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In an astonishing feat of literary detection, one of the most provocative critics of our time and the author of In the Freud Archives and The Purloined Clinic offers an elegantly reasoned meditation on the art of biography. In The Silent Woman, Janet Malcolm examines the biographies of Sylvia Plath to create a book not about Plath’s life but about her afterlife: how her estranged husband, the poet Ted Hughes, as executor of her estate, tried to serve two masters—Plath’s art and his own need for privacy; and how it fell to his sister, Olwyn Hughes, as literary agent for the estate, to protect him by limiting access to Plath’s work.
Even as Malcolm brings her skepticism to bear on the claims of biography to present the truth about a life, a portrait of Sylvia Plath emerges that gives us a sense of “knowing” this tragic poet in a way we have never known her before. And she dispels forever the innocence with which most of us have approached the reading of any biography.