Sylvia Plath Forum

Messages from January-February 2005

In Giving Up, Jillian Becker voices some interesting ideas on the notion that Plath gambled with her suicide. First of all, the autopsy report...or what Becker presents of it....seems to indicate that Plath's death was designed to leave no room for error. As the relevant quotes go (please forgive the gruesome and upsetting nature of them):

"According to Mr Goodchild, a police officer attached to the coroner's office, who personally brought me the autopsy report on Sylvia years later when I requested it, she had thrust her head far into the gas oven.......'believe me," said Mr. Goodchild quite earnestly, 'it's just as well nobody came and pulled her out. After so many minutes of breathing the gas {He told me how many, but I have forgotten...I only remember that it was a chillingly precise number} even if your life is saved it's not worth living. Your mind is gone forever. You're a vegetable.' "

So...did Sylvia know this? That, even if she were rescued, the chances of her being revived intact were almost nonexistent? Perhaps not; maybe she had mistaken the potency of her method of execution; and supposed that she had more time than she did. However, I doubt it. She began her final actions, hour, half an hour before her nurse was expected to arrive? She must have known that that was more than enough time to ensure her demise. I think that any actions she took that might seem to indicate otherwise were probably carried out on behalf of her children rather than herself, as she certainly did want to ensure that they would be discovered in time.

Still, there are some oversights. Elsewhere in the same chapter, for example, ruminating about the nurse who found Sylvia, Becker wonders "How, I wonder, did she imagine that the nurse would get into the house?" The answer, apparently, is that Plath thought Trevor Thomas would be up to answer the door. So there's that. But, even if he had, wouldn't it have made more sense if Plath had at least left her own front door unlocked?

Of course, Becker's memoir, though excellent, is flawed by time, like the account of almost any afffiliate of Plath's must be by now; but it is food for thought, as are Alvarez's theories. Does anyone know if Plath's full autopsy report is available, by the way? I can't imagine that it is, but seeing it might answer a great many of these questions.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia , USA
Monday, February 28, 2005

Personally, I can think of plenty of reasons to disapprove of and dislike Ted Hughes. He's not what I would call a responsible husband, and I think plenty of what he did in his marriage was utterly reprehensible. However, I really can't fault him for how he handled Plath's estate. Whatever his failures as a husband, he truly believed in his late wife's genius, and paid a very high personal price in promoting her and seeing her work into print. I sincerely doubt that Plath's mother (who, with the best and most loving intentions, wanted very much to believe in her cheerful daughter and edited Letters Home accordingly) would ever have been able to do the same thing for Plath's work. Like him or hate him, Hughes is part of the reason why we are reading her today and talking about her influence on poetry.

As for his burning her journal-- well I think I agree with you Therresa, as awful as his actions were in doing so, and as much as we her readers feel the loss, let us all remember that he wasn't reacting as a disinterested librarian. Nor was Plath for that matter when she burned his work. He was acting as one who was intimately involved with Plath, and who was probably deeply hurt by what she wrote. If Plath gets to be passionate and impulsive (Hughes to the best of my knowledge never held the burning of his work against her), let's cut him a wee bit of slack. None of us know what was in that journal, and at least he took ownership for what he did. To be honest, if I were in Hughes's place, left behind by a suicide, I can't swear that I would not have done the same thing.

At the time of her death, Plath was not very well known. People were not lining up to buy her books. Ariel was just a collection of typed poems in a black spring binder. I really doubt that anyone thought at the time that there would be money in those papers. Hughes could have thrown everything she left behind onto a bonfire and walked away, and probably would have had a more peaceful life for himself if he had. The fact that he didn't says something about his dedication to poetry and his respect for her.

Suzanne Burns
Newton, MA , USA
Monday, February 28, 2005

It looks like we have another fictionalized account of Ted and Sylvia is in our midst. I came across this book while I was creating a book database for one of my classes. The book is entitled "The Little Fugue" by Robert Anderson.

Ottawa , Canada
Monday, February 28, 2005

In the Preface to his book on suicide The Savage God the critic Al Alvarez who knew Plath and Hughes very well presents a convincing case for his theory that Sylvia's suicide was actually a cry for help which went wrong. In face a conspiracy of circumstances occurred which prevented her from being found in time to be revived.

He points out that the night before she went to buy stamps from Trevor Thomas the tenant in the flat below her's and closely questioned him about what time he got up to go to work in the morning. It was almost as if she was trying to plan the act at the "right" time so that Mr. Thomas would smell the gas and raise the alarm before she actually died. Unfortunately, coal gas is heavier than air and therefore sank, seeping through the floor boards into the flat below and stupefying her neighbour who did not wake up until the following afternoon.

An agency nurse was due for a definite time but misread her directions and arrived later than Plath would have anticipated. When she found the house and couldn't gain entry she went to find a phone box to check that she had the right address, rather than suspecting that something untoward had happened. If she had arrived at the expected time or had not gone to make her phone call there was a good chance that Plath might have been resuscitated.

As far as I am aware, no one else has provided as convincing a case for arguing that death is what Plath fully intended as Alvarez's case for believing that it was a parasuicide, that is a suicide intended to fail and obtain help for its perpertrator.

Personally, I am in agreement with Alvarez. I think there is much evidence in the later poetry that Plath felt a compulsion to dice with death every so often in order to be reborn. Tragically, she lost her third gamble.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge , UK
Thursday, February 24, 2005

I have read and loved Sylvia Plath's writing since I first read The Bell Jar at age 14. I was intrigued by her, in awe of the severe honesty in her words, I studied her, read about her, but then I just stopped one day. Marriage, kids, my head, and my own need for the time to write overtook every aspect in my life.

I have returned to college recently, and I love it. We were studying poetry in class when my instructor began to talk about poets he particularly liked to read, Sylvia being one of them. I smiled. I felt relatively informed about Sylvia, until he said something that shocked me and I spoke out without thinking and said, "I just don't believe that is true."

It was at that point that I thought I may be wrong. I got on the Internet and realized I had missed many new books and even the unabridged release of her journals. (Yes I was in a hole) So I was shocked when the instructor said this. He had read that many people close to Sylvia believed that she had planned her suicide attempt with a certain timing that would have allowed for someone to come in and save her before death, "her last cry for help". I have found several indications that this is indeed a theory. I cannot express to you the degree to which I disagree with this notion and I would love to have links, or any information that would give me answers as to why they think this, who thinks this (-or thought it) and how they could think this when she went to the measures she did to die. Though Sylvia holds the only real answer to this question, what I am hoping to find is that this theory has already been squashed by some very credible source.

I am not at all well studied on her so please forgive me if this is old news. But here is what I see regarding her suicide that day and the days and poetry leading up to it. She wanted to go. She made arrangements for the children, to keep them safe from the gas, to feed them, and I believe if there were any close timing issues, it was for her children's safety and rescue, not her own.

Can anyone tell me who and how someone knowing Sylvia could believe that she wanted to stay here and be rescued again? Am I missing some piece of information because, all that I know of her tells me she intended to die that day, this was a determined effort on Sylvia's part, to leave this world as she had planned to so long ago.

I am going to catch up on the reading about Sylvia a bit if I can, so if there are books that are better than others, that you would suggest I read, or ones you would steer me away from, (about Sylvia and not just this theory) please share with me. Thank-you!!

Ali Trudeau
Cincinnati, Ohio , USA
Thursday, February 24, 2005

The discussion over Ted Hughes and his treatment of Sylvia Plath and her estate has been going over for a long while now; in fact, it might be the longest ever discussion topic on the Forum's reputable history. It's gotten to the point where it resembles a dead horse.

Ted Hughes objected to Plath's using their private, married life in her poetry. One can't blame him for this. Hughes was a brilliant poet, able to write in the English tradition and very much influenced by the natural world. Plath's best subject wasn't nature, per se, but the nature of herself.

In the Spring of 1962, after "Three Women" was written, Plath found what would become that famous Ariel voice. (I would like to point out to Trish that when Plath died her poetry was not quite yet a "delight to the world".) With "Three Women" written, and The Bell Jar, as well, she then immediately turned from writing about her private life (including such figures as her parents and children on occasion) to writing about her married life. Hughes, being the "better" poet at the time, was well aware of Plath's talent and Plath's best poetic subject. His reservations about his own life appearing in Plath's poetry are, therefore, well-warranted. Plath wrote "The Rabbit Catcher" and "Event" on the same day in 1962. It is not readily known, as far as I know, which was written first.

Plath's writing was ahead of her time; Hughes would be the first to admit to that. Many Forum readers and contributors come to Plath in the 21st century, where just about everyone has diarrhea of the mouth; where privacy is something to exploit. In 1962, privacy was still privacy.

On a different note, I just returned from a trip to Ireland where I was able to track down a couple of Plath related places! I visited the Autograph Tree at Coole Park and Yeats' Tower at Thoor Ballyee. On the way to Sligo from Galway, I stopped in at the small fishing village of Cleggan, in the Connemara area. It is an isolate village, several kilometers off a National Road. I found the Pier Bar where, in Richard Murphy's The Kick, they took a drink and also The Old Forge, where Murphy lived and Plath and Hughes stayed during their fateful September 1962 visit. If you'd like to see pictures, please check my web site after this next weekend.

Peter K Steinberg
Winthrop , USA
Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Good points Suzanne, I also agree that there was nothing draconian about TH and the methods which he used in publishing Plath's poetry, (which he always knew she wanted published and which she submitted regularly to publishers,) or the manner in which he may have altered the order of her poems etc.

Good point about her dying without a will, (that was the case!) as well as TH being the remaining family left with the obligation of seeing to it that her work was published. Could her mother have accomplished this? I really doubt that she could or would have done so. Also, I personally do not see it as "unforgivable" that Hughes destroyed her last journal or journals. Disappointed yes, just like anyone else but I don't see it as a huge sin on his part.

She was first and foremost his wife and the mother of his children, not the property of the swooning public. Also, her popularity is directly tied with her death. If she had not died by her own hand, would this legend have developed? If she had survived the mundane betrayals and the harrassment and her own clinical depression would she have become a household word? Frankly, I think not. The circumstances of her death are intrinsically linked to the legend that sprang up, much like what happended with James Dean.

It really does depend entirely on one's outlook. To him, Ted Hughes, it was probably a noble thing he did by not holding onto those journals and thereby protecting his children from the scathing comments therein. Is the public disappointed that they cannot consume the journals? Sure, but that does not mean that what he did was unforgivable. In his mind it may well have been a noble and charitable act.

I think it's important for fans of Plath to remember that she was first and foremost his wife, mother of his children. She was not the property of the public and I doubt she ever would have embraced that notion. Remember Hughes's poem, entitled ( "Ouija" ) page 53 of Birthday Letters? He writes in the poem:

"I asked, "shall we be famous? and you snatched your hand upwards/As if something had grabbed it from under/ Your tears flashed, your face was contorted/ Your voice cracked, it was thunder and flash together:/"And give yourself to the glare?Is that what you want?/Why should you want to be famous?/Don't you see-fame will ruin everything."/I was stunned. I thought I had joined/your association of ambition/To please you and your mother/To fulfil your mothers ambition/That we be ambitious. Otherwise/I'd be fishing off a rock/In Western Australia.So it seemed suddenly/You wept/You wouldn't go on with Ouija. Nothing/I could think of could explain/Your shock and crying.Only/Maybe you'd picked up a whisper I could not hear/Before our glass could stir, some still small voice:/"Fame will come. Fame especially for you/Fame cannot be avoided./And when it comes/You will have paid for it with your happiness/Your husband and your life."

Does this poem seem a little self serving? Well, yes, TH was very good at assigning blame to fate, destiny and thereby relieving himself of some of the horrendous guilt he faced daily as a result of her suicide and the loss of his children's mother and yet we must remember that it was he who knew her best. That is what I think some people resent, people like Robin Morgan for sure. The truthfulness of that mere fact. I will always belive that the best biography to read if one really wants to know who Sylvia Plath was is Ted Hughes's book of poetry,Birthday Letters.It is without doubt the most revealing portrayal of Sylvia Plath as a person, no other man knew her as intimately and it remains the closest depiction of who she really was than anything else.

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Has nobody ever noticed that Plath's Collected Poems does not include Daddy (arguably her most famous poem) in the Index of titles and first lines. Does this mean that it will never ever be corrected because all future editions merely impress upon the previous one?

See When the Gates Shut by Joanna Kelley for crudely and rudely generalised simplifications of various lesbian types and the causes of the lesbian-ness.

Rehan Qayoom
London, England
Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Trish-excellent points about the "Olwyn/Dido standard." One can't help but wonder what role Hughes played in their public denunciations. On one hand, he had a lot of criticism for Anne Stevenson's portrayal of his marriage in "Bitter Fame"...remarking on how far from his world (paraphrasing) some of her depictions were. He claims his involvement in her account was minimal; but how could it be? Olwyn Hughes simply could not have worked so closely with Stevenson for so long without her brother being privy to what she was doing.

I'm by no means a Hughes detractor per se, although I do think that his destruction of Plath's journals was unforgivable; and his rearrangement of the "Ariel" manuscript entirely inappropriate.

In "Giving Up," Jillian Becker claims that Dido Merwin approached her first, asking her to relate the "real story" of her opinion of Sylvia because she was dying and wanted to "set the record straight." I'm not saying I disbelieve this, but it does seem odd that Dido would be so reluctant to tell her story in her own words. Perhaps then, at first, she did have reservations about how her memoir would be recieved; which I a cheap kind of to her credit.

I loved the depiction of Dido in "Wintering," which I just read and found absolutely spellbinding. So arch and subtle...there are moments in that book that almost seem to surpass Plath's poetry, if that makes sense...or at least expand beautifully upon it.

Seattle, USA
Saturday, February 19, 2005

I am not sure what you are referring to when you mention "draconian" laws that allow a man to seize his wife's estate knowing full well that she intended to divorce him. They were married, not divorced. Plath had not filed suit at all, and she died without a will. Had Hughes been the one to die in similar circumstances, she would have inherited his estate. That's how inheritance works-- people have to make wills stating their intentions and have to follow a certain process in doing so. The law cannot and does not second guess people in this regard, nor should it. It applies to both men and women and is hardly "draconian".

What I would like to know is how a total stranger like Robin Morgan, or anybody else for that matter, is more entitled to Plath's estate, and more entitled to speak for her, than her own family? Sorry, but that's just weird.

Suzanne Burns
Newton, MA, USA
Saturday, February 19, 2005

How delighted I was to find this forum. When I first learned of Sylvia Plath,I was so intrigued by her and her work. I decided to do a paper about her for a Lit. class and to read everyone's comments about her is so interesting. Especially Guido's comment about hearing SP's voice reading "Daddy" changing the way the reader hears it read. Very interesting. I had just wondered about her voice.

Bobbie Pyle
Fountainville, PA, USA
Saturday, February 19, 2005

Excellent points, Lisa. I believe Ted Hughes and his apologists have always employed an incredible double standard about Hughes's poetry and his lifestyle choices, heaping venom on Plath, who was not alive to defend herself. I mean, Olwyn and Dido denouncing Sylvia as an impossible shrew who practically forced poor Ted to have an affair, in order to escape her insane jealousy. How preposterous. What woman wouldn't react with jealousy and pain, presented with irrefutable evidence that her husband was cheating on her? Now, as for your analysis of the Rabbit Catcher. I'm sure I could not agree more. Ted was deprived of his history." Geesh. Sylvia was dead, unable to produce more of her dazzling literary output with which to delight the world. Despite this, he did not scruple to destroy her journal, ostensibly to save his children some pain. Weird, when he did not scruple to pain them by denouncing their mother, or preventing his sister from denouncing Sylvia, constantly. (That really seems like an extremely odd sibling relationship. Either that, or Olwyn had way too much time on her hands.) I do not understand how Ted was deprived of his history when he, unlike his wife, could still produce plays, poems, and essays.

I tell you, I can almost sympathize with Robin Morgan's threatening to sue in order to force him to release the ownership of his former wife's work. Morgan was probably trying to make a point about the draconian 1963 laws that allowed a man to grab control of his estranged wife's work, knowing full well that she intended to divorce him. In another age, perhaps in another country, he would never have had that privilege. We are all the poorer for it.

Seattle, USA
Friday, February 18, 2005

And another thought: downright bizarre the Hughes's inexplicable defensive position towards Rose's interpretation of "The Rabbit Catcher" is! In the beginning, the Poem was the Poem, a vehicle for the Freudian/Jungian subconscious; a "Frankenstein" project of disassociated imagery, eventually built to represent a living thing...whatever; but the point is it was only a poem, and owed no explanation to anybody. When, then, did it start to bear the responsibility of being an historical document?? Hughes feels cheated of his history?? What has his history, or anybody's, to do with the "function" of this piece, or of any piece? Perhaps he is suggesting that fame begets responsibility; and thus alters the "duty" of a piece of art? What exactly is the "responsibility" of art? Does pure creative expression have a conscience? Should it? Does it owe allegiance to truth? I would propose that the answer to all of the above is "no." As for being actually "cheated" of one's history, biographers are usually the culprits there (as Rose...of course...said).

It would seem to me, then, that, yes, Hughes did seem to think biographical accuracy of a more pressing importance. That's why he rearranged "Ariel:" because what happened, finally, didn't jive with how Plath had ordered her book. Instead of tasting "the spring" she committed suicide.Therefore, technically speaking, it would have been biographically (or "historically") accurate to end the manuscript with "Edge." Let the life define the art, Hughes seemed to be thinking...not the other way around. How therefore odd then, that, on this premise, he did not see fit to include poems like "The Jailer." A bit of a double standard, there, perhaps.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Friday, February 18, 2005


I know this is perhaps a bit off the subject, but, regarding one of the articles you linked, I got lost in Jacqueline Rose's musing on the actuality (in a crude nutshell) of Plath's poetry.

One evening, about a year ago, a friend of mine was looking through a recently published book of his poetry when he exclaimed, "wow.... I think this poem is about human cloning!" This illustrates what I have found to be the most compelling....and sheerly enjoyable....thing about poetry; and pinpoints its greatest mystery: that a truly effective piece of art happens nearly always in spite of itself (in this instance, it took my friend years to comprehend the meaning of his own piece). The poet, of course, is a terrible spy. Scrutiny in poetry is something that should always come after the fact. To ponder the meaning of a poem during its composition is to negate its nature. As WP Mayhew, the parody of William Faulkner in the Cohen Brother's "Barton Fink" drawled, "The truth, my honey, is not taught, and does not bear scrutiny."

Another thought is that the writer, in a sense that goes beyond the driving obsession with clarity, does not really want to be "found out"...or, rather, does not want to have to answer for him/ herself. In Florence King's "With Charity Towards None: A Fond Look At Misantrophy" (a comic masterpiece, like all her writing...I highly recommend it) she explores the theory that James Gould Cozzens wrote "By Love Possessed" in deliberately dense prose, simply because he...subconciously or otherwise...wanted to be left alone by the rest of the world. Anyway, again, I know it's a bit of a digression...but it does jive with the antisocial tendencies of Plath. To have one's cake and eat it too...or to appear and be hidden at the same time.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Saturday, February 12, 2005

Hello Katharine,

Thanks so much for the great tip about those online essays. I read them quite awhile ago. In fact I have read nearly all the online stories and essays that are availble on Ted Hughes.They run into the hundreds and have never succeeded in altering my opinions on the saga and/or culpability. Reading them is one of my few online pastimes when I'm not hard at work on the tail end of completing my two degrees. However, I'm sure that other visitors to this wonderful site will find the links useful and interesting.

I'm sooooooo flattered you think I'm intelligent! Gosh, that really made my day! As to having a "balanced perspective" with regard to Ted Hughes, I don't think I would presume to define what that is or if it is even something that can be reached intellectually by anyone. I think much like ms. Rose suggests each writer of biograhpy, (and/or reader of biograhphy) generally has an agenda, and despite their intentions, (this directed more at professional biograhpy writers than us dumb readers) it is nearly impossible to not be effected by those dynamics inherent to the genre of biograhpy writing.

However I too see clearly Ted Hughes's line of arguement at Ms. Rose's interesting and rather inexplicable interpretation of Plath's poem "The Rabbit Catcher" being about repressed lesbian desires. Like Hughes suggested that interpretation only adds to the many "facts" the public is willing to consume about Plath and only succeeds in further skewering her lifestory etc. I think Ms. Rose saw in that particular poem what she wanted to see. I myself don't see or even remotely understand what she is referring to. That poem could be interpreted any number of a hundred different ways. I am absolutely convinced that Sylvia Plath is laughing in her grave at Ms. Rose's comical and inexplicable line of interpretation.

If me defending Ted Hughes, and Sylvia Plath and my comments about tiresome Ted Huhges bashers hit a nerve, maybe it's because (I) won't take sides against one or the other.It's an odd place to be I must admit, yet I defend my stance firmly. I have always maintained that they were (both) victimized by Assia Wevill. That is simply my opinion. And having known a few serial adulterers personally and known (of) a few, both male and female, I think equating what Ted Hughes did with some kind of larger than life, demonic dictator destroying civilizations, cultures and peoples in some kind of mass genocide is getting now, in 2005, just a wee bit tiresome. He was only a man and a man with incredibly poor luck.

He should not be blamed for the suicides of two women, and the murder of a child when there were so many other potent forces at work. Surely people cannot be so simplistic, but then perhaps I'm wrong, maybe people can be that simplistic.

Frankly I am tired of all the people who like to use old hapless Ted as the official whipping boy for men who cheat. He was a very young inexperinced man of only, I repeat, only, 32 when he became involved with a woman who was in my estimation a veritable catalyst for disaster. I certainly understand your defense of SP, and that is to your credit, but I have never been interested in assigning blame to either of them. The most cunning, plainly diobolical has always been the malignant narcissist Assia Wevill. The fact that she committed suicide in imitation of Plath does not get her off the hook. It was an aggresive act of revenge, not of despair. In any event, I am probably beginning to sound redundant, but these are my opinions and frankly that's all they are.

To those individuals who are so inclined to bash Ted Hughes, I am certain they will continue to do so, and lucky for them he is still around in memory and still fresh meat for a bashing.

But don't you wonder about all the men in the world who continue to remain undiscovered who were the "cause" of their estranged wives suicides? Let's go get-um girls, I'll supply the pistols if you supply the ammo! Come on, whadaya say? Hey! maybe castration would be in order, Robin Morgan thinks so!! Lets get cracking!

Best Regards People!

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Saturday, February 12, 2005

Just thought you might be interested, we are doing a concert at the Wigmore Hall, London featuring a new piece based on Sylvia Plath's short story "Wishing Box" (from Johnny Panic and the bible of Dreams).


Mendelssohn Piano Trio Op.49 in D minor
Cheryl Frances-Hoad "The Wishing Box" World Premiere
Schubert Piano Trio in Bb D989

Thursday 10th March 2005 7:30pm
Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore St. London W1U 2BP
Box Office Tel: 020 7935 2141
Ticket prices: £16 £14 £12 £10

Cheryl Frances-Hoad is a young British composer who studied at the Menuhin School and Cambridge University. Her commissions include works for the BBC, the Cambridge Music Festival. the Almeida and Spitalfield Festivals, and her music has been featured on radio and television.

London, UK
Friday, February 11, 2005

Theressa, for a slightly more balanced perspective on what you, the Plath estate and the media collectively dismiss as "Ted Hughes bashers", can I respectfully suggest you read an article like "This is not a biography" by Jacqueline Rose. and/or "Ted Hughes and the corpus of Sylvia Plath" by Sarah Churchwell.

You seem intelligent enough. Hopefully you'll be able to gain some insight into how and why some people find it quite literally impossible to remain entirely uncritical of TH.

Strangely enough, there are Plath scholars with complaints and grievances that have absolutely nothing to do with how often Ted took his trousers off.

Porpoise Spit, Australia
Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Hi Jen,

Thanks for your post. It is true that Olwyn Hughes was known to have detested Sylvia Plath, probably that spunky American attitude, that independent outspoken air and manner of Sylvia's must have gotten under her skin. Olwyn has always struck me as exceedingly British, (and that is not at all a bad thing) but British women and American women are polar opposites in many respects regarding socialization and conditioning and it seems inevitable that SP would have rubbed someone in her husbands family the wrong way. O.Hughes was highly critical of SP and I agree that the manner in which she expressed her dislike of Plath was enormously distasteful and uncouth, especially after SP had died.

I too have been incredilby disgusted by her well known habit of bad mouthing a dead woman! I mean what kind of shallow person does that? And while I do contend that she did love her brother very much and that is admirable, she also has come across for so many people as such a nasty shrew! I think her well known treatment of one writer in particular, the author of Bitter Fame, really gave her the bad reputation she was deserving of. She is without a doubt not a likeable person, or at least appears to be by a good many people. But at the same time, I have always felt rather sad for her because I know how desperately one can love a troubled family member and feel utterly helpless to protect that individual.

I also feel that it is unwise for people to presume that all the information that is (out there) on Sylvia Plath, the books, the rumors, etc represent all the information that is available. I think it is naive to presume that Frida Hughes is unaware of nearly all aspects of her mother's history, even if she was not quite three when her mother died. She may and probably does know many things (we) in the general public do not know. She has access to many family members, close friends and others who interacted with Plath. A biography is only a glimpse, a lifetime cannot be compartmentalized so effectivly. (All) the bio's out there do not represent all that Plath was or did or experienced.

I just think it is not very wise to presume these things. What I do think is that it is highly likely that FH, (a woman now in her forties) is quite informed as to many details of her mother's history, including many experiences, stories and other facts that we as (outsiders) could not possibly know. It seems profoundly sad to me that she (like her father) is still hounded to this day, that she is not allowed to live in peace. I think her brother had the right idea when he moved to Alaska.

And as to the Ted bashing, to those individuals so inclined to do it, please! The man is dead and he was no worse morally or socially than the many other men who have gone down undiscovered in history (in the past and presently) who have and are cheating on their wives and then later are accused of being the supposed "cause" of their wive's suicide! We are talking about a man who was 32 years old when he had the misfortune of meeting a black widow spider, a lovely one but one nonetheless. He was a very unlucky man, a man who seems to have had a rather strange relationship with destiny and the fickle finger of fate! Ba-da-dump!

I will never be for or against one or the other, in terms of gulit or innocence. They were both innocent of awareness, experience, and cunning. And they were both victims of someone who was capable of murder, the willful taking of the life of a child, not to mention serial adultery and deception that spanned many many years! A person who was far more vindictive, far more cunning and ultimately far more malevolent. She was those things, (and I am also sure she was a nice gal upon occasion, willing to give her gal friends gifts and beauty tips) but her main characteristics were ones of narcissistic self interest, vengeful score keeping and incredibly detached cruelty.

Hi Trish, gee, thanks for saying such nice things about my posts. I love reading your posts too, you have a fine intelligence and I always enjoy reading your thoughts and hearing your perspective. Sometimes I'm too opinionated but I think you know I really do mean well. Does anyone know of a specific time when the Eilat Negev bio is going to be released? I'm still chomping at the bit. I have'nt felt this impatient since Josephine Hart's last book was published. Now SHE is a writer! In fact Ted Hughes wrote a very postive review for her novel Damage, he called it "poetry". If anyone could tackle a fictionalized account of the Plath/Hughes disaster SHE could. Trouble is she is probably far too smart to ever even consider doing something so professionally risky. But at least we all have Eilat, thank God, and she's not writing some cheesy fictionalized novel. She's writing a well researched bio! Cheers people!

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Monday, January 31, 2005

You raise some valid points, some of which I should have taken into consideration; one of the dangers of the internet is the accessibility it offers to those given to compulsion. It's easy to post things on the spur of the moment which, in retrospect, one often wishes they had worded more concisely.

Again, could not reasonably expect Frieda Hughes to have insight into the motives of her mother. That she was influenced by the biases of her Aunt and her father is also debatable (scratch that....inevitable ) but I would like to think that her closeness to TH...which is well known....transcended all such prejudices. So many poems in "Birthday Letters', and elsewhere, suggest that Ted DID have a full and objective knowledge of what his role in Sylvia's life and demise had been. The final irony is that Frieda grew into her mother's poems by way of her mother's suicide: she became the lost daughter of Sylvia Plath in the same way that Sylvia became the lost daughter of Otto. It is also true that those closest to things, paradoxically, do have less objectivity towards them: much in the way we can edit the work of others, but not our own. I guess my real problem then, to be honest, is not so much with this phenomenon as it is with Paul Alexander himself. His biography of Plath was adolescent and sloppy on so many fundamental levels; and his commentary on the "Ariel" introduction only seemed to enforce this. Perhaps coming from someone else, his points would have been valid...and perhaps they are valid nonetheless; but his hypocrisy vexes me, and in all likelihood (I'm being serious, here) that's my prejudice. To my knowledge, he has never made an effort to correct the inaccuracies in "Rough Magic." Perhaps he thinks that passion...and conviction... come before truth. That's fine for a poet, but for a biographer its a totally different animal. Biography is not persona.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Monday, January 31, 2005

It's so amazing to see how much fascination and interest there is towards Sylvia Plath. Whilst leading a tragic life she is such an admirable woman. And its just so great to see the amount of interest shown. Thank you for alllowing me to read your thoughts, facts and ideas. They are excellent. It was a challenging read, but thank you :)

Nowra, Australia
Sunday, January 30, 2005

I would have to disagree that on the face of it, Frieda Huges would be "a better authority" on her mother than a less partial writer/interpreter/poet and/or biographer. I stated earlier that I had found-personally-FH to be a less-than-appealing character, but this hasn't anything to do with whether she has "claim" to special knowledge or even insight on her mother-if I for some reason developed(again, I could only do so based on interviews and her own writings, which is indeed where I get my impressions)a tremendous warmth toward her, my opinion on the importance of *her* observations and opinions would be the same.

Kate Moses, the author of a novel inspired by a reading of both the Ariel poems("Wintering"), and the two lives behind them-Plath and Hughes-wrote an article for that I think brilliantly expresses the conundrum of the Plath estate itself. The facts is that Frieda was barely 3 when her mother died. She had no firsthand memory of her. Her opinions and interpretations of her mother's actions are apparently largely derived from things she heard or attitudes divined from her aunt(the woman who cared for her in her early years before Assia Wevill, her father's mistress and the woman he left Sylvia for, moved in with her father). Olwyn Hughes has made it extremely clear that she personally couldn't stand Plath, in fact detested her-to a degree that in my opinion reveals more about the sort of person Olwyn was, rather than the dead-and unable to fight back-Sylvia. At a fairly young age Frieda was packed off to boarding school, as is usual for an upper-middle- class girl in the UK. She hardly sat around Court Green talking about and learning about her mother. According to her own writings, she was never told about her mother by her father, she never read her mother's writing, etc, until she herself was an adult and thinking of becoming a writer herself. In other words, as a clearly adoring daughter she is as partial and biased as it's possible to be, having no firsthand information about the poet, her mother, and totally identifying with her father-a man who, I believe, her mother was emphatically through with(if still hopelessly attached to), and furiously angry with, at the end of her life.

It sounds reasonable to say, "who better than her own daughter to speak of her mother?" But when that daughter was a baby at her mother's death, I think not the "right", but the value, of Frieda Hughes' statements about her mother are questionable. I'd really think that members of this forum-or indeed any reader-coming to Plath's work with no personal agenda or baggage ("She killed herself-abandoning us as children! She ruined my father's life with her suicide!") are better equipped to offer thoughts on the poems or responses to the surrounding biography.

Jen Lerew
Los Angeles, USA
Sunday, January 30, 2005

Hi Therresa, let me say again that I love your posts, they're as instructive as they are interesting! (And I never have any intention of doing anything except continuing the conversation; I would never presume to try to put someone in their place.)I had no idea of the extent of Robin Morgan's wackiness. Trust me, I definitely understand your disdain of her now. I'm curious: I'm told that Andrea Dworkin has also written extensively about Sylvia Plath, but I cannot find any of her writings on SP anywhere, and I've looked. I'm not comparing the two in terms of quality, I think Andrea Dworkin is much the better writer of the two (though they do share the same extremist views on women and men and sexuality, etc.) Can you help me out here?

Seattle, USA
Thursday, January 27, 2005

Hello to the Plath Forum. This is the first message I have sent to the site, although I visit it regularly. I was wondering if anybody knows where Robin Morgan's poem "The Arraignment" is on the internet? Although I've read opinions about the poem, and heard about its notriety, I haven't being able to find the poem itself. I am attempting to write my own website on Sylvia Plath, and it would be useful for my argument about feminism.

If anyone knows where I could find it, could they please let me know? Thankyou.

Pontefract, England
Thursday, January 27, 2005

Hey Sebastian,

Thanks for the support, what a wonderfully worded post, thank you. Did you visit the same website (I) did? I read those very same quotes and also shook my head smiling in disbelief, as I am certain you must have too. "Ignorance is bliss" as they say, that gal is livin proof! Yes, Robin Morgan certainly is a woman with her own cosmically negative set of extremist beliefs that probably won't do much (good) for the betterment of humanity in general (save for a small number of intrinsically unhappy extremist feminists who give real feminists a bad name) What would we women do if we all killed our fathers? The human race would certainly die out rather quickly would it not? Maybe Morgan has an idea about saving and freezing sperm, then doing away with all men? That sounds viable doncha think? And despite the bad apples out there, real women capable of valid human interaction with, yes, I'm-a-gonna-say-it--men! would also suffer. Like it or not the human race depends on two sexes and util we all die out from nuclear fall out its always going to be that way. We can all pick and choose, but we can't and shouldn't condone or encourage the murder of either sex, even in jest.

I too remember reading about how several years ago Morgan had tried to sue Ted Hughes to get to the Plath journal that was more than likely destroyed. Ted must have at (some point) laughed out loud at her sheer stupidity in trying something so harebrained and ludicrous. I often wonder about that journal and the sad probability is that it is more than likely fertilizing daffodils at Court Green. I doubt anyone will ever locate it.

Some of Plath's later poems, the ones published just before her death have very charged and unpleasent sexual key words in them, rather unsavory references that one can interpret in a certain manner. Only a woman who has been cheated on could possibly know what those words represent or what the connotations may mean. Let me clarify this is only MY opinion, and yet I defend it. At least this is my appraisal of some of her wonderfully caustic later poems, charged with an animosity and reference to sexual aspects she herself was on the outside of. Poems written in code to a certain someone, last attempts at a form of secret disclosure if you will, before she made her final exit.

If she was so able to write and publish these highly original poems, these secret letters to a certain woman she despised, in code so to speak, then just imagine the venom, the foul language in the last journal or two that she had written in. So, is it really so surprising that TH wanted to protect his children from the future availibility of this ticking time bomb? And for anyone to have the unmitigated innocence, (I'm really trying to be nice) to suggest that (Frida Hughes) is unlikeable or not an attractive person is truly and incredibly lacking in human and personal insight. How could this woman not be horribly damaged by the manner in which she was raised? By the incredibly sad aspects of growing up without a mother? And then as a young adult to learn that her mother commited suicide? Though her father tried bravely to create a normal life and childhood for his two children it was inevitable that they would suffer tremendously by the absence of Plath. And into her adulthood how could Frida not be defensive, angry, bereft and suspicous of anyone who even breathes a word of her mother to her. She will always have to question others motives with regard to her late mother, always! And has she suddenly become the property of others? The public? Is it now her responciblity to be a "good girl" for fear she may not be approved of? Give me a break!

If she spends the rest of her life in a funk, pissed off and bitterly impolite to jouralists, artists and others I think she has earned the right. Maybe I'm alone on this but I do feel she has earned that right! She will have to live with this shadow until such time that the world is willing to let it go. But it is the perfect tragedy, it is our modern version of what tragedy means. It IS the Malignant Sadness! And to contemplate the pain of it, the injustice of it, the cruel part destiny seems to have played in it we can perhaps understand ourselves better for it. We can tap into the pain we all need to feel and sometimes hunger for. This story is perfect for many individuals who need to ponder it, ruminate over it and try to make some sense of it. It makes us (feel) and sometimes for the jaded and ruined of us pushing forty it is a jeweled path of perspective. "At least I've survived" we tell ourselves. "At least (I) haven't lost the battle!" Best Regards People!

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Thursday, January 27, 2005

I have been reading Her Husband by Dianne Middlebrook. It seems that almost everyone close to Sylvia Plath believed her reaction to the drug Parnate was very intregal to her suicide. So I did a little research and found out this is now considered to be a last resort kind of medication for the treatment of depression. A patient taking this med has to be very closely monitored, which Sylvia obviously was not.

In my opinion Ted made a lot of very human mistakes before Sylvia's death, but his contributions and inexcusable actions after her death are more outrageous. Rearranging manuscripts, destroying documents, acting as if Sylvia's work had legs of its own to walk. We wouldn't even have a lot of Sylvia's works made public if Ted hadn't been forced into publishing them to pay off back taxes.

Ted always seems like a spoiled child saving his best toys for himself. Sharing whatever best suits him.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

To Paul Snyder:

Thanks for the insight on "Edge." This production will also feature Angelica Torn as Plath and is directed by Alexander. The theater critic in my local paper said that it was better than the Plath film biopic that came out in 2003 (which I thought was mediocre, could have been so much more), so I must say my interests are peaked now for "Edge."

When I read that "Edge" is a 'fictionalized account' of Plath's last day, it rubbed me a bit worried at first, but the fact that Alexander wrote a famed Plath biography allows me to be more open-minded.

A teacher at school who knows I love Plath alerted me about the play today during lunch (she didn't see it though, just saw the ad when she saw another play at the same playhouse), so that, combined with your thoughts, make it certain that I'll see the play.

Davie, FL, USA
Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I'm finding some interesting similarities between Paul Alexander's comments about Frieda Hughes's "Ariel" introduction and Robin Morgan's "appropriation" of Sylvia Plath's tragedy. First of all, is Mr. Alexander insinuating that he, himself, is a more reliable witness to the motives of Ted Hughes than Hughes's own daughter? I shant get into the blatant manipulations and inventions that dominated "Rough Magic" again; but lets just say that, coming from Paul Alexander, any accusations of bias cannot be construed as anything other than hypocritical. Robin Morgan is (or was) essentially doing the same thing: attempting to claim a certain kind of "expertise" over a situation of which she had very little knowledge, but a great deal of hysterical bias. Again, I don't think the "justice" or "morality" of her poetry.... or of anyone's poetry... need come into question: poetry is an expression of any feeling, any sentiment.... nothing more. It owes no allegiance to a political or social conscience. It can be politial, but it is not intrinsically so, nor is it beholden to any norm: this, among other things, is what freedom of expression is all about. In other words, if one wouldn't criticize an actor for portraying a sex offender, one shouldn't criticize Morgan for writing like one. It isn't the sentiment her poetry evokes that is objectionable, it is her claims of authority.And this, of course, is where mere persona becomes potentially hazardous. "Feminists" like her are to actual feminism as the Manson family is to those who claim to love Christ: they turn a legitimate idea into a freakshow, and sometimes something much, much worse.

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I was glad to hear from Kathleen of Davies, Florida that Paul Alexander's play Edge is still making the rounds. When I saw the play here in New York, with the excellent Angelica Torn playing Plath, I thought it was an excellent piece of theater. It's hard to know how well he captured the real Sylvia Plath. His Plath is truly unhinged, but then--in the play--its only hours before she commits suicide, not a time for calm reflection. Anyway, I found the play quite believable, even though I realized he wasn't being fair to Hughes. Sometimes, being 'even handed' is not very persuasive.

Alexander has paid a price for his convictions. His main crime seems to be that he largely blames Hughes for Plath's suicide. This has been judged a greater offence than to claim Hughes totally guiltless in the matter, a position taken in the hightly praised Bitter Fame, even though that book was co-written by Ted Hughes's sister, not exactly an impartial observer.

Personally, I've always admired Alexander's outrage at what can at best be described as Hughes's witless and selfish treatment of Plath during the last year of her life. I was happy to see, that based on a review of the restored Ariel which he wrote for the January 10th edition of The New York Observer, he has lost none of his outrage. (The review can probably be accessed through the web site In his review, he claims that the introduction written by Frieda Hughes contains statements of fact that are either open to interpretation or are simply "wrong." The gist of what he thinks is contained in the last two paragraphs of the review:

"Simply put, Ms Hughes has produced an introduction to the new Ariel that continues the disparagement of Plath and the defense of Hughes that Hughes, his family and friends have carried on now for over 40 years. Plath may have been difficult, but Hughes reguish and flagantly uncaring bahavior in the final eight months of Plath's life was not and is not defensible. His actions helped silence prematurely one of the great geniuses of American literature.

"Introduction to a restored Ariel is not the place for Plath's daughter to defend her father and attack her mother. Better to celebrate what is now more obvious than ever: Made up of poems that are so original in their style and so startingly accomplished in their confessional voice that they helped change the direction of contemporary poetry."

Paul Snyder
New York City, USA
Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Greetings to the Sylvia Plath Forum! I have been lurking for quite a long time, but this is my first time posting.

Regarding Robin Morgan, I have to agree with Theresa here. Good heavens, if Ted Hughes had published a poem suggesting that Robin Morgan be sexually mutilated do you think anyone would have brushed it off as "only a poem"? Of course not! I think her poem and her actions were incredibly puerile, self-justifying, and narcissistic. Also, I believe she did much more than simply write the poem and sit back. I hope somebody can help me here because I cannot remember which of her books I read this in: She claimed in one of her recent books that in the seventies she actually tried, unsuccessfully, to bring a lawsuit against Ted Hughes demanding that he release Plath's last journal to her and to the public.

Suzanne Burns
Newton, MA, USA
Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Those interested should check out the Johnny Carson obit on, there's an excerpt from Robin Morgan about walking off the Johnny Carson show c. 1970, which should explain something of the attitudes and tempers of the times, and her attitude as well...

Kenneth Jones
Berkeley, USA
Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Hi Elaine, I must say! So well put! My feelings exactly! Having read Bitter Fame and numerous articals about the book I agree wholeheartedly that Stevenson was incredibly influenced by Olwyn Hughes to create a "character assasination" on Sylvia Plath and to do so in the form of a highly unreliable biography. Stevenson's trials and difficuliltes are mentioned in more than a couple of books on the Plath-Hughes marriage and if I recall correctly are also touched upon in the absolutely wonderful book about Birthday Letters entitled "Ariel's Gift" by the very intelligent and thoughtful writer Erica Wagner. Many people I think, recognise Stevenson as a good writer, a moral writer and a talented and gentle woman, but like you mentioned, one who had gotten into a difficult and unexpected situation.

I think it is well known that Stevenson was a very dedicated writer and really made an effort to remain impartial and to present a fair biograhpy but was (unrelentlingly) harassed and needled by Olwyn Hughes all in an effort to present Ted Hughes as a more sympathetically percieved human being. This is understandable, as I think no one could ever question Olwyn's genuine love and concern for her younger brother, having suffered as he did. As you said I think the reasonable consensus is that, yes, Sylvia Plath was a nice, generous human being, a loving, giving mother and also, (so well put) someone who was intensely "frail" both in body, spirit and emotions.

There are so many good bio's out there on Plath that in their own way present different angles, stories, anecdotes and also provide very useful information, but having read Bitter Fame I don't regard it as one of them.

Hi Trish, so good to know you are posting still. As usual you put me in my place with a fair and reasonable perspective. You made many good points and I am better off for reading them, thank you. Part of my dislike for RM is that according to some sources, and namely in "Ariel's Gift" (if I recall correctly) she was quoted as saying, (at the time she had learned of the publication of Birthday Letters in 1997) "My teeth began to grind uncontrollably". Apparently she was outraged at this book, felt Hughes had no right to publish it and more than likely also felt quite acutely her ownfrustration at having utterly no power over that process. Her glaring lack of involvement in this very private and special publication of Ted Hughes's poems about his late wife must have been the most declarative statement of her own helplessness in some manner, either personal or artistic. She is lesbian and perhaps harbored an erotic fantasy of Plath, perhaps this was unconscious on her part, hence the venom toward Ted Hughes, it is possible.

It is obvious she must have felt threatened by the impending change in Ted Hughes's perception by the general public and academia. He had been so successfully demonized by feminists and others and now he was doing something incredibly brave, extremely courageous, wonderfully (empowering) as we feminists like to say, and publishing poems that he himself described as "too raw" too personal, too revealing. R.Morgan can sometimes seem a bit (out there) as far as I am concerned and I know full well that I am not the only person who thinks so, just perhaps one of the few individuals outspoken enough to admit it. I think she is also a woman who has led a very colorful life, she has certainly always liked being the center of attention and being a (child actor) may also have influenced her in this regard as well. In any event, I am not a big fan of her extremist fanatical ramblings and find myself bored by her juvenile venom, sorry to any fans of Robin Morgan.

I have always defended TH's right to publish Birthday Letters as his last attempt to set the record straight and in his own clear voice declare his imperfect yet undying love for his wife Sylvia Plath. It always struck me as odd that this woman Morgan felt she was somehow intrinsic to this situation. Desiring to inject herself into an enormous family tragedy in such a manner as to attack Hughes as often as she did, suggest his (sexual mutilation) in one of her poems and call him a "murderer" as often as she is known to have done so has always seemed rather unbalanced to me personally. I mean really where did she ever fit in? Was she a sister, a lover, a relative? I don't think so!

To defend poems about the suggested sexual mutilation of a man as essentially "just a poem" is almost as naive as saying that mysoginistic poems about the sexual mutilation of women are also "just a poem". It is unacceptable. I do not read poetry by unbalanced feminists who say that it's okay to suggest sexually mutilating (a man) is a good thing! If that kind of inferior poetry is to be accepted as valid, meaningful poetry about valid meaningful human interaction then I guess poetry by men suggesting the rape and torure of women should also be accepted as "just a poem" and not a horrible and ugly attack on others based solely on their gender. It's a form of reverse sexual discrimination and it does not in any way present a sound argument, has no basis as (fair) in any manner and is only for those individuals who do not possess the intelligece to see the double standard and/or the hypocritical license inherent in those outdated, reactionary and juvenile idealogies.

When writers and/or poets are that extreme in their attempts to vilify another artist based in most part on the unfortunate individuals sex, they obviously then lose credibilty. With regard to the habit of assigning blame within this context, it certainly IS based on personal experience (and I'm just as imperfect as anyone else) but when one is ignorant of what it feels like to look a lovely seductress in the eye then they will never know the incredible power a woman like that can wield. Having been there my friends, having seen the intense hatred in her particular gaze, (she shall remain nameless) I can say with some authority who had the most culpability in this melancholy tale of Malignant Sadness. I'm such a ham aren't I? Do forgive me! Stay happy people and keep reading! Cheers!

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon , USA
Saturday, January 22, 2005

Guido- "Midsummer Mobile" appears in the "Juvenilia" section of Plath's Collected Poems;

Begin by dipping your brush into clear light.
Then syncopate a sky of Dufy-blue
With tilted spars of sloops revolved by white
Gulls in a feathered fugue of wings. Outdo
Seurat: flak schhoner flanks with sun and set
A tremolo of turquoise quivering in
The tessellated wave. Now nimbly let
A tinsel pizzicato on fish fin

Be plucked from caves of dappled amber where
A mermaid odalisque tangled in wet hair,
Fresh from the mellow palette of Matisse;

Suspend this day, so singularly designed,
Like a rare Calder mobile in your mind.

....Perhaps not a good poem, in the sense of being too crammed with images to have room for the images to expand...but it does give off a taut kind of "boing boing" vibration, like a stretched wire; which, I suppose, is its own kind of expansion. How different it is from the drafty grandeur of the "Ariel" poems, which seem to provide an entire empty universe for Plath's imagery to fill ("the comets/ have such a space to cross-")

Theressa, another controversial and interesting post, yes....I agree with you completely about "The Arraignment" being a ludicrous poem as a political statement/feminist literature; but then, as Trish quite correctly pointed out, a poet does not owe the world politeness. Still...I agree that there is indeed a difference between a valid feminist interpretation and the interpretation of a fanatic, and Morgan certainly moves under the shadow of the latter with this piece. As far as the rest of her contributions to literature go, I am not familiar with them and cannot comment, although this line of discussion may inspire me to seek them out.

Jen, thank you for your wonderful post. What an amazing detail to note...I've gotta go back over those photos now:-)

Lisa A. Flowers
Norfolk, Virginia , USA
Saturday, January 22, 2005

Hi Guido,

"Midsummer Mobile" is in the Juvenilia section in the back of Collected Poems - in my copy, pg. 324. As a poem it originally appeared in the Christian Science Monitor in July 1959 - quite a few years after it was written!

Toronto, Canada
Saturday, January 22, 2005

While trying not to go too far out on a Robin Morgan tangent, I think I speak for Therresa when I say that just because Morgan is a lesbian and hates men doesn't mean that Threrresa insinuated ALL lesbians hate men or that Morgan hates men because she is a lesbian.

I haven't read the poem in question either, but one thing I know for sure is that Morgan has, if anything, a "teeth grinding" hate for men. This is evidenced by some of Morgan's more prominent quotes on the subject:

"Sexism is NOT the fault of women -- kill your fathers, not your mothers."

"I claim that rape exists any time sexual intercourse occurs when it has not been initiated by the woman, out of her own genuine affection and desire."

"I feel that "man-hating" is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them."

"Don't accept rides from strange men -- and remember that all men are strange as hell."

Just so that there isn't any misinterpretation, not being a woman, I won't ever know what it is like to be a woman, therefore, in pointing out others minsinterpretations, I do not claim to truly know anything about Morgan other than she sincerely hates men AND (not therefore) is a lesbian . And maybe, for Alice Goodwin-Self, these quotes will help you out with your research of Arraignment.

Littleton, CO, USA
Saturday, January 22, 2005

If memory serves, Robin Morgan's poem was in a paperback called Monster, which you can get from a used bookstore for a couple of bucks - amazon probably has copies, if your local doesn't... it had a picture cover from Crete, the terracotta statue of the bare-breasted Minoan priestess waving snakes from every hand... and, maybe I'm just being a crabby old English grad here, but re Our Guardian of the Gates re our personality discussions--these are always interesting, but--I personally see no special mystique in being "a writer"--per se----there are plenty of mediocre writers--Plath was an inhumanly articulate *seer*, I would say; and seers are uncommon...we all have friends and enemies, and each will describe us differently; I just got through the Faber "Writers on Writers" --Hemingway*s Ford Madox Ford is a Hemingway character, Virginia Woolf's Henry James, or Eliot, or Katherine Mansfield are little Virginia Woolfs, and Boswell's Johnson is just that; whenever you describe someone else, when you put down the pen, you've always described yourself, to a T. None of us can escape this, but we can all at least recognize it...

Anais Nin said that best, describing a day by the Seine; I see soft colors and beautiful sunset and clouds, said she, but were Henry Miller here, he would talk about the trash on the shore, and the dead fish, and the sour smells; we don't describe things as they are; we describe them as we are. --one of Nin's best moments, that, I think....

For the rest--well--I just got through a book of encounters with Dylan (Bob, not Thomas), and Pamela des Barres said what she learned from meeting her heroes was "they're just silly, insecure human goofballs, just like myself. What a relief!"....I'll drink to that... ..and, as for that unseen Plath poem, I've never seen a copy either--does it really exist, somewhere, I wonder?...

Kenneth Jones
Berkeley, USA
Saturday, January 22, 2005

Paul Alexander's play Edge is going to be playing in my area soon. Its review in the local paper was relatively positive, but most Plath fans seem to think of it as another way to "cash in" on her life.

I was just interested in some input from you Plathologists who have seen the play. I'm sort of working towards being a Plathologist myself one day, so I figure that I should start by absorbing anything about her now.

Kathleen D.
Davie, FL , USA
Friday, January 21, 2005

Therresa, it was good to read another of your (always provocative) posts! Always enjoyable. I have to disagree on a couple of things. First, your description of RM's "teeth grinding lesbian hatred of men." Since I haven't read the poem in its entirety, I'm not sure if you're quoting directly, or if that's your interpretation, but...lesbians are not man haters!

Now as for the quality of RM's poetry. The fragments I've read didn't overwhelm me, but surely a poet does not owe the world politeness. Her rage may seem inexplicable to you and me, but Morgan has just as much right to create a provocative poem, as you have to go on this board and dismiss it! I would think that reading her body of work would be instructive for any student old enough to understand it. Her Sisterhood is Powerful was certainly a seminal work. I'm always wary of "good feminist" vs. "bad feminist" characterizations. Best wishes, though, and I hope this rain isn't making you miserable like it is me. Thank you, Elaine, for letting me get a little off topic here.

Seattle , USA
Wednesday, January19, 2005

Hello, Therresa ~

I've read a fair few of your posts here in recent months, and before I go any further, allow me to compliment your beautifully articulated post, regarding Sylvia Plath having spared the lives of her children. I agreed with you there, 100 percent. The night of her suicide, Sylvia went to lengths described as "painstaking" (Ronald Hayman) to ensure that her children would be safe. Like you, this is something I always remember.

Having said that, your vitriolic attitude to Assia Wevill combined with this business of saying and/or implying things like: "TH was a man, after all ... lots of men cheat on their wives" is really kind of irksome. I don't think rationalizing his caddish behaviour in terms of the fact that he was "a man" is very fair on all other men, for a start! And pardon these clichÈs all lumped together but however it came about, it does take two and I think Hughes' affair with Assia broke Plath's heart. All too often, biographers and "friends" ~ ie, Dido Merwin ~ refer to Sylvia's reaction only in terms of her being "angry" and "jealous", seldom acknowledging how genuinely hurt she must have felt.

I confess to feeling ridiculous talking about these people as if I knew them, but Hughes did have culpability ~ not for the suicides of Sylvia and Assia, but for cheating on first one than the other. (The "blame game" when it comes to their suicides is of course a very different matter. For the record, I also have difficulty feeling empathy for Assia in light of her decision to murder her little girl.)

Back to Robin Morgan. I find it quite ironic that you or anyone here should be slagging Robin Morgan for being "an obsessed outsider desperately wanting to inject herself in a sitation in which she had no basis to be included, no connection to the parties involved, and no right to harrass either of them in the manner she did, all in the name of (defending) Sylvia Plath."

Couldn't that description apply to almost everybody on this forum? Besides, to the best of my knowledge, Robin Morgan only wrote a poem She didn't dedicate her life to stalking Ted Hughes. I am reasonably certain she wasn't "obsessed" with Sylvia Plath or trying to live her life vicariously. I read a rather lengthy book by Morgan called, The Demon Lover: On The Sexuality of Terrorism. She expounds on a great many subjects close to her heart in this tract, but makes no mention of Sylvia/Ted etc. (I'm surprised to learn that Morgan is a lesbian, by the way. In this book, she describes how remarkably rude and hostile other 1960s "radicals" were when they found out that she was married to the father of her baby. However ~ Digression Central. Sorry.)

I think Morgan was just interested, like everybody else with an opinion on Plath. Unlike (almost) everybody else, she didn't just drearily trot out the story/biographical details of this soap opera, this story that so many of us relish in (for better of worse). She instead channelled her thoughts on the subject into creativity, producing a poem that supposedly became "notorious". I use inverted commas there because I can't find the poem itself online, only references to it. (These references seem to inevitably pop up in the same sentence as do the words "unfair vilifying of Ted Hughes" ... blah blah blah.)

I'm not a great fan of Robin Morgan at all, but I can't figure out why anybody should be so eager to denounce the woman on the basis of a poem she wrote. "The Arraignment" was just that ~ a poem. However gratuitous one may find the subject matter, I don't think it should be taken any~more literally than one would take a poem like Sylvia Plath's "The Jailer". Geez, just imagine if we took that poem literally.

Anastasia Charrier
Connordale , Australia
Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Hi there Kim. I was actually interviewed in this programme which is well worth seeing & not just because I am in it! I suggest you contact the film company that made it who are Chameleon Productions, 18, Park Mount, Kirkstall, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS5 3HE , UK. Telephone:0113 230 7150. I can't find an email contact for them, unfortunately. I don't know if they will be able to sell you a copy but I am sure they'll direct you to someone who will.

You do know that British videos don't work on US machines and vice versa? Not sure about DVD's. But there is a process that converts them.

Hope you manage to get hold of a copy as I thought it revealed a great deal of important material about Hughes in particular and showed some good shots of this area. Let me know if you get hold of a copy of it and what you think of it. Unfortunately, I am not on commission:-)

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge , UK
Monday, January 17, 2005

Does anyone know where I can get a copy of the 30 minute BBC program that aired last year? (Sylvia and Ted: Love and Loss).

Amherst, NY , UK
Monday, January 17, 2005

In the years before the Plath industry really became established I was friendly with a relative of Ted Hughes who always described Plath as "very strange." But I always put this down to the fact that most confident and intellectual women such as Plath were would have been considered odd in the Yorkshire of the 1950's and 60's. I felt like an oddball on more than one occasion myself when I moved to this area in 1975!

In 1989 when it was first published I remember feeling rather shocked when I first read Bitter Fame because up until then I had always thought of Plath as someone who I would probably have liked if I had met her. That book raised doubts until I began to appreciate just how much Olwyn Hughes had influenced its writing. Then the outrage of so many of Plath's friends which appeared in the British media reaffirmed the impression I was already forming that the biography was not so much the story of a life but more of a character assassination. However, it was so well written that lingering doubts remained.

In 1994 I was privileged to meet Anne Stevenson and talked with her (though not at any great length) about Bitter Fame. I received a lasting impression that she was a woman who had got herself into a situation she could not extricate herself from for legal and financial reasons and that she regretted having written the book, or at least parts of it. Olwyn emerged as even more of a joint author than anyone at that time imagined. I ended that discussion feeling very sorry for Stevenson, rather than angry with her as I had previously been.

Since then I have been in regular contact with Elizabeth Sigmund (formerly Compton), a delightful woman who I am glad Sylvia had as a friend. She constantly refers to how likeable Plath was, what a good mother and friend, a talented woman with great charisma, but one who was far frailer in both physical and mental terms than the impression she created. It is obvious to me that this vital and interesting woman still misses Sylvia and feels her loss almost as keenly as though her death were a recent event. And rather flatteringly for me she tells me that she feels sure that, " you and Sylvia would have got on so well." I am sure that like many of you I would like to have had the chance.

But in a sense it doesn't matter, we all might have found her very difficult. After all creative people often are. Some excellent writers (especially the men) have been absolute monsters:- drug addicts, alcoholics, wife beaters/abusers, serial adulterers, rapists, sadists, probably more deviants and deviates than the nice, normal people you'd like to have living next door. We might say of writers what Oscar Wilde said of books, "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well or badly written." Same with the people they can either write or they can't.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
Monday, January 17, 2005

Well, I read Bitter Fame, and had to question whether I liked SP or not. I'm tempted to suggest there was more than a little of the prima donna about her, although I must admit that Stevenson did seem to be aiming for this slant from the outset, and I agree that little was made of her life before meeting Ted. Anyhow, even if I was to believe her to be the most obnoxious person in the world, which I don't, it would not change the fact that I think she was a brilliant writer.

I haven't actually read more than a handful of her poems, but the sheer energy in them is undeniable. I love The Bell Jar. I think what I find so fascinating is its odd, detached style, which, for me, makes the experiences described so realistic. I might add, of course, that this sense of detachment also makes for great humour. I have recently read the short story collection Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams. I've not read that many short stories, but I'd say that my favourites up until now have been Kafka's Metamorphosis, Gogol's The Overcoat and ETA Hoffman's The Sandman.

I recognise in "JP" a feel for the abstract present in these aforementioned stories, and a talent for presenting the tragic as comic. I was suprised at the story Sunday at the Mintons, which, if I recall rightly, was published in Mademoiselle. I found the subject matter quite dark and subversive for a nineteen year old girl, but hey, this is SP I'm talking about here. I thought it would be slushy and cosy, especially given the title. I did quite enjoy this story. I also very much liked The Wishing Box, which I felt was in the same vein as The Bell Jar, again, with that detached style SP used to describe an overall absence of feeling which is common to depression.

A final word on Bitter Fame. I cried at Stevenson's description of Sylvia's last few days. I found it very upsetting to read of her larger than life personality disintegrating. The extent of her anxiety must have been crippling. SP's life and works continue to fascinate me, and I feel that this will be the case for many people for a long time to come.

Happy New Year to everyone at the forum! Keep up the good work!

Gina Collings
Stafford, UK
Monday, January 17, 2005

A friend of mine in Italy is desperately looking for a book or a poem by Sylvia Plath apparently called "Midsummer Mobile", but she can't find it anywhere. As I live in the UK she asked for my help, with the hope that I would have more luck, but that's not been the case so far. Can anybody help me and tell me if it exists and, if so, where we can find it? Thank you very much.

Manchester, UK
Thursday, January 14, 2005

I've been rereading both SP's poems, and a smattering of the biographies lately, and have enjoyed scouring the many messages here. A couple of things: someone mentions how shocked they were to hear Frieda Hughes' voice-its likeness to her mother's. It truly is a remarkable thing. I've known mothers and daughters who were alike, but Sylvia and Frieda come as close to a "daughter is a clone of the mother" pair as I can imagine...personally, from the various self-penned bios,the comments and particularly the poems of Frieda's, I'm disinclined to find her a very likeable person, and as a result I'm not usually sympathetic to her, but hearing her read "Balloons" on NPR a month ago gave me chills; it was genuinely touching. Having just bought the new edition of Ariel with her foreward, I was also struck by what seems to be yet another sea-change in Sylvia's daughter, in her point of view regarding her mother...I must say(again, with the dislaimer that I have found FH to be a bit of a pill), it was very well-written.

Back to the sound and timbre of SP's voice: I may be the first here to say it sounded exactly as I imagined she would: older than 30, deep, mannered (that was the only slightly off-putting thing for me-her too-careful diction and perhaps unconscious adoption of certain Brit slants to her cadences), but most of all-humourous-if a bit sarcastically so. What a pleasure to hear "Daddy" read not in an all-out venting of pure anger, but in a wry, sometimes lilting speech. Hearing SP read her own work will really change the way you read it to yourself.

And while I'm here, one other, little detail I've noticed, a poignant little visual link in the photographs that fill Ronald Hayman's The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath ( an excellent book, in my opinion). The first photograph of Sylvia at about age 2, a studio portrait, shows her holding an interesting doll: a little "pixie' with a human face surrounded by a one-piece elf-suited soft body. The last picture in the book, a candid snapshot of Frieda at about the same age (taken by Ted-where did Hayman get these photos?), clearly shows the same doll Sylvia held 26-odd years before, behind her on her toy shelf. Not a thunderbolt by any means, but for some reason I found this infinitely touching, and the reappearance of that distinctive doll made me wonder what its story was - did Sylvia carefully save it from her childhood for her own eventual daughter, or did Aurelia do it for her granddaughter? This tiny mute witness to two generations of complicated little girls.

Jen Lerew
Los Angeles , USA
Thursday, January 13, 2005

I was intrigued to read that someone had compared The Bell Jar to Bridget Jones' Diary. Although I can see the obvious similarities, for example, both Esther and Bridget are single and are at a crucial stage in their lives where they have to make life changing decisions, I am of the opinion that comparing Plath to Helen Fielding is a bit of an insult. I can understand why some people would make these comparisons as Plath, at times could be very funny(you only have to read 'The Applicant' to see an example of Plath's use of humour and irony) however I feel that it is inappropriate to compare a mere novelist to a self reliant heroine such as Plath who was an inspiration to so many. Yes, Bridget Jones' Diary was very funny and clever but it doesnt capture the pain of being stuck in a trap of expectation over expectation which can tear a person apart. The Bell Jar, and Plath in general captures this wonderfully well.

Falkirk , Scotland
Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Hi Alice,

Are you sure you want to write an essay on Robin Morgan? She certainly was not a friend to Ted Hughes or Sylvia Plath. What she was was an obsessed outsider desperately wanting to inject herself in a sitation in which she had no basis to be included, no connection to the parties involved, and no right to harrass either of them in the manner she did, all in the name of (defending) Sylvia Plath.

I am certain Sylvia Plath would not have approved of her "teeth grinding" lesbian hatred of men and the manner in which she expressed it in the poem she wrote about Ted Hughes in which she suggested he should be "castrated" etc. She has never come across as anything but pathetically fanatical and extremist in her bizarre, juvenile and simplistic ideologies.

I consider her one of the stupidest human beings ever to walk the face of the earth, I always will.

I would advise you to carefully read the poem and do some research on her before writing any essay on her. There are many other actual feminists who deserve attention, she is in my own personal estimation not one of them. What she is is a woman profoundly unhappy with her own lot in life who could seriously use some major mental health intervention. Sorry people for being opinonated again, I just couldn't help myself.

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon, USA
Monday, January 10, 2005

Just wondering if there are any Plath fans who read this forum in Australia?

Mariah Richards
Saturday, January 8, 2005

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