Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Great Lines in Literature - The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath


At my advanced age (/sarcasm), it's unusual for me to find a work that so completely returns me to my teenaged years. I've read books here and there that make me wistful for one aspect of my coming of age or another, but I rarely, if ever, find anything that captures that distilled sensation of being young, female and entirely unsure of oneself, reaching out to the rest of humanity in an attempt to analyze and define the self.

Sylvia Plath's unabridged journals (unabridged insofar as all remaining journals of her adulthood are included - two will never be published, as one was lost over time and Ted Hughes intentionally destroyed the "maroon-backed ledger" that contained the entries closest to Plath's suicide), despite chronicling her life from 1950 to 1962, feel in places that they could be detailing my own life in the mid-1990s. It's been years, but I can still remember what it felt like to be a virgin despite not wanting to be, feeling awkward around my male counterparts, and how I railed in private against common conventions and what I assumed was expected of me as a young woman. Reading someone else's stylistic interpretations of my deepest, most hidden thoughts feels exceptionally eerie and makes me quite angry I destroyed my own journals from my late teens. I would have liked to have made a side-by-side comparison, just to see how they would echo against each other.

From 1950, the summer before Plath entered Smith College:

- Yes, I was infatuated with you; I am still. No one has ever heightened such a keen capacity of physical sensation in me. I cut you out because I couldn't stand being a passing fancy. Before I give my body, I must give my thoughts, my mind, my dreams. And you weren't having any of those. -

- There is so much hurt in this game of searching for a mate, of testing, trying. And you realize suddenly that you forgot it was a game, and turn away in tears. -

- If I didn't think, I'd be much happier; if I didn't have any sex organs I wouldn't waver on the brink of nervous emotion and tears all the time. -

- How complex and intricate are the workings of the nervous system. The electric shrill of the phone sends a tingle of expectancy along the uterine walls; the sound of his voice, rough, brash and intimate across the wire tightens the intestinal tract. If they substituted the word "Lust" for "Love" in the popular songs it would come nearer the truth. -

Reading Plath's journals, at least the earlier ones, remind me so much of myself that I feel myself reaching out almost subconsciously to say "Stop worrying, you'll be okay," before realizing that they are not my own words, and that Plath was never okay.

1 comment:

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