Sharp tongue and sex restored to Plath diaries

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The Independent Online
THE journals of Sylvia Plath are to be published in this country for the first time, following the success of Birthday Letters, the collection of Ted Hughes's poems for his former wife, which went straight to number one in the hardback bestseller lists, writes Suzy Feay, Literary Editor.

Censored versions of Plath's diaries have previously appeared in the US, but early next year Faber and Faber, is to publish the voluminous journals in unexpurgated form. Previously suppressed details, censored to spare her surviving relatives at the request of her husband, Ted Hughes, will reveal her strong sexual appetite as a student, and a sharp, sometimes hurtful wit.

An obsessive writer, Plath began the diaries as a child and continued them up to her death. A heavily edited version (about a third of the total, according to Hughes) was published in America in 1982, with Hughes himself acting as consulting editor. However, he admitted in his foreword to destroying the final volume, with entries up to within three days of her death in February 1963 "because I did not want her children to have to read it". Another volume "disappeared".

Hughes's co-editor, Frances McCullough, defended the omissions on the grounds that many people Plath wrote about were still alive. "There are quite a few nasty bits missing: Plath had a very sharp tongue and tended to use it on nearly everybody," she wrote in her introduction. Other cuts were made on grounds of delicacy: "There are a few other cuts - of intimacies - that have the effect of diminishing Plath's eroticism, which was quite strong."

Such a passage describes the meeting of Plath and Hughes at a Cambridge student party: "then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth [omission] ... And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when we came out of the room, blood was running down his face [omission]."

Other cuts clearly protected the sensibilities of Plath's living relatives: in 1958 the poet underwent psychotherapy and the journal recorded the bitter welling-up of ill-feeling against her protective, ambitious mother.

"The cuts were made purely to protect other people, but everybody assumed Ted was just protecting himself," said Joanna Mackle of Faber. "We are looking to publish the journals in as complete a form as possible."

Blake Morrison, Sunday Review