Sylvia Plath: A Biography
women: “God, who am I? ... Girls, girls everywhere, reading books. Intent faces, flesh pink, white, yellow. And I sit here without identity.... If I rest, if I think inward, I go mad. There is so much, and I am torn in different directions, pulled thin, taut against horizons too distant for me to reach.” Plath’s utter, and unreasonable, hopelessness could not be alleviated by kind words; she shut herself off from cheering up. She was reassured only by A’s on assignments and by boys calling her for dates.
    During the Smith years and afterward, what Sylvia wrote in letters to her mother was often quite different from what she wrote in her journal. To Aurelia, she seldom complained, or if she did, it was for effect, with what seemed to be self-mocking humor. In her journals, however, Sylvia was often bitter. Nothing she did pleased her; no accomplishment was enough. She and Aurelia had different expectations. Sylvia wanted everything. Aurelia was satisfied if her daughter made good grades. She reminded Sylvia that thankfulness should be her basic attitude. Sylvia, burned-out and depressed, found it hard to consider herself lucky.
    Sylvia’s academic life at Smith was similar to that in high school. She had courses in European history, botany, painting, English, French literature, and physical education. She managed a low-B average in the last; in each of the other courses she carried an A or an A- average, except for English where Mr. Madiera, her instructor, persisted in giving her B’s. He did give her the highest mark on a research paper on Thomas Mann and a long critical analysis of Edith Sitwell’s poetry so she ended the year with a B+ average. This uncomfortable situation in English kept Sylvia from declaring the major she had planned, and she thought seriously about majoring in art.
    The aim of the Smith curriculum, a source of pride for its 200 faculty members, was truly liberal learning. Smith women took a five-course load both freshman and sophomore years, choosing from courses in the sciences, history or government, philosophy or religion or language, and art, music or creative writing. During their last two years, they specialized, doing intensive work in courses or opting for an honors program in which they took seminars (“units”) and wrote theses. Sylvia’s favorite course during her first year was Mrs. Koffka’s European history. Koffka was an imposing woman with gray hair, piercing eyes, great enthusiasm, and a somewhat difficult accent. Sylvia later ranked Koffka’s influence on her with that of Wilbury Crockett. She enjoyed Koffka’s integrative approach to history, and she wrote a paper on Darwin, Marx, and Wagner for the class.
    Both botany and painting were laboratory classes, worth six credits instead of the usual three. Sylvia spent twenty-four hours a week in class, including Saturday sessions, and devoted many evenings to finishing art projects. Because she had so little time during the day to study, she spent other evenings in the Neilson Library’s comfortable reading room. Furnished with couches and chairs, elegant paintings and tapestries, this room became an important hide-away for her. When she studied there, instead of in her room, her housemates could not call her a grind.
    School was Sylvia’s first priority (letters home include strategies for getting better grades, such as inviting Mr. Madiera and his wife for dinner), but she worried almost as much about her social life. Ann Davidow, a Chicagoan, became Sylvia’s best friend and arranged several blind dates for her. Ann and Sylvia were each fascinated by religion, and spent long hours talking about it. They planned to room together their sophomore year, and Sylvia felt lost when Ann did not return to Smith in January. Ann had felt inadequate to the workload, and had become increasingly depressed during fall term. Minor frustrations such as her inability to type loomed large. Sylvia was supportive, even to the point of

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