I am the present, but I know I, too, will pass. The high moment, the burning flash come and gone, continuous quicksand. And...



I am the present, but I know I, too, will pass. The high moment, the burning flash come and gone, continuous quicksand. And I don't want to die."" That is Sylvia Plath in the summer before her freshman year at Smith, on the second page of these remarkable journals. And, throughout, readers expecting to find non-stop morbidity here will find--despite the feverish introspection, the raging discontent and moodswings, the endless self-analysis--an almost exhilarating sense of forward movement, of an urge to live and succeed that seems far stronger than her dark, suicidal despair. (Part of this effect is due to the fact that the Journals virtually come to a stop three years before Plath's death.) Plath at Smith is preoccupied with courtship, with demeaning and limiting sex-roles (""my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars. . . all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery""), with the loss of childhood (""For a time I was lulled in the arms of a blind optimism with breasts full of champagne and nipples made of caviar""), with the yearning to build on her precocious bits of teenage writing success: ""Get a plot. Make it funny. Be big and glad for other people and make them happy."" With studies at Cambridge, the problems in writing begin to dominate: envy of other writers; the desperate need for commercial success; the organization of life around each new submission to (and rejection slip from) The New Yorker; frustrating work on a novel (""a pox on my 'She thought-she felt' banal novel""); and always--""I feel the gulf between my desire & ambition and my naked abilities"" as she tries to bridge the gap ""between a bright published adolescent which died at 20 and a potentially talented & mature adult which begins writing about 25."" Yet none of the frustration or gloom (""Love turns, lust turns, into the death urge"") comes across as fiercely as the passion-at-first-sight for poet-husband Hughes: ""The one man in the room who was as big as his poems, huge, with hulk and dynamic chunks of words. . . . He said my name, Sylvia, in a blasting wind which shot off the desert behind my eyes, behind his eyes, and his poems are clever and terrible and lovely."" And there is quiet force (along with defensiveness) when Plath says of Woolf: ""too ephemeral, needing the earth. I will be stronger."" The grimmest years here are those back in America with Ted: escalating bitterness about her career, fury at the academia/social set, rising waves of unresolved anger (""I have a violence in me that is hot as death-blood. I can kill myself or--I know it now--even kill another""). But then comes a New Yorker acceptance at last, psychotherapy (""It is as if Dr. B., saying 'I give you permission to hate your mother,' also said 'I give you permission to be happy'""), and a sense--circa 1959--that Plath, children on the way, is on the path to taming ""my Panic Bird."" Far from a full self-portrait, then--with only a few fragments from the last years and editorial omissions (""nasty bits"" and ""intimacies""). But students of the poetry and fiction will find background material galore (themes, influences, notes); and even those unenthusiastic about much of Plath's work will find this a strong, strange document--self-dramatization threaded with naivetÉ, chilling self-awareness always on the verge of confusion, and all of it carved into ripe (but never over-tooled) writer's language--including some of the best prose Plath ever wrote.

Pub Date: April 23, 1982

ISBN: 0385493916

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1982