Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Journals of Sylvia Plath

I've got two versions of Plath's journals. The first, Ted-edited and released in '82, I'd read long ago; the second is the unabridged 2000 version (well, "unabridged" meaning everything up to the last 2 volumes, written close to her death, that Ted lost/destroyed), at 700-odd pages, nearly double the length of the first one. I'd glanced through it over the years, but there really is a lot of plain old boring stuff in there: It had obviously been drilled into her head that "real writers" always used plenty of concrete "place" details, which she dutifully notes ad infinitum. As she does her constant sinus problems. (For all of her constant claims of vitality, she really seemed to have been physically sick a lot.) And, up until her time in Boston with Ted after their marriage, there's a lot of too-literary self-consciousness that gets a bit tiresome.

Here she is to former flame Richard Sassoon, who is living in Paris and refusing to see her, from an unmailed letter of March 6, 1956: "...More than anything else in the world I want to bear you a son and I go about full with the darkness of my flame, like Phedre, forbidden by what auster pudeur, what fierte?" A mere four days later, she writes of Ted Hughes, whom she had met at a party back in February and who is still hanging around Cambridge: "And again the dark eats at me: the fear of being crushed in a huge dark machine, sucked dry by the grinding indifferent millstones of circumstance. He is at a party now, I know; with some girl. My face burns, and I am turning to ash, like the apples of sodom and gomorrah."

Oh brother. But, hey, she's 23! :) (And she definitely, brilliantly got rid of the extraneous stuff in her work post '58.) RE Richard and Ted: I was unaware of the extent of the emotional overlap between them. She met Ted at the famous St. Botolph's party in late February of '56 (the one where she bit his cheek, he stole her hairband, etc.). But up until mid-April of '56 she was still writing (unmailed) lengthy letters to Richard, begging him to see her. By mid-June of '56 -- a mere 2 months later -- she had married Ted! Hard to think of "Ted Hughes" as a rebound, but... the man was a rebound! And by the time they're living in Boston in '58, she's writing in her journal, "DO NOT SHOW ANY [poems] TO TED" and "Don't tell Ted my problems." Still glorifying him ("there is no one as wonderful") but in everyday terms, making decisions to keep important emotional things from him. (Similarly, I'd always wondered why, a couple of years later, in '61 I think it was, she had to drive HERSELF to the hospital when it was time for her appendectomy! That's not exactly a warm and loving relationship. They might have been spiritual soul-mates of sorts, but...who doesn't drive their mate to the hospital?? Come on. Mundane as it might be, that's still a part of it all.)

Anyway, I'm up to December '59 now, and the last few months have been, finally, extremely revelatory, thanks to Plath's psychiatric sessions with Dr. Ruth Beuscher: [re her mother, Plath's caps] "WHY DON'T I FEEL SHE LOVES ME? WHAT DO I EXPECT BY 'LOVE' FROM HER? WHAT IS IT I DON'T GET THAT MAKES ME CRY? I think I have always felt she uses me as an extension of herself; that when I commit suicide, or try to, it is a 'shame' to her, an accusation: which it was, of course. An accusation that her love was defective.... I felt if I didn't write nobody would accept me as a human being. Writing, then, was a substitute for myself: if you don't love me, love my writing & love me for my writing. It is also much more: a way of ordering and reordering the chaos of experience."

Wow. No more kid stuff.


Tom said...

Did you see the Sylvia movie with Gwen Paltrow?

Beth Austin said...

Yes, I snuck out of work early to catch an afternoon show on the day it was released -- I was one of only 3 people in the whole auditorium!

I didn't like it much. Got no "Sylvia vibe" while watching, didn't feel the chemistry between the actors. And my pet peeve: In her last days, which were among the coldest in England's history, the film had her lounging languidly around her apartment, striking NAKED sexy,"tormented" poses! Oy vey! :)