Highsmith and Plath


It’s the 50th anniversary of Plath’s The Bell Jar. Also, another biography has been published about her life (Mad Girl’s Love Song by Andrew Wilson….one of my favourite poems too), it’s like some cottage industry. I first came across the poetry of Ted Hughes whilst at school and wasn’t particularly inspired by his alliterative prose. But Plath was another thing…..

This specific biographer, Andrew Wilson, has written previously about one of my other favourite writers, Patricia Highsmith.

Plath also reminded him of Patricia Highsmith, the subject of his previous biography. “Highsmith had similar symptoms to Plath – I don’t know how you want to categorise it, but some sort of personality disorder or mental illness. Both of them were alive before people talked about those things, before anybody could classify exactly what they had. They both went through a great deal of soul-searching, both had therapy, which they wrote about in their journals, so it’s fascinating to compare them. They both had very dark visions. But a crazy sense of humour at the same time.”

Personality disorder? Here we go….. Both of them internalised their oppression, and so did countless other women during the 40/50/60s. Does it occur to Wilson why the feminist movement came about? It was precisely due to the fact women were medicalised, any kind of transgression was labelled, which exposed the inherent misogyny within the psychiatric system. Highsmith hid her sexuality, Plath was expected to play second fiddle to Hughes… being a wife and mother, playing the traditional gender straitjacketed roles expected from women. Is it no surprised that women cracked up?

But the one thing Wilson is right about, having a ‘crazy’ sense of humour is very important….

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One thought on “Highsmith and Plath

  1. But Plath did have mental health problems. She had depression, which ran in her family. Her son killed himself as well.

    You can speculate about “internalising oppression”, but you’ve never seen inside her head. You can’t possibly know.

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