3.17.2008

Kate Moses' Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath's life was, relatively, uneventful. Tragic things happened to her, but they were not more tragic or more extraordinary than tragic events in other people's lives: her father died, she had a strained relationship with her mother, her adulterous husband left her for another woman, she suffered from, sometimes crippling, depression. These are all sadnesses, but not unique. Without poetry, Plath would have sunk from existence without mention. Without suicide, her poetry would perhaps have sunk to the bottom of book bins or slid behind other volumes in the library. One of the real, lasting tragedies is that Plath's poetical ability is truncated by the frequent mention of her suicide. Readers funnel her poems and thoughts about her poetry through a specific lense, rather than allowing the poems to sit by themselves.

Recently, Plath critics have tried to separate her writing from her life, but in the popular imagination, thanks to the movies, she is seen as a suicide and her poetry is boxed into a single interpretation. Her genius is disguised by her readers' interest in finding the reason why she did it. Her most popular poems, "Lady Lazarus" and "Daddy," are sensational and sloppy. They do not exemplify her deep knowledge of poetry and facility with language.

Kate Moses' novel, Wintering, creates the world of Sylvia Plath's mind, and provides an argument for the way her life evolved. Each chapter corresponds with a poem and title from Ariel, and Moses' ability to create the same mood of each poem in similar language is compelling. Moses' language is lush and immediate, much like Plath's poetry, and at moments it is difficult to remember that Plath did not pen this novel. In Wintering, Plath is a poet, a mother, a woman desperate to maintain the love of her marriage, but not a crazy person on the track to killing herself. In fact, Moses does not touch on this event at all, which is the true strength of the novel. She investigates the woman, not the action.

The brilliant language and heart of the novel reveals a breathing Plath, one who is capable, as we all are, of a range of emotions. After Ted leaves, Plath is anxious to be self-sufficient and a provider for her children. She carries a memory of attempted suicide and a strangled relationship with an over-bearing mother, but she strives daily for normalcy, order, and air. We know that she ultimately succumbs, but Moses' focus on her fight brings the attention to the woman rather than the act.

The novel ends on an upnote, with Plath rushing to meet Hughes, who has recently been to Court Green, the family's farm, to gather apples, onions, and honey for the winter. Plath thinks of the jars of honey safe and cold in the stone basement beneath the house as money in the bank: Ted will bring a few jars now and the rest will wait for the family and for spring time. The reader knows, as we follow Ted to Court Green, that he has brought, in his efforts to provide for her, all of the jars of honey. Plath's reverie and Ted's error seem to represent the disjointure of their marriage: he perpertually tried to give, but never knew how or how much, and she was a dreamer, trying to maintain something that it was not her sole responsibility to maintain. Either way, though, their paths are irrevocably separate, never to meet. Moses captures Plath's happiness, cleaning her golden hair, kissing the children goodbye, as she prepares to meet Ted and gather the honey, apples, onions, and attempt to save her marriage. Sadly, she met rejection.

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