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The Letters of Sylvia Plath Vol 2: 1956-1963 Hardcover – Illustrated, November 6, 2018
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“The Plath we initially encounter in these letters seems very far from the person who, just a few years earlier, had attempted suicide with her mother’s sleeping pills; and perhaps even farther from the person who, a few years later, gassed herself in her London kitchen. Above all, we see Plath on the move… She comes off, most often, as a whirlwind… it’s the alertness to daily life that makes Plath’s letters most poignant. Few writers have been as intensely attentive to quotidian details as Plath was, or understood so intuitively what to preserve in their art. A detail appears, uneventful on its face, first in a journal or a drawing, then in a letter, sometimes more than one. Her mind was brilliantly off-kilter, its emphasis falling in surprising places.” -- The New Yorker
“Here is the more or less abrupt shedding, in extremis, of the “stiff,” “artificial” voice that infected her early poems and stories and from which she had been working to free herself for many years. The book provides, in the end, an account of an ordinary anguish out of which Plath produced something extraordinary.” -- Harper's Magazine
“An exemplary edition offering a textured portrait of an iconic poet.” -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“This set of letters is a dazzling literary achievement, capturing the tender beauty of Plath’s richly lived, too short life.” -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A shattering chronicle of a woman’s struggle to be both a pathbreaking artist and a domestic paragon…Together, these two volumes accentuate the wonder of all that Plath accomplished by age 30, and her poetry, fiction, journals, and letters will remain forever alive, daring, urgent, and electrifying.” -- Booklist, Starred Review
“In Plath’s appeals to Beuscher she is plainly desperate for help, yet the rhythms of her sentences, her bitter humor, and the flamboyant performance of her plight reveal the artist at work as much as the woman in pain.” -- Emily Cooke, BookForum
From the Back Cover
Sylvia Plath (1932–1963) was one of the writers who defined the course of twentieth-century poetry. Her vivid, daring, and complex work continues to captivate new generations of readers and writers.
In The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 2, 1956–1963, we discover the art of Plath’s correspondence. Most of these materials have never before been published, and are presented here unabridged, without revision—so that she can speak directly in her own words. Refreshingly candid and offering intimate details of her personal life, Plath’s letters are playful, too, entertaining a wide range of addressees, including family, friends, and professional contacts, with inimitable wit and verve.
The letters document Plath’s extraordinary literary development and the genesis of many poems, short and long fiction, and journalism. While her endeavors to publish in a variety of genres had mixed receptions, she was never dissuaded. Through acceptance and rejection of her work, Plath strove to stay true to her creative vision. Well-read and curious, she simultaneously offers a fascinating commentary on contemporary culture.
Peter K. Steinberg, leading Plath scholar, and Karen V. Kukil, editor of The Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950–1962, provide comprehensive footnotes and an extensive index informed by their meticulous research. Alongside a selection of photographs and Plath’s own drawings, they masterfully contextualize what the pages disclose.
This selection of later correspondence details Plath and her husband, Ted Hughes, becoming major influential contemporary writers, as it happened. Her recorded experiences include early publications; teaching, committing to writing full time, and making professional acquaintances; traveling, settling in England, building a family, and buying a house; and, through a series of letters to her psychiatrist, previously unknown insight into the breakup of her marriage. Throughout, Plath’s voice is completely, uniquely her own.
- Publisher : Harper; Illustrated edition (November 6, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 1088 pages
- ISBN-10 : 006274058X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062740588
- Item Weight : 3.1 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 2.1 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #112,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Putting that aside -- I'm next expecting a Sylvia Plath cookbook to come out! There are at least two recipes included in these letters, as well as numerous ideas for meal plans -- not to mention housekeeping and gardening tips, some home remedies, and ways to organize your schedule to work from home! No complaints here -- reading an author's letters immerses you in their daily life. In Plath's case, you get that in spades. I'm simply astonished at how incredibly energetic and capable she was across all fronts. And you can bet I'm going to try the recipes!
Until the devastating end, negativity is rarely in evidence. Readers of her Letters Home will be familiar with this -- she was consistently positive, and this was not a false front. Yes, she struggled -- but her life WAS amazing and good, and she did glory in her family and friends, her writing, and the beauty of nature and art. The only ambiguous relationships worth noting in the letters -- and no surprise if you know anything about Plath -- are with her mother, her sister-in-law Olwyn Hughes, and with the poet W.S. Merwin and his wife Dido.
As Plath's daughter makes clear in the foreword, the real story here is the revelation of her letters to her psychiatrist in the last months of her life. Like most fans of Plath, I'd previously read quotes from her letters written during that time -- and the biographer Diane Middlebrook summed it up best when she talks about fantasies of rescuing Sylvia Plath. Her suicide was nothing like that of her fellow poets Anne Sexton or John Berryman -- she was much younger, was struggling with depression but not with more severe forms of mental illness, and was at the height of her poetic powers. These letters make clear what a perfect storm it was -- literally, a storm, when faced with a horrific English winter -- plus no phone, no hospital bed, and especially no nanny to help with the kids.
With Plath's journals from the end of her life missing, I often wondered about her real state of mind. Yes, there are clearly exaggerations in these letters, which leave the reader wondering what really happened. But mostly, I was floored by how clearly she saw the truth. Reading the letters to her psychiatrist, I kept in mind that Ted Hughes never saw these letters -- nor would his widow Carol have seen them, unless she's read them now that they are published. Plath knew that she was seeing the real Hughes at last -- the serial adulterer, bound to proving his freedom, even as he loves his wife at home -- and this is the man he remained for the rest of his life. She also realized that she couldn't be the "sweet homebase" of a country wife "to take him back refreshed", as he requires -- the very homebase that he had in his second wife Carol Hughes, his widow who still lives in Plath's beloved Court Green.
But most devastatingly of all, she knew exactly what she had to do for her own mental health and was desperately trying to get the help she needed. Once she faced the worst, she ran on adrenaline until she got into that damn flat of poet W.B. Yeats in London, when a sinister destiny seemed to conspire to bring her to her knees in front of a gas oven. The act that she is most famous for. O we are superstitious, as Plath says -- but I can't think anything else, after reading these letters. I've been reading Plath -- and reading about Plath -- for many years. But nothing has affected me like reading her last letter, a week before her suicide. Each reader will have their own reaction, based on who they are. I'm Eastern Orthodox and see much intense -- even desperate -- spiritual woundedness and spiritual longing in Plath's work and in her letters. May God have mercy on us all.
Top reviews from other countries
Continuing from where Volume I left off, we see Plath still writing to her mother with a frequency and attention to daily minutiae that astounds. The slippage comes at the 1962 flashpoint when the chasm in her marriage crashes open and, amidst the other emotional traumas, Plath's submerged feelings towards her mother pour out: not least her raging fear of being or turning into Aurelia. This has always been a subliminal anxiety but now the hostility becomes venomous as the Plath-Hughes marriage seems to replay - at least in Plath's mind - the troubled relationship of her parents.
Central, of course, is that breakdown of Plath's relationship with Hughes. With the alert eyes of hindsight, we can't help but shiver when we read of the unnamed Wevill's coming to visit in Devon ('We have a nice young Canadian poet & his very attractive, intelligent wife coming down for this weekend - they're the ones who took over our lease for the London flat') but even so the speed and sheer cruelty of the crash is hideous to read about.
Controversially, Plath claims 'Ted beat me up physically a couple of days before my miscarriage', an accusation made only once and not repeated in the letters (which doesn't, of course, make it untrue) as well as 'the role of father terrifies him. He tells me now it was weakness that made him unable to tell me he he did not want children.' It's hard to interpret what is going on here given Plath's earlier panegyrics on Hughes' paternal bond with Frieda and the way he shared the housework and childcare in order to allow her space to write, but truth, fiction or some mediated qualification on a spectrum between the two? Who knows?
That said, Plath's voice is never less than brilliant in its fluency even when she is depressed, scared or furious. It's just not the same voice that we find in the journals or in the raging bitterness and bloody fury of Ariel. But the poignancy of nearing the end, of reading the final letter that Plath ever wrote is immense:
'I am living on sleeping pills & nerve tonic... and poems very good but, I feel, written on the edge of madness'.
What I found from dipping in to her journals and letters is that Sylvia was like an actor stepping on to a stage - she switched to performance mode every time she put her pen on the page - so what you see in her private writings is far more than just a dull record of events and internal reflections - she is always working on developing the craft of writing, finding her voice, improvising and experimenting with words and phrases - these are prototypical creative writings, stretching exercises, limbering up - all part of the journey - there is something dazzling and precious glinting on every page - it's wonderful and inspiring.