In early January 2014, I spent two full days at the Sylvia Plath archives in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College doing research for my senior thesis. My senior thesis comprises a meta-analysis of the critical reception of Plath and her works as well as a textual analysis of the way in which Plath writes (her)self – her “I” – into her work. In this critique of literary critique, I am working with and against the biographical treatment of this writer to assess how one reads the work through the filter of her death. To do this analysis, I used feminist, literary, and psychoanalytic theory in addition to research materials from the Archives at Smith College. Specifically, newspaper and magazine reviews were fundamental to my research as these writings on Plath’s work reveal the extent to which the biographical impulse continues to shape Plath’s literary legacy. At the Archives, I had the remarkable opportunity to read Plath’s original journals and poetry manuscripts, correspondence letters, senior thesis, book collection, and the aforementioned newspaper clippings of both American and British reviews of her works. Traces of my trip to the Archives are scattered throughout my thesis from images of Plath’s original work to first person accounts of the very experience of thumbing through the meticulous records of Plath’s life in words. The writing process was heavily influenced by this closeness and proximity to Plath’s original work and as a result of my Archival research I had a greater personal and intellectual investment in the project.
I had allotted two full days in the Archives with a detailed agenda, but quickly found that I could have easily spent weeks lingering over the Plath materials. I worked steadily each day, arriving at the Archive when it opened and staying with the research until closing, often with only a few short breaks. I was entirely immersed in the Plath materials and it became apparent during that visit how truly dedicated I was to my senior thesis. My final version was 160 pages with an Introduction, Coda, and three chapters pertaining to The Bell Jar, Ariel, and The Unabridged Journals respectively. The process of writing a thesis was absolutely thrilling and I hope to continue with my studies in PhD programs in the areas of Women’s Studies, English, or Literature.