Faber is to publish "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom", a previously unpublished short story written by Sylvia Plath as a college assignment in 1952, as part of its Faber Stories series celebrating the house's 90th anniversary.
The story, which Plath herself described as a "vague symbolic tale", is summarised thus:
"Lips the colour 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.
‘But what is the ninth kingdom?’ she asks a kind-seeming lady in her carriage. ‘It is the kingdom of the frozen will,’ comes the reply. ‘There is no going back.’"
Plath submitted the story for publication in Mademoiselle magazine, but it was rejected. Two years later, she revised the story, changing the name of the protagonist Mary Ventura, which she had borrowed from a high school friend, to Marcia Ventura. According to Faber, she "made the story less sinister, and then curtailed it so significantly that the manuscript appears half-finished."
Editorial director Angus Cargill said: "One of the centrepieces of our Faber Stories series, it will be very exciting for readers to discover this early work of Sylvia Plath. A classic journey story, ‘Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom’ is rich in allegory and atmosphere, and offers a fascinating new angle on her work as a whole."
Peter K. Steinberg, co-editor of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, said: ‘‘Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom’ is unlike any other story Plath wrote. Its closest comparison might be ‘Sunday at the Mintons’, which she herself said was “a psychological type thing – wish-fulfillment”, but this story is much more an allegory rife with religious imagery. I believe she was deliberately trying to evoke associations with Dante’s Divine Comedy: the Nine Kingdoms representing the circles of Hell; the woman sitting next to her acting as a Virgil-like guide; Mary reaching Paradise when she gets off the train.’
The Faber Stories series will be published in January.