Literary Daybook, Feb. 11

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published February 11, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Feb. 11, 1992: Patrick Lanigan's funeral.
-- "The Partner" (1997)
by John Grisham

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1963, Sylvia Plath committed suicide, at the age of 30. Plath's poetry and life -- especially the last, haunting poems and days -- have attracted even more attention in recent years with the publication of her unexpurgated journals (all but the last volume, which is still either lost or suppressed) and of Ted Hughes' "Birthday Letters" poems. For the biographically minded, these have renewed all the old debates and conundrums: Is Hughes the monster or midwife of the "appalling and triumphant fulfillment" of her talent? Can Plath be Ophelia to her husband and her times, but Lady Macbeth to her parents? Was her suicide intentional or a plea gone wrong?

Also gaining ground is one new theory: that her lifelong bouts of depression, her suicide and much of her poetry can be linked to severe PMS, a debilitation similar in power and profile to some bipolar disorders. Those more interested in Plath's poetry will find recently released recordings of her reading her later poems rewarding and unsettling. Done just a few months before her suicide, Plath's readings are chilled fury, and the way she kills off "Daddy" will keep it alive for good:

... So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two --
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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