Largely because publishers resist the expenses of precise and plentiful documentation, contemporary biography is a slippery, sometimes stale, but sometimes electrifying discipline. If any recent biographical project deserves further attention and analysis, it is Janet Malcolm's three-part biography of Sylvia Plath, first appearing in the August 23 and 30, 1993 double issue of the New Yorker and now published in book form as The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Knopf, 1994). With the perspective of an autobiographer examining (yet never mentioning) the incendiary implications of her own "missing tapes" incident which led to the New Yorker's defense of her in the libel suit against her from a much earlier article (turned into the book, In the Freud Archives), Malcolm takes us to her interviews and speculates on the complexities of the biographer's stance.
For years, I have created the personae of semi-fictionalized biographers who have entered into and shaped the biographies and dramatized biographies I have written. With the publication next week (March 1994) of my biography of Elizabeth Robins, I reflect upon the phenomena of entering one's work with both an affinity for Malcolm's power to engage and stir debate as well as a heightened sense of self-analysis in light of my own, very distinct and long-practiced form, a form blending accurately footnoted facts and creative scene making. Malcolm pursues her subject, Sylvia Plath, in a way that explores the broader questions of the biographical form. Like my own work, hers is intensely self-reflective. She, however, has the advantage of tapping into a persona who is much written about, protected, mythologized, celebrated, psychoanalyzed, and widely debated. Malcolm's biography is also a compendium of other biographies and a journalist's odyssey through many interviews.
Gates, Joanne E. "Janet Malcolm and Me: The Biographer Enters Her Book: Some Post-Modern Reflections on the Personal of the Critical in Recent Biographies of Women Writers." Paper presented at Twentieth-Century Literature Conference, February 26, 1994, University of Louisville. Available at JSU's Digital Commons, https://digitalcommons.jsu.edu/fac_pres/.