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Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  929 Ratings  ·  40 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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Community Reviews

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May 19, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
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
Melissa Jean
Nov 11, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography

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
May 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Maria Ch
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 26, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, non-fiction
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.
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
I read this a long time ago, but the more I remember about it, the more I remember how much I didn't like the way it was not at all empathic toward Sylvia Plath, and even seemed strangely judgmental and harsh.
Jan 07, 2014 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
Dec 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 20, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Apr 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 19, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plath
I just can't do it. I can't get over the influence.
My first biography. Interesting, but I still prefer supernatural stories.
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.
Paula Dembeck
Much has been written about Sylvia Plath, a complex intense poet and mother who committed suicide when she was only thirty. Critics note that earlier attempts to chronicle her life were marked by the culture of the time, when feminism was growing and beginning to flourish. In that context, early biographers raged against Sylvia’s husband Ted Hughes as the author of her tragic end. As time passed, more balanced accounts surfaced including this offering by poet Anne Stevenson. It must be noted how ...more
Jul 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Very much of its time (published in 1989), in that it attempts to redress some balance in the 'Ted Hughes the cheating deserter husband who stifled his genius wife' climate that had prevailed from the 60s/70s, but it goes too far in the Saint Ted with difficult Sylvia direction. Of course neither crude opinion can define a complex creative marriage. What also dates it is the whole depiction of Plath and her mental illness. Its not really mentioned as such, the symptoms that stemmed from it are, ...more
Jemima Jarman
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading this biography, it is the first book I have read about Sylvia Plath and so for me it held new and interesting information. However, even though I only knew the bare bones of Sylvia's life's narrative before reading this book, I picked up on quite a strong bias in the authors writings. I am left feeling like I need to read her biography all over again, but this time written by a more impartial and understanding author. Perhaps it is just "of its time" and a more modern piece of ...more
Nov 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Erika Nerdypants
Two stars and here is why. Although I found the material presented well researched, Stevenson chose to omit events that would put the lie to her Hughes the martyr husband, who fell victim to his crazy wife. For example: during their separation they travelled together to Ireland, where Hughes agreed to help find a cottage for Sylvia and the children. While there he left her, inexplicably, without any warning or explanation. Stevenson took objection to Sylvia telling anyone who was willing to hear ...more
Gary Daly
Nov 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 16, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Bitter Fame is een naar boek dat tegelijkertijd waarde heeft. het is bekend dat Anne Stevenson dit boek schreef met medewerking van Olwyn Hughes. dat betekent in dit geval dat Olwyn Hughes grote invloed had op het eindproduct. dat betekent dan weer dat er met weinig sympathie over Sylvia Plath is geschreven, en dat het accent op Plaths nare kanten ligt.

toch lijkt het er op dat deze biografie een helder overzicht is van Plaths leven. Bitter Fame is geen naar boek omdat het onjuistheden bevat, he
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
May 08, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Good introduction to anyone looking to explore Plath's work in the context of her life. The analysis of her poems and exploration of her influences and inspirations is helpful if you are looking to better understand Plath as a poet and artist.
However, I have to agree that the author's treatment of Plath, especially with regards to her mental illness, is much harsher than it needed to be considering she herself had never met her and all her assumptions are based on second-hand testimonies of peo
Jerome Murphy
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This title is essential for Plath fans - if only to puncture any romantic idealization of Plath with the reality, conveyed by firsthand accounts, of what it was actually like to acquaint an individual of selves so deeply divided that their friction produced some of the most taut, incandescent verse of all time. The entertainingly acidic account by Dido Merwin (wife of W.S. Merwin) of Ted and Sylvia's visit, one of three appendices to Stevenson's perceptive narrative, is alone worth the price of ...more
Terence Manleigh
Vilified when it was first published, "Bitter Fame" is a much needed corrective to the shrieking anti-Ted Hughes Plath biographies that have helped distort the poet's achievement and mythologize her as a victimized poet/feminist martyr. Stevenson takes the radical step of attempting to remain objective, and even gets access to the Hughes family for their side of the story. Plath emerges as a complex, disturbed, sharp-tongued handful, a vision I suspect is much more accurate than the sensitive vi ...more
Debra Duval
Dec 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I picked up this book from the library not intending to finish it but was pleasantly surprised by how well written it was. I felt as if I got to personally know and understand Sylvia, faults and all, as a human being and felt a stronger connection to her life and her poetry. A few of her poems were poorly analyzed and half-heartedly paralleled to her life, but this is a Biography not a strictly analytical work, of course. Overall, I would read this again, maybe 20 years from now when I feel comp ...more
Susan Katz
Aug 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
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.
Sara Razek
An informative biography thoroughly documenting the turbulent life of the literary genius, Sylvia Plath, and recounting the poetess' tangled relationship with her mother, father and fellow poet and husband,Ted Hughes.
Mar 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Would have been much better if the author had had anything substantial to say about Plath's writing; instead, it devolves into a kind of "Sylvia Plath was difficult and very hard on her family, friends, and husband" neener neener bitchiness, which ... well, DUH.
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FABClub (Female A...: Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath (August '14 MM) 3 10 Sep 13, 2014 03:16PM  
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Anne Stevenson is an American-British poet and writer.
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