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Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963 Paperback – 30 Apr 1992
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What is most striking about this collection is Plath's committment to writing and maintaining contact with her family while away at college and later, while living in England with her poet husband Ted Hughes. The collection shows that during some years she wrote to her mother on almost a daily basis, sharing every detail of her life.
There is a rare quality to Sylvia Plaths writing, which is also evident in her collected journals and that is her ability to write with sheer abandonment detailing her desires as well as her depression and insecurities particularly over her relationship with Hughes. The letters (as well as her journals) then are both raw and honest and really allow the reader an insight into a troubed and complicated mind.
Some of the later letters seem to be attempting to reassure her mother, particularly after the break up of her marriage, that she is well and coping but also cause the reader to question whether or not these are just eveidence of her severe depression, in which she suffered bouts of happiness and positivity followed by periods of deep sadness.
This is a really interesting collection which gives us further insight into the awful downward spiral that lead Plath to committ suicide in early 1963, leaving behind her two small children. Poigniantly, her mother writes as the end of the letters "... some darker day than usual had temporarily made it [life] seem impossible to pursue." Which makes you realise how long her struggle with depression had been building and this is also the impression we get from reading her letters.
In our culture we tend to mythologize writers like Plath who have died young, particularly if that death is a result of suicide. It seems there is no figure more captivating than the 'tortured artist' but there is no better evidence or tool by which we can start to understand Plath than by reading her own writings so i would highly recommend this collection to any Plath fan or anyone who just wants to know more about a great writer. Read it and make up your own mind.
However, it is not as simple as that. The great majority of the letters in LETTERS HOME were written by Plath to her mother, first from Smith College, then from Cambridge in England, then from the various places that Plath lived and wrote in when married to Ted Hughes. The letters, apart from a few at the very end (written in the last few months before her suicide) possess an unrelentingly optimistic tone that borders on the manic. Yes, they are very descriptive. And they appear to be describing an idyllic existence : the writing itself, fascinating people met, the wonderful children, marvellous recipes, superb landscapes. Most of all SUCCESS. Success success success. Plath is clearly writing what her mother wants to hear. Hardly anything negative is mentioned at all ; if it is, it is almost immediately sentimentalized or even retracted. These are letters from a grown-up child still desperate to get approval from her ever-demanding parent. In that sense, they are very sad letters.
The short editorial notes which the late Mrs. Aurelia Plath inserted into the text might also give food for thought to the perceptive reader-she appears to exhibit no insight whatsoever into her daughter's difficulties or her own role in them. Those difficulties, by the way, are referred to very occasionally and obliquely, as if they were a sordid secret of some kind. Or as some utterly baffling and inconvenient phenomenon. Sylvia, it is implied, is "difficult"-all would be well if she only learned to relax more. How she is meant to do that with this vampirical presence in her life is not dwelt on.
If you want to really climb into Sylvia Plath's mind-as much as anyone can ever access the mind of another, that is-I recommend her JOURNALS. The writing there is also excellent, as you would expect, and virtually the same time-frame is covered (1950-1962). And unlike LETTERS HOME,the journals feel real.
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