Review of Elizabeth Winder’s Pain, Parties, Work

Before reading Elizabeth Winder’s new biography Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953, I only recognised Sylvia Plath as a great female poet and the woman who committed suicide by horrifically turning on the gas in an oven.

I thought little about who Sylvia Plath truly was and the life she lived that accumulated in such a savage end. I could hardly get past the fact that a young mother would so carelessly and selfishly leave her young children and end her life in such a brutal manner to see the woman that Sylvia Plath truly was.

Poet Winder has sought through her work to reveal the real woman that Sylvia Plath was and to give her more than just a tragic icon status. Winder demystifies Plath as she unearths the enthralling life of the writer in New York in May of 1953.

She delves into the life of young twenty-one year old Plath who works as the guest editor of Mademoiselle’s annual college issue. Winder depicts Plath to be a quite the fashionista and foodie who has her fair share of suitors and admirers. While living at the Barbizon Hotel in New York, Plath is seemingly having the time of her life attending various social events, galas, ballets, Yankee games, and elite clubs. However, Winder uncovers how Plath’s ostensibly luxurious life was in reality a painful trial for her.

Sylvia Plath comes to life for the reader through a series of conversations that Winder creatively crafts her to have with most of the 19 other guest editors who live and worked alongside her. In her biography, Winder paints Plath as a rather ordinary girl who loves high heels, goes on dates, and would have been a stewardess if she did not possess such incredible intellectual gifts. However, sadness begins to seep into her life in between her dates, readings, and hours at the office and causes a downward spiral that climaxes when she attempts suicide for the first time two months later.

After reading Winder’s biography, I did not equate Plath just with her remarkable intellectual abilities and tragic death but saw her as a fully fleshed person who had hopes, dreams, fears, and emotions.

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