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  • Published: 1 December 2020
  • ISBN: 9781787332539
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 1152
  • RRP: $65.00

Red Comet

The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

The first biography of this great and tragic poet that takes advantage of a wealth of new material, this is an unusually balanced, comprehensive and definitive life of Sylvia Plath.

The first biography of this great and tragic poet that takes advantage of a wealth of new material, this is an unusually balanced, comprehensive and definitive life of Sylvia Plath.


Determined not to read Plath's work as if her every act, from childhood on, was a harbinger of her tragic fate, Clark presents new materials about Plath's scientist father, her juvenile writings, and her psychiatric treatment, and evokes a culture in transition in the mid-twentieth century, in the shadow of the atom bomb and the Holocaust, as she explores Sylvia's world: her early relationships and determination not to become a conventional woman and wife; her conflicted ties to her well-meaning, widowed mother; her troubles at the hands of an unenlightened mental-health industry; and her Cambridge years and thunderclap meeting with Ted Hughes, a true marriage of minds that would change the course of poetry in English.

Clark's clear-eyed sympathy for Hughes, his lover Assia Wevill, and other demonized players in the arena of Plath's suicide promotes a deeper understanding of her final days, with their outpouring of first-rate poems. Along with illuminating readings of the poems themselves, Clark's meticulous, compassionate research brings us closer than ever to the spirited woman and visionary artist who blazed a trail that still lights the way for women poets the world over.

  • Published: 1 December 2020
  • ISBN: 9781787332539
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 1152
  • RRP: $65.00

About the author

Heather Clark

Heather Clark earned her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Harvard University and her doctorate in English from Oxford University. She is the author of two award-winning books on post-war poetry, The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and The Ulster Renaissance: Poetry in Belfast 1962–1972. She divides her time between Chappaqua, New York, and Yorkshire, England, where she is Professor of Contemporary Poetry at the University of Huddersfield.

Praise for Red Comet

Finally, the biography that Sylvia Plath deserves, one that takes her seriously as both a poet and a person. Combining rigorous research with in-depth literary analysis and immersive style, Heather Clark's magisterial book not only traces Plath's influences and inspirations, but also chronicles her often-tumultuous relationships with respect and empathy. A spectacular achievement.

Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

An exciting contribution not only to Plath studies but to biography, poetics, cultural history, and feminist history and theory, Red Comet is an extraordinary book. Clark animates Plath anew, both through the very dailiness of her life - rendered gripping and engrossing - and through the brilliant situating of Plath (and her stormy marriage to Ted Hughes) in the larger, indelibly evoked Anglo-American poetic context. Clark delivers a brilliant scholarly exegesis in vivid prose that renders Plath's life into art. This is the major biography of this major poet that we have long awaited.

Mary V. Dearborn, author of Ernest Hemingway: A Biography

With Red Comet Heather Clark has produced a superb biography, scholarly, acutely perceptive and beautifully written. She shows a profound understanding not only of Plath and her work, but also of the worlds she inhabited on both sides of the Atlantic. This is without doubt one of the most remarkable biographies of the present era.

Selina Hastings, author of The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham

Red Comet contains a vital ingredient that wasn't available to previous Plath biographers: access to her surviving letters... Nor does she reduce this complex tragic story to a simple tale of good versus evil.

JP O'Malley, Irish Independent

Rescuing Sylvia Plath from the cult of her fans...[Red Comet,] a terrific, even-handed biography of Plath frees the poet from the narrow view of her as 'a mind on course for suicide'... Heather Clark's meticulous research, sweeping up every scrap, deftly integrates drafts, unpublished pieces, stories and critiques of poems...to make this extraordinary story more moving than ever.

Lyndall Gordon, Daily Telegraph

A first-class biography... Red Comet is a mighty achievement. Clark is compassionate, clear-eyed, sceptical. Each chapter reads with the ease of a novel... I couldn't put it down.

Laura Freeman, The Times

[Sylvia Plath] as she really was, with and without Ted Hughes.

Claire Lowdon, Sunday Times

Clark's defining project, both a joyful affirmation for Plath fanatics and a legitimization of her legacy... Clark masterfully analyses the poetry with intelligent incorporation of the biography... In this mammoth biography of a short, troubled life, the deepest impression is of [Plath's] resilience and dogged energy.

Jessica Ferri, Los Angeles Times

At last, there is Red Comet, a major biography that recognises Sylvia Plath...and recovers her from cliché. It is a superbly researched, fluent and assured book...and Heather Clark writes with a rare empathy and understanding of her subject... Not one sentence seems extraneous... Red Comet reveals Plath as she ought to be seen.

Ann Kennedy Smith, Times Literary Supplement

[A] marvellous biography of Sylvia Plath.

James Marriott, The Times *Literary Nonfiction Books of the Year*

Sylvia Plath's extraordinary poetic gifts have been overshadowed by her death. A new biography sets that right... Red Comet is neither unduly reverential towards its subject, nor driven to fetishise the details of Sylvia Plath's final days. It is a life in the fullest and best sense of that word.


A wonderful biography.

Jacqueline Wilson, Woman & Home

The closest any writer has come to an exhaustive biography of Plath's life and work

Lillian Crawford, BBC

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