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

Discovered at Smith College on the reverse side of Plath’s textual corrections for The Bell Jar, “Venus in the Seventh” is page 25 of Plath’s unpublished novel, Falcon Yard, which she was writing between 1957 and 1959. In the unpublished novel, Plath describes her travels in Europe when she was a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge University. Robin Peel in Writing Back: Sylvia Plath and Cold War Culture (2002) has traced the origin of this page to an entry in Plath’s 1957 Cambridge diary in which she muses about writing a scene capturing her trip from France to Germany with Gordon Lameyer in 1956. “Venus in the Seventh,” then, may have been the draft that Plath was writing when she noted in a March 25, 1957 letter home from Cambridge, “I get courage by reading Virginia Woolf’s Writer’s Diary; I feel very akin to her, although my book reads more like a slick best-seller.” Archivists at Emory University have recovered six more pages of “Venus in the Seventh” on the reverse side of Ted Hughes’s manuscripts. The remaining pages narrate Plath’s travels in Europe and contain several allusions to Woolf, particularly to Mrs. Dalloway. Image: 1 page
Sylvia Plath. “Venus in the Seventh”: typescript, [1957-1959].

In her lecture notes for To the Lighthouse, Elizabeth Drew emphasized Woolf’s use of form to shape reality: “into an order, wh[ich]: is the permanent thing in . . . flux.” These notes are on display in the Smith College Archives. Possibly triggered by the “sheer pleasure” of David Daiches’s February 1956 lectures on Woolf and James Joyce at Cambridge, Plath began to apply Drew’s sentiments to her own writing. In a 24 February letter home she explained, “It is the articulation of experience which is so necessary to me; even if I never publish again, I shall still have to write, because it is the main way I give order to this flux which is life.” The “sproutings of a novel,” as Plath called them in her 9 March letter to her mother, occured just as her letters and journals were filled with flux. In the notebook she kept while traveling in France, Plath continued to align writing with the ordering of flux: “I made a metaphor about our lives imposing a certain line and order on the flux of time.”

Image: 1 page
Gordon Lameyer. Letter to Edward Butscher, 17 July 1973.
Gordon Lameyer, who traveled with Plath during this vacation, explains in this letter to Edward Butscher, author of the first comprehensive biography of Plath, Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness (1976), that he had envisioned Plath writing novels like Woolf. Plath first dated Lameyer while she was a student at Smith College. As Robin Peel has pointed out, Gordon inspired the character of Winthrop in “Venus in the Seventh.”

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Edward Butscher Collection of Papers on Sylvia Plath
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

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