Wagner-Martin, Linda (C.) 1936-
WAGNER-MARTIN, Linda (C.) 1936-
(Linda W. Wagner, Linda Welshimer)
PERSONAL: Born 1936. Ethnicity: "Caucasian."
ADDRESSES: Home—117 Wild Iris Lane, Chapel Hill, NC 27514. Offıce—Department of English, University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27514; fax: 919-962-3520.
CAREER: Michigan State University, East Lansing, professor of English, beginning 1968; University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, Hanes Professor of English and Comparative Literature, beginning 1988; affiliated with Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, and Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH.
The Poems of William Carlos Williams, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1964.
Denise Levertov, Twayne (New York, NY), 1967.
The Prose of William Carlos Williams, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1970.
Phyllis McGinley, Twayne (New York, NY), 1971.
(Under name Linda Welshimer Wagner) Hemingway and Faulkner: Inventors/Masters, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1975.
(Under name Linda Welshimer Wagner) Ernest Hemingway: A Reference Guide, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1977.
(Under name Linda Welshimer Wagner) William Carlos Williams: A Reference Guide, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1978.
(Under name Linda W. Wagner) Dos Passos: Artist as American, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1979.
(Under name Linda W. Wagner) American Modern: Essays in Fiction and Poetry (essays), Kennikat Press (Port Washington, NY), 1980.
Songs for Isadora, 1981.
(Under name Linda W. Wagner) Ellen Glasgow: Beyond Convention, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1982.
Sylvia Plath: A Biography, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1987.
The Modern American Novel, 1914-1945: A Critical History, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1990.
Wharton's "The House of Mirth": A Novel of Admonition, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1990.
Plath's "The Bell Jar": A Novel of the Fifties, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1992.
Telling Women's Lives: The New Biography, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1994.
"The Age of Innocence": A Novel of Ironic Nostalgia, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1996.
Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Barbara Kingsley's The Poisonwood Bible: A Readers Guide, Continuum (New York, NY), 2001.
Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms: A Reference Guide, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2003.
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald: An American Woman's Life, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2004.
Barbara Kingsolver, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA) 2004.
William Faulkner: Four Decades of Criticism, Michigan State University Press (East Lansing, MI), 1973.
T. S. Eliot: A Collection of Criticism, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1974.
Ernest Hemingway: Five Decades of Criticism, Michigan State University Press (East Lansing, MI), 1974.
(Under name Linda W. Wagner, with C. David Mead) Introducing Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1976.
(Under name Linda Welshimer Wagner; and author of introduction) Speaking Straight Ahead: Interviews with William Carlos Williams, New Directions (New York, NY), 1976.
(Under name Linda W. Wagner; and author of introduction) Robert Frost: The Critical Reception, B. Franklin (New York, NY), 1977.
(Under name Linda Welshimer Wagner; and author of introduction) Denise Levertov, In Her Own Province (interviews), New Directions (New York, NY), 1979.
(Under name Linda W. Wagner) Critical Essays on Joyce Carol Oates, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1979.
(Under name Linda W. Wagner) Critical Essays on Sylvia Plath, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1984.
New Essays on "The Sun Also Rises," Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1987.
Ernest Hemingway: Six Decades of Criticism, Michigan State University Press (East Lansing, MI), 1987.
Sylvia Plath: The Critical Heritage, Routledge (London, England), 1988.
Critical Essays on Anne Sexton, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1989.
Ellen Glasgow, Virginia 1989.
Critical Essays on Denise Levertov, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1991.
(Editor of contemporary section) The D. C. Heath Anthology of American Literature, Heath (Boston, MA), 1990, 4th edition, 2001.
New Essays on "Go Down, Moses," Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Ernest Hemingway: Seven Decades of Criticism, Michigan State University Press (East Lansing, MI), 1998.
Over West: Selected Writings of Frederick Eckman: With Commentaries and Appreciations, National Poetry Foundation (Orono, ME), 1999.
The Bedford Cultural Edition of Gertrude Stein's Three Lives, St. Martin's Press (Boston, MA), 2000.
A Historical Guide to Ernest Hemingway, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises: A Casebook, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
(And contributor) William Faulkner: Six Decades of Criticism, Michigan State University Press (East Lansing, MI), 2002.
(And author of introduction) The Portable Edith Wharton, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: A literary critic of modern American fiction and poetry, Linda Wagner-Martin is well known as a biographer of twentieth-century American poet Sylvia Plath. The major elements of Plath's life are well known to American readers, for in the decades since her suicide in 1963 at the age of thirty, her work has become greatly esteemed. Plath's novel The Bell Jar, and her poetry, published in the volume Ariel, have achieved perennial popularity, and the autobiographical nature of her work has created an interest in her life as well. The events of that life, including Plath's stormy six-year marriage to the British poet Ted Hughes, her increasingly desperate attempts to balance homemaking with a poet's life, and her tragic death by oven gas and sleeping pills during the coldest London winter in a century, have become part of the mythology of contemporary literature. The fact that Hughes and Plath destroyed some of their own—and each other's—letters, journals, and drafts at crucial times in their lives—a tendency described in Plath's poem "Burning the Letters"—has created historical gaps, not so much in the literal record of events as in the record of the writers' motivations and emotions. Plath's last journals are not due to be made public until 2013, and therefore have not be available to any of her biographers thus far. In the meantime, Wagner-Martin, like others, has tried to fill in the blanks.
Although the Hughes estate tried to convince Wagner-Martin to cut some 15,000 words from her biography, she resisted doing so, and was thus denied permission to make extensive quotes from Plath's writing. Nevertheless, Sylvia Plath: A Biography was well received by the reading public and by many reviewers. Betty Abel, in Contemporary Review, was among the most enthusiastic, reporting that Wagner-Martin's book "should be read by all who wish to understand how close to her life Plath's poetry was." Calling the volume "a clear, straightforward account of the events of Plath's life," Abel praised the biographer for crafting "an interpretation unclouded by psychological theorising and, at the same time, full of useful pointers to a permanently troubled state of mind." In the London Sunday Times, Anne Stevenson, whose authorized biography of Plath was in progress at the time of her review, noted "the impressive picture of 1950s American culture which emerges, despite clumsy writing, from the first six or seven chapters" of Wagner-Martin's book. Stevenson also found "the final chapter, describing Sylvia's desperate last weeks in London," to be "moving." Yet Stevenson was less satisfied with Wagner-Martin's analysis of Plath's poetry, stating, "The critical limitations of this book are too many to enumerate." Several critics cited the energy of Wagner-Martin's research. Stevenson called her "an indefatigable . . . researcher and interviewer," and Elaine Kendall, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, commended Wagner-Martin for "diligent interviews and conscientious perusal of letters and papers."
Stevenson, Kendall, and others found Sylvia Plath to be somewhat thin in the area of critical analysis. Kendall called the biographer's approach "matter-of-fact" and asserted that "there are no value judgments here, either personal or professional." Claiming that "Wagner-Martin avoids all but the most rudimentary speculation," she called the book "an inconclusive account of a tragically abbreviated life." Stevenson took the author to task for attributing too much of Plath's psychopathology to her marriage rather than to earlier experiences, yet she also wrote that Wagner-Martin's biography "is of interest as a revealing document—perhaps even now of a past phase—in the history of literary feminism." Claire Tomalin in the Observer remarked that the biography "is respectful but fails to get inside the skin of its subject." Jeffrey Meyers, in the National Review, and Mark Ford, in the Times Literary Supplement, both expressed the view that the world still awaited a definitive biography of Plath. Victoria Glendinning in the Spectator, alluding to Plath's desire for recognition and honors as well as a perfect family life, wrote that "what this interestingly imperfect book suggests most strongly is the destructiveness of the success ethic."
Some reviewers maintained that Wagner-Martin's view of Plath's life cast Hughes and patriarchy as villains, and was therefore limited in its critical power; Stevenson called Wagner-Martin "a sincere but naive feminist." Bruce Bawer, in the Washington Post Book World, wrote that the author "seems a bit too eager to believe the worst about Hughes." Glendinning, however, asserted that Wagner-Martin was "not a flame-thrower" and that "her interpretation of Plath's life has a justifiably feminist slant." Diane Middlebrook, a biographer of Plath's friend and colleague Anne Sexton, praised Wagner-Martin's book in the Nation for its "sociological consistency," but argued that for an understanding of Plath's growth of an artist, the poet's own journals, letters, and poems were the best source.
Wagner-Martin was troubled by some of the critical reaction to her book, especially on the part of British critics. "Telling a woman's life . . . had become a dangerous cultural and literary project," she wrote in Telling Women's Lives: The New Biography, which began in part as Wagner-Martin's written response to some of the controversy surrounding the Plath book. Telling Women's Lives surveys the history of biographies of women in English and comments critically on such issues as the difference between male-written and female-written biographies of women. Elaine Showalter, in the London Review of Books, wrote that despite Wagner-Martin's intriguing subject, her approach was lacking in originality: "a disappointingly sedate historical overview." Allyson F. McGill, reviewing the book for Belles Lettres, declared that Wagner-Martin "raises important questions about the ethics of biography, points to the dangers of sentimentalizing one's subject, and cautions against stereotype. . . . Wagner-Martin attempts to get it all in, and on the level of pointing her readers in the right direction in their pursuit of biography, she succeeds." Carol Muske, in the New York Times Book Review, called the book "a shaky platform from which to leap headlong into the swirling waters of controversy"; but Library Journal contributor Sharon Firestone was more enthusiastic, calling the book "insightful" and "cogent." A Publishers Weekly critic termed Telling Women's Lives "a lively and perceptive historical overview."
Wagner-Martin followed Telling Women's Lives with The Oxford Book of Women's Writing in the United States, which she edited with Cathy N. Davidson. The editors included works from many genres into their anthology, rather than limiting it to the familiar genres of fiction and poetry. The result, said Donna Seaman in Booklist, was "a wonderful spectrum" of writing that added up to a "meandering and happily idiosyncratic anthology." A Publishers Weekly commentator labeled the anthology "as remarkable for its quality as it is for its breadth. . . . an outstanding editorial achievement"; Library Journal reviewer Amy Boaz called the anthology "masterly and comprehensive."
In addition to these major works, Wagner-Martin has, since the 1960s, been continually involved in scholarly writing, and has written or edited numerous studies of individual authors, including William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Anne Sexton, Joyce Carol Oates, Phyllis McGinley, Denise Levertov, John Dos Passos, and Edith Wharton.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Belles Lettres, fall, 1994, Allyson F. McGill, review of Telling Women's Lives: The New Biography, pp. 18-19.
Booklist, June 1 and 15, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of The Oxford Book of Women's Writing in the United States, pp. 1718, 1720.
Choice, January, 1996, S. Pathak, review of Favored Strangers: Gertrude Stein and Her Family, p. 796.
Contemporary Review, March, 1988, Betty Abel, review of Sylvia Plath: A Biography, pp. 166-167.
Lambda Book Report, September-October, 1995, Anne R. Houdek, review of Favored Strangers, p. 43.
Library Journal, June 15, 1994, Sharon Firestone, review of Telling Women's Lives, p. 70; August, 1995, Amy Boaz, review of The Oxford Book of Women's Writing in the United States, p. 92.
London Review of Books, September 22, 1994, Elaine Showalter, review of Telling Women's Lives, p. 19.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 31, 1988, Elaine Kendall, review of Sylvia Plath, p. 12.
Nation, November 28, 1987, Anne Sexton, review of Sylvia Plath, pp. 656, 658-659.
National Review, March 18, 1988, Jeffrey Meyers, review of Sylvia Plath, pp. 52-54.
New Statesman, March 11, 1988, pp. 32-33.
New York Times Book Review, October 25, 1987, pp. 12-13; December 13, 1987, p. 46; November 6, 1994, Carol Muske, review of Telling Women's Lives, p. 18.
Observer (London, England), March 6, 1988, Claire Tomalin, review of Sylvia Plath, p. 43.
Publishers Weekly, June 13, 1994, review of Telling Women's Lives, p. 56; May 8, 1995, review of The Oxford Book of Women's Writing in the United States, p. 288.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1995, Irving Malin, review of Favored Strangers, p. 251.
Spectator, March 5, 1988, Victoria Glendinning, review of Sylvia Plath, p. 34.
Sunday Times (London, England), February 28, 1988, Anne Stevenson, review of Sylvia Plath, p. G3.
Times Literary Supplement, April 29-May 5, 1988, Mark Ford, review of Sylvia Plath, p. 468; February 2, 1996, Christopher Benfey, review of Favored Strangers, p. 25.
Washington Post Book World, October 25, 1987, Bruce Bawer, review of Sylvia Plath, p. 4.