In this handwritten diary entry, Sylvia Plath writes self-reflexively about the process of writing, reading and making meaning from the chaos of life. She is inspired by the works of D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and her friend James Guy Bramwell, but seeks a new tone for her novel – one which will re-shape her experiences into something like a ‘prose-poem’, seen from a woman’s perspective.
Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
In March 1958, Plath lived with Ted Hughes in Northampton, Massachusetts. Recalling the day they met over two years ago, she says Ted still gives off the ‘queer electric invisible radiance’ which he had that first night in Cambridge. Plath wryly describes wanting to ‘murder his pale freckled mistress named Shirley’ – Hughes’s girlfriend at the time he met Plath. Now their friends, the Bramwells, are splitting up and Plath asks, ‘How can James leave [Joan]? … I need Ted to smell & kiss & sleep with & read by as I need bread & wine’.
What ‘tone to strike’ in her novel?
Plath has written a ‘35 page chapter’ of an unnamed novel – perhaps what would become The Bell Jar or another early prose work. But looking at the light shining under their bedroom door, she worries that this chapter is ‘cheap & easily come by’. She admires ‘the rich physical passion’ of D H Lawrence’s writing and the ‘almost sexless, neurotic, luminousness’ of Woolf’s work, but insists she ‘cannot & must not copy either’.
Wrestling with the question of how to shape her own life into a work of fiction, she says she wants it to be ‘not merely romantic; not merely cariacature, not merely a diary; not ostensibly autobiography’. Her own experiences should be imbued with a ‘cool, shrewd’ sense of distance.
Plath has just read James Guy Bramwell’s book, The Unfinished Man (1957) – an autobiographical account of ‘his experiences as a conscientious objector’. But rather than drawing on the male drama of war, she will use her ‘woman’s ammunition’ – ‘chiefly psychic & aesthetic: love & lookings’.
- Full title:
- Series I. Writings. Journals. Autograph manuscript on lined paper, half-bound in red cloth with maroon paper over boards, blind-stamped on back cover: C. Cambridge Ltd. / Birmingham / C.B. 900, iv, 181,  numbered pages (pages 177-78 are lacking), 1957 Aug 28-1958 Oct 15.
- 2 March 1958
- Manuscript / Diary
- Sylvia Plath
- Usage terms
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College Libraries, © Estate of Sylvia Plath. No copying, republication or modification is allowed for material © The Plath Estate. For further use of this material please seek formal permission from the copyright holder.
- Held by
- Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College Libraries (Massachusetts)
- Box 3 Folder 20
- Article by:
- Lyndall Gordon
- Gender and sexuality
Narratives of Virginia Woolf’s life often place great emphasis on her depression and suicide. Lyndall Gordon considers the way this has overshadowed Woolf’s legacy, and clouded her reputation as a seminal novelist, feminist, and politicized intellectual.
- Article by:
- Karen Kukil
- Gender and sexuality, Exploring identity
The unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath span the entirety of the poet's adult life. Karen Kukil, who edited the journals, reflects on what we can learn from them about Plath's life and work.
- Article by:
- Elaine Feinstein
- Exploring identity, Gender and sexuality, Literature 1950–2000
Elaine Feinstein discusses the possibilities and limits of reading Sylvia Plath’s 'Daddy' biographically.