Lipstick On A Plath

Michelle Dean challenges the thesis of Pain, Parties, Work, Elizabeth Winder’s fashion-oriented examination of Sylvia Plath:

The haunting thing about Plath’s story is how the pretty things, the lipstick, the affair with the romantic Yorkshireman — what Malcolm once called “the girls’ book” nature of her life — eventually soured. Whether it soured because of clinical depression or righteous feminine rage doesn’t much matter. The point is that, whatever feminine pleasure Winder insists she took in “clothes, makeup, magazines, and food”, it did not ultimately sustain her. At some point, the mindset Winder tries to reclaim for Plath here (or her for it) wouldn’t do any more. Think of those lines from “Daddy,” by now so famous its cadences sound like they must have been chiseled in stone somewhere:

You do not do, you do not do,
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Winder tries to force Plath back into the shoe we all know she could no longer stand.

(Photo: Porsche Brosseau’s recreation of the scene in Plath’s The Bell Jar “when Esther takes a bunch of her sleeping pills and burrows her way into a dark, tight space in her mother’s cellar.”)