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The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 1 review – why Plath can’t win in a world of male privilege

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At last her letters, including many to Ted Hughes, appear in complete form. But in the years from 1940 to 1956 she had yet to come into her own as a writer

The posthumous editing of a famous writer is rarely as simple as it might seem, but the case of Sylvia Plath is one of the most tangled and fraught in modern letters. And it is this history that primarily makes the publication of volume one of the unabridged Letters of Sylvia Plath a newsworthy event. This volume covers the early years of her life, ending with her marriage to Ted Hughes in 1956. The second volume, due next autumn, covers the years of their marriage and separation, up to her death; it promises to be even more newsworthy.

When Plath died in 1963, the majority of her writing was unpublished – despite her strenuous efforts to the contrary. She and Hughes had separated after six years of marriage, a split precipitated by his affair with Assia Gutmann Wevill. They were still married when Plath killed herself, and she died intestate, which meant that Hughes inherited her literary estate. He had to decide, in the midst of what was clearly terrible grief and guilt, while trying to comfort their two small children, what to do with this dark, brilliant legacy.

Related: Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes

The publication of Plath’s writing was always tortuously bound up with the story of her private life

Related: Sylvia Plath: her life in art and photographs – in pictures

Related: Unseen Sylvia Plath poems deciphered in carbon paper

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