Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 (P.S.)

by Elizabeth Winder

Paperback, 2014

Status

Available

Publication

Harper Perennial (2014), Edition: Reprint, 288 pages

Description

In May of 1953, a twenty-one-year-old Plath arrived in New York City, the guest editor of Mademoiselle's annual College Issue. She lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended the ballet, went to a Yankees game, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She was supposed to be having the time of her life. But what would follow was, in Plath's words, twenty-six days of pain, parties, and work which, ultimately, changed the course of her life.

Rating

½ (37 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bakersfieldbarbara
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member akblanchard
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,
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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)
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LibraryThing member epkwrsmith
Summary

In 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
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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 Liked

A 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 editors

At 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 Like

On 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 Recommendation

Pain, 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.
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LibraryThing member nomadreader
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member pksteinberg
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member megaden
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Y2Ash
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
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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!

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LibraryThing member Y2Ash
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
Show More
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!

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LibraryThing member breakingbooks
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.
LibraryThing member selfcallednowhere
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member etxgardener
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Y2Ash
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
Show More
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!

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Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

2013

Physical description

288 p.; 5.31 inches

ISBN

9780062085559
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