Yesterday, while browsing in a bookstore in Bern, I stumbled upon the letter you wrote to your psychiatrist on February 4, 1963. I heard the voice of a clinically depressed, sensitive artist, and mother, making a colossal effort to keep her head above water.

“I write from London where I have found a flat & an au pair and can see ahead financially for about a year…What appals me is the return of my madness, my paralysis, my fear & vision of the worst…” [1]

Exactly one week later, at the age of thirty, you took your own life.

Emotions overtook me. Grief, for your short life. Rage, for seeing this letter in the public domain. Disgust for the “70% off” red sticker on the book cover, on a black and white photo of you. Perhaps that was the final offence.

Feeling dizzy, I looked around for a chair. I flipped through the pages looking for answers, who authorized the publication of such intimate correspondence? Your daughter, Frieda Hughes, I read. She learnt of the letters’ existence when a dealer tried to sell them on the Internet. Some extracts had been published to demonstrate authenticity to interested bidders.

When they came in possession of your college, Smith College, your daughter was finally able to read them. And she decided the letters should be published. “In truth, neither I nor anyone else should ever have known those letters between a patient and her psychiatrist…”, she says in the book’s foreword. “I decided to let people make up their own minds and, hopefully, find the kind of understanding that my mother was working towards near the end, despite the return of the ‘madness’ that took her anyway”.

I stood up, bought the book and left. More than buying the book, I felt I was removing this lonely copy of The Letters of Sylvia Plath from the public eye. I wanted it safe from unscrupulous readers handling you without the proper care, Sylvia.

You now sit in my house, on my desk, with a view over the Aare river. It’s a beautiful, serene sight. Take your time to feel at home. One day, perhaps, if you allow me, I will open the book again, and dare to read what was never meant for my eyes.

Yours, Ximena

[1] The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume II: 1956–1963, Edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil, Faber & Faber, 2018

Colombian, Swiss, and Spanish, mother of three, volunteer tutor in prison. Impact advisor, co-founder El Boga Foundation, apprentice storyteller, dog walker.

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