Vision and Visual Art in Sylvia Plath's Ariel and Last Poems
Tunstall, Lucy Suzannah
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Commercially sensitive material. Book proposal currently under consideration.
This dissertation is concerned with Sylvia Plath's late works. Engaging with critical discussion of what constitutes the corpus of Ariel, I show that an appreciation of the editorial history reveals the beginning of a third book (the last poems), and opens up those difficult texts to fresh enquiry. Recent work in Plath studies has focused on visual art. Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley's Eye Rhymes examines Plath’s own artwork in ‘an attempt to answer the question, How did Plath arrive at Ariel? (1) I contribute to that discussion, but also ask the questions, How did Plath leave Ariel behind and arrive at the even more remarkable last poems, and how did visual art enable those journeys? I argue that Ariel’s characteristically lucid style is informed by the dismantling of depth perspective in Post-Impressionist painting, and by the colour theory and pedagogy of the Bauhaus teachers. My work is underpinned by an appreciation of Plath’s unique cultural moment in mid-century East Coast America. I show how Plath’s knowledge of the theories, practice and iconic images of visual art, from the old masters to the Post-Impressionists, offered new possibilities for stylistic development. Working with archival materials including annotated works from Plath’s personal library and drafts of her poems, as well as published material, I examine the synthesis of visual and literary influences. Demonstrating specific textual relations between Plath and the work of Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot and W. B. Yeats, as well as other poets, I show that Plath’s visual poetics combine influences from the modern poets with her New Critical training and with painting and sculpture. I offer new readings of rarely discussed poems, such as ‘Totem’, ‘The Munich Mannequins’ and ‘Child’, as well as fresh insights into the well known works, ‘Tulips’, ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’, ‘Fever 103º’, and ‘Edge’.