01 June 2019

Did you know... Sylvia Plath's Diaries at the Lilly Library

The Journals of Sylvia Plath (aka The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath in the USA) was and is a major publication; one that appreciates in value and importance on a daily basis. Sometimes it is hard to believe that they have been published for 19 years! And sometimes I struggle to fathom existing in a world where only the abridged version was available. I remember living in London in 1996-1997 and finding a copy of the abridged journals in a book stall at a bookstall in the Camden Market. The abridged version of the book, published in 1982, was never published in the UK, so seeing a copy was weird, but also kind of awesome. In my head, I had a vision that many copies were smuggled into the country and through a vast network of black market underground Plath scholars.

I know...I know...I need help.

The Journals should see renewed interest and importance with the publication of the two-volume Letters of Sylvia Plath. As we worked on the Letters, the Journals were a constant source of contextual information.

Anyway, The Journals of Sylvia Plath publishes all of those documents classified as journals that are held by Smith College from 1950 to 1962. But… Did you know… that the Lilly Library holds not one, but two 1951 journal fragments in their massive Plath mss II collection?

The first journal fragment (in the finding aid linked above, see Box 7, Folder 4: "Diary, Aug.-Dec. 1949-Mar. 1951") is dated by Plath simply March 1951. No day is given. It comprises the last four pages of a handwritten journal began famously on 13 November 1949. It was this diary where Plath states that she should like to called "the girl who wanted to be God" and later one of the first instances of her famous mantra, "I am I" (pg. 4). This "March 1951" journal entry sort of summarizes and closes off the narrative of some of the guys she dated that are mentioned throughout that particular journal (John Hall and Bob Riedeman; then Ilo and Emile). It is likely this was written during her spring vacation in the second semester of her first year (that year her spring break was from 21 March to 5 April 1951).

This journal (or, "diary") is thirty-five pages long. Here is a breakdown of the entries:

13 November 1949: pages 1-16
24 November 1949: pages 16-21
27 November 1949: pages 22-25
26 November 1949: pages 25-26
[27 November 1949]: page 26
22 December 1949: pages 26-28
19 December 1949: pages 28-31
20 December 1949: page 31
21 December 1949: pages 31-32
23 December 1949: page 32
March 1951: pages 32-35

Did you notice, as I did, that the dates are all over the place? Can't really think of how or why some of these dates appear this way. Can you? Possibly something was misdated? So the bulk of this journal is from Plath's senior year of high school, but there are those four pages at the end from her first year at Smith. If they were to be placed in the published Journals, they would go somewhere between entries numbered 59 to 62 on pages 52-54 of the printed book. Or, in the way the published volume was structured, they would have been tucked back as an Appendix.

Now for the second…

The second 1951 journal fragment is held in a non-diary series of the Lilly's Plath mss II. Researchers will find this one in Box 11, Folder 4, in a notebook Plath used for many things. (There are other notebooks in this folder for her courses in Art, Creative Writing, and Government.) In addition to the journal entry in said notebook, there are drawings, there are miscellaneous kinds of notes, and there are notes for press board assignments. But the focus here is not on those other writings, which are wonderful and useful and full of information the way any archival document is.


These journal fragments date to the summer of 1951 when Plath was living at 144 Beach Bluff Avenue taking care of the Mayo children: Frederic ('Freddie'), Joanne, and Esther ('Pinny'). Some of the entries are unique; but curiously some are re-written from her primary journals. Such as entries 105, 106, and some of entry 83.

In working on this post and reading through Plath's journals I was rather baffled to find some familiar text that was not actually in the journals the way that I remembered it. I knew the text, but could not place it. Then I searched the Letters (the light bulb which is my brain is dim, but it does burn at a low wattage) and found that the entry in this notebook fragment is a variation of Plath's 4 August 1951 letter to her mother. I cannot (or should not) quote the notebook entry; but the letter begins "Today is what would be termed, in the materialistic jargon peculiar to Americans -- a "million-dollar day." (Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, p. 360). Her "journal" entry varies from the letter, and also carries on quite a while.

Plath also mined her journal for the sake of poetry. Entry 110, written August 1951, was converted into a poem entitled "august night" which begins "and the wind has blown / a warm yellow moon..." The typescript of the poem has Plath's name and "Haven House / 1954" handwritten in the top right corner; and there are some different words and punctuation throughout the ten-lined poem (two stanzas of three lines; two stanzas of two lines).

All links accessed 15 December 2017 and 16 May 2019.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.

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