Burying Plath, Chopin, and Woolf in Past Tense

It is dangerous to read anything by Sylvia Plath, Kate Chopin, or Virginia Woolf and to see your Self in-between the lines.

I read The Bell Jar in one plane-ride sitting and felt absolutely devastated that, apart from being a recognized and praised writer at the age of twenty, I felt I was reading myself… my skin stretched out over each letter and each eye dotted with a piece of my own thought and experience. I was absolutely frightened.

And I was nervous when I read The Awakening and felt that apart from being married with children (unlike Edna Pontellier, I was young, without children and in college), I was reading a singular story of gravitational pull that draws generations of suppressed women into the ocean. I began to feel that pull when I would gaze out over the Atlantic.

And Woolf, who claims adamantly that a room of one’s own and money are mandatory for a woman to be able to write… in that I felt hopeless, having always had to work and having pursued my creativity with very little money.

However, I realize that these women show a progression of the past and today we can learn from them, find comfort in similarities with them, and even agree with their assessments if we choose—but we don’t have to claim their words for the future. Their words fill a past that needed to be written, but we are the writers of the current day.

We are the working women who write, think, have children, and play in the ocean without drowning—if we want to. We are bridging new challenges. To live in the past with the Plaths, and the Chopins, and the Woolfs is to deny what they lived, worked, and died for. It is to resist building something new in their wake, something that fills the void and continues to fight for our daughters who will write for their daughters again.

So, I am burying their ghosts. I will continue to read and digest and respect these writers forever, but perhaps we should be allowed to speak of their works in the past-tense, and to leave them there. I live in a present that enables a brighter future thanks to the hard work of the women before me.

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