Plath's Journals May Help Satiate Audience Hungry For 'Plathiana'

from: The Seattle Times - October 13, 1999

by Hillel Italie; AP

Finally, one of the great underground documents in literature is coming to bookstores: the complete journals of Sylvia Plath.

For decades, readers have obsessed like conspiracy theorists about Plath, the poet and novelist who killed herself in 1963. Biographers continue to analyze everything from her work to her famously difficult marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes. Their relationship lived on in Plath's posthumously issued poems and letters and in Hughes' "Birthday Poems," published just months before he died in 1998.

The journals should add greatly to what Hughes eventually derided as "Plathiana." An edition published in the 1980s is believed to make up only one-third of the collection. The new book is expected to contain hundreds of unpublished pages.

"The decision has been made to publish them in their entirety, unedited, so the world can judge for themselves," said Joanna Mackle, publishing director for London-based Faber and Faber, which in April will issue the book in Britain. A U.S. publisher is expected to be announced shortly.

Few have seen all the journals, which have been stored for years at Plath's alma mater, Smith College, but the Faber and Faber catalog promises an "intimate portrait" of "vigorous immediacy." The manuscript from Smith runs at least 1,000 pages, more than double the original. Mackle, who handles questions on behalf of the Plath estate, would not give a specific reason for the decision but did confirm that it was made before the death of Hughes. The estate is now run by their children. What ended up as one of the great cottage industries both in publishing and academia began as a romance. Hughes and Plath were in their 20s when they met at Cambridge University in England, in the winter of 1956. She was an American student and writer living abroad, he a young British poet trying to establish a literary magazine.

They were married within months, but by the end of 1962, they were living apart. Hughes was seeing another woman, and an increasingly unhappy Plath had moved with the children from their country house to a London flat. Plath, who had a history of mental problems, killed herself in February 1963.

At the time of her death, Plath had just one book published under her name. But a decade later, she was a feminist martyr, the mourned and beloved author of the "Ariel" poems and the novel "The Bell Jar." Meanwhile, Hughes was cast as the cold, oppressive villain, the man who stifled Plath in life and censored her in death. While friends of Hughes defended him as a caring husband driven away by his unstable wife, the poet himself said little in public for decades. But privately, he agonized. In 1998, he published the acclaimed "Birthday Letters," a passionate, mournful and often bitter collection about Plath.


Copyright 1999 The Seattle Times

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