Sylvia Plath Journals To Be Printed

from: Associated Press - March 20, 2000

by Mara D. Bellaby, Associated Press Writer

LONDON (AP) - The dual life of troubled American poet Sylvia Plath left her alternately "apple pie happy" or smothered in despair before her 1963 suicide, according to her diaries to be published in full for the first time next month.

The diaries, extracts of which are being serialized in London's The Guardian newspaper this week, provide new details about Plath and her turbulent marriage to British poet Ted Hughes. Plath gassed herself in her kitchen at the age of 30 a few months after Hughes left her for another woman.

At the time of her death, Plath had just one book published under her name. But a decade later, she was considered a feminist martyr, the mourned and beloved author of the "Ariel" poems and the novel "The Bell Jar."

The Guardian today began the second installment of its extracts from "The Journals of Sylvia Plath" with a July 22, 1956, entry, as Plath revels in the joy of being a newlywed.

"Living with (Ted) is like being told a perpetual story: his mind is the biggest, most imaginative I have ever met," Plath wrote a month after their wedding. "I could live in its growing countries forever."

But, one day later, her tone turned darker, as she wrote about being "alone ... The hurt going in, clean as a razor, and the dark blood welling."

After going for a walk with her husband, Plath described themselves as "two silent strangers. Going back, there is the growing sickness, the separate sleep, and the sour waking. And all the time the wrongness growing, creeping, choking the house ... Sun falls off-key on eyes asquint, and the world has grown crooked and sour as a lemon overnight."

Following Plath's death, many of her fans vilified Hughes, blaming him for driving Plath to her death and then censoring her memory.

Hughes, who went on to become Britain's poet laureate and died in 1998, said little in public about their marriage. But months before he died of cancer, he published "Birthday Letters," a poetic account of their relationship that revealed the obvious depth of his love for her. Critics gave it rave reviews and a reassessment of the famous relationship began.

Despite the often stark nature of her poetry and prose, Plath reveals in her diaries a depression equally balanced by a strong manic side.

"It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous and positive and despairing negative; whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it," Plath wrote on June 20, 1958. "I am now flooded with despair, almost hysteria, as if I were smothering."

But even in despair, Plath spoke of a powerful resilience that kept her going.

Writing about her love for Virginia Woolf, the English author who drowned herself in 1941, Plath seemed to reject suicide: "I suppose I'll always be overvulnerable, slightly paranoid. But I'm also so damn healthy and resilient. And apple pie happy." Other entries depicted quiet, domestic happiness. Plath talked of wanting ``Books, Babies and Beef Stews." She wrote: ``And here I am: Mrs. Hughes."

She told of Hughes hugging her, and described how he "cooks me a veal chop and brings bowls of iced pineapple, steaming coffee at breakfast, tea at teatime."

But five months later, Plath was ruminating on the "hard way" she had chosen by falling in love with Hughes after the couple met at Cambridge University in England, musing about whether they "vampire-like, feed on each other?"

She pleaded with herself to pursue her own writing. "If I write 11 more good poems I will have a book," she said, pledging to write in secret and show her work to no one. "I must move myself first, before I move others -- a woman famous among women."

After Plath's death, Hughes maintained control over her journals and permitted only a much-edited version to be published in 1982.

The couple's children are now permitting publication of the complete diaries.

"The Journals of Sylvia Plath," edited by Karen V. Kukil, will be published on April 3.

Copyright (c) 2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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