When she speaks, it is as a woman, as a mother, as a wife, as a mistress, as a person who has, in all her guises, suffered. If an early lover, whom she decided not to marry because she feared he wanted only to make her happy, once described her as a “giggling armful,” that was in a pre-Larkin arcadia when there were still virgins. In those pill-less days, a girl could peel off her sweater and, in pity and contempt, reach back, unhook, and show a man what he had never seen before. After which, he was—all too often disastrously—hers for life. She was also his; that was the disaster.
She was a precocious student poetess then and, though she abandoned the lyric (there could only be one Plath in a generation, and it was Sylvia), she retains an inner conviction that she is still an artist, as well as a woman, a mother, a wife, a mistress, a person who has, in all her guises, suffered. With clambering application, she has made career and passion coincide: yet, believe her, she is more ruthless with herself than ever she was with anyone else. From her earliest menstrual years, the common pursuit spurred her into uncommon seriousness.
The duty of being a Woman demands that she feels more intensely than the average female, for whom—believe her—she has an insatiable, almost aggressive, pity. She has never taken another woman’s man without wishing that she could—emotionally—be with her as well as with him. As she has said more than once, she has—as a woman, a wife, a mother, a mistress—in all her guises, suffered.
She would like nothing better than to see women vindicated; every time she is co-opted—grief!—to a new cultural committee, to chair a book prize, even when she sits at dinner next to someone who has always wanted to meet her, and has a question which she—better than anyone he can think of—can answer, she feels nothing but humble, and unambiguously—in this, at least—militant; she responds to him not as her singular self, but rather as our—women’s—selves. Then, ten to one, the fool asks for her phone number.
She laughed when the world was younger. Today’s frequently public face is harrowed by private yesterdays. It is, however, in the light of lived anguish that she craves a new society, in which the positive ambition…