Pour of Tor and Distances:
: Sylvia Plath & Post Lacanian Theory

  • Jemma L. King

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Arts


Sylvia Plath’s argent canon of work continues to provoke lively debate among critics. Although many commentators consider Plath to belong to an inner circle of significant female poets, her work seems destined to have to recurrently defend itself against attacks from those who insist Plath is univocally a ‘confessional’ poet, whose subject matter resolves into mere ‘daddy issues’. Recent theoretical developments in women’s writing, however, prompt a new examination of this poet’s at times macabre, at others ebullient, literature. An approach founded on the theoretical hypotheses of Jaques Lacan, and later elaborated by French Feminist theorists including Héléne Cixous and Julia Kristeva, has gathered both support and evidence over the past decade. These theorists’ augmentation of then-orthodox Freudian and Jungian doctrines created a moiety between different aspects of psychoanalytical literary theory as far as Plath’s work was concerned. Critics such as Linda Wagner and Ann Stevenson hold steadfastly to conceptions of Plath’s supposed Electra complex as the all-encompassing ‘key’ to Plath’s dislocating internal ‘Ariel’ landscape. This hermeneutic, together with the wide belief that Plath’s work represents ‘college-girl writings’, has led several commentators to label Plath a poetic ‘one-trick pony’. Her work has either been relegated on this ground or else cautiously lauded – as in Robert Penn Warren’s troubled synopsis of 1966. Ariel, he wrote then, ‘is scarcely a book at all/ more like something painfully scattered through a broken window
Date of Award2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorKate Wright (Supervisor)

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