The Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950–1962 by Karen V Kukil (ed) - review by Pamela Norris

Pamela Norris

Who Is Sylvia?

The Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950–1962


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Sylvia Plath began keeping a journal when she was eleven and continued until her death at the age of thirty. This new edition publishes the journals that survive from the last twelve years of her life. Two notebooks are missing, from late 1959 to three days before Plath’s suicide in February 1963. According to Ted Hughes, Plath’s husband and literary executor, the first of these ‘disappeared’; the second, containing entries for the final few months of Plath’s life, was destroyed by Hughes in order to protect her children.

The loss of these notebooks is regrettable, but there is still plenty to delight the Plath enthusiast. Her journals have never previously been published in the United Kingdom, and her publishers promise ‘an exact and complete transcription’. The source manuscripts cover her student years at Smith College and then at Newnham in Cambridge, her marriage to Ted Hughes, and their two years teaching and writing in New England. Previously sealed journals, including notes on her private therapy with Ruth Beuscher, are published for the first time in their entirety. The editor, Karen V Kukil, an assistant curator at Smith College, where the Plath archive is held, has also drawn together a mass of related material. Kukil’s notes are clear and unfussy, and an extensive index (which I haven’t seen) promises further background information. Most importantly, this edition of the journals permits uncensored access to Plath’s personal notebooks. Unlike almost any other editor of Plath’s work, Kukil does not tell the reader what to think.

When Plath died in 1963, she was virtually unknown as a writer. It wasn’t until the publication of Ariel, in 1965, that her work began to receive serious critical attention. These poems, many written during dawn vigils after the collapse of her marriage, confirmed Plath’s originality and power. Their revelatory

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