The Sad and Long-Standing Tale of the Tortured Female Artist on Sylvia Plath’s Death Day

It was 54 years ago today that Sylvia Plath took her life. I know no poetry more haunting, visceral, raw, and surreal than the restored edition of Ariel, much of it written in the weeks before her death.

Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.

 

A former female fiction professor of mine once said to our class: “When I was young and wanted to be a writer, I soon realized many of the most famous female writers had killed themselves: Woolf, Plath, Sexton. I got the message.”

A male poetry professor of mine had said when he was a boy, he’d build a blanket fort with his friends and then they’d read poems like Lady Lazarus by flashlight, as if they were scary stories.

When I was first getting the idea for The Great Chaining of Being, I knew there’d be a Plath-like character. A tortured female artist who’d been held down way too long by a male-dominated avant-garde. Whose work had been withheld from being published, like Emily Dickinson’s was.

—Master of the em-dash—

Who’d had to deal with sexist, jealous, and domineering fellow male writers and artists as had the women associated with the Bouzingo, the Surrealists, and the Beats.

“Outside the avant-garde community, George Sand was one of the most notorious avant-gardists of the mid-19th Century, and within it was one of the most divisive. Her cross-dressing, her unabashed sexuality, her ambiguous relationship with nascent Feminism, and her outspoken socialist propaganda novels made her a catalyst for the exploration of gender and its malleability within the Romanticist avant-garde, analogous in many ways to that of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven in the Dada community.” From: Resurrecting the Bouzingo

“I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist,” British-born surrealist Leonora Carrington once wrote. Her fascination with the early 19th-century art movement started well before meeting her lover, the artist Max Ernst. Their relationship became a great source of pain for her after he fled the Nazis, leaving her behind. It sparked a mental breakdown, the experience of which she channeled into her novel, Down Below. But Carrington’s contributions to surrealism have little to do with Ernst. One of her first major surrealist works was the 1938 painting The Inn of the Dawn Horse, a dark self-portrait. —From 10 Female Surrealists You Should Know by Alison Nastasi

Women of the Beat Generation

In my novel, reincarnation is a physical phenomena of the multiverse scientifically proven by the transhumanist future. So my three main bohemian characters have lived many lives in many times. Their names change somewhat but usually follow a similar pattern. Mathilda Lund from 1950s New York is Mathilde Esmond from 1830s Paris is Maxine Lancaster from 1960s San Francisco.

The following poem was written by Mathilde Esmond in 1830s Paris. I cut it from the novel and have replaced it with a full chapter detailing her life among the Bouzingo.

Is this his? 

A man creates his art because he is small, 

we all well know the littleness of kings. 

He creates it for his meaning

which he think is his

for he thinks he owns all things. 

The hilltop in the sun is his.

The castle in the clouds is his.

The paint that paints, the ink that writes,

the woman who dances—all belong to him.

But then what is this—

this voice that rises from the dirt

at the bottom of all things, glaring

at Jacob climbing his ladder

his eyes wanton for the lord,

the image Narcissus craved

and Achilles killed.

This voice 

that has been raped

burned at the stake

taken for a cow

and sent to the slaughtering house. 


This voice from a vase

in a comfortable home

bent over the oven

wherein she cooks lost children

when suddenly she remembers 

the fate of Hypatia.


What is this voice

that owns itself?


It could not be an artist,

for only the privileged sex 

has the power by nature, and instinct

to live out an adventure in poverty.


For who really wants to be a leader:

not the bouzingo.


No, it is enough to rule half the world.

———————————————-


Though she is as bitter and enraged as Plath was in Ariel, this will not always be the case. Not to give too much of the story away, let’s just say 1960s San Francisco suits her much better than 1830s Paris.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocySBhtsfDw&t=1s

 

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