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Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

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Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

3.5/5 (20 ratings)
301 pages
3 hours
Apr 16, 2013


"I dreamed of New York, I am going there."

On May 31, 1953, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City for a one-month stint at "the intellectual fashion magazine" Mademoiselle to be a guest editor for its prestigious annual college issue. Over the next twenty-six days, the bright, blond New England collegian lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended Balanchine ballets, watched a game at Yankee Stadium, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She typed rejection letters to writers from The New Yorker and ate an entire bowl of caviar at an advertising luncheon. She stalked Dylan Thomas and fought off an aggressive diamond-wielding delegate from the United Nations. She took hot baths, had her hair done, and discovered her signature drink (vodka, no ice). Young, beautiful, and on the cusp of an advantageous career, she was supposed to be having the time of her life.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with fellow guest editors whose memories infuse these pages, Elizabeth Winder reveals how these twenty-six days indelibly altered how Plath saw herself, her mother, her friendships, and her romantic relationships, and how this period shaped her emerging identity as a woman and as a writer. Pain, Parties, Work—the three words Plath used to describe that time—shows how Manhattan's alien atmosphere unleashed an anxiety that would stay with her for the rest of her all-too-short life.

Thoughtful and illuminating, this captivating portrait invites us to see Sylvia Plath before The Bell Jar, before she became an icon—a young woman with everything to live for.

Apr 16, 2013

About the author

Elizabeth Winder is the author of a poetry collection. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Review, Antioch Review, American Letters, and other publications. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, and earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University.

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Top quotes

  • It was 1961 now. Kennedy was president, and Bloomingdale’s was about to release a new in-house shopping bag—designed after a medieval French tarot deck. In Sylvia’s favorite colors—black, white, and red.

  • Sylvia loved her hangovers—as long as she could nurse them with juice and cold peaches and write in her journal.

  • These were the new girls of New York—complete with rapid heartbeats from too much nicotine and coffee.

  • She was not looking for companionship; she was looking for a plot.

  • The instability of identity—how we are seen only one dimension at a time. Cyrilly saw a kindred bluestocking. Laurie Glazer saw a cultivated beauty. Ann Burnside saw a caviar-stuffing bar-barian. How we are labeled for our glamour—or lack of it.

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Pain, Parties, Work - Elizabeth Winder


for Medora


You are twenty. . . . The strange tableau in the closet behind the bathroom: the feast, the beast, the jelly bean.


(November 14, 1952, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950–1962)

Marilyn Monroe appeared to me last night in a dream as a kind of fairy godmother. I spoke, almost in tears, of how much she and Arthur Miller meant to us, although they could, of course, not know us at all. She gave me an expert manicure. I had not washed my hair, and asked her about hairdressers, saying no matter where I went; they always imposed a horrid cut on me. She invited me to visit her during the Christmas holidays, promising a new, flowering life.


(October 4, 1959, The Unabridged Journals)




Author’s Note


The First Week: Euphoria

The Barbizonettes

Who Here’s a Virgin?

The New Girls About Town

The Cute Ones

The First Step: Joining the College Board

The Next Step: Cinderella

Dress Rehearsal

575 Madison Avenue

Believe in Pink: Betsy Talbot Blackwell, 1955

Caviar and Queens

Cherries in the Snow

The Lambs

Sylvia, Before


Field Trip

A Dictionary of Adolescence

Smith Pastorelle

The Summer of Romps and Thrills

The Second Week: Lost Illusions

Sylvia’s Appearance

Cyrilly and Syrilly

Clotted Cream and Crinolines


Lunch and Diets

Bloomingdale’s and Buenos Aires


The Third Week: Alienation


Round Up the Yalies


The Cowboy

Danse Macabre


The Tempest


The Delegate

The Rosenbergs

The Fourth Week: La Femme

The Good Bad Girl

The Gordonian Knot

The Bride

Cherchez La Femme

The Myronic Hero

Medea in Kid Gloves


The New York Herald Tribune

The Dylan Thomas Episode

Last Chance

Vanity Fair


Ilo Pill and the Return of the Native

The Borrowed Skirt

Staten Island Ferry


The Issue

The Clothes, The Dream

The Message

The Aftermath

Après Mademoiselle, La Deluge


Beautiful Smith Girl Missing at Wellesley


Home is Where You Hang Your Nylons

Going Platinum


La Belle Et La Bête


Sylvia Remembered




Interviews and Correspondence with the Author

About the Author



About the Publisher


Sylvia Plath was fully immersed in the material culture of her time. She took real pleasure in clothes, makeup, magazines, and food—a fact that runs counter to the crude reductions of Plath as a tortured artist. Sylvia was highly social—she volunteered, joined clubs, attended lectures, parties, and dances. At twenty, she was more likely to view herself within the context of her peer group than as an isolated individual.

The bras, lipsticks, and kilts included in the book are vital (Plath’s favorite word) to understanding Sylvia as both participant and product of midcentury America.

In New York, Sylvia lived and worked with nineteen other girls at the Barbizon Hotel for Women. As these women shared their memories of June 1953, I realized that the difficulties Sylvia endured were not unique, but part of a larger crisis—being an ambitious, curious girl in the 1950s.


Sylvia Plath committed suicide with cooking gas. She was thirty, and she will always be thirty, wearing her long hair braided in a brown crown round her head. Her skin had gone pale from insomnia and English weather—it was the nuclear winter of 1963—London’s coldest since the days of King James when the Thames froze over.

But this is a different story, and a different Sylvia. Not that frozen February tundra of 1963, but ten years earlier, during a venomously tropical summer of record-breaking heat. Before the wet towels and baby buntings. Before the children and the books. Before London and Devon and the dour brown braid. Before the mugs of milk, the bread and the butter, the duct tape. Before the carbon monoxide and the oven, with its strange domestic witchery. Before she became an icon, before she was Lady Lazarus, she was Sylvia—a New England college girl with an internship in Manhattan.

The stark facts of Sylvia Plath’s suicide have led to decades of reductionist writing about her person and her writing. Pain Parties Work is an attempt to undo the cliché of Plath as the demon-plagued artist. This is a story of an electrically alive young woman on the brink of her adult life. An artist equally attuned to the light as the shadows, with a limitless hunger for experience and knowledge, completely unafraid of life’s more frightening opportunities. All New York’s gory beauty shooting through her in a white-hot current. Someone vulnerable and playful, who loved to shop as much as she loved to read. This Sylvia has blond hair, a deep tan, one suitcase, several boyfriends, two black sheaths, and a ticket to New York City. Starting on June 1, 1953, she will join nineteen other college girls to work on Madison Avenue as a guest editor for a fashion magazine called Mademoiselle.

Spring 1953. Aldous Huxley was experimenting with mescaline in West Hollywood. There was a new vaccine for polio, and someone had finally reached the summit of Mount Everest. Joseph Stalin died, and Elvis Presley graduated from high school. Queen Elizabeth II was preparing for her coronation at Westminster Abbey. John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier decided to go public and announce their engagement, and William S. Burroughs was in Tangier writing Naked Lunch.

Sylvia Plath was packing slips, sheaths, skirts, and nylons at her home in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She was going to New York.


Ruth Abramson

Margaret Affleck

Nedra Anderwert

Candy Bolster

Betty Jo Boyle

Ann Burnside

Malinda Edgington

Laurie Glazer

Gloria Kirshner

Dinny Lain    (Diane Johnson)

Carol LeVarn

Grace MacLeod

Madelyn Mathers

Eileen McLaughlin

Neva Nelson

Sylvia Plath

Del Schmidt

Anne Shawber

Laurie Totten

Janet Wagner


Betsy Talbot Blackwell   (Editor in Chief)

Cyrilly Abels   (Managing Editor)

Marybeth Little   (College Board Editor)

Margarita Smith   (Fiction Editor)

Gigi Marion

Kay Silver

Geri Trotta

Polly Weaver

The First Week: Euphoria

I dreamed of New York, I am going there.


(May 15, 1953, The Unabridged Journals)


Her room was the size of a decent closet—beige walls trimmed in maroon paint. A dark green carpet, ferny bedspread with rose-patterned ruffles like Snow White’s muted forest. There was green upholstery on the low parlor chair. A desk for typing wedged neatly at the bed’s foot. Above the bed there was a speaker box that piped in classical music if you turned a knob. A white enameled bowl bloomed out of one wall—useful for washing out white cotton gloves. (Within days there would be little damp gloves hanging in each room like tiny white flags.)

The Barbizon stood on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street—twenty-three floors of warm pink brick with curly flourishes. Sylvia’s room faced east. She loved her view—the Third Avenue El, the new United Nations building—she could even catch glimpses of the East River. She kept her windows open the entire month.

The boxlike room meant freedom.

Since the 1940s, the Barbizon had been a hothouse of pretty, brainy American ingenues. (And Sylvia would play up this tropical exoticism by rechristening the hotel the Amazon in The Bell Jar.) Aspiring actresses, writers, editors, and models thrived and withered within the hotel’s pink walls. The atmosphere in the seven hundred tiny rooms was humid and claustrophobic. Barbizon girls steamed with ambition and anxiety, eager to join the ranks of the hotel’s most famous resident, Grace Kelly.

I remember my arrival at the Barbizon, registering at the desk and meeting some of the girls who were arriving at the same time. Everyone was friendly but low-key, as if we were keeping our enthusiasm to ourselves. Perhaps we felt too unsure of exactly what to expect and therefore refrained from any impulse to giggle or gush. Most exhibited polite and possibly feigned self-confidence.


The Barbizon promoted itself as a sorority of ambitious, discriminating young women. Model agencies and parents alike approved. With mandatory teas, curfews, and chaperones, the Barbizon was like an upscale nunnery. Demerits were given to girls who came in past curfew or looking rough.

Yet despite this, the hotel held women like Sylvia Plath in a glossy thrall. And the allure had little to do with bridge games and prearranged dates to the Stork Club.

Sylvia Plath and the Barbizon girls wore girdles, conical bras, kitten and Cuban heels. Whether playing badminton or clacking away at a typewriter, they worked at cultivating a veneer of knowing sophistication—they wanted to own the ladylike details of their dresses and clutches. The goal was to feel and look as turned out and spotless as a white kid glove. It was 1953—four years before Audrey Hepburn proved you could be sexy and bookish at once in Funny Face.

At twenty, Sylvia Plath looked a little like the fashion model Sunny Harnett. She was reading Joyce. She was concentrating on her fiction writing. Sometimes she took the train to Brookline to have tea with her benefactress, Olive Higgins Prouty. Sylvia arrived in New York after a bout of sinusitis and a flurry of Yale mixers and scholastic awards. She desperately wanted to turn her string of academic prizes, published poems, and Ivy League dates into something tangible. It was her first time leaving New England. Sylvia needed New York’s alchemy—this pink wall, this luncheon—some bright rare mineral to turn her life to gold.

Sylvia was in a hurry to grow up, but she wasn’t the only one. In 1953, the term young lady could have been reversed: Plath and her generation were ladies first—they just happened to be young.


We were all already the personalities we would grow up to be.


Decades before its end in 2001, Mademoiselle was admired for its élan and known for publishing new fiction by Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Flannery O’Connor. (Sylvia Plath was an avid reader of Mademoiselle—she described it in her journal as the intellectual fashion magazine.) The Mademoiselle girl was cultivated, career-minded, and just worldly enough. She was still fresh—she could enjoy an Arthur Miller play and a Yale football game in the same weekend. She shopped, danced, volunteered, and still made the honor roll. She was (in Mademoiselle’s own words) perfectly turned out for college, career or cocktails. She probably planned on getting married a little later than her peers—no high school sweethearts for her.

The guest editor program started in 1939, providing a chance for undergraduate women to work on the wildly popular college issue. Each June Mademoiselle’s staff selected twenty girls, brought them to New York, put them up in the Barbizon, and paid them a real salary. Thousands of girls applied each year—everyone wanted to be a guest editor. You would work, but you also went to parties, plays, and fashion shows. You met people like Hubert de Givenchy, E. B. White, and Marlon Brando. In 1953, the program was in its heyday, and for a literary-minded college girl like Sylvia, it was the best you could do.

Sylvia was relieved to see Laurie Totten in the room next to hers. Though Laurie lived a few streets away from Sylvia’s home in Wellesley, they had met for the first time just weeks earlier. We talked on the phone and I remember visiting her at her house and meeting her mother, Laurie recalls. "Her house was within a short walk from mine. I recall sitting on her bed in her room on the second floor and discussing the big adventure and what we hoped to gain from the experience. I was impressed to learn she had won the Seventeen magazine fiction contest, one I had entered without success. I recall feeling tremendous sympathy for her when I learned she lost her father when she was a little girl. Sylvia liked the coltish, artistic Laurie and immediately considered her a friend. My mother planned to drive me to New York, remembers Laurie. We invited Sylvia to come with us, but for some reason at the last minute she decided to take the train. I felt comfortable with her and at no time felt either of us was superior to the other. Sometime during this period before we headed to New York I remember we asked one another what we might like to come back as. I wanted to come back as a wolf, explaining that the wolf was much misunderstood and not nearly as big and bad as most people thought. Sylvia’s choice was a seagull."

Sylvia met the other guest editors that evening in Grace MacLeod’s room. Grace, who would soon be mistaken for Zsa Zsa Gabor, was the group’s unofficial hostess. There was the elegant Madelyn Mathers, whose father invented what would become GPS, and Neva Nelson from San Jose, who a few months prior had been immersed in a geology course in Death Valley, the site of the recent hydrogen bomb tests. (One photograph shows a tanned Neva blithely tossing back a two-thousand-year-old radioactive fish as if it were an oyster on the half shell.) There was Eileen McLaughlin, who was sharp with words and hat making: I can still picture her nasal snort, her way of laughing through her nose when she made a cute remark, said Neva in an interview. There was Gloria Kirshner, who at twenty-four was already married, with a young son; she took the train in each day from the Bronx. And Janet Wagner from Kansas, who would soon be discovered by Eileen Ford of the Ford Modeling Agency, and later grace the pages of Vogue and Glamour well into the 1960s.¹

Nedra Anderwert was undoubtedly one of the Paris models Sylvia had admired in her first letter home. Nedra’s hair was dark with a neat gloss, and her eyes were wide but slanted like a cat’s. Groomed sleek, lips and eyes outlined, Nedra was camera-ready and remarkably photogenic—a photographer’s dream.

Even though in a room with the rest of us, remembers Neva, Nedra didn’t join in on the conversations. I remember her spending most of her time listening to the rest of us, her head down working on her drawings—mostly of shoes. She drew shoes over and over, very fancy ones with soft velvet and jewels. Shoes were just a uniform item for the rest of us, but I remember her saying that there was big money to be made in marketing the right shoe, and thinking that it was so sad that she didn’t have access herself to any of the shoes that she designed. But she was WAY AHEAD of her time on this. I remember she introduced the rest of us to the Capezio—a very soft slipper that was just coming on the market, too expensive for me to buy. But she was instrumental in finding a soft silk brown pump for me to replace the black patent leather pumps that were hurting my feet.

Like the pretty, mysterious Nedra, Sylvia adored shoes—especially French ones. She would fall in love with the shoe shops along the rue de la Paix in Paris: red delicate shoes and orange and smoky blue shoes and gold shoes. (Years later, Sylvia would prefer Paris to New York, with its citron presses in Modern Little Bars.) If she were wealthy, her extravagance would be to have a closet full of colored shoes—just one or two styles: simple princess open pump with tiny curved heel—in all the shades of the rainbow.

Sylvia had such an eye for beauty—in her journal she recorded Nedra’s feline eyes and elegant limbs—but she wrote her off as aloof: how could anyone so beautiful be shy? Their mutual reserve prevented them from forming a friendship.

Of course the girls were bound by the living space that they shared.

Gracious living begins with your entrance into the beautiful Barbizon-Plaza Hotel on Central Park South, boasts a 1953 brochure. Within walking distance of the famous 5th Avenue shops, lounge and bar served until 1 in the morning, a central cooling system and individual thermostats. The Barbizon Hotel for Women, however, was not so gracious—in fact, the individual thermostats did not work—at least not on the fifteenth floor. And New York happened to be in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave—by September it would be 102 degrees. The hotel may have been patronized by Grace Kelly—she had been known to scamper down the halls in her underwear—but really, the Barbizon women’s hotel was a debutante’s pretty flophouse. It was very, very hot, remembers Diane Johnson. And the hotel wasn’t air-conditioned. Anne Shawber, Lin Edgington, and I sat around in the nude hoping for drafts.

Neva had forgotten to pack her pajamas. My mother was supposed to send them, but they didn’t arrive until the last week. At night when groups of us would sit around talking, everyone else would be wearing robes and nightgowns. I had never even owned a robe before. So she threw her flared green reversible raincoat—one side

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What people think about Pain, Parties, Work

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  • (4/5)
    Along with nineteen other young women, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath spent a month (June 1953) as a "guest editor" for Mademoiselle magazine's college issue. The women lived in close quarters in a poorly-ventilated women's hotel, and were expected to attend luncheons, parties, and cultural events, and to look great while doing so, despite the sweltering New York heat. Readers of Plath's novel The Bell Jar know that later that summer, after she had returned home, she made her first suicide attempt. Author Elizabeth Winder examines Plath's brief New York interlude in Pain, Parties, Work. Even though the title was taken from Plath's own summation of her internship experience, it is misleading. Plath's month at Mademoiselle doesn't seem to have been too painful, unless you count her bout with ptomaine poisoning and resentment at being the only guest editor who was given actual work to do. It wasn't all drudgery, however. Plath attended many parties and had lots of dates. Moreover, as the reader is told repeatedly, Plath reveled in glamour and in the material world. Daiquiris were her beverage of choice, and her signature lipstick color was Cherries in the Snow. She washed her "gleamy" (sic) blonde pageboy three times a week with Halo shampoo, and noted every washing in her journal.The book starts out strong, but the interminable descriptions of clothes, makeup and food grow tiresome by the end. In her desire to rescue Plath from those who consider her just another tortured artist, Winder perhaps goes too far the other way to show us a sybaritic party-girl with a big appetite for life. While mildly interesting, this approach does not do much to illuminate Plath's later life or work. While in New York, Plath wasn't very different from her peers. As one of Plath's co-editors said, "I never could have imagined the life she had ahead of her. She seemed just like me." (p. 101)
  • (4/5)
    In the summer of 1953 twenty girls were chosen for a one month stint at the Mademoiselle magazine, living at the Barbizon Hotel for Women. One of those chosen, Sylvia Plath, was the subject of author Elizabeth Winder's book, Pain, Parties, Work. Because the subject committed suicide at the age of 30, the book is written from in-depth interviews with the fellow guest editors who lived and worked with her. A picture of a young, beautiful and adventurous woman and writer comes through the pages of the novel, showing how this period shaped her emerging identity.Others have portrayed Ms. Plath as a demon-plagued artist, but I saw none of that as researched by the author. Ms. Plath appears to have been on the brink of discovering life, with a limitless hunger for experience and knowledge. To understand the time period of the 50's this book is illuminating and interesting as the reader learns about magazine politics, treatment of women in the 50's and humiliating banalities of the everyday life that Ms. Plath and others endured . "When she wrote, she gave accurate accounts of growing pains felt by all," her friend Neva Nelson said. To this day, Sylvia Plath's book, "the Bell Jar" has never been out of print.I highly recommend this book, not just for the background on Sylvia Plath, but to understand women issues during her lifetime and which persist in part at this time in history.
  • (4/5)
    SummaryIn June, 1953, 20 young college women, including Sylvia Plath, were chosen to serve as guest editors of Mademoiselle magazine for one month. They lived at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, worked on 5th Avenue, and experienced for the first time a life on their own...sortof with freedom to make decisions and honestly figure out who they were and what they wanted of life...again, sortof. Culture, society, expectations and need clashed the entire time the girls lived in New York. Many, including Sylvia, left New York at the end of that summer a changed woman...forever.What I LikedA description of Sylvia as a young woman, with hopes and dreams beyond the legend, beyond the writer...just Sylvia.Interviews and excerpts from some of the other women who were there with Sylvia as guest editorsAt first I wasn't sure I was going to like all the detailed attention on what the girls wore...the lipstick colors, the heel heights, girdles, etc. until I realized these details were, in fact, a huge part of that June. As guest editors of a fashion magazine and young "career" women of the 1950's, as they began to have more options, these choices would definitely be some of the ones they focused on. An inside look at how a fashion magazine is run (or was run, as in the case of Mademoiselle). And, an inside look at the magazine itself...from illustrations, to advertisements, articles and sections.The back and forth peeks from The Bell Jar to Winder's story and how the two meld as well as disconnect at times...the fact and the fiction.The quotes Winder weaves into her story are perfectly placed and show examples of how Sylvia approached her summer in NY, and of course, how she left it...in her own words.The idea that Sylvia as a lifelong journaler only made one entry during the entire month of June, 1953 (her reaction to the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg)...will keep my brain humming for quite some time.An honest look at women's sexuality and societal expectations in the 1950s and beyond. I'm a geek and I don't apologize for it...as always, I appreciate a healthy does of credits, notes, a substantial bib section and anything else that gives me a place to dig...I know I will never learn everything I want to know about everything, but I can only learn so much with help from authors like Winder who provide so much for me to chew on and in such an organized manner. What I Didn't LikeOn a lighter note...the idea of nylons...every. day....any. day...but especially not during a heat wave in NY.More seriously though, the idea that medical professionals actually treated Sylvia's first breakdown with archaic, ridiculous electroshock therapy based on a process used with pigs headed to be slaughtered??? Or, the just as horrendous idea of insulin shock therapy??? Really?? And, these people were medical professionals?? I wanted to scream after a few glimpses into Sylvia's early treatment. The short chapter about Sylvia's summer after NY...made me sad...just sad.Overall RecommendationPain, Parties, Work is an obvious read for anyone who is or ever has been a fan of Sylvia Plath or who has read and been changed by The Bell Jar.
  • (4/5)
    The basics: As the title indicates, this biography of Sylvia Plath takes a narrow scope: the summer of 1953, when she was a college intern for Mademoiselle magazine and lived in New York City with other interns from around the country.My thoughts: 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath's death. Despite her fame and talent, I'm ashamed to say I know more about her infamy and death than her life. Still, there's something that has always fascinated me about Plath, so I welcomed this opportunity to dive deeper into her back story. From the earliest pages of Pain, Parties, Work, however, I realized I was as fascinated by Sylvia's time in the summer of 1953 as I was her colleagues. While Plath drew me to this book, the other women kept me turning the pages.Winder's research for this book is remarkable. The book is laid out much like a magazine. There are frequent text boxes featuring details and quotations. Thankfully, these boxes enhance the narrative rather than distract from it. They allow Winder to demonstrate a depth of detail that could bog down the narrative; instead they provide a deeper glimpse into certain scenes.Although I was as fascinated by the other women as I was Sylvia, this book is very much about Sylvia. Many of the other women's actions revolves around Sylvia and their recollections of her. The emphasis at this point of Sylvia's life is enchanting: she is very much on the verge of self-discoveries. By glimpsing Sylvia's life at this point, it's haunting to imagine the different paths her life might have taken from the summer of 1953.The verdict: Pain, Parties, Work is a fascinating glimpse into the life of Sylvia Plath as a young woman, but as much as I enjoyed this part of Sylvia, I was as drawn to the other young women just as much. This book is a window into one summer in the lives of many remarkable women. That one of them was Sylvia Plath is not nearly as impressive as I expected it to be.
  • (1/5)
    I was expecting more insight into the life of Sylvia Plath, but the book dances around her life and gives second-hand accounts of events. Not what I thought it would be.
  • (4/5)
    Sylvia Plath is my favourite author, and as such I've read a number of books about her. But this was unlike any of the others, because it focused on such a specific period of time. It frustrates me how much her death overshadows every other element of her, so it was refreshing to read a book that didn't have to discuss it at all. I read this book as research for my NaNoWriMo novel this year, and it did provide insight into the areas relevant for my book. The author could get a little overly focused on seemingly trivial matters at times (so much discussion of clothes!), but overall I found the book interesting and helpful.
  • (3/5)
    I'm not quite sure what there is left to say about Sylvia Plath, but rest assured, even though her bones have been picked pretty clean, I will probably read it. This book deals with the summer Plath spent in New York as a guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine.Author Elizabeth Winder does an excellent job of evoking the mid-century atmosphere of the city along with the stultifying expectations of young women - even those who were bright and ambitious. Given Plath's fiery ambitions and given limited opportunities and confining roles for women, it's no wonder that she had a nervous breakdown at the end of the summer. The author has also interviewed many of the other women who were guest editors with Plath and their observations give contextual meaning to Sylvia Plath's story.This is a slim volume that is easily read in a couple of sittings. Recommended for anyone who wants to delve more deeply into Plath's story.
  • (2/5)
    The best way to describe this book is: The Bell Jar, but non-fiction. Pain, Parties, Work tells the story of Sylvia Plath during the month of June, 1953 and her internship at Mademoiselle magazine in New York City. That month in NYC was exciting, but with a manic foreboding.This book bugged me, its set-up was extremely tangential. We’d randomly be talking about someone Plath dated once or twice, then jump backward to her feelings about her mother, then forward again to someone vaguely famous that walked by Plath and the other girls once on the street. It didn’t make any sense. Windner also couldn’t seem to decide what format to go with. For example, there was a “Dictionary of Adolescence” chapter that just listed everyday things and throughout the book, there were boxes of asides relating to crew cuts, or oysters, or the fact that Sylvia got nylons for Christmas one time. Why do we care?! Windner didn’t seem to actually know much about Plath, but was trying to piece together a book that would sell. Chapters were full of information about things that Plath loved, but without any credibility. In the afterward, she did include the names of people she had interviewed, but didn’t cite anything within the text of the book. I would have liked some footnotes. The one thing that I truly did love about this book was that it gave personal insights into Plath’s life. In most ways, she was just a regular girl and in a way I think that adds something to her. She could be anyone, which is why The Bell Jar resonates with so many young girls: they can identify with Esther and thus Plath herself. All in all, this book was a let-down; don’t waste your time – just go read The Bell Jar again.P.S. Why that cover image? It’s lovely, I’ll admit, but a biography (especially a biography of someone who loved being photographed) should have an image of the subject on the cover, not some random woman.
  • (4/5)
    I would like to thank Kathryn for allowing me the chance to read this uncorrected proof of Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. I won it in the goodreads giveaway and was probably supposed to read it before the book actually came out but I didn't get the chance.

    I know, I know: EPIC FAIL!

    I would like the chance to redeem myself by reviewing the book now.

    Funny, I have never read any of Plath's poetry but have read The Bell Jar numerous times as any angst-ridden teen to slightly misanthropic depressed adult can. I have always been a little obsessed with her. Her life could have been my life if I had her drive and ambition, not to mention, talent. I immensely enjoyed that Elizabeth Winder chose a period in Plath's life that wasn't all about despondence.

    In June 1953, Sylvia Plath, along with nineteen other collegiate girls, had all started a prestigious one month internship in New York City at the magazine Mademoiselle. The girls would all be guest editors and stay at the Barbizon Hotel. The girls would get the chance to interview prolific writers of that day including Elizabeth Bowen, Dylan Thomas, and William Inge, among others.

    They experienced the high life of 1950's New York City: expensive ballets and dinners, visiting offices like The New Yorker and the United Nations, and meeting sexy eligible bachelors. With the high points came the low points, especially for Sylvia, who wasn't used to the mid-Atlantic weather and the washed out weekends. Compound that with a bout of debilitating food poisoning and being chained to a desk while she cranked out rejection letters, Sylvia was feeling like a shell of her blonde, vibrant self.

    That morose feeling followed her even after she completed her internship and left New York. When she returned to New England, a lot of little things, such as not being able to do shorthand or read James Joyce's Ulysses, worked on her fragile psyche and broke her leading up to her first suicide attempt. After being rehabilitated, Sylvia started wearing her "broken" status as a badge of honor and began acting in a reckless sort of way, especially with men.

    I liked this novel. I liked that it explored an happier time, at least for a while anyway, in Plath's life. I liked that she was happy and vibrant and hopeful. She reminded me of myself when I first started college when she first started her internship.

    It was that sort of bubbling excitement for the future. I knew exactly how Sylvia felt when what she expected didn't turn out the way she had hope it would be. I know that kind of crushing desolation can lead to some very damning actions.

    My only problem with the book was the whole section Mademoiselle. I get that the magazine and that issue was a big part of Plath's life and, yes, it warrant a mention, but I don't think a whole section. Other than that, Pain, Parties, Work was great!

  • (5/5)
    In Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 (HarperCollins, 16 April 2013), Elizabeth Winder has approached a pivotal period of Sylvia Plath's life in a novel way. Similar to the ingenuity in scope of Andrew Wilson's recent biography Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted, Winder writes primarily on a snapshot period of Plath's life and weaves together a short, quirky narrative based on archival research, information obtained from books, and new interviews with Plath's fellow guest editors. I was curious how one would write a 265-page biography based on one month/one summer of Plath's life. October 1962, I could see: there is a fair amount of information about this period and certainly enough creative work to really bring that aspect in as well. But, June 1953 there is less material available: very few letters, sparse journal-writing, no creative writing (other than possibly copy Plath wrote for the Mademoiselle issue). The bulk of the book is structured week-by-week (First Week, Second Week, etc.), which is a brilliant way to approach the events; and within each chapter there are sections which break down quite nicely into manageable, readable bits of writing.There are additional chapters too, that widen the context from just Sylvia Plath in June 1953 such as "Sylvia Before," "The Issue," and "Aftermath" to name a few. "Sylvia Before" is one of the more successful chapters of the book: in particular the sub-content in this chapter such as "Field Trip" (and the sub-sub content "Vitals") and - the best of them all - "A Dictionary of Adolescence." This is Pain, Parties, Work is at its best. The chapter "The Issue" is a short, intense look at the the August 1953 Mademoiselle: and bravo to Winder for such an examination. Salient details were also to be found in "Aftermath." Scattered throughout each chapters are boxes of quotes, memories, and other information. These sidebars contain contextual, supporting information, quotes and other information, but occasionally disrupt the flow of the text. As such, I was never quite sure whether to read the boxed off material in the flow of the narrative or as separate side-bars. There are many reasons to buy this book, not the least of them being for the perspectives of, Sylvia Plath, Mademoiselle, and 1950s style, fashion, and culture that her survivors give, as well as the snippets of new information. A natural way to approach this book is from the lens of Plath's portrayal of these events in her novel The Bell Jar. Reading Pain, Parties, Work will require a significant wiping clean of preconceived ideas about what you think you know about some of the people and events from those 26 days in June that Plath manipulated for her book. Certainly some of what Pain, Parties, Work reveals about Sylvia Plath's "queer, sultry" month is mind-blowing. The most important scene to me was the event at the Forest Hills Tennis Club (now the West Side Tennis Club) in Queens. An absolute revelation. Like Plath's novel, Winder freely intertwines significant experiences from other years of Plath's life into the text. In The Bell Jar, we are drawn to Esther Greenwood's story of isolation and disappointment and depression and the inequality and double standards of 1950s America. Likewise and more importantly, we are also drawn to Sylvia Plath's experiences and emotions from the time. Esther Greenwood tells us in the opening chapter of The Bell Jar that she was "supposed to be having the time of her life" (The Bell Jar, 1963, 2).What Winder has done in Pain, Parties, Work is to show that as Plath's fellow guest editors "shared their memories of June 1953, I realized that the difficulties Sylvia endured were not unique, but part of a larger crisis--being an ambitious, curious girl in the 1950s" (Author's Note xi). It goes to show that living the dream has consequences and that feeling of emptiness and of "moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo" was not restricted to just Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar, 3). About the end of the internships, Guest Editor Laurie Glazer says it best: "We dispersed in different directions to have our letdown alone" (Winder 221). And this is part of the power of both Plath's story and of The Bell Jar: that there is a universality to it to which people connect with on what seems to be a molecular level.Winder did her research, particularly with the fashions that were out that June, as well as things lost to me such as lipstick color, bra-designs (mind you, I do have an interest in this but possibly for different reasons), perfumes and other - dare I say - feminine things that had a profound meaning and influence on the 1953 version Sylvia Plath. I appreciate having the information now. The images in the book, though grainy, are relevant, but based on some of the memories recalled, the opportunity to present fetish items like the bathrobe Plath traded to Janet Wagner (aka Betsy/Pollyanna Cowgirl) was passed up. And, do any of the Guest Editors that year still have either the plastic starfish sunglasses case or the book of Ernest Hemingway short stories given to those who suffered from ptomaine poisoning?To sum: Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 is an easily digested book with fascinating new facts and memories of Sylvia Plath.There is no excuse not to read Elizabeth's Winder's Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. In addition to being available in print (which is the best medium) Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 is also available on Kindle.
  • (2/5)

    2 people found this helpful

    I have a theory that this book began as a thesis--or some kind of graduate school project--which was somehow then accepted for publication by Harper Collins. The big question is why. I won't rehash the criticisms that everyone else has made, but will just agree with them and add that there are major narrative and tonal problems throughout.

    The idea behind this book--an exploration of Plath's Mademoiselle internship--is actually fantastic. The problem is that there is actually so little source material to go on. Sylvia Plath did not document this experience in her journals, which left Winder scrambling for ideas on how to fill pages. It's a shame really. Under the hands of a more experienced writer, and with the guidance of a good editor, this could have been a great book.

    2 people found this helpful