Sylvia’s Last Letter
What do you think Sylvia might have written in that last letter?
Sylvia Plath’s last days have been well documented, again and again giving us the same facts in the various non-fiction biographies. We know she wrote a letter just before she died, and asked her downstairs neighbour for stamps.. The letter, if it was found, has never been disclosed. We also know that Assia Wevill, Sylvia’s rival, was shocked to read the vituperative language Sylvia wrote about herself and hr husband David. The journal was subsequently destroyed.
In my fictional recreation of these events, I’ve invented details, dialogue, and writings by the main characters.The following extract excerpt is an imagined version of what she might have written on that last day. The letter contains the things Assia might have read about herself, in the lost journal.
Here’s an extract from my fictional letter:
I cannot bear to write your name; its very sound is a hiss from the tongue of a serpent. You snaked your way into our lives and destroyed all that was once wholesome and fertile, and changed my husband from a god to a devil. Here is the gift you have wished for, freeing him to be yours. But rest assured, he will never love you, or your bastard child, as he’s loved me and our children. With this act I curse you forever. I will always be between you, watching and waiting. The day will come when you and yours will join me in Hell.
What other writers have said about how to create fiction from fact:
‘When making up detail, you still have a structure to pin it on. The facts are a stimulus to the imagination, so you’re not inventing something in a vacuum. In a way, you’re inventing these things almost like a detective would. You come up with hypothess that would make sense of the facts you’ve got. (e.g. the letter Sylvia wrote just before she died, for which she asked Dr Thomas for a stamp.) There is a wonderful kind of tug between the facts and the fiction.’ ( Emma Donoghue, author of ‘Room’.)
William Nicholson, the British author and screenwriter, wrote, in his reply to my email query re fact/fiction: As you may know I write fiction with real people in it a great deal, and have done since ‘Shadowlands’ dramatised the love life of C.S.Lewis. My own view is that it’s okay to do this so long as: a) you stick to the truth as far as it’s known; and b) where you invent to fill the gaps, you treat the real people generously.
Hannah Kent, in the author’s note to her brilliant award-winning novel, ‘Burial Rites’ says: ‘Many known & established facts about Agnes’ life have been reproduced in this novel and events have either been drawn directly from the record or are the result of speculation. They are fictional likelihoods.’
If we substitute ‘Assia’ for ‘Agnes, Kent’s main character, the same might be said about my novel, ‘Capriccio’.