“Some of Plath’s true feelings are so strong…”

Here comes another pronoun-reference problem. The pay-off is worth it!

“Some of Plath’s true feelings are so strong that they are held in the Smith College Book Room until her mother and younger brother die.”

My student must have been referring to some of the letters (or other papers) of Sylvia Plath. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for those of us who like to gambol around in the arms of our imaginations, the pronoun really has to refer to the closest preceding noun of the same number, and this sentence contains a nice plural noun, feelings, for “they” to refer to.

I’ve never been to the Smith campus, but I would very much like to go now, just to see if I can peek into Plath’s alma mater‘s Book Room (which I imagine is in the library) and get a glimpse of those feelings. Are they held in just by a lock and key, or are shackles involved? Do they test their strength constantly as they batter the door and strain at their bonds (if bound), or do they concentrate their forces in occasional mighty lunges, attempting to escape prematurely (Aurelia Plath, Sylvia’s mother, died in 1994, but brother Warren is still living, or at least was still living this past summer, if the Internet can be believed)? At any rate, that Book Room must be a mighty place, to  be viewed as the best place to “hold” feelings described as “so strong” as to need restraint.

I have to further note that these are some of Plath’s “true feelings.” The false feelings, or the Bowdlerized feelings, or perhaps the politically-correct feelings (having died before the concept of “political correctness” emerged in either a serious or an ironic sense, could Plath have even had politically-correct feelings?), are presumably tame. So I’d think those would be the ones readers and admirers would want to lock up somewhere, no?

Anyway, as my student’s statement also suggests, some of Plath’s true feelings must already be at large, available to the public. The intensity of her poetry certainly rings true: strong, true feelings. So my student must not be referring to feelings that are strong in the sense of powerful, heartfelt, urgent; he must mean they are strong in the sense of harsh, hurtful, hard to take (and more so than the published ones). That would legitimize keeping them in protective custody—protective not of themselves, but of the people who would be hurt in some way by them. “Preventive custody,” perhaps I mean. But that’s prior restraint, isn’t it? Can feelings be imprisoned because they might, or even probably would, cause damage if let out?

You can probably tell my brain is lightly sautéed, if not yet completely fried, here in the fine frothy frenzy of exams, last papers, and grades. Enjoy my student’s pronoun error; don’t get burned by falling too deeply into my musings. That’s my advice for the day.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

3 responses to ““Some of Plath’s true feelings are so strong…”

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