Montag, 11. Dezember 2017

The Letters of Sylvia Plath and the Transformation of a Poet’s Voice

In July, 1947, while at summer camp in Oak Bluffs, on Martha’s Vineyard, a fourteen-year-old Sylvia Plath wrote a letter to her mother, Aurelia Schober Plath. “I am very busy, but not too much to write regularly to you,” she writes. “Last night I had three big helpings of potatoes (mashed) and carrots for supper and a scant helping of meatloaf as well as 2 pieces of bread and butter, 2 apricots & a glass of milk.” Amid the thirteen hundred or so pages of unexpurgated correspondence recently published in “The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 1, 1940–1956,” there are dozens more examples of this sort of thing. At a much later point in her life, when Plath is newly married to Ted Hughes and travelling with him in Spain, she is still, in letters to her mother, describing her meals. At this point, she is also responsible for preparing them. “I have one frying pan, and a large boiling pan, and fry most everything in olive oil. Ted is quite pleased with the tasty little tortillas and battered things I make.” The division of labor is stark and unremarked upon. Both poets wrote during this quasi-honeymoon, but only Plath cooked. 

Many women who have read Plath’s poetry in the half-century since her death have seen in such domestic toil a partial explanation for the rage that burns through her writing. Plath’s letters aren’t angry, but several of them show her coming up against the boundaries of what was permissible, or possible, and not knowing what to do about it. She worked so hard—at her studies, at her writing, at being a young woman worthy of approval—and wondered about what it all amounted to. “Don’t you agree that one has to see in other people’s eyes that one is appreciated and loved in order to feel that one is worthwhile?” The question is posed in a letter written in July, 1951, to her friend Ann Davidow-Goodman. By “other people” Plath means men (“girls’ company is greatly unsatisfying”), who had the power to make her feel both valued and inadequate. ... [mehr]

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