It's incredible that despite the 40 years of bustling literary industry around Sylvia Plath, it's still possible to upset it all. The publication of these letters will cause every previous biographer to revise heavily. It's not just the late letters to Dr B (although it is wonderful to finally hear Sylvia's own account of events in the last year of her life); there is much here that has never been published before, as this volume reveals how much was edited out of 'Letters Home'. Even without the new revelations, however, the collection allows the reader to live alongside SP for years on end; rarely a week goes by without at least one and often many letters written to her family, friends, publishers, colleagues.
Knowing the ending adds suspense to these letters through Sylvia’s idyllic early marriage when she and Ted Hughes stroll together in the countryside and write their poetry in impoverished houses and flats in Yorkshire and London. Perhaps as a forewarning, even in this happy time and during her pregnancy, Sylvia is taking sleeping pills and tranquilisers. Then the children are born and surprise, surprise everything changes. There are hints that Sylvia is a clinging wife to a now famous and adored husband, but then he begins an affair with another woman and it's heart-breaking. After becoming suicidal, Sylvia appears to cope and files for divorce. Happy in her new freedom and tiny apartment in London, she writes in her last letter that her madness has returned. The final line of that letter one week before she puts her head in the gas oven, reads: 'Now the babies are crying, I must take them out to tea.' The introduction by her daughter is equally moving.
Will be re-read and re-read. This is so much better than the first volume. A pleasure to read (even though not at the end of the book with the last letters). Some good (but far too few) photos included. It is a hefty volume.
Volume 2 is another weighty tome but a very different one. The letters here are not full of wit and vivacity , like those in Volume1. Dark and low moments pervade them. Her energy and fury ring out in them. We learn more about the odious Ted Hughes; he assaulted her two days before her miscarriage. He told her it would be better if she were dead then he could sell the house. This volume covers six years of marriage to a terrible break-up. It was the most written about suicide in literary history. Plath was only 30. The most revealing letters are those to her psychiatrist. In these her rage against her sadistic Ted and his lover, thrice married Assia, is laid bare. Ironically, Hughes wrote little that was memorable while Plath wrote some of her best poems. They can be found published as Ariel.
There is an intensity in these letters that is very rare. They make at times for very uncomfortable reading. There is an element of a Greek tragedy in some of them. Hughes was not only a very nasty man he indulged in affairs while married to Plath. When he left her for Assia, Plath commited suicide in February 1963.
In 1969 Assia killed herself and her daughter by Hughes, Shura. It is impossible to find any redeeming feature in Hughes. He tormented Plath, and no doubt Assia with mockery,taunting and threats. He was a bully. He called Plath dreadful names. The letters reveal that Plath's mind was a mind in agony. The change in the relationship after Cambridge and marriage is astonishing. Two gifted poets became more and more estranged after trips to New York and Saratoga Springs. Hughes insisted on returning to England and from then it was downhill all the way. Plath it was who sent his poems to publishers and found work to pay the bills. He appears to have done very little with regards running the home. Plath's attempts to say he did do not ring true.
When Hughes walked out of their house in Devon she wrote in her last letter to Dr Beuscher, her psychiatrist, that she sensed failure, and that her madness was returning. Seven days later she was dead. Her last words in prose were in a letter to her psychiatrist: 'Now the babies are crying, I must take them out to tea' .
These letters reveal in raw, graphic detail that Plath idolised Hughes. She lost herself in him, a man unworthy of any women's love. I am afraid that Frieda Hughes attempts in a foreword to defend her father are not convincing.
I have eagerly awaited the publication of this second volume since the first volume of letters (1940-1956) appeared in 2017. The letters are essential reading for devotees of the life and work of Sylvia Plath, 'Plathians' as they are sometimes known. I am not sure I would call myself a 'Plathian', but I had to replace my old copy of The Bell Jar, having worn it out and Ariel, written shortly before her death, it is my favourite poem. I just had to get this second volume of her letters and for me it is unputdownable, now on my bedside table because letters can be delved into bit by bit. The joy of the publication of her letters is that the volumes are stated to be complete and unabridged, so we get the full picture and not an edited version. This is as close as we will ever get to an autobiography of Sylvia Plath's life and I welcome it.