Wednesday 13 December 2017

What lies beneath: Wuthering Heights by Sylvia Plath

Wuthering Heights by Sylvia Plath Pen and ink, September 1956
Wuthering Heights by Sylvia Plath Pen and ink, September 1956

Niall MacMonagle

PICK two indentical rooms, side by side, each containing a table and chair. Into them put two people, one a world-famous artist, the other, say, a nine-year-old child. Each is given crayons or charcoal or watercolours, a sheet of paper and each is told to draw a house or a flower or a chair. Easy enough. And then the celebrated grown-up and the youngster are told to slide their finished, unsigned work out, beneath the door.

Now ask someone to pick and choose between them. Easy, easy. We know what we like and there's an end to it. But if you were to tell the chooser that one of the works is by David Hockney, the other by your nephew -- would that change things? In a sane world, not at all. But there's the price tag? Whoopeee! I have an original Hockney. This is valuable. And what about little Joxer's drawing? Though, perhaps, in itself delightful, charming, captivating, it is of little worth in the Gallery or Auction Rooms, has no sell-on value. Names matter.

Or what about this? "I left my home of green rough wood,/ A blue velvet couch. . . Down the walk/ Clickety clack/ As my doll in her carriage / Went over the cracks-/ 'We'll go far away'." Well, what about it? But when you discover it's a poem by Marilyn Monroe you sit up, you look twice. And you consult Freud.

And here's a very competent, accomplished pen-and-ink drawing by a 24-year-old Sylvia Plath. Her name means it becomes more, it becomes something charged with significance. Drawn to the wild moors, the Bronte connection, Plath and Ted Hughes spent "an athletic day hiking ten miles over the moors" and she made this sketch "in the freezing wind". Plath was urgent, intense, troubled; her life, in her own words was "magically run by electric currents -- joyous positive and despairing negative". By 30, Plath had attempted suicide three times but drawing "gives me such a sense of peace to draw; more than prayer, walks, anything. I can close myself completely in the line, lose myself in it".

  • Drawings by Sylvia Plath is published by Faber and Faber

Irish Independent

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