In this addition to the mass of Plath-related writings, Andrew Wilson’s avowed purpose is to trace the origins of her instability, using primary sources – unpublished letters, journals and the testimony of friends, many of whom are looking back over sixty, even seventy years. His findings are bolstered by cross-references to her work, and he makes a good case for the power of unpublished early poems and short stories and their intensely autobiographical content. He identifies three ‘real, disquieting muses’, whose malign influence was apparent from Sylvia’s childhood, the first and most important being the personal – her relationships with her parents, friends and, overwhelmingly, with herself.
By the time she was eight she was writing vigorously, had suffered the death of her father and become retrospectively aware of the tension and anger in her parents’ marriage. At nine she said she was ‘rather disillusioned’; at ten she attempted to cut her throat, according to one friend.