Sylvia Plath's last letters rival Cordelia's death in "King Lear" as the saddest final act in English literature.
I haven't read Plath's letters, the closing one written the week before she killed herself in the dark early morning hours of Feb. 11, 1963.
My sorrow over the 30-year-old poet's death comes from the recent outpouring of reviews following the publication of the second volume of Plath's letters, from 1956-1963.
Detailing the day-to-day unfolding of her doomed marriage to Ted Hughes, and the steady progress of her own writing career, the book edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil gathers 575 letters to 108 correspondents and runs to nearly 1,000 pages.
Along with her brave final letters seeking to remain buoyant as Hughes abandoned her, Plath in her final months wrote the startling poems that catapulted her to posthumous fame. Her autobiographical novel "The Bell Jar" was also published after her death.
The letters reveal a kaleidoscope of personalities, according to the reviews. She's a resourceful, ambitious promoter of her work and her husband's, sending out submissions and fellowship applications.
In chatty letters to her mother, Aurelia, she's the perky young housewife, talking about food and housework and child care.
Recently discovered letters to her Boston psychiatrist, Ruth Beuscher, later Barnhouse, register Plath's mental and emotional deterioration as Hughes enters an affair with another troubled young woman poet, Assia Weevil.
As I read these reviews in publications from the New Yorker and Atlantic to the Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books, I wanted to reach out through time and space to rescue the young woman, at moments so full of life, and at others so burdened with despair.
Hughes comes off as an all-time despicable cad, but to blame him for Plath's death gives him too much credit. Her longtime depression killed her. It's hard to say why depressed people decide one day to give up the battle.
In her last words of her last letter, written a week before her death, she said, "I am incapable of being myself & loving myself. Now the babies are crying, I must take them out to tea.”