Sylvia Plath was both daughter and mother, a dual role that recurs throughout her writing. Psychoanalytical critics have tried to show that her entire output is concerned with exorcising the figures of her dead father and possessive mother. Others, such as Alvarez, have suggested that her role of artist was somehow incompatible with her role as mother. Describing a meeting with her in 1960, he describes her as ‘a lovely young housewife’. Later, meeting her again after the birth of Nicholas in 1962, he suggests that her ‘new confident air’ that made her no longer ‘a housewifely appendage to a powerful husband’ might have been linked to the fact that she had given birth to a son.1 Both these positions seem to me to be both false and extreme. There are certainly attempts through the writing to rethink the poet’s relationship with both her father and her mother and there are many poems and a good deal of prose that tackles the question of motherhood in its own right, but no evidence of psychosis in either. Had Sylvia Plath lived and been able to participate in the discussions on women and the family that were to follow ten years after her death, she would have found herself in the company of many other women, all wrestling with the same problems. The need to think through the roles of a woman as daughter to a man, as daughter to a woman, as mother in turn to a female and a male child is a central preoccupation of the literature produced by the women’s movement of the late sixties and early seventies. Sylvia Plath was exceptional not because she was somehow deranged but because she was trying to confront those problems ahead of their time.
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