw the derision in the reviews about comparing Plath to Marilyn Monroe and groaned internally. I was not up for 300+ pages of that crap. However, though ...more
Feb 07, 2013 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I've read several Plath biographies, along with her journals, letters home, and her collected works. If you wants to feel like you have a real sense of Plath's character, you should read her unabridged journals. And if you want a peek into the end of her life, you should be reading the Ariel poems, as Hughes burned her last journals and her book that chronicled his betrayal. That being said, this is probably the best biography of hers that I've read, mostly because it is free of the mauling by t ...more
Rosario Spatola
Carl Rollyson's biography is ambitious, if somewhat awkward, and stilted. A good read, although it may leave the reader with a lot to be desired or question.

I admire Plath, so with a title like Isis, juxtaposing her to the Egyptian moon goddess known for rebirth, empowerment and femininity, I was anxious to read it on that ground alone. Having never read a Plath biography I had my assumptions and skepticisms, especially when Rollyson flatulately compares her to Marilyn Monroe, and informally id
Feb 11, 2013 Skylar rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
This book is for people already deeply familiar with Plath's life and work, as well as literature in general. I have rated the book based on what I believe the intended audience would say, not my own feelings about the book. I think that's fair.

My only exposure to Plath has been reading The Bell Jar. I knew a few things about her life, but not much. The introduction says the book is aimed for people already familiar with Plath, but that it should be accessible to others. I agree and disagree. It
Oct 06, 2013 Cassie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't reviewed the last several books I've read and I want to get back into the habit so I'm coming back to this after some reflection.

This biography was very good; Rollyson's writing has a poetic lilt to it. He's clearly knowledgable on the subject of Plath's life as well as Plath's influence upon the literary canon. If I'm not mistaken, this was the very first biography that benefitted from the full use of Plath's diaries, uncensored. And that marks this one a cut above the rest of biograp
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Carl Rollyson, Professor of Journalism at Baruch College, The City University of New York, has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more t ...more
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