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The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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Overview

First U.S. Publication

A major literary event—the complete, uncensored journals of Sylvia Plath, published in their entirety for the first time.

Sylvia Plath's journals were originally published in 1982 in a heavily abridged version authorized by Plath's husband, Ted Hughes. This new edition is an exact and complete transcription of the diaries Plath kept during the last twelve years of her life. Sixty percent of the book is material that has ...

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Overview

First U.S. Publication

A major literary event—the complete, uncensored journals of Sylvia Plath, published in their entirety for the first time.

Sylvia Plath's journals were originally published in 1982 in a heavily abridged version authorized by Plath's husband, Ted Hughes. This new edition is an exact and complete transcription of the diaries Plath kept during the last twelve years of her life. Sixty percent of the book is material that has never before been made public, more fully revealing the intensity of the poet's personal and literary struggles, and providing fresh insight into both her frequent desperation and the bravery with which she faced down her demons. The complete Journals of Sylvia Plath is essential reading for all who have been moved and fascinated by Plath's life and work.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Our Review
The Silent Woman, in Her Own Words
Sylvia Plath is a shoo-in for anybody's shortlist of the most talented poets of the 20th century. Her 1966 collection, Ariel, continues to stun new generations of readers -- and her prose work, as the seminal semiautobiographical novel The Bell Jar demonstrates, is hardly far behind. Now The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath reveals her as a genius even in the off-hours; these pages throb with her fierce, pounding intensity, her uniquely incantatory cadences, and the searing flashes of brilliance from her uncannily insightful inner eye.

Plath's journals have been published before, but in a heavily abridged and problematic form. The 1982 Dial Press edition, directly authorized by Ted Hughes, Plath's husband, contains only 40 percent of the material collected here; its entries are interpolated with disturbingly reductive psychoanalytic explanatory assertions and, perhaps most troubling, riddled with the marks of perplexing and at times suspect omissions. These redactions and additions tamper with the intrinsic logic and integrity of Plath's writing, and together they exacerbate the iconization of Plath as a mysterious but misguided genius. Fortunately, these textual faults are eliminated in the new book. Editor Karen Kukil, an assistant curator of rare books at Smith College, where the journals are housed, has remained faithful to Plath's original words even to the extent of reproducing spelling errors and has all but limited her editorial comments to her meticulous notes. The frequent omissions within entries have been filled in, and whole regions of previously unpublished material -- including two manuscript notebooks written between 1957 and 1959 (which were only unsealed by Hughes shortly before his death in 1998) -- dramatically open up Plath's intimate world.

Plath is brutally honest in these pages. Interspersed with joyful descriptions of landscapes, friends, and even foods, entry after entry is an unshrinking act of the excoriation and exorcism of her perceived defects both as a person and as a writer. In a sense, this restored record is the central authorial act of her life; it is a kind of home base where Plath dreams up new projects, drums up the energy to undertake them, and exactingly judges her past achievements. Yet although this book will be compulsively appealing to Plath's readers, it will also be vitally compelling to anyone interested in the human soul and its predicaments. It is a rare, crystalline document of the struggle of a great and unflinching spirit.

From the Publisher
From reviews of the British edition:

"A literary event...The book has a raw immediacy that will only add to Plath's iconic reputation." -Harpers & Queens

"The journals are cause for celebration...Given the intensity and rawness of their writing, at moments it feels like walking straight into someone else's dream."-Jacqueline Rose

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This book constitutes a literary event. Over 400 pages of never-before-published personal writings make this first comprehensive volume of Plath's journals and notes from 1950 to 1962 indispensable reading for both scholars and general readers interested in the poet. Plath's journals were previously published in 1982 and heavily censored by her husband, poet Ted Hughes. But even the diary entries that have been available to the public demand re-reading in the context of fresh materials. In the newly revealed writings, we see an even more complex, despairing psyche struggling to create in the face of powerful demons. Plath's intense bitterness towards her mother emerges in full force, particularly in her notes on her psychoanalysis by Ruth Beuscher in Boston from 1957 to 1959. Plath's writing is by turns raw, obsessive, brilliant and ironic. Her sensitivity about rejections from magazines, her struggle to establish a daily routine of reading and learning, and her ongoing attempts to ward off depression provide reminders of her drive and ambition, despite her feelings of inferiority with respect to her husband. This work constitutes an invaluable primary source as well as a thoroughly engrossing narrative whose omissions are sometimes as important as its inclusions. (There is, for example, surprisingly little on Plath's sudden marriage to Hughes.) Strong print media attention focusing on new revelations will drive early sales of this important work, and it should become a staple backlist title. Editor Kukil is assistant curator of rare books at Smith College, where Plath was an undergraduate and later a lecturer. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Plath's admirers should prepare themselves for another dose of her bitter medicine: Anchor Books has announced the U.S. publication of her "complete, uncensored journals." (This unabridged edition appeared first in England.) Judiciously and unobtrusively edited by curator Kukil, who oversees the Plath Collection at Smith College, the text includes the portions suppressed by Plath's husband, the poet Ted Hughes, now deceased, when he authorized an earlier American edition. About two-thirds of the writings, which cover the last years of Plath's fevered life, have not been available to the public previously. All of the difficulties and contradictions that made Plath a literary icon are contained in these intense, confessional revelations, including her anger, egotism, frustrations, self-destructiveness, and passionate need to express herself. Certain to generate dozens of new academic papers, this is essential for anyone engaged in Plath studies.--Carol A. McAllister, Coll. of William & Mary Lib., Williamsburg, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Economist
To read the deepest dreams and impulses of Sylvia Plath is to fall in love all over again, totally and uncritically.
Moses
The publication of these journals is a watershed event. They allow us, for the first time, to see this dazzlingly, maddeningly fragmented woman as an integrated being...Perhaps the most exciting aspect of a close reading of Plath's journals is the thrill of watching the laboratory of her mind at work, watching her coax her raw materials toward their concentrated final form...Her ars poetica, not just brilliantly executed but brilliantly won despite unbelievable odds, leaps into focus in even more astonishing detail than ever before.
Salon
Michiko Kakutani
The publication of Plath's unabridged journals provides us with a fuller, more nuanced portrait of her: this "litany of dreams, directives and imperatives," as she once described her diary, gives us a depressed, self-dramatizing woman, but it also gives us the popular, golden coed familiar to readers from her letters to her mother ("Letters Home").
New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Courageous, honest, painful, yearning, and occasionally even funny, the unexpurgated diaries and journals of poet and novelist Plath show a woman struggling to develop her talent against the social constraints of her day.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385720250
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/1/2000
  • Edition description: ABR
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 768
  • Sales rank: 61,378
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Sylvia Plath

Karen V. Kukil is assistant curator of rare books at Smith College, with particular responsibility for supervising scholarly use of the Sylvia Plath Collection.

Biography

"I was supposed to be having the time of my life," Sylvia Plath writes as her alter ego Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. Like Esther, Plath was a bright young woman who had earned scholarships and awards, and had all the talent to back them up, and saw this—but could never enjoy it. Her struggles with depression were in fact what often motivated her to write, until she committed suicide at age 30 in 1963.

Plath is among the best-known confessional poets, coming from a school (at its peak in the ‘50s and ‘60s) that left few stones unturned when it came to self-examination and revelation. Though not always bald or literal in her expression, Plath chronicled her flirtation with death—and with life—in her poems. She writes in "Lady Lazarus," a verse about a woman rising from the dead yet again, "Dying/Is an art, like everything else./I do it exceptionally well./I do it so it feels like hell./I do it so it feels real./I guess you could say I've a call." She has an ability to convey deep, almost frightening emotion, but do it in a deceptively lilting, almost-but-not-quite humorous language.

"Lady Lazarus" was published in Ariel (1965), a collection that appeared posthumously, as did other well-known collections such as Crossing the Water (1971), Winter Trees (1972) and Collected Poems (1981), for which Plath was awarded the Pulitzer. Though not all death and despair, Ariel stands out among Plath's works because it represented a departure from the first collection that was published while she was still alive, The Colossus and Other Poems, but primarily because it was such an intimate record of the end of her life. As poet Bob Hass remarked in a PBS interview, "Readers in general discovered this book [Ariel] of a young woman with two babies, whose husband had left her, living in a cold house, trying to be a mom, trying to be a writer, trying to put her life together, who didn't make it—who killed herself—and wrote poems full of rage, bravery, and it electrified people."

Plath's father died when she was eight years old, an event from which the poet never quite seemed to recover. She writes in Ariel's "Daddy": "At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you./I thought even the bones would do." Oddly (or perhaps appropriately) for a woman so devastatingly able to feel and react to people, Plath often writes about humans as objects, things that make noise, can be broken or repaired, marked in a continuum from birth to expiration. A child on the floor is like "an unstrung puppet"; cats howl "like women, or damaged instruments"; people are compared to statues. The technique provides a twisted understatement to the emotional effects Plath writes about, in a world where even the states of love and motherhood are accompanied by darkness.

Whereas Plath's poems often seem strange and dreamlike, The Bell Jar is direct and accessible. It ranks with Catcher in the Rye in both literary achievement and status. Plath gets across not only what it feels like to struggle with the most deadly and devastating emotions, but also how hapless and impotent the people around her are in coping with her. She portrays a woman at odds with the world, but does so without affect or pretension. It's no wonder the book has become a classic, particularly among young female readers. At times of despair, readers find comfort and empathy in Plath's words. All of her painfully wrought "confessions" are of us, for us.

Good To Know

Plath married fellow poet Ted Hughes, whom she met while studying in Cambridge. At the time Plath killed herself, Hughes had left her for another woman (who also eventually killed herself). He wrote about his relationship with Sylvia in Birthday Letters, an autobiographical collection of poems published just before he died in 1998.

Plath was portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow in Sylvia (2003), a film produced by the BBC and Focus Features. The Bell Jar was adapted to the screen by director Larry Peerce in 1979.

The Colossus was Plath's literary debut in 1960, but she also published A Winter Ship that same year, anonymously. The Bell Jar was initially published under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Victoria Lucas (pseudonym)
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 27, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Death:
      February 11, 1963
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii
Preface ix
Publisher's Note xi
The Journals of Sylvia Plath
Journal July 1950 - July 1953 3
Wellesley, Massachusetts 8
Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts (first year) 23
Wellesley & Swampscott, Massachusetts (summer 1951) 62
Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts (sophomore) 97
Wellesley & Cape Cod, Massachusetts (summer 1952) 108
Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts (junior) 149
Wellesley, Massachusetts (summer 1953) 185
Journal 22 November 1955 - 18 April 1956 189
Newnham College, Cambridge, England 191
Journal 15 July 1956 237
Benidorm, Spain (honeymoon) 239
Journal 22 July 1956 - 26 August 1956 245
Benidorm, Spain 247
'Sketchbook of a Spanish Summer' 261
Journal 3 January 1957 - 11 March 1957 265
Cambridge, England 267
'Fish and Chip Shop' 276
Journal 15 July 1957 - 21 August 1957 281
Cape Cod, Massachusetts 283
Journal 28 August 1957 - 14 October 1958 299
Northampton, Massachusetts 301
Boston, Massachusetts 417
Journal 12 December 1958 - 15 November 1959 427
Boston, Massachusetts (therapy notes) 429
Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York 501
Appendices
1 Journal Fragment 17-19 October 1951, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts 533
2 Back to School Commandments 538
3 Journal Fragments 24 March 1953 - 9 Arpril 1953 539
4 Journal Fragment 19 June 1953, Mademoiselle, New York, New York 541
5 Letter June - July 1953, Wellesley, Massachusetts 543
6 Journal Fragment 31 December 1955 - 1 January 1956, Nice, France (winter vacation) 547
7 Journal 26 March 1956 - 5 April 1956, Paris, France (spring vacation) 552
8 Journal Fragment 1 April 1956 569
9 Journal Fragment 16 April 1956 570
10 Journal 26 June 1956 - 6 March 1961 571
'The Inmate', London, England, 1961 599
11 Journal June 1957 - June 1960 609
12 Letter 1 October 1957 618
13 Journal Fragment 5 November 1957 622
14 Hospital Notes 624
15 Journal 1962, North Tawton, Devonshire, England 630
Notes 675
Acknowledgments 705
Index 707
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2002

    A BEST FRIEND FOR YOUR BOOKSHELF

    The good thing about journals is that after you've read them you can dip in again at any page and get caught up in that day's events, action, dilemmas, reflections; once you become more familiar with the contents you can return to your favourite passages for pleasure. It's almost like having a best friend on your bookshelf. The biggest barrier to anyone contemplating writing down their innermost thoughts is crossing that line of inhibition and saying what you really feel about the most intimate of things, without censoring yourself (with the fear of friends or family possibly reading it) or for feeling stupid or embarrassed about opening up on the page and seeing your thoughts in print. Not many people could write a journal account of their life as honestly as Sylvia Plath. It amazes me how disciplined - and with so much devotion - she was able to 'jot down' day after day the beautifully written, perfect prose in her journals; and from such an early age as well, eighteen (she actually started keeping journals in childhood but this edition covers only her adult life). In her own unmistakable voice we see 'Syvie' as the young, naive teenager on the threshold of life, dreaming of the romantic love affairs she longs for; the excited college student working on a New York magazine, an experience she later used for her only novel The Bell Jar; trips to Paris and her honeymoon in Spain; married life with Ted Hughes, the mother of his two children; and all the time living in the shadow of the black depression that would descend on her without any warning. With Sylvia Plath's tragic suicide you can't help but think: what a waste of life, what a wasted talent. Perhaps it was because she knew her own psyche best - she was constantly trying to figure out her feelings on the page - that she was in such a hurry to get everything down before the inevitable happened. Maybe she just burned herself out too soon. The final flurry of stunningly original poems that would later become the posthumous collection Ariel are testament to the short life she was able to pack into the pages of her hefty Journals. The only thing that spoils this otherwise marvellous new edition of the Journals is editor Karen V. Kukil's decision to list the notes of identification of people and places at the back of the book instead of footnotes on the bottom of the pages; it's irritating and bothersome to have to continually flick back and forth and use two different bookmarks to keep your place. Two other books can be read in conjunction with the Journals, and I recommend them both. Sylvia Plath's Letters Home - written mainly to her mother Aurelia Plath, who edited this volume and also provides biographical content about her daughter's life in a lengthy introduction and accompanying side-notes to letters when needed for clarification. Birthday Letters is a beautiful collection of poems by Ted Hughes, written as letters of reminiscence about his life with Sylvia Plath in reply to her account of their marriage in the Journals.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 7, 2011

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    Essential

    Very comforting to read. Also, a storehouse of information for Plath scholars while being accessible and engaging.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2000

    The poet's mind at work

    This stunning collection is truly a must for anyone who has read and loved Plath's poetry. For those of us who have absorbed the final product, these journals illuminating Plath's struggles toward literary achievement offer an entirely new dimension to her work. Sort of a 'behind the scenes look'- a poet's craft begins in the mind and that is what unfolds in these pages. They are heartbreaking too, for we know as we read that this talented person didn't think she was good enough for this world. And she very often did not think her poems were too, but we are here today to know that she was wrong.

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