A. Alvarez Dies at 90; Poet Elevated Both Sylvia Plath and Poker


Mr. Alvarez also served, unhappily, as the drama critic of the British magazine New Statesman for a two-year stint in the late 1950s and turned out several literary studies: “The Shaping Spirit: Studies in Modern English and American Poets” (1958), published in the United States as “Stewards of Excellence”; “The School of Donne” (1961); and “Under Pressure: The Writer in Society: Eastern Europe and the U.S.A.” (1965). Some of his critical essays were collected in “Beyond All This Fiddle: Essays, 1955-67” (1968).

In 1956 he married Ursula Barr, the granddaughter of Frieda Lawrence, the wife of D. H. Lawrence, after a whirlwind courtship. The marriage ended in divorce.

His survivors include his wife, Anne Adams, whom he married in the 1960s; a son, Luke; and a daughter, Kate Alvarez Cogan. Another son, Adam, died before him, The Guardian said.

Mr. Alvarez, who sometimes used his first initial and sometimes Al in his byline, eventually found the role of critic and academic confining. Although he continued to write criticism and reviews for a variety of publications, notably The New York Review of Books, he began turning to personal subjects in books and essays.

A suicide attempt in 1960, after the failure of his first marriage, served as the starting point for “The Savage God: A Study of Suicide,” a surprise best seller in 1972 that examined the subject from all sides, with special attention to the suicide of Ms. Plath in 1963, a critical moment in his life because of their close friendship. In the months before her suicide, having separated from Mr. Hughes, she would visit Mr. Alvarez seeking literary advice and solace.

“I would pour her a drink and she would settle cross-legged on the floor in front of the stove and read me her new poems,” he told The Guardian in 2004. “I no longer remember how many visits she made — three or four at most — but it was enough for me to hear a fair proportion of the poems that went into ‘Ariel’ and recognize that what I was listening to was new and extraordinary.”

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