Often using vivid and compelling language, Plath addresses many topics in her letters — from politics and literature to her education and love life to her own unbridled literary ambitions and her plans to achieve them. The sheer quantity of the letters — Volume 1 runs to more than 1,300 pages — is as impressive as their quality ... Engaging and revealing, The Letters of Sylvia Plath offers a captivating look into the life and inner thinking of one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.
Frieda Hughes, the couple’s daughter and only surviving child, begins the book of letters with a spectacularly defensive foreword — a tribute less to Plath than to Hughes...There is the effect, slightly comic and horrifying, of the daughter presiding over the vow renewal ceremony for the ghosts of her parents ... to speak of Plath’s letters is to speak of her relationship with Aurelia, to whom she wrote twice a day at times — long letters that swarmed to fill every inch of space on the page and trailed onto the envelopes. This was, no doubt, lovely for her mother (and her biographers), but it can be rough going for even the committed Plathophile ... The achievement of this avalanche of letters — 1,300 pages and counting — is that it disabuses everyone of the notion that Plath wasn’t aware of her contradictions or in (some) control of them. She referenced her two selves every time she went from blonde to brunette. Her honors thesis was, in part, on Dostoevsky’s The Double, after all, in which a self splits, and one kills the other. 'How can you be so many women to so many people,' she once wrote in her journal, 'oh you strange girl?'
Lugging around this rusty anchor of a book – it runs to more than 1,400 pages – what I felt mostly was exasperation. The notion that Plath’s every utterance is sacred would be dumb even if she ranked with Keats or Waugh as one of the truly great letter writers. The fact that she clearly doesn’t – the majority of those in this volume, written to her mother, Aurelia, are marked by their quotidian sameyness – only makes it seem the more vacuous ... The reader, then, is entirely in Plath’s hands, which is not only tricky in narrative terms – ellipses come as standard in correspondence of which you get to read only one side – but also perilously unbalanced. Where does the truth, or what passes for it, ultimately lie? The editors offer us no rudder ... Plath’s letters to the men she imagined she loved before Hughes have a certain too-muchness: a risky intensity of feeling that brings to mind a circus knife-thrower marking an outline with her blades. So, too, do the 16 love letters, owned by her daughter Frieda and now published for the first time, that she wrote to Hughes in 1956, the year they married (and the book’s cut-off point). Nevertheless, it is for these last that you should borrow this collection from your library, and to which you should turn once it’s in your hands. They alone make the prospect of volume two seem fully tantalising.