Sylvia Plath Forum

Messages from October-December 2004

This was reported today in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette..

Peter Davison, a poetry editor for The Atlantic Monthly magazine and two publishing houses who became a poet himself, has died. He was 76.

Davison, a central figure in Boston's literary and publishing circles for almost 50 years, died yesterday in his Boston apartment of pancreatic cancer, The Boston Globe reported.

Davison was The Atlantic Monthly's poetry editor for three decades. He was with The Atlantic Monthly Press from 1956 until he joined the Houghton Mifflin publishing house in 1985.

He also wrote 11 volumes of poetry and three prose works, including The Fading Smile: Poets in Boston from Robert Frost to Robert Lowell to Sylvia Plath. The work included his personal remembrances of Frost, a mentor to Davison; Lowell, who was a friend, and Plath, with whom he had a brief romantic relationship.

"Peter was an extraordinary link to The Atlantic's and the country's literary history," Cullen Murphy, the magazine's managing editor, told the Globe.

"But he was not some antiquarian - he was a robustly modern man with aggressive appetites, always on the lookout for new things worth saying and new people to say them."

Davison began writing his own poetry in 1957. His first published volume, The Breaking of the Day, was the prestigious Yale Younger Poets award.

His poetry was reflective, as he expressed in a 1984 work, "Peripheral Vision" :

"The corner of the eye/Is where my visions lie."

He wrote about the two occupations of his life in a 25th anniversary report to his class at Harvard University, where he graduated in 1949.

"Without publishing I could not make a living nor lead an active life; without poetry I could not survive as an inner man. I love them both as some men I suppose can simultaneously cherish a wife and a mistress," he wrote.

Among the authors he edited were Ward Just, Farley Mowat, William Least Heat-Moon, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and Robert Coles.

Davison was born in New York and grew up in Boulder, Colo., where his father, a poet and educator, taught at the University of Colorado. Through his father he met literary giants such at Frost, Ford Madox Ford and Robert Penn Warren.

After graduating from Harvard, he spent a year as a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge University, then took at job at the New York publishing company Harcourt, Brace. In 1955 he became assistant to the director at Harvard University Press, and joined the Atlantic Monthly press a year later.

Davison is survived by his second wife, Boston architect Joan E. Goody; a son, a daughter, four grandchildren and a sister. His first wife, Jane Truslow Davison, died in 1981.

Peter K Steinberg
Winthrop , USA
Thursday, December 30, 2004

I have been trying to locate a copy of Robin Morgan's poem about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (I believe it's called "The Arraignment") for the last couple of weeks and cannot find one anywhere! I have looked on the internet, in libraries, bookshops etc but to no avail. I am currently writing an essay about her and would be unbelievably grateful if somebody could either post the poem on the forum or email it to me....even a couple of lines would be great!! Thanks very much!!

Alice Goodwin-Self
Edenbridge, UK
Thursday, December 30, 2004

"Mad Girls Love Song" is printed in my copy of The Bell Jar. Harper Perennial paper back.

Andrea Messer
Lagrange , USA
Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Patricia - Plath's poem "Mad Girl's Love Song" first apppeared nationally in the August 1953 Mademoiselle. This is the very same issue she worked on as a Guest Editor in New York City in that fateful June, 1953. The poem might have appeared subsequently; if you can find a copy at a university library, check in Stephen Tabor's Sylvia Plath: An Analytical Bibliography.

Peter K Steinberg
Winthrop , USA
Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I am looking for a published version of "The Mad Girl's Love Song" written by SP. I have copies of the poem, but I would like to know if it was actually even published and if so in what anthology or in what capacity? If any one on this site knows the answer to my question, please feel free to contact me. Thanks so much

Halifax , Canada
Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I too vividly recall the sense of total surprise and unexpectedness I felt when I heard Sylvia Plath read on tape for the first time. Her accent was noticeable and also a certain affectedness for one of the poems, a kind of dramatic flair and apparent bitterness and then with another one, read more naturally, and only months before her death, (when all the betrayals had already taken place) there was a tone of melancholy and it sounded as if she were having a difficult time not breaking down or becoming emotional.

I always imagined her with a sweet soprano type voice, something more feminine and less deep and womanly. I know that childbirth can do that to a woman, deepen the voice, but I too was surprised and rather intrigued by her more deep and mysterious voice. It made me determined to go out and buy all the recordings of her that I could.

As you said the "world weariness" was definitely there and is rather surprising for a young woman who at that time was so new to the world. Listening to her read is a wonderful experience and I also encourage people to listen to Hughes read as well. They both had wonderfully commanding and uniquely individual voices.

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I'm currently reading Bitter Fame; I ordered it from the library and it arrived the other day. Although I've only read the first few chapters, (I'm up to the point where SP has started her studies at Cambridge) I agree with everyone here who describes it as being factually accurate, but also share the usual reservations about how scathing she is of her nature. A recurrent theme seems to be how Sylvia was emotionally detached, and that it was only through her writing that she could make events "real". Much of this, I feel, is highly speculative.

The play Edge sounds absolutely abominable, totally depressing and non-inspiring. I, too, am looking forward to the Assia Wevill bio.

A while back, a few of us suggested comparisons between TBJ and other works. Amongst these, someone suggested Jane Eyre. Bizarrely, it suddenly occured to me last night that a casual likeness exists between TBJ and Bridget Jones's Diary. This can be noted when we consider how both protagonists are single and question the convention of marriage, but feel insecure because most of their female friends are married. Just thought I'd share that with you!

A merry Christmas to everyone who posts on this excellent forum!

Gina Collings
Stafford, USA
Saturday, December 18, 2004

Yes, Kenneth...I was also struck by how much Frieda sounded like her mother. I can still recall how shocked I was when I heard Plath herself read for the first time. Her voice sounded absolutely nothing like I had imagined it would....the surprise of that accent, and the deep, harsh world weariness of someone much older than 30. It works both ways, of course. On a flight one time I listened for a couple hours to the conversation of the people behind me, and during that time I formed a vivid picture of them. It was inevitably jarring when the plane landed and I actually turned around to see what they looked like. I think John Cheever has a story about somesuch, only it takes place in a restaurant....? Interesting phenomenon though.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia , USA
Friday, December 17, 2004

There is a review in The Economist on Ariel:the Restored edition.

Kristina Zimbakova
Thursday, December 16, 2004

Tressa, maybe it's just me, but I always read Plath as being just this side of a fantasist of the Fantasy-and-Science-Fiction stripe, if you remember Sunday at the Minton's, and some of the letters to Lynne Lawner, and the article "A Walk to Withens"--maybe it's just me growing up in fandom, but I always thought had she met some fantasy-and-sci-fi people, she would have lived, because they're more into the play-and-ridiculousness side of things, and that would have brought her comedy more to the fore--as in The Bed Book......a chance meeting, and invitation, and who knows?--she might still be here, as a Grand Dame of fantasy, like Marion Zimmer Bradley, Kristine Rusch, et. al.......she has much the same humor, in her private would have just taken a little encouragement...which she did not get....anyone else?

And, thanks Trish, I can't help myself from doing good...incidentally, did anyone notice how good-humored Frieda was in the interview? Sounds just like her mother, too....

Kenneth Jones
Berkeley , USA
Thursday, December 9, 2004

Yes, I too become exceedingly tired of the tedious efforts to (only) focus on the pain and unhappiness of Sylvia Plath's later life that some journalists and other writers consistently put out there. She was a very vital woman who for many years lived happily with Ted Hughes and created two uniquely special lives, being Frieda and Nicholas. The review of this play, (Edge) doesn't sound too promising to me. Especially when once again old hapless Ted is dumped with the lion's share of the blame.

There is a wonderful book entitled Woman's Inhumanity to Woman about how utterly vicious women can be to each other. Must have something to do with the theory of too many rats being in the cage, (global overpopulation)and how women outnumber men too such a large degree these days. Competition can get fierce in that regard I think. It is a wonderful book that I would encourage people to read. The fact is that the woman Assia Wevill had more to do with the decision Sylvia Plath made to kill herself than simply Ted being gone.

And let's not forget that there have been several accounts of family and friends stating that (Sylvia) is the one who ordered Ted out of the home, only to regret it later. She did suffer from clinical depression as well, but there was more to it than just that. There was an (intense rivalry) between these two women. Both of them interesting, complicated and compelling women most would agree, who saw in each other I believe, qualities and attributes that they each lacked and resented lacking in themselves.

Sylvia's booting of Ted from the family home was an understandble action, though obviously impulsive and rash. She fell into the trap that Assia Wevill had cleverly laid for her and like a child was led into a winding trail of manipulation that she could not then easily extricate herself from. Assia Wevill in my estimation created most of the stress and heartache that compelled Sylvia Plath to take her own life, from allowing herself to become pregnant by TH and then sharing that information with Plath, to just plain harrassing Sylvia through the phone and the mail service. Plath's poems are so revealing in many ways that others may not perceive in this regard.

To state that the general public will probably "never know" the real details of her life is simply and clearly ludicrous. There have been many reliable accounts of what happened and there is no reason not to believe the many facts and accounts that have been presented in such bio's as Middlebrook's (Her Husband) and Gillian Becker's (Giving Up) along with the excellent Elaine Feinstein bio of Ted Hughes and Plath, are anything other than accurate to a large degree.

These things are simply not a mystery. Many of the facts are there and when you have multiple individuals saying many of the same things then it is not naive to presume there is a reasonable likelihood that various accounts are in fact true. It is well know that Assia Wevill had multiple abortions, why would it then be unreasonable to presume she also had an abortion with TH's baby when it has been suggested by several different people that this in fact happened? It would have been the perfect ploy to push Sylvia over the proverbial edge so to speak, to get her out of the way. And Wevill was good at getting other women's men from them, irrespective of their or (her) marital status. There is a very sad and rather unflattering account of Assia Wevill that comes from her very own sister who also loved her deeply, it's on the web and fairly easy to find. When you have Assia's own sister saying those kinds of things, displaying a marked candor that is rather surprising if not downright shocking, than it's easy to come to certain conclusions.

The whole SP, TH thing is rather becoming the kind of story that myths are made from, but with reputable accounts like Becker's and Middlebrook's I think it is safe to presume many of the stories and accounts are based on actual human experience that transpired at various times in Plath's life. It would be nice if plays like this Edge were a bit more even handed, not so totally out there, especially with regard to assigning blame. Coming from me I suppose that may sound odd, but don't think for a minute that I am not equally fascinated by Assia Wevill because I am. She was a very rare bird and evokes constant fascination for me and others but it would be nice if TH was not blamed so completely, so unfairly and so thoughtlessly 24/7! Sure he was a selfish egotistical man, but so are many others in this world. (The tragedy was that Hughes ever met Wevill) She and Ted were two people who carried a huge amount of baggage with them, (she was notoriously vindictive and competitive) and their meeting and subsequent romantic/sexual liason set about a chain of events that inevitably led to disaster.

Nuff said! All I know is that I am still frothing at the mouth in expectation of the Assia Wevill Bio that is coming out later in 2005! I'm hoping for more tantalizing photos, she was so very lovely, And for more facts regarding her life and upbringing, perhaps then my understanding of her will become even more sympathetic than it already is. Cheers people!

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon. USA
Wednesday, December 8, 2004

I haven't posted on this forum in quite some time but I saw someone asking about a play about Plath and I just wanted to interject and say that a play called Edge written by Paul Alexander (who also wrote Rough Magic)was performed a while back but the reviews weren't anything to write home about. Regardless, here is a link to an article about the play.

Besides that, I'm currently doing a co-op placement at the National Library of Canada in the rare books division and a fellow classmate of mine who is also working here made a comment I thought was fairly appropriate. He said he thinks people enjoy looking through the personal items of dead authors, that have been donated to us, because it's the only way you can look through someone's pictures, journals and so on without having to be sneaky about it!

Ottawa , USA
Friday, December 3, 2004

NPR news had a story this morning on Plath's Ariel: The Restored Edition. The piece included a short interview with Frieda Hughes, whom NPR requested to read "Morning Song". There is also an article on Ariel: The Restored Edition in the 06 December, 2004, issue of TIME magazine. I have been a little surprised, to this point, at the relative quietness surrounding the (re)publication of this book.

For those who get the A & E's Biography Channel on the tele, look for a Biography on Sylvia Plath to air sometime in December. I have been told that the air date will be 27 December. The one hour program features interviews with Plath contributors and readers: Kate Moses, Diane Middlebrook, Anita Helle, Karen Kukil, Shannon Hunt and Richard Larschan, to name a few. I was honored to supply seven photographs from my web site. Amusingly, they featured a photograph of me at the grave of Sylvia Plath at the point in the program where they talk about Plath's cult following. Some authors of books on Plath are called biograpers or scholars; I'm the face of the bloody cult!

(Thanks also to Christine of Santa Barbara for this information. EC)

Peter K Steinberg
Winthrop , USA
Thursday, December 2, 2004

Kenneth, thanks a million times for the heads-up about the interview with none other than Ruth Barnhouse! A find, a treasure. Tressa, I enjoyed your post, it was very heartfelt. Who knows what kind of poetry Sylvia would have written had she not met the great love (and the great hurt) of her life? To me, there's no question but that Ted Hughes exerted a powerful influence on Plath's imagination, which resulted in a much freer, original output. His mentoring seems a bit much to my sceptical eyes (assigning her a poem to read each day, for heaven's sake, as if she were a child), but if one compares Sylvia's before-Ted formal output to her after-Ted magnificence, there can be no question but that his influence was profound and postiive.

Seattle , USA
Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Salon magazine has a very interesting interview with Dr.Ruth Barnhouse. Regarding the hair cut...I always assumed that this was a made-up detail put in the novel to make her appear all the more marked and wounded from the suicide attempt. I think the passage in TBJ says that there are tufts sticking out like chicken feathers? (My books are all in storage, so I can't ferret out the passage as I write this.) Possibly there was a wound on her head that made it necessary to shave off some hair, but it would not have grown back much in the four-or-so months before she was released and returned to Smith. Surely if SP was coping with this as well as her scars, she would have mentioned it somewhere?

Amy Hicks
Austin, Texas, USA
Wednesday, December 1, 2004

I'm not a scholar, however I do my share in reading. I remember reading something on Plath years ago in regards for one wanting to obtain the status of a "serious poetry lover." What I have gathered having being a divorced mother of two, is Plath had a way of making something so common to so many women come alive in ways that were not dared discussed in her day, through her poetry. Brillance however a common issue opened a doorway on issues that we are just within the last twenty years willing to talk about.

She was classic, depression, suicide, low self esteem, and betrayel, all the great makings of a tragedy. She used her depression and love for poetry as an expression of her presonal life. I do not think there would be so much fame for Sylvia if she had not wrote about her personal life, being such a young woman. Her life simply fueled her passion for the art she dearly loved. What Sylvia really loved before she knew or had the chance to mature unto a greater talent was Ted. I wonder what type of poetry she would have written if things had been different for her. Clearly she was brilliant enough to be a great poet without the dark side. I was just wondering, what if we had more from her?

Huntsville, Al , USA
Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Alba, I don't want your inquiry to get lost in the ongoing clamor about Sylvia's life and work. You asked if anyone of a play about Sylvia, right? I know of none, but I've long thought about writing one myself. Any good ideas?

David Hall
Ft. Collins, Colorado , USA
Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I would like to know more about the Ariel figure in Plath's poetry. Years ago, I knew a troubled poet who wrote a poem titled "There Is No Balm in Gilead." The speaker my troubled friend's poem refers to "Librium for Ariel," speaks of her father, and other discontents. Does Ariel function as more than a mask, perhaps as another personality, for Plath?

William Kraemer
Belgrade, USA
Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Hey everyone, check out the front page of

Kenneth Jones
Berkeley , USA
Monday, November 30, 2004

Hi...I'm doing a Master's degree in American Studies, and I have a paper to write for one of the seminars in connection with space and poetry, and I thought about doing something on Sylvia. Does anybody know of any essays and/or books that cover this particular aspect? Thanks in advance

Lisbon, Portugal
Friday, November 26, 2004

Thanks, Gina, that's what we're here for....(blush)

Kenneth Jones
Berkeley , USA
Thursday, November 25, 2004

Kirsten, re face bruising; as you recall, she was in a basement cubbyhole and while semiconscious hit her cheek against the bricks. I-forget-which student said she later wounded if her face had burn scars, it had the same glossy appearance. About the hair, I don't know. I just took it that they cut her hair off in the hospital--vomit, you know. Guess on my part...anyone else?

Kenneth Jones
Berkeley , USA
Monday, November 22, 2004

I am trying to understand the meaning of Plath's poem "Night Shift" and have not found any discussion of the poem. I am studying Plath at Sage College in Albany, NY and the only theme I can come up with is death, does anyone think she was writing about approaching death?

Susan Fitzpatrick
Watervliet, NY , USA
Monday, November 22, 2004

Gemma, I think your latest posting is, as the British say, "spot on." I would hate for Sylvia's poetry to be lost in the constant niggling over her personal life. That is not to say, however, that we shouldn't be interested in who this remarkable young woman was and what events in her life provoked that astounding poetry, but we do have to keep in mind that what drew us all, in the first place, to her as a person was, indeed, the poetry. Had she been a mediocre talent married to a fine British poet, she would be by now forgotten. But she was so good that most of us are permanently amazed at her wildly original choice of words and ability to construct breath-taking metaphors for such profoundly personal emtoions. Think of Emily Dickinson, building perfect little poems that said more than any of her fellow male poets would even dare try to convey -- and then add the intensity of emotion that Emily either never experienced or didn't feel she could put on the page: that's only a glimpse of the Sylvia Plath we know and don't know but adore and relish. So yes, we do need to explore the nooks and crannies of her personal life -- not as academic voyeurs but as detectives trying to understand the roots of her unique poetry.

David Hall
Ft. Collins, Colorado, USA
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I am reading The Bell Jar for an assignment. I have to pick a philosophy like naturalism or existentialism and relate it to the novel.

Does anyone know any philosophy that Sylvia Plath has been linked to?

Cancy , USA
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Yes, in response to your post Gemma, you are correct in saying that one can only hope to speculate on the origins of image, metaphor etc in many of Sylvia Plath's poems. (Well, Perhaps.) And it is true that one should focus on her poems more than say, the tawdry aspects of her tragic personal life, and the betrayal that she suffered and ultimately did not survive, given the manner in which she was hounded and harrassed.

And yet, these very aspects of her life make her poetry even more meaningful, because without the stories, the biographies and the public's intense interest in her personal life, what is her poetry bottom line? The two in my estimation go hand in hand, and since her poetry is the very essence of "confessional" in nature, and starkly so, and for those who do have a fairly good understanding of what she went through, what she was forced to suffer, it is not difficult to examine and dissect her poetry and its underlying meaning, subscript so to speak.

Sylvia Plath was extremely young when she died. Only thirty and as a young woman her poetry never reached a level of real introspection and/or maturity. I love her poetry, have for years, but the poems are not a mystery to me, especially her later ones. Her personal life will always have a lure for the general public because what she dealt with are things that other woman deal with and do survive and overcome. That is where the compassion comes from, the understanding of being at bottom, wanting to die, but steadfastly hanging on.

It is that wonderful sense of "identification" that fuels this undying interest in the more seamy aspects of her personal life, and the fact that despite her suicidal depression, she was always, always thinking of her children first. Laying out bread and milk for them before she began her last journey.

So, in my opinion, and with all due respect, interest in her personal life is directly related to understanding her poetry, and should not under any circumstances be censored by anyone.

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Monday, November 15, 2004

Thanks, Kenneth, and hi! I do agree with what you say about the best bio being in someone's journals. I did, indeed, read Sylvia's journals in the summer, but there seemed to be huge gaps... I later discovered that these may have been in the hands of Ted, who "lost" them. Hmmm.... Anyway, thanks very much for the recommendations of other bios; I think that I'll probably get round to most or all of them, may take me a couple of years but who cares... Once again, Kenneth, thanks, and thanks to the lady who first put me on to Bitter Fame, I have it on order, but after everything that everyone's said, I think I'll definitely keep my judgement reserved whilst reading. Sorry I can't think of your name offhand, and I assure you, I'm not showing favouritism to anyone, it's just that this is the first time it's actually entered my head to look at who was posting! Much love to all you Sylvia fans!

  • Review of Little Fugue (pub. Ballantine) by Robert Anderson by Pamela St. Clair, added: Sunday, November 14, 2004

Gina Collings
Stafford , USA
Sunday, November 14, 2004

Obviously Plath's poetry impacts on each in a different way, however I think it is important that we not lose sight of the poetry in the cloud of speculation and discusison of her personal life. Clearly her poetry is largely autobiographical but in writing poems like 'Lady Lazarus' I doubt whether she hoped that her audience would be more intrigued in her personal reasons for writing the poem than the powerful imagery and emotion she conveyed. There is no right and wrong in poetry, we each take a different meaning from a poem and it is because of this we have no right to comment on whether she had the right to use particuar images in her poetry. For some those allusions will have very real meaning, for some they will have little impact, who knows what Plath took from that imagery, we can all speculate on it but no one but Plath herself will ever fully understand her reasons for that imagery. What we need to do is appreciate the poetic talent that was Sylvia Plath and not let the brilliance of her work be shadowed by the scandal and circumstance of her life.

Auckland , New Zealand
Sunday, November 14, 2004

I have just read The Bell Jar. This is the first I have read anything from Sylvia Plath and it has really made me curious about her. I just had a quick question about the book that was not really explained and I was wondering if anyone could answer the question for me. After her suicide attempt she described her face as swollen and bruised and her hair was all but gone. How did that happen? Thanks.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Jerome Megna, yes, I suspect yours may have been the first Ph.D. dissertation on Plath in 1972, barely ten years after her death. What provoked you to write about her? I wrote my own dissertation, "The Poetic Voice of Sylvia Plath" (U. of Texas) six years later, and I recall how little had been written about her even then -- so what must it have been like trying to document her life and work when you wrote yours? I think it might be instructive for those who write so passionately about Plath in the Forum nowadays to look back at those early years of research into her life and writing. As you suggest, those very early scholarly works do exist in the databases (formerly called "files") of various universities. Were we, with so little hindsight, right in our assessments of Plath's importance? How much did later discoveries -- about her life and work -- validate or invalidate our insights? I thought from the beginning of my reading of Plath that I had a pretty clear idea of who she was and why she wrote what she did, but I would love to have some budding scholar take a look at what I wrote -- and what you wrote -- and debate it. Thanks for your posting!

David Hall
Ft. Collins, Colorado, USA
Tuesday, November 9, 2004

I`m taking an English Literature course at university. I have related Sylvia`s feelings of boredom to Baudelaire`s poetry, because they express a disappointed point of view of society, i.e. progress is supposed to make you happy. If you have a family, money and a "normal" lifestyle, there is nothing to long for. However, the artists still feel empty. Life is not worth living.

I wonder if this comparison is valid in order to state a thesis like: Plath`s feeling of boredom is similar to that expressed by Baudelaire in "Les Fleurs Du Mal"? Please send your opinions or comments to my email address.

Bogota, Colombia
Thursday, November 4, 2004

Dido Merwin is dead. She died some time ago of breast cancer I believe. I found her essay in Bitter Fame to be much more telling about the type of woman she was than the type of woman Sylvia was. Gillian Becker says as much in her memoir. Whatever Dido's motive, she certainly comes off looking like a harridan.

Claudette Rea
Dayton, Ohio, USA
Wednesday, November 3, 2004

I am now retired from teaching but I was delighted to read all the comments about my first "love," Sylvia Plath, who formed the subject of my doctoral dissertation at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana in 1972, "The Two World Division in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath." To the best of my knowledge, this was the first doctoral dissertation about Sylvia Plath written in America. I believe copies of it are still at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where all (I had believed) doctoral dissertations are kept.

Jerome Megna
Yardley, PA , USA
Sunday, October 31, 2004

Hi Lisa and Morney,

I agree with both your perceptions about Dido Merwin. Her comments in several accounts of SP's life have always struck me as petty, resentful and indicative of some kind of bizarre jealousy on her part, she must be a very unhappy womam.

Morney, your post and the funny things you wrote really made my day, wanting to get inside the tv and give her a bid slap? I just about died when I read that,and the bit about where you live, having to ask her permission?! That was a hoot! I have had that same feeling about people and the unkind things they have said or written about Sylvia Plath myself at times.

It is so typical of woman hating people like Dido Merwin attempting to (blame) the victim isn't it? Makes me sick to be honest. I wonder if she's still alive do you think she knows about the SP forum? Just think, wouldn't that be a hoot? kinda makes me feel devilishly nasty to ponder the possibility. Thank you to both of you for your comments and perspective.

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Sunday, October 31, 2004

Morney- as far as I know, Dido Merwin died shortly after writing her memoir of Sylvia...sometime in the late 1980's, if I'm not mistaken. WS Merwin appeared on the cover of the May/June 2004 issue of The American Poetry Review; they ran a selection of new verse from him, some very beautiful short pieces. He still lives in Hawaii.

I haven't seen the interview you describe, but I'm very keen to. I, too, have considered the possibility that Dido might have had a thing for Ted; but I think it's more likely that she was simply jealous of Sylvia's talent and "final success," so to speak. The reasons she cites for disliking Sylvia so vehemently are obviously quite petty...clearly they festered over the years, their progress exacerbated by Sylvia's fame. In any case, if Merwin was, in fact, anything like her memoir, it's no wonder Sylvia felt compelled to caricature her.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Sunday, October 31, 2004

Hi Dee Dee - I had to respond to your post about Dido Merwin. I don't remember the details of her friendship with Ted or her 'friendship' with Sylvia - I know I knew more about it at one time, but quite honestly I don't think I can bear to look at anything that refers to her to refresh my memory.

No doubt anything I say about it will be full of inaccuracies (apart from my opinion of her). From what I remember she may have just about managed to maintain a surface 'civility' to Sylvia whilst Sylvia was still with Ted, but when they separated Dido's antipathy to Sylvia 'came out of the closet' although I think it was already at least halfway out anyway. She perhaps just made more of an effort to hide it when Sylvia was still with Ted. I seem to remember that at one point Ted and Assia were either staying with Dido or she knew where they were staying and she wouldn't tell Sylvia (although come to think of it, I may be remembering that from 'Wintering' rather than a biography).

It is years since I read Bitter Fame - I think it was one of the first biographies I read, so I suppose at that point I wasn't aware of Dido Merwin's agenda. I am quite horrified to read in your post that there is a 'memoir' written by her at the back of Bitter Fame. I did make myself look at the contents page there it is. I know I will read this now - I approach that with similar feelings as I would a trip to the dentist.

I don't know what her point was - generally. If she had one at all I would say it was to be as vitriolic about Sylvia as she could be. Your statement "I think her assault would have been more pleasing and effective to Dido herself if maybe she could have dug her up and put in front of a firing range" made me laugh - in a bitter kind of way. Couldn't have put it better myself.

Who knows? Someone? Was she secretly in love with Ted? Was she jealous of Sylvia's writing? I know her husband, WS Merwin, was/is a poet (are they still alive?) - did she write poetry herself? Did she think that a 'proper wife' ought to settle down and be an appendage to a poet husband? I'm speculating.

I would be very interested to know what she felt about Assia and her relationship with Ted. Did she have similar feelings towards Assia? Or was it something in particular about Sylvia?

I watched the documentary 'Voices & Visions' about Sylvia the other day. I say 'watched,' but I can't really watch it properly yet because it's in NTSC format and I have to get it converted. I could see it vaguely, though, and I could hear it perfectly. Among the people interviewed, Dido Merwin was one of them. I can honestly say that I have never wanted so much to reach into my TV and pull someone out of it so that I could give them a big slap.

Two things in particular that she said got me. Firstly, she basically implied (and I can't make myself listen to this part again yet to get the exact words!) that "of course" Sylvia had created the whole situation (affair, breakup, ensuing depression, etc.) herself so that she would experience enough emotional pain to write some good poetry.

Secondly, she refers to when Sylvia came back to London from Devon. Dido Merwin lived in the area Sylvia moved to. She refers to Sylvia coming back to "Primrose Hill, our part of London." Goodness me. Didn't Sylvia realise she should have asked Dido's permission first? Didn't she realise that Dido owned that part of London??! I live a few minutes away from that area - I don't know if she still lives there (I don't even know if she's alive still). I am truly horrified to think that I moved here without consulting her first. I'm surprised the Dido Merwin Squad hasn't raided my flat yet and taken away all my Sylvia books, tapes, etc.

What really annoys me about her being in this video is that there is nothing to indicate that she may actually just be incredibly biased against Sylvia. I think I would have liked to at least have heard something referring to that before her interview was shown. As it is, her interview appears to have the same merit as the one with Al Alvarez or the one with Aurelia Plath. I suppose Dido Merwin jumped at the chance to be interviewed for this documentary - we wouldn't want to miss an opportunity to dig the knife in a bit deeper, would we?

The only thing about it that I found vaguely satisfying was knowing that Sylvia had come back to London to attempt to show everyone that she was OK - a kind of 'in your face' to certain people. I realise that particular attempt had a terrible ending, but at the time it obviously worked in Dido Merwin's case.

I don't like her very much. Now there's a surprise!

Kenneth - yes, Assia is truly silenced. I expect that will change when Eilat Negev's book comes out. You may have psychic powers, as I am in the middle of writing a poem about David Wevill called "The Forgotten Man"!

Morney Wilson
London, USA
Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Does anyone know how I can obtain a copy of any script from any play based on Sylvia Plath, or her life?

Pensacola , USA
Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Dee Dee - I, too, found Dido Merwin's account to be overwhelmingly and transparently hostile. "What I have written will no doubt be interpreted as speaking ill, not to mention flippantly, of the dead," she writes, and, indeed, that is exactly how her memoir comes across. There's an undeniable cattiness there...clearly Merwin took exception to being immortalized in "Face Lift"...and even a kind of ambiguous jealousy that I can't put my finger on. The catch is that her account ends up saying far more about her character (or lack thereof) than it does about Sylvia's.

Still, one must bear in mind that most who knew her were violently affected by Sylvia's fame, even those who had very brief associations with her. Jillian Becker's memoir Giving Up in particular, is a vital example of this.

Frankly, I found it to be the most riveting, harsh, compassionate account of Plath I'd ever read, comparable only to Alvarez's. Becker is bitter, cynical, and kind; an elegant combination of sentimentality and world weariness. There's more than a little exhaustion in her writing; her tone reminds me at times of Carolyn Cassady's in Off The Road (speaking of the Beats). Her comments about Sylvia's final, macabre aspirations to posterity are, I feel, absolutely true.

And somehow the several factual mistakes in the book (the date of Ted Hughes's death and the publication of Birthday Letters, for two examples) seem, paradoxically, to lend credibility to her account rather than diminish it. Surely someone must have pointed out these errors (which are glaring) to her before the book was published; it would have been easy for her to go back and correct them, but she didn't; and I have a feeling that it might have been deliberate. In essence, Becker was saying, "look, this is what I remember, and I'm not going to sanitize it or manipulate it, as so many biographers have done."

Ted Hughes's saying, at his wife's funeral, "everybody hated her" {Plath} doesn't seem to me to be necessarily inappropriate. For survivors, anger is a very natural reaction to suicide, perhaps (initially) the most prevalent and powerful reaction there is. It therefore seems odd to me that Olwyn would be so adamant to keep that bit out of Bitter Fame. Had Ted's reputation really descended, in her mind, to the point where he wasn't "allowed" a human response? Did she think that forcing Anne Stevenson to portray him as a saint was going to lend her version credibility?

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Tuesday, October 26, 2004

It is a difficult thing to choose a good biography of SP. There are many, the problem with (Bitter Fame) is much like Elaine has explained. The author was closely involved with TH's sister Olwyn and the book became tainted because of that association. It became a book designed to "blame" Sylvia Plath and present Ted Hughes as victim.

In the introduction of the book the writer makes a veiled statement regarding how she had not included "all" information uncovered, something to this effect and had done this to protect the living, those who would be hurt, and that is why it is considered, "controversial" because she violated one of the ten commandments of biograhpy, which is to present the information gathered in a coherent, and unbiased manner. This is why biograhpy as a paticular genre is so incredibly difficult.

It is supposed to be true to facts, unbiased, etc. But then generally biographers also have a hidden agenda. The writer of Bitter Fame lost credibility because of her allowing Olwyn Hughes to harrass her, needle her and all in the name of "helping" her in the process of writing the book. It is an interesing book to read if only to examine its many faults, and its one sided agenda, but a much better book would be Her Husband which I am happy to say I have finally read. Also another good one is the Elaine Feinstein book. Those two are much superior. Hope this helps.

Also, it's nice to know there are so many Ted Hughes fans out there, I have always gotten so much from his poetry and his poems of Assia Wevill in particular really give a wonderfully intimate look at what she much have been like, it all her many aspects both good and bad. Cheers!

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon , USA
Sunday, October 24, 2004

I finished reading Bitter Fame. I have read many of her biographies & Bitter Fame left me feeling angry. Not so much from Anne Stevenson as from Dido Merwin. I don't think it's a far assumption that Sylvia in her life was moody & hard to deal with. The comments from Sylvia's professional & peer group have to be taken with a grain of salt. You choose what you want as the reader & hope for the best given her demise.Yet the memoir given by Dido at the end was an assault. A vicious assault. I think her assault would have more pleasing and effective to Dido herself if maybe she could have dug her up and put in front of a firing range. What was her point ? Am I missing something ?

Dee Dee
Woodbrige , USA
Saturday, October 23, 2004

Pamela; Hear, hear.--and, re the pic of Kerouac; oddly enough, as I sat in the Starbucks reading it, the Muzak was playing Stevie Nicks singing, "Children get older..."

No, Therresa, you're not slow, I'm just obscure--and, where exactly is the Justice Museum?

Morney, you sound as if you have an article about Assia, possibly titled, "The Forgotten Woman. " We don't have her story at all, do we?--only a prejudiced view of her as Nemesis. Nobody sees themself that way...despite Malcolm's trope about Plath as The Silent Woman, Assia is the truly silenced one here; someone should speak for her, who cannot speak for herself.

Don't get too steely, Lisa, Alexander's prose is bumpy, but he has a worthy subject; prepare to learn, and to agree to disagree.

Gina; wow. Well, Sylvia's best bio is her work. Who was it who said that biographies of writers were always redundant and usually in bad taste? For some reason, the one that comes to my mind first to recommend is Steiner's A Closer Look at Ariel, which isn't a biography per se, but a parallel memoir...first was Butscher's opus (heavy on the Freud), second was Lindsay Wagner-Martin (Seventeen-magazine style prose), then Alvarez's The Savage God. Then Stevenson's, heavily vetted and/or censored by the family, and Janet Malcolm's artsy meditation on the whole problem. Then, Alexander. There are other valuable studies and works, but qua bio, those are those...I wouldn't know what to recommend; it's dueling bios, each has things the others miss, and there's no accounting for taste....

Kenneth Jones
Berkeley , USA
Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Assia's suicide, I've pretty much said all I want to say on it; if you go back to the March-April-May 04 archives (I think it was around then) you'll find some illuminating debates on the subject. For the record, though, I do have genuine compassion for Assia, certainly more now than I had then; and I do take her plight seriously, as anyone must. Obviously nobody sticks their head in the oven out of mere resentment, vanity, jealousy; the desire for vengeance .....not unless those elements are woven, as a shirt of Nessus, into a pathological obsession; in which case they defy all isolated categorization and take on a life of their own. At the same time, I acknowledge that both Assia and Sylvia's depression was, finally, not existential, but clinical; and thus contrary to reason or even, to a great extent, moral criticism....but not to an absolute extent. Suffering, after all, does not exempt one from responsibility; if it did, this would be no kind of world at all.

The imperviousness of inantimate objects v/s age and changing of the physical body is a horror in itself; and the unstoppability of nature and the seasons is the same (see Eliot's "April is the cruellest month" and Plath's "Mystic": "The children leap in their cots/the sun blooms, it is a geranium/the heart has not stopped"). I believe that Assia, with the old, known world that was no longer hers still intact all around her, was doomed against this. This kind of thing can happen when one lives too long on hope, or clings too devoutly to a reality that will always, always be betrayed by time: it is a particularly dangerous trap to fall into, it is lethal; and it illustrates how imperative the ability to "move on" is to psychological survival.

Blake said, "Time is the mercy of eternity." I would add (perhaps redundantly) that, by the same token, distraction is the mercy of time. Assia either did not wish to attempt "distraction" or was incapable of it; and yes, such a phenomenon is rooted in vanity, in the most profound sense of the word. Tennesee Williams, in particular, was good at articulating this through his characters. I'm not sure if I'm making myself clear here; but this is what I meant when I said that I felt Sylvia had a more highly developed sense of personal responsibility than Assia. Sylvia seemed to acknowledge and accept that her children, as living beings separate from herself, would, could, and should go on; but Assia's despair at time and age's irreconcilable realities extended outwards to encompass her daughter. Is there cowardice in that? Certainly. Is it cowardice one can be held responsible for? I don't know.

I'm not saying I disagree with what you said, Morney; on the contrary your post was quite eloquent and true, and I respect it...I'm just trying to explore my own take on the situation. Also, to be honest, I'm not sure if "one upmanship" was a factor in Assia'a suicide or not. But I would tend to believe, with all due respect (and not in a cheap sense) that it was. The fact that Assia chose to employ Sylvia's method of execution is no coincidence; surely, too...whether she was capable of reason at the time or not.....she must have known... after 7 years... how Sylvia's suicide had affected Ted, and how he had had to live in the aftermath of it.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Monday, October 18, 2004

Reading Rough Magic by Paul Alexander, I came across a mention of the Sara Teasdale poem that inspired Sylvia Plath's Seventeen story. To quote Mr. Alexander quoting Ms. Teasdale, "'With my own will, I turned the summer from me,' the poem's speaker says, 'And summer will not come to me again.'" I've been unsuccessful in my search for the poem. I'd appreciate it if someone could point me to a source.

Elle Coutant
Pasadena, USA
Monday, October 18, 2004

I agree with Elaine that Bitter Fame is probably the best biography of Plath out there. Anne Stevenson is a fine writer, and her analysis of Plath's poetry is eloquent and compelling.Much has been made over the "ample help" of Olwyn Hughes in the writing of the book; Anne Stevenson herself has expressed deep regrets over this, some of which are detailed in Janet Malcolm's The Silent Woman. However, unlike Paul Alexander's bio, the book does not read like a personal vendetta; nor does it occupy itself with sensationalism or inappropriate speculations. The portrait of Plath that emerges in the book is, in fact, probably true for the most part; but she is always treated with objectivity, and her motives are always explored with insight and compassion. My main criticism of the book is that it does leave a great (even huge) deal of Hughes's own shortcomings out; too often he is painted as wholly innocent. His affair with Assia (who is also portrayed as entirely blameless) is definitely downplayed; often Stevenson writes as if it were irrational for Plath to have reacted the way she did to her husband's infidelity. In spite of this, though, I feel that Stevenson's intentions were honorable; and, again, she does write about Plath's poetry beautifully.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Sunday, October 17, 2004

Glad you enjoy the Forum, Gina. In April 1999 there was quite an extensive discussion/debate about Anne Stevenson's Bitter Fame. If you go back in the Forum's archives to April 8th with a posting by James Williams of Oxford (and Hebden Bridge) you will have an interesting introduction to that particular biography. It is certainly the best written one so far in my opinion but far too concerned to present Plath in a bad light to be considered accurate. But I don't want to start repeating myself so do look at the archived material and enjoy.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge , UK
Saturday, October 16, 2004

I've just read the review of the revised edition of Ariel. I will probably buy this soon. I read about it a couple of weeks ago in The Times and was thrilled. Like someone else on this forum (sorry, I don't recall your name) I too would like to read an SP bio. Could any of you knowledgable people recommend the best one, as I've seen mention of a few. Also, could anyone give me a brief review on Anne Stevenson's Bitter Fame ~ A life of Sylvia Plath? I have heard it described as "controversial", and am wondering why.

I must say, I enjoy the debates and the subjects covered on this forum. Keep up the good work!

Gina Collings
Stafford, UK
Friday, October 15, 2004

In re reading my post, I must retract my speculations on the possibility that Ted Hughes destroyed any of his wife's poetry that may have been "directly" about Assia Wevill. Clearly Plath's verse was above and beyond anything so obvious as uncloaked, direct assault; her artistry encompassed far more sophisticated modes of revenge (the final, missing journals are, of course, another story).

Re: Ted's poetry about Assia...there is indeed evidence that he was both aware of her reputation as a "scarlet woman" and suspicious of her intentions: "The Mythographers," for example, seems at times to be a downright hostile, not to mention blackly humorous piece ( see lines 4-11, in particular). Towards the end of the poem, he writes, "She tries to kill this baby-skull properly dead/ and goes through death's oven door with it to make sure it stays dead." "The Other," which pretty much blames Assia for Sylvia's suicide outright, is a more direct example of this. But there is tenderness there, too ("Chlorophyl").

A very interesting thing: in Hughes's Collected Poems the title poem of the volume Capriccio also appears in Howls and Whispers under a different name ("Superstitions"). Though it's essentially the same poem, there are slight variations in both pieces, almost as if one version were designed for Sylvia and the other for Assia. (In Howls & Whispers, for example, he writes: "Let them laugh at your superstition;" in Capriccio, it's " "You will be laughed at for your superstition." ) Remarkable. I know that there's probably some far less romantic explanation for, the earlier and/or later drafts of one poem were both printed...but the fact that one ended up in a book written for Hughes's wife and the other in a book written for his mistress cannot be merely incidental.

Kenneth, thanks for the your recommendation, maybe I will steel myself to pick up Alexander's Salinger bio.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia , USA
Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Hi Pamela - I just wanted to express my agreement with what you say in the first two paragraphs of your post about Assia. I would try and expand on that if my brain was working but unfortunately it isn't! It's something that has been floating around in my head for a while but I haven't been able to put it down in coherent writing. Lucky for me to come here and find someone that did! I couldn't agree more. I find the view of Assia as thief/without morals/murderer/copycat-suicide enraging sometimes. I admit that it has taken me several years to see it that way. At first I was myself only interested in her because of her involvement in Sylvia's life. I don't think it takes much, though, to realise that she was actually a woman in her own right, with a whole life in her own right. I cannot stand to see her constantly portrayed as a one-dimensional bit player in Sylvia's life. From what little I do know of her, she clearly had a rather difficult time herself before she even crossed paths with Sylvia. I think too few people remember that she did actually exist before she met Sylvia (and afterwards).

I find the outrage some people express about the death of Shura rather simplistic. I know it is a hard thing to understand, I accept that - and it isn't that I'm trying to say it doesn't 'matter.' I have, however, seen many people saying that she simply did it because Shura wasn't of any use to her anymore because her birth hadn't got Assia what she wanted (i.e. Ted, permanently) or that she did it purely because she was selfish and it was easier or (worse in my opinion) that she did it to 'one up' what Sylvia had done. I really feel that anyone who honestly believes that is seeing it far too simplistically and I don't believe they are actually taking Assia's depression at all seriously (whereas, as you point out, Sylvia's depression is taken seriously).

My mother said to me once that she could 'almost' understand what might have been the feeling behind Assia taking her daughter with her. She said that purely from a mother's point of view - her reason being that she could imagine perhaps that if she were to be feeling suicidal herself, she may have the idea at the time that she was actually 'protecting' her daughter by taking her with her. Again, I am not saying that this is 'right' (whatever that means) but I do think it is a possibility when you consider that Assia was depressed herself. Having attempted suicide myself, I know how the thoughts in your mind can be so completely different from how you would think 'normally.' This is just an idea of what could be have been in Assia's mind. Obviously I don't know - nobody can know, possibly Assia herself wouldn't be able to say if we were able to ask her.

I do feel quite strongly that Ted Hughes' poems about Assia do not give a great insight into her at all. I have read them over and over against Birthday Letters and Howls and Whispers - and the one thing that strikes me most is what I see as the love that shines through in his poems about Sylvia as opposed to a 'coldness' and 'blame' in his poems about Assia. David Wevill's poetry is, I think, wonderfully moving. I realise that only a few are obviously about Assia (and I would not presume myself 'psychic' enough to know what other poems may also be about her or partly about her), but those few alone are far more moving and, I feel, give far more of a 'feeling' of Assia the woman than Hughes' poems do. (Incidentally, has anyone else noticed that Hughes refers to the children in his Assia and Sylvia poems as 'your' son, 'your daughter,' 'your children' and so on, never 'our'? Just wondered if anyone had any thoughts on that).

Lisa - about "Lesbos". It is an interesting idea. I must say that when I first heard it mentioned I had no idea at all that it was a possibility. I have not been able to find any actual information about a connection to Anne Sexton. It just so happened that at the time I first heard it, I was beginning to read Anne Sexton's poetry - so I kept going back and forth between it and Lesbos - and I did keep finding more and more links (or what could be links). I, too, find Lesbos quite difficult to fathom. I found it interesting to look for links - some of the ones I found are pure speculation on my part - some of them seem more direct (like the link to Anne's "You, Dr Martin" - and also a few links to Anne's "Unknown Girl In A Maternity Ward"). However, I imagine one could pick several people out that it may be about and find several possible references to them! Of course, it probably/may be referring to several people. It is quite a stimulating exercise anyway.

I seem to have partly found my brain somewhere along the way while I was writing this...(well it may not show but I know it's there!)

Morney Wilson
London, UK
Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Hi Kenneth, thank you for your posts, they are always quick and witty. Sometimes your references get past me, but then that's just my own intellectual slowness I think. Yes, the whole SP, TH, AW, DW thing is our modern Greek tragedy isn't it? Has all the required elements.

The museum at the justice center here in Portland is a museum of old guns, photos, documents and other odds and ends from Portland's past and is quite interesting. I was at the justice center just today, doing a facility tour for an AJ class I have. The museum is a wonderful stop if you are ever in Portland, with some amusing tidbits on Portland's past policing methods and various goofy gadgets.

I have just been rereading some of Ted Hughes's poetry and I have to say again that his poems on Assia Wevill are just stellar. His poetry on Assia has been and will remain probably my favorite works of his. The reader gets such a visceral picture and idea of what this woman must have been like, both her human frailty and the well known viciousness and vindictiveness that was such a part of her.

I have gotten quite a lot of satisfaction from reading David Wevill's poetry about Assia as well, the few poems that he has ever written about her and he is an integral part of the whole triangle. He certainly cannot be diminished or dismissed as an unimportant player in the tragedy. He was not a peripheral character but was very present, and he suffered tremendously. His personal suffering has always been made patently clear by all testimony from those who witnessed the story unfold.

I have always enjoyed his poetry and much like (Lisa Flowers) I have an enduring compassion and appreciation for him and the for role he was forced to play. I have read many of his other works and I really like his use of imagery and metaphor. I would reccommend him to anyone interested in further understanding various aspects of the after effects of SP's suicide. Thanks for the comments, Cheers people!

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Kenneth, my first thought after reading the Kerouac article was of Plath too, specifically the descriptions of his equally passionate writerly drive and writerly self-doubt. Heartbreaking to see those two pictures side by side.

Concord, Ma, USA
Wednesday, October 13, 2004

I was watching a Sylvia Plath Special called Voices & Visions. In the documentary, there was a snippet of an audio interview Plath did. In the interview, she talked about her reasons for moving to England. She mentioned something to the effect that for her, "this is where it all began", and mentioned something about Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. Does anyone have the exact quote? If so, can someone e-mail it to me? Thanks.

Ithaca, NY, USA
Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Lisa F, the Alexander bio of Salinger is readable enough--with only one previous bio, the expurgated Hamilton, the ground wasn't overworked--till along came Dream Catcher and Maynard, and, another plaster idol bites the dust. Oh well. But the fragments of reality become more proofs of Plato's Cave.

(Actually, there were a couple of howlers that had me on the floor laughing, but I'm not going to spoil the game of other readers--let me just say Army procedures aren't Alexander's forte.)

David H, I finished the current New York Times Book eview, with the two-page-and-pictures Kerouac shrine, and then turn to your UT teacher in the forum, reminding us when Kerouac too was beneath contempt. That should teach you to listen to your teachers--we never make mistakes...oddly enough, reading the Kerouac essay reminded me of Plath...

Justine, re motherhood; recall what Clarissa Roche said re Plath's mothering, I think it was...I forget, which was the nanny, Ruth Fainlight or Susan O'Neill Roe? Aren't they both still extant? (I mean, alive and typing...)

Hi, Therresa, yeah, moving into the Hawthorne, dodging the bicyclists and the raindrops, and digging up Custer, from the comfort of the library. The OHS I know, but what's the museum at the Justice Center? haven't been there yet...and, yes, it is a Greek tragedy; I think Plath's the only subject ever to pull Oates above her usual academic boilerplate; the subject melted her armor, for once...

Of course, the death of Derrida today has me wondering exactly what I mean, and disproving it. But anyone can tell you words are unstable mirrors, or compasses for any truth--shattered finite mirrors of the human brain (Keats, copyright...)

Kenneth Jones
Berkeley , USA
Monday, October 11, 2004

To add to my comments on Plath's sometimes clinical, remote observations on her children: in Peter Ackroyd's biography of TS Eliot, he writes, "In the Anthenaeum he wrote of the 'true coldness, the hard coldness' of the real artist; in the same way, he admired in Massine's work its 'inhuman' quality." Though, of course, by the same token, there can be no real art without humanity and empathy, the above quote is accurate, I think. Obviously one cannot flinch or turn back from one's subject based merely on morality; any more than a doctor can turn away from the sight of blood and still be a successful physician. One requires the other, and detachment certainly does not preclude humanity in art.

Morney, I'd never even considered that "Lesbos" might have been about Anne Sexton, but it's an interesting idea. I re read the poem myself today, and, though I've been over it a thousand times, I still can't say that I understand it by a long shot. Certainly lines like "that sea/sweetheart, that kleptomaniac" can be attributed to Wevill....."kleptomaniac" would certainly apply to her (albeit obscurely).... given her history of "stealing" and appropriating the obviously sexual/slang references to fish/the sea/etc. The piece is really quite confusing, but I doubt that I have a broad enough frame of reference to comprehend it. It could also be...and I'm sure I'm not the first to suggest this....that a lot of Plath's holocaust imagery came from the fact (or myth, according to Jillian Becker) that Assia was a holocaust survivor.

Another thing I've often wondered about: if Hughes destroyed Plath's final journal(s) partly because they contained vituperative references to Assia, could he not also have...just conceivably....destroyed poetry that may have been directly about her? One biographer...I cannot recall whom off the top of my head; I think it was Elaine Feinstein (or even Paul Alexander???) did say that "it was Assia who found and read Plath's journals of the last months of her life, and was overwhelmed by the spite and malice directed towards herself there." This leads to the logical conjecture that Assia herself ...and not Ted....may have destroyed the documents. In Feinstein's biography, too, she mentions that Assia, to provide for Shura's future financial welfare, had on several occasions stolen manuscript pages of Plath's work and sent them to her sister Celia; supposedly after Assia's death, the papers were returned. All this is mere speculation, and perhaps paranoid at that; but in any case it's clear that Assia was a closer witness to the written record of Plath's final suffering than Ted Hughes would have had the public believe.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia , USA
Sunday, October 10, 2004

Therresa, why would Ted's cessation of his affair with Assia be the right (by which I interpret you to mean the honorable) thing? Marriage does not bestow ownership, where stealing a partner is thievery. Assia was not a passive possession to be passed back and forth. I consider dishonesty to be dishonorable. Written accounts suggest, however, that all involved were aware of the circumstances.

Was Assia receiving any medical help for her depression? Why is her despair any less understandable than Sylvia's? Perhaps, like Andrea Yates, she thought that through death, her daughter would have more of a life. I cannot fathom such thinking. I can fathom, however, a despair so profound that reason, even maternal reason, fails. And David Wevill's private life seems a moot point. How does his personal pain illuminate our understanding of Ted's or Sylvia's writing life? Or of Assia's?

I respect your reading of Plath's poetic portrayal of her children, of her pride in their individuality. When critics write of Plath's seemingly cold or neutral attitude toward her children, I think they fail to acknowledge that motherhood is not all wine and roses, that at times mothers do resent their children, especially the way children can strip a mother of her individuality. Plath's reflections on motherhood are refreshing and honest. I never trust mothers who wax poetic about the unquestionable joys of motherhood. Nothing is that rosy. If it were, we wouldn't need poetry.

Concord, Ma, USA
Sunday, October 10, 2004

Hi Justine, What a neat writing assignment! I am the mother of a lovely and highly intelligent 12 year old girl. Good heavens she can be a challenge, and so I have my own ideas about what it is to be a good and supportive mother but from the bits in SP's poetry, how her children are presented, and portrayed etc, I think she had an enormous sense of recognising their own individuality and separateness, and that that in some way sparked a strong sense of pride in her. Some have been critical of her poem "Morning Song", saying that it is cold or odd in some way, that it indicated she was not a present or loving mother, but I really doubt that.

Her suicide was understandable, she was in despair and depression was so utterly misunderstood at that time, she was not receiving any of the social supports she needed, and was being tormented by Assia Wevill via the phone and the post and even TH I think to a certain degree.

I always remember how Sylvia Plath spared her two children while taking her own life. I always rememeber that simple fact. I don't think there was ever a moment when she really considered taking them with her, despite some intersting lines in one of her poems that might suggest otherwise. The striking difference between her leaving bread and milk for her children will always be juxtaposed for me by how Assia Wevill tricked her daughter into drinking a lethal juice drink and then turning on the gas, committing a suicide/murder.

Sylvia Plath was not a naturally vindictive woman, it did not come to her from a natural wellspring in her being, but to Assia Wevill, revenge was as much a part of her character as her need to lead a life filled with multiple instances of duplicity and deception.

Sylvia Plath was a loving and proud mother, but she was exhausted and no longer desired the silver cord that kept her soul attached to her physical body. She gave up the fight that existed in her tormented life at that time, but did not commit evil.

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Wednesday, October 6, 2004

On the subject of Sylvia and children, an odd thing: in the same 72 edition of The Norton Anthology that I think I mentioned a few months back, the foreword to Plath's work says: "even the children, whom she cared for faithfully, are abandoned in the verse." This is a unique and inexplicable observation, considering "Three Women" "Nick And The Candlestick" "Magi" "Lesbos" "Balloons" "Edge"...etc etc ...the list goes on and on. Fertility, conception, and resentment against the same are a practically unbroken theme in Plath's late poetry. She is just as nearly often hostile to motherhood as she is laudatory of it, delighting in Medean homicidal imagery (much of this, as Therresa has suggested, may have been influenced by Assia).

In her journals, Plath frequently refers to the children of others with contempt; obviously she loved her own, but her observations about them are sometimes curiously clinical (see her description of Nicholas's birth, for example: "we had a son. I felt no surge of love. I wasn't sure I liked him. His head bothered me, the low brow".) Yet , of course, there is really nothing "curious" about such statements, as there is nothing intrinsically "proper" in being human; committing murder out of sheer anger is monstrous; for example, but there is nothing inhuman about the mere fantasy of it ("inappropriate emotions" of those contradictions in terms psychiatry likes to volley around!)

Plath was a great and devoted mother; dedicated to her children to the end; surely she had a far more refined and highly developed sense of personal responsibility than, say, Assia Wevill. I trust Eilat Negev will explore this topic in her biography...specifically, how Assia, perhaps because she was unable to live Plath down in so many ways, settled for being the Medea of Plath's make a loose comparison. It would be interesting to contrast Assia's feelings about motherhood with Plath's, to explore the differences in how they treated their offspring, etc. I know very little about Assia's relationship with Shura, except that biographers have suggested that it was intense and unhappy; still.....I think that Plath was ultimately successful as a parent, insofar as it was possible. The fact that she was able to see to her children's needs and take their welfare into consideration even in the throes of her final mental illness...which must have been at least as devastating as Assia's...says a great deal about her. So much for the concept of Assia "not being able to help it."

BTW..on another subject....I had never heard of Nabokov's Butterfly,but I'm certainly going to purchase it as soon as possible.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia , USA
Monday, October 4, 2004

Hello David, thank you for your story. Odd coincidences like that are maddening, I have had some of my own, though nothing quite that interesting as what you mentioned. The sad truth about David Wevill is that he has maintained a very long silence about his late wife Assia. He has been contacted by a great number of people over the years, journalists, and various writers and has chosen to remain quiet on the topic.

I have read several biographies on the SP suicide and Assia's suicide/murder, and I think the reality is that David Wevill suffered tremendously and was hurt by Ted Hughes's inability or decision not to do the right thing and stop seeing his wife. The whole time, a bit over six years that Assia and Ted were together, living together on and off, (the identical amount of time Ted was married to Sylvia) Assia was married to David Wevill and he still remained a presence behind the scenes, always supportive, even giving the illegitimate daughter of TH a legal last name. Can you imagine? He only left England for Texas after Assia's suicide, very telling in its way. I suspect he always hoped Assia would finally come to her senses and leave TH and return to him. His devotion to Assia was unquestioned by all.

I think he probably must have felt shamed, made a fool, and as the nature of a private life is indeed private, I think it has been very difficult and next to impossible for him, given his particular temperament to discuss these things in a casual manner. I also sent him an email once, and he never responded, I knew that he wouldn't but did it anyway, on the spur of the moment. He is an old man now, has a wife and children. That whole aspect of his history happened when he was very young, and it must have something of a dreamlike quality for him now. We can only speculate on what he feels and/or thinks but I have to admire his choice to remain mum on the subject. He has written a few poems on Assia, and while they are nice, they are not very illuminating and/or revealing and still the fascination with her goes on. As far as I know, he is still at the university of Texas and I can only hope he is doing well and has a life of contentment in sunny Texas and has left the sad world of (his) England behind him. I wish him well.

To get a better understanding of Assia one should look into the poems that Ted Hughes wrote about her. I think Ted Hughes always had a more realistic understanding of the various motivaitons and proclivities of Assia better than anyone else. He certainly assigned more blame to her character in many of his poems about her, but then perhaps that is as it should be. His poems of her are very interesting to read, very illuminating and insightful and some of his absolute best work in my humble opinion. He will always remain one of the most talented and original poets, despite and perhaps because of his most glaring character flaws. Thank you so much for your story.

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Monday, October 4, 2004

I didn't know Alexander had written a bio about THAT I might be interested in reading too ;) (if I take it out of the library maybe!)

Re 'Lesbos''s interesting to read all the references here to it. I heard once from someone that it was also about Anne Sexton. Never having been able to find any actual information about this, I get rather obsessed (for a change when it comes to Sylvia!) and started combing through 'Lesbos' and Anne Sexton's poetry with a fine tooth-comb. My copy of 'Lesbos' is now covered in scribblings and comments! I think I found about 20 links to Anne Sexton in the end (well, I thought they were links anyway...on the other hand, I could just be mad, it has been said!). It is interesting, though, to do this...there are many possible links...I suppose the most 'obvious' one is the line in 'Lesbos' "Once you were beautiful" linking to the line in Sexton's 'You, Dr Martin': "Once I was beautiful." Anyway, I will zip my mouth shut about this now because I have a tendency to go on and on and on and on and....

Morney Wilson
London, UK
Monday, October 4, 2004

Plath fans and book collectors might be interested in reading Nabokov's Butterfly by the esteemed book collector Rick Gekoski. A chapter in the book deals with the Heinemann edition of Plath's The Colossus and other poems. Gekoski purchased the penultimate copy of this book: Ted Hughes' copy. He also writes about The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Ulysses and many others. From the back of the dust wrapper: "From Graham's Greene's role in Nabokov's Lolita to the wise guy who had the premier collection of James Joyce first editions. Master rare book dealer Rick Gekoski tells the stories of twenty major books (and, in many cases, their authors) that have passed through his hands and made literary history as the desiderata of rare book collectors. (Published by Carroll & Graf (New York), 240 pages, $23.00.)

Cruel Miracle Based on Sylvia Plath's "Three Women" with pre-show talk by Elaine Connell. Sunday 3rd October, Hebden Bridge, UK.
More info

Peter K Steinberg
Winthrop Mass, USA
Sunday, October 3, 2004

Web Design by Pennine Pens