Revealing Sylvia Plath

Hannah Sullivan at the TLS:

Many readers will be tempted to skip over the first 700 pages of this volume, to go straight for the final months. But that would be a big mistake. To begin with, the letters to Beuscher – Sylvia proposes rather poignantly at one point to pay her for her replies – need to be understood within a wider context of letter-writing patterns. The first volume of letters began at summer camp and ended with Sylvia and Ted’s honeymoon. The second begins in Cambridge in October 1956: Sylvia is studying for the second year of the English BA degree on a Fulbright scholarship; Ted, two years after graduating from Cambridge himself, is teaching at a boys’ school but “may have to take a labouring job” to cover the bills. They drink sherry, paint their shabby flat in cheerful colours, wait “breathlessly” for the post, heat milk for coffee (allowing the pan to boil over when it in fact arrives), recite Chaucer to the cows, and ask their omnipresent Ouija board when they will be published in the New Yorker. There is a huge amount about cooking and baking, including a request for Aurelia to send extra boxes of Flako pie crust mix across the Atlantic, a discussion of Ted’s love of casseroles, and the comment that “My Joy of Cooking is a blessing”. Really? A blessing? In her journal of the same year, Sylvia had rebuked herself wryly for reading The Joy of Cooking like a “rare novel”. “Whoa, I said to myself. You will escape into domesticity & stifle yourself by falling headfirst into a bowl of cookie batter.”

more here.