After about a month, I have finally finished Sylvia Plath’s unabridged journals. Journals untainted by the demon that is Ted Hughes! Reading a journal which spans around a decade from a woman’s late teens to early thirties, from the early 1950s to the beginning of the 1960s, in a nearly 900 page book, is quite a journey. You get accustomed to Plath. Reading a couple entries daily, she became a part of my life; her personal thoughts and adventures intersecting with my own. Needless to say, it feels sad to have finished. Like losing a friend. Plath’s most innermost thoughts were a part of my daily life, meshing with my own journaling, and now they’re gone. It leaves an emptiness for me.
Firstly, the journals begin when she is young. Though in her late teens, however, one is struck by her style and skill as an author. Then one is jealous of her skill, especially at such a young age. Then one reads her entries on her own jealousies, envy, of people more successful than her, her ambitions, and one forgets their own jealousies of the young adult Plath and instead embraces the sense of familiarity and relatability. And the entries are so relatable. Unanimously so. Going to the goodreads page of this book one will fine numerous comments on the relatability of the content. For myself, I found that sometimes entries were nearly identical to things I had written in my own journals, word for word. Other than weird coincidences like that, there is the emotion which is so familiar. Outrage, sadness, despair, excitement, drive, needs, weakness, strength, arrogance, anger. It’s candid, as a journal should be, and so we recognize our own often hidden emotions, even the more shameful ones or the ones which are rarely represented otherwise.
Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that — I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much — so very much to learn —
At the same time I was plagued by the ethics of reading a journal. On the one hand, you have her journals unadultered by Ted Hughes — that’s a good thing! On the other hand: would she have published these journals had she been alive? The unabridged journals are necessary in the face of Hughes’ edits, but should the edits have even been opened to the public? Journals are private; I know I wouldn’t want mine public. And again I think: perhaps I wouldn’t care if my journals were published when I was dead. Because the dead can’t think of such things. But then there is the issue of Plath’s own wanting of The Bell Jar to be published under a pseudonym to avoid hurting those mentioned in the book — would not her journals be even more biting to her loved ones and acquaintances who she is completely honest about? And then again I think of the passage in her journal where she reads the diaries of Virginia Woolf. She herself consumed private yet published writing, so why shouldn’t we?
Overall, I got a lot from these journals, and I know a lot of people do. They were moving and beautifully written. They were engaging. They took up a big place in my life while I went through years of her life. And I still feel that I am invading her privacy. I cannot deny the impact the journals have had on me, but I also cannot deny my feelings of guilt over reading them. Nor can I deny how I ignored this guilt and kept reading…