1. Pretend, please, that this was Twitter... In 140 characters or less how would you describe your new book The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath?
#ICYMI stories about Plath and her readers #sylviaplath
2. Now, feel free to expand a little bit regarding its about-ness!
The book is a really an exploration of what Plath means to some of her readers and why she plays such an important role in their lives. It's divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 begins with stories about the first time readers encountered Plath and then the book moves through the concept of doubling, Plath pilgrimages, Plath photographs, and Plath's objects. The book is framed by Freudian notions of identification, narcissism, mourning and melancholia, while also making use of Otto Rank's idea of the double.
3. How did you go about modifying your PhD thesis for publication? What were some of the challenges and what might have been kind of a relief to shed?
The first major challenge was cutting the word count from 110,000 down to 70,000. Luckily it was fairly obvious what needed to go which was mostly the extended academic stuff (technical terminology) you have to do in order to get a PhD, such as massive lit reviews etc., so that was a bit of relief, to be truthful. I also changed the structure slightly, cutting out my own stories and incorporating them in a different way. Then I changed most respondents' names to protect their identities and removed any photographs that would have compromised their anonymity. I was at the time, and remain, concerned about my respondents and how they will be received. I feel protective of them and I feel deeply honoured that they trusted me to share their stories, so I really hope that they are read in this spirit.
4. In the original research, how did you find your respondents?
I began by reading the ten years of archived forum entries that the wonderful Elaine Connell had maintained and I made a note of the main contributors and their contact details. I also did some general online research about people who seemed to be involved with Plath studies generally. Then I sent out a batch of emails outlining my research and asking if people would be interested in taking part. I also met further respondents at the 2007 Sylvia Plath Symposium at Oxford University.
5. Following on this, as you sought out participants, were there people who declined to participate? And, were there any stories that you found didn't fit in to your research?
Yes. Some people just didn't answer my email or others replied saying they were too busy to participate. Others had certain conditions, which seemed fair enough to me. I was a complete stranger and they were about to tell me some really personal stuff. Amazingly, the stories had a really interlinked set of themes. I did not choose my chapters, the data from respondents chose them. The convergence and similarity was uncanny – especially since I had not set any questions at all. I just asked for open, free, creative bits of autobiography outlining their attachments to Plath. There was sadly too much data to include in both the thesis and the book, so the stories are edited stories. Perhaps one day the full versions can be made available without my fiddling about with them being an issue.
6. On your website your write "Developing and extending Rose's notion of haunting I am increasingly interested in place and spaces haunted by Plath and ways in which this impacts on readers who not only form close attachments to Plath, but equally carry out secular pilgrimages to places in which Plath lived and wrote." Do you see The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath as a compliment to Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath or as building on it?
I love Rose's book. I read it when I was a teenager and it really captured, and continues to capture, my imagination. What I hope The Haunted Reader does is to continue Rose's story. Once a cultural figure haunts our imaginations – what happens? What do people do with this figure and how does it impact on their lives? Janet Badia's wonderful book Sylvia Plath and The Mythology of Women Readers was also really important – the brilliant way she explores the kind of narratives that exist about readers. What I then wanted to do was personalise it and collect actual in-depth reader life-stories. The book wouldn't have existed without my respondents so my main aim is that readers of the book enjoy reading these stories and perhaps while they do reflect upon what Plath means to them.
Gail Crowther, The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath (Fonthill, 2017). Available in paperback from Amazon.co.uk and other online retailers. Crowther is also the co-author of two books about Sylvia Plath. With Elizabeth Sigmund, Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning and, with Peter K. Steinberg, the forthcoming These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath.
All links accessed 8 August 2016 and 15 February 2017.