From her cold, grimy flat in London in 1956, Sylvia Plath – student, poet and blissful newlywed – wrote hundreds of letters to family, friends and publishers. Filled not only with the delightful ordinary details of a young bride coping with keeping house in a country quite different from her own, but also a poet’s sensibilities as she describes such things as the sky “a seethe of grey clouds and egg-shell blue patches.” These letters create an absorbing portrait of an artist eager to earn a living from her craft but keenly aware of the challenges that face her.
Indeed many of the letters detail which manuscripts were accepted, rejected and revised. Acting as husband Ted Hughes’ American agent, Plath and Hughes cobbled together a living from poetry sales, radio readings, grants and prizes. Continually lamenting their poverty and scarcity of time, Plath nevertheless looked hopefully to a future when she was sure they would own their own home in either London or the country, have a houseful of children and create marvelous poetry.
Sadly, we all know the grim “rest of the story.” After discovering Hughes’ affair with Assia Wevill (or Plath’s deliciously malicious “Weavy Asshole”) in the summer of 1962, Plath wrote a feverish flurry of letters to her mother and former therapist describing the agonizing betrayal and her fears for the future. Plath found it very difficult to cope with the demands of caring for two small children, the bitter winter weather, ill health and the sorrow over the break-up of her marriage. She killed herself on February 11, 1963.
The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume II: 1956-1963 edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil form a rich and varied portrait of a woman who gloried in domestic pursuits, including motherhood; an artist acutely conscious of her talent; a business woman with ambitions for the future; and a deeply troubled young woman who feared the return of the bell jar descending.