‘My heart aches / And a drowsy numb-ness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk / Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains...’ wrote Keats, in lines which seem eerily prescient of the effect of Critical Heritage volumes. Indeed, ‘Heritage’ is now a word to freeze the blood. Though libraries love them, these tomes are largely monuments to the vanity and impertinence of critics, to the chorus of indolent reviewers forced to experience the shock of the new while remaining largely powerless to understand or articulate it. Consequently, the hand moves gingerly through the barrel of sawdust, encountering the occasional grape.
Occasional grapes here would certainly include a sharply focused piece by Marjorie Perloff on Plath’s Collected Poems, but particularly revealing is one not collected here, in Gary Lane’s symposium Sylvia Plath: New Views on the Poetry. This, reviewing Letters Home, concentrated on the bright, breathy ecstasies of the cultural debutante