Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Journals of Sylvia Plath - Sylvia Plath

1982; 355 pages. Edited by Ted Hughes & Frances McCullough. Genre : Non-Fiction. Overall Rating : D (but see last paragraph)..

    After immensely enjoying The Bell Jar, I picked this up with the idea of getting a better understanding about what drove Plath to her suicide attempts. Alas, TJOSP sheds little light in that regard.

   .There is now an "Unabridged" version of this book, so this particular edition is rendered essentially superfluous. And it needs to be kept in mind that I'm sure Plath never intended these musings to be shared with the general public.

   .This book was heavily edited by Plath's "quasi-ex" Ted Hughes, and her mom, with whom she had a complex love-hate relationship. One gets the feeling these two (especially Hughes) did some significant cutting to make themselves look good. For instance, there is nothing here about the "Bell Jar" breakdown years (allegedly, those journals just up and disappeared). There is nothing negative about Hughes here at all; and there is nothing here about the final months of Plath's life, after she and Hughes had separated due to his infidelity. (Hughes admits destroying the final two of Plath's journals).

   .What you do get is an open and often unflattering self-portrait of Plath. She has caustic comments about almost everyone she meets (although she finally breaks this habit in the last 30 pages of the book). She also is jealous about her authoring "rivals", especially when they get published before she does. And she is vain about her looks, considering herself to be a sort of disdainful man-eater.

.   Plath also seems to have set her life goals unattainably high. She is determined to be the best author   ever, and anything less than that causes grave self-doubts, insecurity, and bouts of depression. In college, she fears that she'll get trapped in a 50's marriage that will squelch her writing goals. Ironically, she marries Hughes who, for whatever his personal drawbacks, was a brilliant poet/writer. Plath "praises" his successes, but one gets the feeling her teeth were gritted when she wrote those entries.

What's To Like...
    There is a certain self-honesty about these journals, even if they show Plath in a less-than-favorable light. Two examples :

."If only a group of people were more important to me than the idea of a Novel, I might begin a novel." (pg. 320). "Feel unlike writing anything today. A horror that I am really at bottom uninterested in people : the reason I don't write stories." (pg. 324).

.And then there are the descriptive passages, throughout the book, of which Plath was a master. For instance :

."The wind has blown a warm yellow moon up over the sea; a bulbous moon, which sprouts in the soiled indigo sky, and spills bright winking petals of light on the quivering black water." (pg. 31) Oh my, That's beautiful!

    .Perhaps it might be said that Plath's real strength lay in being a wordsmith. She struggled her whole career to create plots for her marvelous prose. Even The Bell Jar, her magnum opus, is more an autobiography than a novel, and therefore needed no plot. I suspect that she is best-suited as a poet, not a story-writer. We shall see. Ariel is sitting on my TBR shelf.

    .In conclusion, I struggled to complete this book. Thank goodness for OCD. I can't recommend TJOSP to most readers; I got tired of Plath's endless verbosity about writing, editing, submitting, re-editing, rewriting and re-submitting all the poems and stories she worked on. However, those who are writers might rate this book much higher, even moreso if they can relate to Plath's bipolarity.

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