If Sylvia Plath were alive today, she would be overweight. Even in those teenage photographs of her in a white bikini at Nauset Beach, you can see the sturdiness in her thighs and the tendency to gain weight in her hips. She was a big girl – five feet nine inches tall – and various people tell stories of her eating enormous amounts of food. One occasion, she ate a whole meal that was meant for four people. She would have collected firm fat in her hips, her buttocks and her belly. Her bosom would overflow the cups of her bras. Today, she would not care about the extra seventy pounds. She would still be attractive in the way that very intellectual women can appear interesting and thus acceptably attractive to others. But to herself, she would have long since given up caring about something as ridiculous as her weight.
She would have long gray hair, worn in a braid, tied with a rubber band found on her desk drawer. It would not be neat; strands of hair would float around her face. It would look like worn nautical rope.
Sylvia would be writing poems and novels, and teaching at Oxford. She would have begun to detest her students and the same tallow ground that she hoed year after year. But at some point, perhaps when she married her second husband and had more realistic expectations of her students, she would have come to love teaching. She would have needed the interaction and the respect of her peers. She would be a frenetic, busy, unkempt figure around campus, her glasses on a chain over her breasts, her knee-grazing skirts and dowdy shirts, and long gray braid instantly recognizable among the prim, coiffed English.
She would still be the American at an English university, the oddity. But she would be accepted a little better these days. She would have friends from the university who loved her. She would have salons at her home, a large home near Oxford. She would argue with Camile Paglia.
She would be a crazy, radical liberal. She would have written angry op-eds for Vanity Fair denouncing the Iraq war. She would have sneered at every statement made by George W. Bush. She would have returned to her native Massachusetts to campaign for John Kerry. She would write a novel about an American girl coming to terms with living in George Bush’s America. She would have been celebrated, and she would know her work was valued. She would appear on best seller lists all over the world. She would have realized the recognition is nice but not relevant to the act of writing.
When Obama won the presidency, she would have written an op-ed for the New York Times, praising America’s changing preferences for intelligence over cowboyism. She would have said, “I breathe a sigh of relief. The entire world is safer today.”
Sylvia would have married once more – to a fellow Oxford teacher. He would have died in 2003 and she would have explored Christianity. She would have written a novel based on a woman’s journey into Christianity, and a non-fiction book about the history of Satan.
One lonely evening in her large home in Oxford, Sylvia Plath might have poured herself a sherry and picked up an ancient book on her shelf. The Ariel poems. Substantial poems, even now, but they would have seemed to have been written by someone else. She would not recognize that tattered woman who forced them into life those many years ago. A wry smile would tug the wicks of her mouth. “Cauldron of morning….” she would mutter, and sit at her desk.
She would write.