Sylvia Plath's "Character is Fate"

One of the things I did in 2020 was read all the books on my shelves that I had not read. As well, I read some "classics" that I could borrow from the library. A number of these were inspired by Sylvia Plath who was a far better reader of books than I will ever be. 

It started right at the turn of the 2019-2020 New Year when I read Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. Plath read that on her week-long trip from the US to England in December 1959. It took me about month and I read it, in part, from my hometown to Seattle and back! Then, around the time of the shutdown in March, I read Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground. And I decided that I can and should read only Russian novel per year. Next was W. B. Yeats' "The Unicorn from the Stars", the play that featured some lines that Plath saw as prophecy in November 1962. 

I moved onto Lawrence (The Rainbow, Women in Love, Lady Chatterley's Lover), Austen's Northanger Abbey and Brontë's Villette. There are a number of other books I have read, too, but they do not need mentioning. More recently, I moved on to Thomas Hardy's Wessex novels in reverse publication order hoping that, as time goes by, he would get less depressing. Hardy is perfect pandemic reading because he shows you that it can, indeed, get worse. 

Plath read four Hardy novels, at a minimum. She read The Mayor of Casterbridge during her first year at Smith College for English 11b. Her copy is now held by the Lilly Library. The image to the left is not of Plath's copy exactly, but is more than likely the right edition (1940s, Modern Library, with an introduction by Joyce Kilmer) based on the Lilly's cataloging information. 

She mentions The Mayor of Casterbridge in a few letters to... her mother. On 13 November 1950, she wrote "Have you any suggestions as to a definite topic? I had thought of doing it on fate or atmosphere or something like that" (Letters I, 222). She also wrote about reading her copy of the book in the browsing room of the library and how the chairs face the windows and getting lost in the distance. 

She submitted her typed paper "Character is Fate" on 22 November 1950 and she received a B+. 

Her teacher wrote "well organized -- be careful of your style, however; don't fall into a repetitive form that tends to destroy the freshness of your writing." For example, Plath uses "Let us" several times which lead her teacher to circle and to underline it and to comment twice on it: "don't overwork this expression" and  "there are other vegetables in the garden, too!" Plath misspelled some words, too: "soley", "occurences", "difinition", and "synonomous". In Plath's defense, she did correct, in pen, her misspelling of "definition". 

Strange to say, but I have enjoyed the pandemic for the opportunities taken to read some classics and to try to connect with Plath.  Though I do not read with the same critical facilities as Plath, with the exception of Lawrence I have thoroughly enjoyed this foray. Over on LibraryThing, I have cataloged as many of the books that I could find that Plath owned and/or read. Please check it out. 

All links accessed 5 and 17 October 2020.

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