Newly Donated Letters by Sylvia Plath Reveal
Thoughts During Her Final Year
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Smith College recently acquired unpublished letters written by the poet and alumna Sylvia Plath during the final year of her life in which she describes as “amateur” her award-winning novel, "The Bell Jar."
The letters are addressed to Clarissa Roche, the wife of former Smith College faculty member, poet and translator Paul Roche. The couple first met Plath at Smith in 1957, when Sylvia and Paul were instructors in the English department. The two women developed a close friendship that continued after Plath moved to England in 1959.
Penned by Plath between March and October 1962, the letters describe the joys of motherhood, the challenges of living in a rural setting, and, finally, the breakdown of her marriage to Ted Hughes, according to Karen Kukil, associate curator of special collections at Smith and editor of "The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath."
“These letters are very revealing of her frame of mind during this turbulent period of her life,” said Kukil.
Kukil met Clarissa Roche in 2000 at the launch of "The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath" in London. Roche died in 2004 at the age of 73, and her daughter, Pandora Roche Smith, recently donated the letters to Smith.
“Clarissa Roche told me with great sadness that she and Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant had hoped to take Plath to a Shakespeare play in London in early 1963 to cheer her up,” said Kukil. “They were shocked when Sylvia committed suicide on February 11.”
The announcement about the new letters coincides with Sylvia Plath’s official induction next month into the Poets' Corner at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. She joins other American poets such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and W.H. Auden.
Kukil will speak as part of a program celebrating Plath on Thursday, Nov. 4, at 7:30 p.m.; the formal induction will take place on Sunday, Nov. 7, at the 4 p.m. Evensong.
The letters will be added to the Sylvia Plath Collection in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith and made available to visitors upon request.