“Teasing with the Fumes”: Succèss de Scandale and the Reception of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. William Pannapacker, Hope College

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In 1963 and 1974, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, respectively, shocked readers with their suicides. Since then the two poets have received an increasing amount of attention in U.S. culture and literary criticism. The circumstances of their deaths and unstable lives created a prurient curiosity, a succès de scandale, which has simultaneously overshadowed their works and given them an iconic status as authors. This project explores the parallel cultural and critical reception of Plath and Sexton through publications about them in the decades since their deaths. In particular, the project examines how the authors’ portrayals have complicated their reception in educational contexts by both undermining the literary standing of their work while attracting an adolescent audience based on the circumstances of their biographies.

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