Haunting Female Figures: Coleridge’s Influence on Plath’s "Lady Lazarus"
Mentor:Wilhelmina Hotchkiss, Professor of English, California State University Long Beach
“Kubla Khan” and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by eighteenth-century British Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and “Lady Lazarus” by twentieth-century American poet Sylvia Plath feature female figures which scholars have extensively analyzed using psychoanalytic theory. However, Susan Gubar, Sandra Gilbert, and John Beer are the only scholars to acknowledge undeniable parallels between Coleridge’s and Plath’s poems. Therefore, despite having been discussed through similar approaches, the relationship between Plath and Coleridge remains largely unexplored in literary criticism. To address the issue, I will examine how Plath and Coleridge represent their haunting females as death-figures and creative-entities both in conflict with men. Analyzing both poets together highlights the shifting nature of their haunting females and speakers and consequent defiance of traditional gender roles, and demonstrates the extent to which Plath modeled her work after Coleridge since ambivalence toward the maternal and paternal marks his work. Moreover, reading “Kubla Khan,” The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and “Lady Lazarus” provides an exploration in new depth of the Plath-Coleridge relationship and an enhanced/complicated reading of both poets since Coleridge’s female figures clearly resonated with Plath nearly a century and a half later, and Plath evidently drew from more than her own biography to achieve her distinct poetic voice.