Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Carl Rollyson's "American Isis"

Carl Rollyson, Professor of Journalism at Baruch College, has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His latest books are Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews published in September 2012, and the biography American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath, released in January 2013.

Rollyson applied the “Page 99 Test” to American Isis and reported the following:
Discussing Plath's letters from Cambridge during her Fulbright year, I say that she enjoyed creating a sensation. She describes a horseback riding incident in which her mount, Sam, forsakes the sedate pleasures of a country ride and plunges Plath into a busy city intersection. Chaos ensues with women and children screaming as Sam bolts onto sidewalks and only slows when fatigue overcomes him. Plath loved this sort of drama.

Plath expected to lead a life that would be full of public attention, and that is the Plath I wanted write about when I turned in my proposal into publishers. There are writers who want to be known for themselves, and not just for their work. Sylvia Plath was one of them. In The Bell Jar, in her journals, in her stories, and in much of her poetry, her art and her life suffuse each other.

When Plath travels to Marseille in a break from her Cambridge studies, as I describe it on page 99, she is actually fulfilling the dreams of her childhood, when in the sixth grade she mapped her imagination with an image of Marseille. From a very early age, she seemed to be gearing herself to enter the world's imagination.
View the video trailer for American Isis, and learn more about the book and author at Carl Rollyson's website, blog, and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue