Before “The Bell Jar”
A side of Sylvia Plath you never knew
Beach-reading season is officially upon us, dear friends. But among the scads of worthy options right now, one hits particularly close to home for us New Yorkers.
Pain, Parties, Work, a biographical look at Sylvia Plath’s 1953 college internship in Manhattan, bucks the trend of analyzing the writer’s well-documented troubles. Instead, it unveils a lighter side of the then-20-year-old guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine--a glamorous blonde who loved red lipstick, sunbathing and silk scarves.
She went to Yankees games, strolled along the East River, frequented corner delis, bought kitten heels at Bloomingdale’s, browsed Second Street thrift shops and approached the city with the same fervor any other ambitious young lady would.
Of course, the inevitable end of her story lingers ominously, and author Elizabeth Winder does touch on how Plath’s NYC experiences shaped her eventual downward spiral. But the bulk of the pages shows an almost Mad Men-style vantage point of women’s careers during that time. (Glass ceilings are much easier shattered when not in a cone bra.)
Winder weaves in peer interviews and historical context to relay the confusion and pigeonholing Plath felt being a pre-feminist feminist of sorts--navigating offices and intelligence in a world of pin curls and nylons.