Author: Sylvia Plath
Publisher: Harper Perennial
First Published: January 3, 2019
Genres: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
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.
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 It was initially rejected by Mademoiselle magazine and until now has been unpublished.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.
Don’t they know, don’t they care where they are going?
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.
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 is highly romanticized, and while important in understanding the author, it too often overshadows the beauty of her writing.