"Her Own Words Describe Her Best? Reconstructing Plath’s Original Ariel in Sylvia (2003) and Wintering (2003)"

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Bethany Layne



This article explores two of Sylvia Plath’s afterlives: John Brownlow and Christine Jeffs’ biopic Sylvia (2003) and Kate Moses’s novel Wintering (2003). Contrary to Frieda Hughes’s assertion that such works attempt to “breathe life into” Plath (xvii), I show how these are textual resuscitations, engaging intimately with Plath’s then-unpublished Ariel manuscript. I explore how both writers’ decision to omit the second wave of Ariel poems contests Hughes’s arrangement of the collection, and severs the link, fostered in Ariel and confirmed in Birthday Letters, between Plath’s writing and her death. I then show how the texts’ readings of Ariel nuance interpretations of Plath herself, emphasising her pursuit of transcendence over her drive towards self-destruction. These biographical works ultimately yield significant critical implications, popularising long-standing scholarly debates about “why the differences between the two version of Ariel matter” (Badia 162) and catalysing the canon-reformation that produced Ariel: The Restored Edition.

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Author Biography

Bethany Layne, De Montfort University, Leicester

Dr Bethany Layne is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at De Montfort University, Leicester. She has published widely on biographical fiction, in journals including The Henry James Review, Woolf Studies Annual, and Adaptation, and her interviews with David Lodge, Colm Tóibín and Susan Sellers appear in Conversations with Biographical Novelists: Truthful Fictions Across the Globe (Bloomsbury, 2019). Her monograph, Henry James in Contemporary Fiction: The Real Thing is under contract with Palgrave, while her edited collection, Biofiction in Context, is under contract with Cambridge Scholars. She pioneered the first specialist biofiction module in the UK, and, in 2017, co-organised the Postmodernist Biofictions conference at the University of Reading.