Sylvia Plath’s letters are published in a new book this month, most for the first time. They remind us that despite her intense story, Plath’s legacy is her timeless talent, says Cyan Turan
The creative output managed by The Bell Jar author Sylvia Plath in her short life is staggering; her journalism, poems and novel are complex, erudite, and vivid. But her personal story, one that encompasses love, mental-health problems and suicide, has since threatened to overshadow her fulgent talent.
Born in Boston in 1932, Plath studied in the US before attending Cambridge University, where she met and later married writer Ted Hughes. She published one collection of poems in her lifetime, The Colossus (1960), and a novel, The Bell Jar (1963), before taking her own life in the same year, aged 31. While infidelity marred her marriage to Hughes, he never swayed in his commitment to espousing the genius of his wife, publishing her work posthumously.
Plath was also a voracious letter writer, penning them daily, and now, for the first time, her illuminating correspondence is being published unabridged, unrevised, and unfettered. In The Letters Of Sylvia Plath, she writes to over 140 recipients, including friends, editors, her mother, Aurelia Schober Plath, brother, Warren Plath, and, of course, Hughes. Speaking directly to the reader, Plath reveals candid, intimate details – what she ate for breakfast, her childhood hobbies, the longing she felt for her new husband when they were apart – in elegant, playful prose with verve that spills over the pages.
This first volume comes to a close after her wedding, in 1956, to Ted
Hughes and contains unseen letters post-honeymoon, revealing the beginnings of their extraordinary creative partnership. Though there is hurt, pain and confusion, the letters also reveal a woman who embraced her playful side; they crackle with all the egregious joy and warmth of someone in love, are impressive in their literary style, and show an astonishingly accomplished woman revelling in the written word. Her intelligence shines through every phrase of every paragraph.
For all the speculation around Plath’s life and death, her skill for mining the depths of her soul to speak truths about the spectrum of human feeling stands head and shoulders above the masses.
May her talent be her legacy. »
The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume I: 1940-1956 edited by Peter K Steinberg and Karen V Kukil (Faber, £35; out 5th October)