Love, SYLVIA

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

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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)

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