Sylvia Plath's correspondence, addressed chiefly to her mother, from her time at Smith College in the early 1950s up to her suicide in London in February 1963. In addition to her capacity for domestic and writerly happiness, these letters also hint at her potential for deep despair.
|Publisher:||Faber and Faber|
About the Author
Sylvia Plath (1932-63) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and studied at Smith College. In 1955 she went to Cambridge University on a Fulbright fellowship, where she met and later married Ted Hughes. She published one collection of poems in her lifetime, The Colossus (1960), and a novel, The Bell Jar (1963). Her Collected Poems, which contains her poetry written from 1956 until her death, was published in 1981 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Other posthumous publications include Ariel, her landmark publication, Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams and The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962.
Date of Birth:October 27, 1932
Date of Death:February 11, 1963
Place of Birth:Boston, Massachusetts
Place of Death:London, England
Education:B.A., Smith College, 1955; Fulbright Scholar, Cambridge University
Read an Excerpt
Sylvia's letters from Smith show the effort of a conscientious student striving for high grades, partly to satisfy herself and build up her own image and partly to prove herself worthy o f the generous financial aid she was receiving from various sources: the Olive Higgins Prouty Fund, the Nielson scholarship, and the Smith Club in Wellesley. Added to this effort was her need to project the image o f the "all-around" person; i.e., the student who not only did well scholastically but was socially acceptable by both sexes, and the service-oriented person who made a contribution to her peer group and the community. To all this, Sylvia added her own burning desire: to develop creatively in her chosen field--writing--and to win recognition there. The pressure that developed from her involvement in all these areas was periodically overwhelming, both physically and psychically.
SEPTEMBER 27, 1950
Well, only five minutes till midnight, so I thought I'd spend them writing my first letter to my favorite person. If my printing's crooked, it's only because I drank too much apple cider tonight.
Even though I don't have much finery adorning my room yet, it seems that it's pretty much home. Tangible things can be awfullyfriendly at times. Even though I've only been here since three, an awful lot seems to have happened. I kind of like getting a quiet first acquaintance with my room and the girls.
I feel that I've wandered into a New York apartment by mistake. . . the maple on my desk feels like velvet. I love my room and am going to have a terrific time decorating it.
I lay down for half an hour and listened to the clock. I think I'mgoing to like it--the ticking is so rhythmic and self-assured that it's y like the beat of someone's heart--so-o-o it stays on the bureau.
. . . After our little get-together, at which a delightful extrovert freshman from Kansas kept us in hysterics, we three freshmen sat and talked. After which I left them in their room on the first floor, drifted into conversation with Ann [Davidow] on the second, and finally arrived here at 11:30. Girls are a new world for me. I should have some fascinating times learning about the creatures. Gosh, to live in a house with 48 kids my own age-what a life! There are (don't faint) 600 in my class. Mrs. Shakespeare [the house mother] is very sweet. In fact, I like everything . . . .
. . . so far, I've gotten along with everyone in the house. It's good to see more faces familiar to me. I love my room, my location, and am firmly convinced that the whole episode here is up to me. I have no excuse for not getting along in all respects. Just to find a balance is the first problem.
We had our college assembly this morning. I never came so close to crying since I've been here when I saw the professors, resplendent with colors, medals, and emblems, march across the stage and heard adorable Mr. Wright's stimulating address. I still can't believe I'm a SMITH GIRL! . . .
The whole house is just the friendliest conglomeration of people imaginable. Gerry--one gorgeous creature--just got a picture and writeup in Flair as representative of Eastern Women's Colleges. People are always talking about Europe and New York. Lisa told me about how good it is not to work too hard, but to allot time for "playing with the kids in the house." Seems she's done a neat job of adjusting. I hope I can really get to know her sometime. She has quite a friendly attitude, and I could talk to her about almost anything.
SEPTEMBER 29, 1950
The most utterly divine thing has happened to me. I was standing innocently in the parlor, having coffee after supper, when a senior said, sotto voce, in my ear, "I have a man all picked out for you." I just stood there with that "Who, me?" expression, and she proceeded to explain. Seems she met this young guy who lives in Mass. but went to Culver Military Academy. He is a freshman at Amherst this year, tall, cute and--get this--HE WRITES POETRY. I just sat there burbling inarticulately into my coffee. She said he should be around in a few weeks. God, am I thrilled. The hope, even, of getting to know a sensitive guy who isn't a roughneck makes the whole world swim in pink mist.
The food here is fabulous. I've had two helpings of everything since I got here and should gain a lot. I love everybody. If only I can unobtrusively do well in all my courses and get enough sleep, I should be tops. I'm so happy. And this anticipation makes everything super. I keep muttering, "I'M A SMITH GIRL NOW."
SEPTEMBER 30, 1950
. . . my physical exam . . . consisted in getting swathed in a sheet and passing from one room to another in nudity. I'm so used to hearing, "Drop your sheet," that I have to watch myself now lest I forget to dress! My height is an even 5'9"; my weight 137; my posture, good; although when my posture picture was taken, I took such pains to get my ears and heels in a straight line that I forgot to tilt up straight. The result was the comment, "You have good alignment, but you are in constant danger of falling on your face."
. . . Then quickly back to the house to pick up the much-awaited mail. There was that lovely letter from you and two from Eddie [Cohen]! . . . I'm so pleased with your news; it's all so happy--especially about Exeter. [Grammy and 1 had visited her brother, Warren, there.]
. . . After supper, we gathered around the piano and sang for a good hour. Never have I felt so happy, standing with a group of girls--with piano, Lisa's accordion, and two ukuleles--singing my favorite popular songs. It was such a wonderful feeling. No home life could make up for the camaraderie of living with a group of girls. I like them all.
After singing, two girls from our Annex house came up to my room for the purpose of studying. However we got in the process of learn ing the Charleston . . . Ann Davidow stayed to do her Religion homework. We drifted into discussion, and she is the closest girl yet that I've wanted for a friend. She is a free thinker. We discussed God and religion and men. Her parents are Jewish. I find her very attractive--almost as tall as I, freckle-faced, short brown hair and twinkling blue eyes .
. . . The sensitive guy I told you about in the card has not yet materialized. I'll give him a month. I've fallen for him already merely because of the poetry angle.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As Sylvia Plath's writing has inspired my life, I thought I'd delve into her emotions more by reading, 'Letters Home.' As the book reveals Plaths intense ups and down and intricate writing style, you still get a feeling that many of the letters are designed to cloak. They are all written to her mother, who seems to have published the book only to divert attention that she was an uncaring mother as percieved in 'The Bell Jar.' Many letters are written with such optimism, while the next are only unending perils. You are given no details what those trials consisted of in her life, and I found myself with more questions about Sylvia than when I picked it up. Nevertheless, it is a window (even if a small one) to Sylvia's soul and that much is appreciated.
Plath's unwavering, honest voice is awe-inspiring. This is such a tender book, and such an incredibly intimate look at a mother-daughter relationship, that is probably so normal, and yet so rare. Reading people's correspondence is always fascinating, but when it's this honest and open it really does become a look into a completely different world, a glimpse of another person's mind. At the same time, it is all the more haunting to know how this happy and in many times strong woman met such a terrible fate in the end.