My landscape is a hand with no lines: representations of space in the poetry of Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton
2018-01-09T09:04:11Z (GMT) by
This thesis is the first study using contemporary spatial theory, including cultural geography and its precursors, to examine and compare representations of space in the poetry of three mid-twentieth century American poets: Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton. Because of the autobiographical content often foregrounded in their work, these poets have been labelled Confessional. Previous criticism has focused primarily on the ways in which they narrate (or draw on) their personal lives, treating accompanying descriptions of their surroundings primarily as backdrops. However, these poets frequently manifest their affective states by using the pathetic fallacy within structures of metaphor that form a textual mapping of the physical space they describe. This mapping can be temporal as well as spatial; the specific spaces mapped in the poem s present are often linked to memories of earlier life or family. These spaces include psychiatric, general, and penal institutions, parks and gardens, nature (especially coastal settings), and the home (almost always a place of tension or conflict). Each poet addresses these broad types of space differently according to their evolving subjective relationship to them. These relationships are in turn strongly influenced by their social class and gender: for the two women, their experience of their own bodies as prescribed space, in relation to the restrictive and objectifying female role that was imposed on them, is critical. Also, critical in shaping the poets experience of space are post-World-War II socio-cultural and demographic changes in the United States, notably suburbanisation, consumerisation and the consolidation of a therapeutic culture . Interwoven with these influences are major political concerns of the period such as the Cold War with its accompanying surveillance and conformism and the threat of nuclear annihilation. In the work of all three poets, awareness of these modern fears fused with traditional Gothic motifs to permeate their descriptions of spaces with anxiety, bitterness, and even dread in a rejection of the synthetic optimism of the American Century and commercial culture. Other criticism has touched on many of these themes in relation to one or another of the poets, but this study, by way of the theme of space, offers comparison and synthesis that aims to shed new light on their work and its relation to the period during which they wrote.