Book Review

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom

Mary Ventura and the Ninth KingdomMary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom
Author: Sylvia Plath
Publisher: Harper Perennial
First Published: January 3, 2019
Genres: Horror, Literary Fiction
Pages: 46
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased


Never before published, this newly discovered story by literary legend Sylvia Plath stands on its own and is remarkable for its symbolic, allegorical approach to a young woman’s rebellion against convention and forceful taking control of her own life.

Written while Sylvia Plath was a student at Smith College in 1952, Mary Ventura and The Ninth Kingdom tells the story of a young woman’s fateful train journey.

Lips the color of blood, the sun an unprecedented orange, train wheels that sound like “guilt, and guilt, and guilt”: these are just some of the things Mary Ventura begins to notice on her journey to the ninth kingdom.

My Thoughts

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom is a short story written by Sylvia Plath while she was attending Smith College. It was initially rejected by Mademoiselle magazine and until now has been unpublished. The story follows Mary, a young girl leaving home and boarding a train to the mysterious ninth kingdom. Mary is initially hesitant to leave, but is urged to do so by her parents.

While on her trip Mary marvels at the wonders of the train and makes an acquaintance with a fellow passenger. It becomes clear very quickly that there is something wrong with the train and the people on it. The descriptions of the world outside of the train and the depiction of color – reds, oranges, and grays – are written in a way that feels ominous. Each interaction with the other passengers gives the reader a foreboding feeling.

“Don’t they know, don’t they care where they are going?”

It is clear that this is an early story for Plath, as the use of imagery and hints from Mary’s travel mate are extremely heavy handed. Mary displays her naiveté as she follows the directions of others unquestioningly, she never makes a choice for herself and has yet to develop autonomy. I have read many sources glamorizing the story as an allegory for suicide due to Plath’s history, but I feel that these assertions are trying too hard. The story is ambiguous and I feel had a lot of potential, but was underdeveloped and it shouldn’t be looked into too deeply. If anything, I feel that the obsession around Plath’s famous personal life and tragic death are highly romanticized, and while important in understanding the author, it too often overshadows the beauty of her writing.

About Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer.

Known primarily for her poetry, Plath also wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The book’s protagonist, Esther Greenwood, is a bright, ambitious student at Smith College who begins to experience a mental breakdown while interning for a fashion magazine in New York. The plot parallels Plath’s experience interning at Mademoiselle magazine and subsequent mental breakdown and suicide attempt.

Along with Anne Sexton, Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry initiated by Robert Lowell and W.D. Snodgrass. Despite her remarkable artistic, academic, and social success at Smith, Plath suffered from severe depression and underwent a period of psychiatric hospitalization. She graduated from Smith with highest honors in 1955 and went on to Newnham College, Cambridge, in England, on a Fulbright fellowship. Here she met and married the English poet Ted Hughes in 1956. For the following two years she was an instructor in English at Smith College.

In 1960, shortly after Plath and Hughes returned to England from America, her first collection of poems appeared as The Colossus. She also gave birth to a daughter, Frieda Rebecca. Hughes’ and Plath’s son, Nicholas Farrar, was born in 1962.

I’m a Filipino American blogger, historian, and lazy writer. I enjoy books, video games, anime/manga, and smoking hookah.


    • Jamie

      Plath is a wonderful writer and her poems are really emotional. If you’re interested in getting a feel for her work, I recommend looking up ‘Lady Lazarus’ or ‘Tulips,’ you can find readings on YouTube. 🙂

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