Being a Writer or Becoming a Wife: Reflections from a Young Sylvia Plath

At age 19, Sylvia Plath had gone from being an awkward, painfully shy girl to a sexually confident young woman.  As she prepares for one of her many dates, she reflects on her image and identity.

In the mirror, undressing, I look at the rather impish and mobile face that grins back at me, thinking: oh, growing to be a woman, to learn the art of subtle power!  As long as men have ideals, as long as they are vulnerable, there is the power to create a dream for them.

Plath did not rest easy in such power.  She saw the complexities of the relationship between men and women and feared what power she might lose were she to pursue marriage (the only perceived “safe” arrangement for coupling at the time).  Nonetheless, she found herself driven to men by a strong sexual urge she calls “refined hedonism”.

Victimized by sex is the human race.  Animals, the fortunate lower beasts, go into heat.  Then, they are through with the thing, while we poor lustful humans, caged by mores, chained by circumstance, writhe and agonize with the appalling and demanding fire licking always at our loins.

This creates a dilemma for Plath.  As she considers her relationship with “Dick”, a pre-med student, she ponders difficult questions.  Would she pursue her writing or become a wife?  Could she do both?

The fact remains that writing is a way of life to me… Would I be forced to give it up, cut it off?  Undoubtedly, as the wife of such a medical man as he would like to be, I would have to.  I do not believe, as he and his friends would seem to, that artistic creativity can best be indulged in masterful singleness rather than in marital cooperation.  I think that a workable union should heighten the potentialities in both individuals.

This “marital cooperation” was not to be found with Dick, who interprets Plath’s assertiveness as a desire to dominate.  She finds others and maintains hope in some “workable union” as she enjoys various romantic relationships.  The idea of being both a wife and a writer remains an ideal.

… would marriage sap my creative energy and annihilate my desire for written and pictorial expression which increases with this depth of unsatisfied emotion… or would I achieve a fuller expression in art as well as in the creation of children?  Am I strong enough to do both well?

Yet, in quieter moments, as she reflects on her passion for poetry and poetic prose, she wonders if she would ever be willing to make sacrifices necessary for marriage.

And when I read, God, when I read the taut, spare, lucid prose of Louis Untermeyer, and the distilled intensities of poet after poet, I feel stifled, weak, pallid; mealy mouthed and utterly absurd.  Some pale, hueless flicker of sensitivity is in me.  God, must I lose it in cooking scrambled eggs for a man.

Quotes from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. 

For more reflections, see -

Beauty Out of Sorrow

Ricocheting Madly In-Between

The Grimness of Atheism

Luxuriating in the Feel of Words

(photo of Sylvia Plath from Caitlin in To Read)

15 thoughts on “Being a Writer or Becoming a Wife: Reflections from a Young Sylvia Plath

    • Thank you. I’m glad you joined as well. I’m planning at least two more posts devoted to Plath – one psychological and one (somewhat) theological. I’m not even 1/5 of the way through her journals, so there will no doubt be even more in the future.

      Thanks again.

  1. Such a sad time, to feel as though you have to choose between a relationship and your passion, because of the expectations put on women, especially then, to be a housewife… had this had been later, she could have possibly had both. Bless her. But even if she decided to give up her love of writing, it wouldn’t make her less of a feminist icon in my eyes.. and you would think, eventually being married to another writer, he would understand her, but alas, Ted cheated on her. That one spec of hope that maybe she could have both loves was pretty much taken.

  2. Reblogged this on Notes From The Devil Dollhaus and commented:
    I’ve been enjoying these posts from indytony on the diaries of Sylvia Plath…this quote in particular jumped out at me(in regards to a suitor):
    The fact remains that writing is a way of life to me… Would I be forced to give it up, cut it off? Undoubtedly, as the wife of such a medical man as he would like to be, I would have to. I do not believe, as he and his friends would seem to, that artistic creativity can best be indulged in masterful singleness rather than in marital cooperation. I think that a workable union should heighten the potentialities in both individuals.”

    Absolutely, and why, for artistic reasons, I could only be married to another wild diablo.

  3. You want to belong, in a sense, but your individuality stands in your way. I think it was brave in her part. I would not want to be with someone who constricts my ideas and creativity. I have a beautiful wife who is a painter and is as dark as I am. I wish this amazing woman could have had that opportunity. I just have recently her works. (Approx. 3 hours ago) and I am in awe.

    To indytony, where can I find these journals and for a good deal?

    Amazon, I’m guessing?

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