Biography choice

from: The Times (London) - April 14, 2001

by Erica Wagner

THE JOURNALS OF SYLVIA PLATH, 1950-62. Edited by Karen V. Kukil. Faber & Faber, Pounds 17.50 - ISBN 0 571 20521 6. Pounds 16 (0870 160 8080).

Sylvia Plath is a writer with disciples and these journals -published for the first time in full last year and now in paperback -are their bible. Of course, the poet's work is pored over and picked at, but more often than not for links to the writer's life rather than for intrinsic poetic meaning. For this reason the journals are invaluable to those who would strive to know everything about the life of this American writer who committed suicide nearly 40 years ago at the age of 30.

They make disturbing, yet riveting, reading. Even in a private document Plath never ceased to perform: the simplest action is rendered by the poet's eye, as in this entry from 1952: "August 8 -Friday -9:45 pm. In bed, bathed, and the good rain coming down again -liquidly slopping down the shingled roof outside my window. All today it has come down, in its enclosing wetness, and at last I am in bed, propped up comfortably by pillows -listening to it spurting and drenching -and the different timbers (sic) of tone -and syncopation."

In these pages her driving ambition and insecurities are revealed; her rage against her mother, her longing for her lost father. Here, too, are her desires both poetic and sexual, always intertwined, but culminating in her marriage to Ted Hughes. Aside from anything else, these journals are a fascinating portrait of what life was like for a young woman growing up in America in the repressed Fifties; Plath absorbed convention and battled against it, too, wanting to be both "The Poetess of America" and a homemaker out of Ladies' Home Journal.

This is an extraordinary book that is meticulously edited and annotated.

Copyright (C) The Times, 2001

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