Sarah Holland-Batt reviews 'The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 2: 1956–1963' edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil

Sarah Holland-Batt reviews 'The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 2: 1956–1963' edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil

The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 2: 1956–1963

edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil

Faber & Faber, $69.99 hb, 1025 pp, 9780571339204

Sylvia Plath wrote her last letter to the American psychiatrist Dr Ruth Beuscher a week prior to her suicide on 11 February 1963. In it, Plath castigates herself for being guilty of ‘Idolatrous love’, a concept she drew from psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. ‘I lost myself in Ted instead of finding myself,’ Plath writes, identifying the subsumption of her ego into her failed marriage at the heart of her unhappiness. The letter’s tone is self-lacerating – Plath diagnoses herself as ‘very narcissistic’, lacking ‘a mature identity’, and in the grip of a ‘ghastly defeatist cycle’ – and distraught, citing a ‘fear & vision of the worst’. It closes with a portentous image of her domestic life, made terrible with hindsight: ‘Now the babies are crying, I must take them out to tea,’ Plath wrote. A week later, she killed herself.

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Sarah Holland-Batt

Sarah Holland-Batt

Sarah Holland-Batt's most recent book of poems is The Hazards (UQP, 2015), which was winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Poetry and was shortlisted in the Western Australian Premier's Book Awards, the NSW Premier's Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, the AFAL John Bray Memorial Poetry Prize, and the Queensland Literary Awards Judith Wright Calanthe Award. She is the editor of The Best Australian Poems 2016 (Black Inc.), is poetry editor of Island, and works as an Associate Professor at QUT.

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