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Her Novels Make Mine Possible
The Influence of Virginia Woolf on Sylvia Plath

Image: book spread
Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Dalloway. London: Hogarth Press, 1954. Uniform edition, eighth impression.
After reading Mrs. Dalloway as a junior in high school, Plath re-annotated this copy that she purchased with her other Hogarth Press editions. In her high school paper on Mrs. Dalloway, housed at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Plath explained that she felt she had to read Woolf’s novel twice in order to begin to understand it. Turning to Mrs. Dalloway for what may have been a third time, Plath wrote many more textual comments in the margins than in her other Woolf novels. On page 201, Plath underlined one of Clarissa Dalloway’s thoughts: “in the middle of my party, here’s death.” In the passage shown here, about Septimus Smith’s suicide, Plath underlined Clarissa’s feeling that “Somehow it was her disaster—her disgrace.”
Plath read The Years at the close of her 1959 year in Boston. Perhaps seeking the interiority of Woolf’s earlier novels, Plath turned to The Years after writing in her journal that she needed to “go inward” and “WRITE ABOUT THE THINGS OF THE WORLD WITH NO GLAZING.” While she was ultimately dissatisfied with “V. Woolf’s tiresome The Years,” Plath initially admired Woolf’s unification of the novel with rain. As she wrote in her journal after beginning the novel, “With rain, she can unite a family, here in London, there in the country, in Oxford. But too disparate. By skipping five, eleven, years, and from person to person, suddenly a little girl is in her fifties with grey hair, and so we learn time passes, all moves. But the descriptions, the observations, the feelings caught and let slip, are fine, a luminous web catching it all in, this is life, this is time.” In the scene, shown here, Plath noted Woolf’s depiction of Rose Pargiter’s funeral and underlined Delia Pargiter’s observations during her mother’s burial and her “sense of something everlasting; of life mixing with death, of death becoming life.” Image: 1 page
Sylvia Plath. Journal: typescript, 10 June 1959.
Image: book spread
Virginia Woolf. The Years. London: Hogarth Press, 1951. Uniform edition, third impression.
After finishing The Years, Plath concludes in her journal that Woolf “flits, she throws out her gossamer nets. Surely this is not Life, not even real life: there is not even the Ladies’ Magazine entrance to sustained loves, jealousies, boredoms. The recreation is that of the most superficial observer at a party of dull old women who have never spilt blood.” Returning to Clarissa Dalloway and Mrs. Ramsay, Plath’s dissatisfaction with the absence of Woolf’s love and childless life after reading The Years raises many questions regarding her expectations for both Woolf and women’s writing.

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Sylvia Plath Collection
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

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