Saturday, November 10, 2007

Giving Up - a memoir

I've finished reading Giving Up - The Last Days of Sylvia Plath by Jillian Becker. This small memoir now joins the dozens of biographical books and essays I have read about Sylvia and Ted.

This book is quite small. It need not be extensive because Jillian's contact with Sylvia was indeed short and the book only relates to that short period of days prior to Sylvia's death, when she sought refuge for her children from her distressed state with Jillian and Gerry Becker.

Much of what I read is merely another historical account of those days. As far as new perspective, it provides little, but perhaps a tad closer look Sylvia from a first hand perspective.

The most interesting things are:

  • Jillian's assessment that Dido Merwin truly could not stand Sylvia but was quite fond of Ted and saw him as an equal in stature to his husband Bill. This is not surprising, as the tone of this is set in the Anne Stevenson book "Better Fame." I suppose it was nice hearing someone else say what I believed I has surly not mistaken in reading Stevenson's biographical account.
  • Jillian's view that Sylvia had perhaps lost her passion for poetry at the end. This based on the fact that she was critical of Sylvia's last poems and thought them to be doggerel rhythms that seemed to stamp on the grave of poetry. She may not have liked Sylvia's poems, but the ones on question are among Sylvia's most powerful and passionate works. Once she was finished with them, perhaps she might have been drained emotionally, but It is hard for me to consider them a sign of a loss of passion. They are full of it!
  • Jillian Becker expressions about her own emotional response to Sylvia's life and death are expressed in heartfelt terms. She truly was in a unique position those final days, and some have perhaps suggested that she and Gerry (as well as others) could have and should have done more to save her. Her response to these suggestions is very reasonable. They may have kept Sylvia alive a few extra days, but they did not have the power to change the many external issues that added to Sylvia's issues. Jillian herself describes herself as a poet (though a humble one by the company she kept) and one addicted to poetry. She says she grew out of that addiction due at least in part to the painful involvement in the lives of poets. (Ted, Sylvia, Assia & her husband - perhaps others with which she was acquainted with)
  • It was noted that Sylvia left no suicide note. Not new information, but she reminded readers that the final poems she left would have been painfully clear to Ted if no one else.
  • The issue Jillian took with Ted's poem Dreamers, which she calls sickeningly anti-Semitic and the explanation she offered.
  • The fact that while Jillian and Gerry were present at Sylvia's funeral, there is no mention of the mystery man (mentioned in other accounts) in her account of those in attendance.
  • Taking issue with Sylvia's iconic stature by the feminist movement.

These are what I found most notable among pages (roughly 75) of the short memoir which is now a part of extensive Plath biographical reads.

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