Thoughts on 2019 A-Level Paper 3


“Predictably unpredictable.” In a season of first decades, Galapagos Islands and vaccine industries, there was little by way of curveballs for both Lit papers.

While I was expecting broad concepts and terms in relation to the mind and self, the paper still surprised with the broadness of ‘self-understanding’, ‘preoccupation’ and ‘consciousness of self’ which truth be told, really could apply to almost any interpretation of the mind and self. Here are my thoughts on the questions and possible approaches to the three sections: Continue reading “Thoughts on 2019 A-Level Paper 3”

Confessional Poetry and ‘Lady Lazarus’

The debate suggests why confessional poetry’s blurring of distinctions between public and private worlds was freighted with social meaning that extended beyond matters of aesthetic value. Postwar social transformations – like the growth of corporations and the expansion of suburbs – seemed to corrupt Americans’ desire for autonomy and freedom. Often linked, these trends created two of the most familiar targets of 1950s social censure: the ‘organisation man’, who relinquished his individuality to the corporation, and the suburban homeowner, who sought perfect conformity with the neighbours. Continue reading “Confessional Poetry and ‘Lady Lazarus’”

A Psychoanalytic Reading of ‘Daddy’

Before its publication she read ‘Daddy’ for a BBC radio broadcast in October 1962, and later, in notes for the BBC on her new poems, described the poem as ‘spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. Her father died while she thought he was God.’ The girl’s ‘case’, Plath proceeds to explain, is difficult because the father was a Nazi, and the mother may have been ‘part Jewish’. These two inheritances meet in the daughter and ‘paralyse each other – she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it’ (CP, p293, n183). Plath directs her reader to interpret the poem through the lens of a popular psychoanalytic narrative: a daughter with an Electra complex is one who desires her father sexually, her body incestuously devoted in this instance to a dead man’s, as Electra’s was to her father Agamemnon’s. In a state of unfulfilled and impossible desire, the daughter’s story might be one of static sexual frustration and father-worship; but Plath also insists on a paralysis of sexual roles historically derived from the Holocaust. Because the father is not just a dead God, but also a Nazi, and the mother ‘very possibly part Jewish’, Daddy is also a sadistic villain, and the daughter’s feminine sexuality is marked by the mother’s role as a victim, possibly in a masochistic relation to the father. As the speaker of ‘Daddy’ generalises, ‘Every woman adores a Fascist.’ Continue reading “A Psychoanalytic Reading of ‘Daddy’”

Plath, in Order of Writing

Dan Chiasson on Sylvia Plath’s Joy, The New Yorker, February 12, 2013, with commentary on ‘Ariel’, ‘Melt’, ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Nick and the Candlestick’ and ‘Words’.

There is nothing else like this in English; it is, I think, a perfect poem, perfect in its excesses and stray blasphemies (that “nigger-eye”), which make Plath Plath—that is to say, dangerous, heedless, a menace, and irresistible. The greatest thing in it, though, is a detail whose uncanniness will strike any new parent: “The child’s cry / Melts in the wall.”


James Parker on Why Sylvia Plath Still Haunts American Culture, The Atlantic, June 2013.

Her name, at this point, is almost onomatopoeic: the elegantly coiled, haute-American Sylvia, poised and serpentine, and then the Germanic exhalation of Plath, its fatal flatness like some ruptured surface resealing itself. Her whole history is in there somehow: the shining prizewinner with a death obsession, the supercharged, comical/terrible talent whose memory is the lid of a sarcophagus.


Meghan O’Rourke writes in Ariel Redux on the publication of The Restored Edition: Ariel and Hughes’ ordering of poems in ArielSlate, December 4, 2004.

Plath was still, as Hughes himself later said, a little afraid of her own poems, still learning how to wean herself from exposition in favor of dramatic immersion. (For evidence, read the drafts of the “Ariel” poem itself, included in the restored edition.) Hughes then moved up “Poppies in October” and “Berck-Plage” and used them as a springboard into “Ariel,” the book’s title poem, a luminous vision of self-transformation. The resulting sequence is more psychologically charged (and dramatic) than Plath’s ordering had been. Hughes also added a few older poems, including “Hanging Man,” inspired by Plath’s electroshock therapy, to help clarify what he took to be her story line—the story of a woman triumphing over great peril only to later succumb to a version of her own “self-conquering self.”


Ashley Fetters interviews Peter K. Steinberg, author of the biography Sylvia Plath in There are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia PlathThe Atlantic, February 11, 2013.

I think it very well could have been, but there’s a reason for that. The Ariel that Ted Hughes published wasn’t the Ariel that Plath envisioned: It was very different in tone, especially the last dozen poems. Those are very dark and bleak, whereas the collection she had intended ended with her Bee Poems, which are all about new life and spring. It would have ended on a more vibrant note.