Could someone please show me exactly where and how "bashing" of FH has taken place on this web site? If you are referring to my post, please state so. And kindly show me exactly how and why she was treated badly. If someone disagrees with FH's very public letter, how is that treating her unkindly? I've seen far worse written about Sylvia Plath, than about her daughter.
"FH is and will always be first and foremost SP/TH's daughter and that should never be forgotten! Her position is a difficult one. How to honor/ respect/ promote your parents works when half the literary establishment hates one parent and half the other parent, all the while trying to have a creative career of her own."
I think it's much too simplistic to claim that "half the literary establishment hates one parent and half the other"; most unfair to the many critics, authors and writers who've expressed interest and sympathy for both Plath and Hughes, and do so with no particular agenda.
Personally, as far as Frieda Hughes' work goes I'd *love* to forget who her parents were, and see her work as independently as possible. She herself makes ample use of her parents' fame whether she admits to it or not. Nothing odd about that, as I think all of us use our experiences in our art and lives, but she is pretty disingenuous about it's advantages to her. And her anger and resentment, always cast outward at "feminists" and "fans" and never seemingly self-examining, just gets tiresome.
Due to my abiding interest in Plath's life and work I've read most of the public information regarding the dispensation of the Plath literary estate since before Hughes' death(for heaven's sake, an entire book was written about just that)...to suggest that there wasn't a lot of very heated and in some cases overheated emotions on the estate's side is impossible, and Frieda was certainly raised hearing all of this from one angle only - a highly combative one.
First, it was Olwyn Hughes, now it's Frieda who fills that role. Olwyn's been on record as having a very aggressive stance towards the merest quote, and Frieda: the first I knew about her as an adult was the smallish hoo-ha surrounding her "Peanut Eaters" poem. That particular piece of writing, done while a film - a most respectful, not so say incredibly restrained, film - was in the works and infuriating Frieda, apparently, painted a single picture of all people with the sort of interest in Plath that those who read this forum have. And it was ugly.
The picture was one of rank evil, of degenerate grave robbers. Hystrionic. I know this isn't my persona nor do I get that impression from 99.9% of the posters here at the Forum, but given that poem and all the subsequent writings and statements of Frieda Hughes I get the impression that she can conceive of no other type of person being very interested in Plath.
She's not the only child with famous parents, and many of those whose writings I've read put it this way: no one can take away their personal, intimate memories of childhood - no one. What's written about the adult that Frieda did not and will never know is another matter entirely; Sylvia had quite a life before Frieda's birth, and continued to have a persona apart from that of Frieda's mother, including relationships with other adults. That life is not anyone's "personal" property, as long as there are people who deem it worthy of study and examination - be that person Freud, Prokoviev, Walt Disney, Anais Nin or Sylvia Plath. That's the way our curious world works when people have contributed something of value. Plath's worldwide value is inestimably greater than a tabloid personality like, say, Anna Nicole Smith--so the writing about her and interest in her will no doubt outlive all of us--and Frieda as well.
I think very, very few people buy Plath poems or biographies just because they get a thrill out of reading about suicide or infidelity. Plath's work is so much better than that; it's SO strong, so astonishing that it trumps any superficial gossipy interest for any but the most casual browsers--and they probably aren't into poetry anyway. It's true that Joe Average who never reads poetry only knows about Plath and that oven, sadly; but it's also true that those who know more than that are far from peanut-crunching voyeurs, and it's insulting to Plath to relegate them to a stereotype.
I have a photograph of Plath on my door at work(at my work, in a studio, most everyone adorns their doors with various posters, drawings, photos and scrap). It's one of her college-age photos, bent over a typewriter, immaculately coiffed and poised. Most people think it's a model from a vintage fashion layout.
But not long ago one guy passing by paused and asked "Why do you have Sylvia Plath on your door?" I told him it was because I admire her adnd her work a great deal (and in fact seeing her every morning at least subliminally impresses me to push myself as hard as she did, every day). He then proceeded to astonish me by quoting "Black Rook In Rainy Weather"! This at a film studio. Anyway, the point is that neither he nor I are the kind of freaks that FH supposes we are, and I find her volcanic hostility pointless and sad.
I'm sorry Frieda must bear the public burden of being Plath's daughter, but at some point one has to make peace with reality. And it might help one's angst to not assume that every person with an opinion about the poems of Hughes and Plath isn't an intruder with evil intent but another human being with an ear for artistry. That's why we buy the books and write about the poems and their contexts here, I think.
After all the back-and-forth about F. Hughes and the discussion of her poetry, I feel compelled to speak out as a poet, a teacher of poetry, and a person who has, over the course of my life, dedicated myself to the art of poetry so much so that I believe (and others who know me would concur) to have a decent critical mind concerning the stuff.
F. Hughes poetry is very, very poor. She is not a "sucky ass poet" because we are comparing her to her parents and she can't live up--though, frankly, we should be able to compare any "new" poet's poetry to the work of a great poet and if it doesn't hold up, then it can't be very good now, can it?. She is a sucky ass poet because her poetry, in the objective sense (and yes, poetry can be viewed with a strong element of objectivity, particularly by those who have made the art of poetry their lives), sucks. It is sloppy, immature, self-indulgent, and shows little to no acknowledgement of any of the great poets who have come before her (other than, of course, her parents, who she 'borrows' from to the point of near-plagiarizing at times). Her line breaks are abritrary, her imagery is cliche unless it is stolen from her parents (and even then she does not use it as cunningly and subversively as they do), her "revelations" and insights are flat and expected and even juvenile, and there are many things she could and should cut for the sake of succinctness. Ultimately, there is no delight or surprise in her words.
That is why F.Hughes is a middling to bad poet. Not because we are comparing her to her parents and she can't live up.
While I have the utmost respect for Frieda Hughes and can only imagine the awfulness of losing a mother at such a tender age (I have a 2-year old daughter), I was disappointed by -45-. I found the early childhood and adolescence poems captivating, particularly given the direction of my research on her mother's work (which is related to Plath's use of imagery gleaned from childhood); the adolescence poems interested me a great deal, mainly due to their attempt to render "what it feels like for a girl" rebelling against the world. The later poems, however, I found difficult to continue reading. They appeared to me too fixated on the external, on the grievances many of us suffer as adults. I'm curious as to whether others had a similar experience.
I must say I find the FH bashing here quite interesting and see how it exemplifies her to write a poem like "the readers". While I have never been a great fan of how SP's estate had been handled in the past for various reasons, I cannot say that FH has done anything to deserve the flack she gets from all sides of the SP/TH spectrum/coin.
The woman seriously cannot win. Either she's a sucky ass poet because she cannot compare to her parents writing, or she is copying her parents writings which makes her a sucky ass poet, or she said/did blah blah blah regarding TH, but nothing regarding SP, or she said/did blah blah blah regarding SP and nothing regarding TH, or what has she done for SP lately or TH lately as she's in charge of both their estates??
FH didnt create the SP/TH atmosphere in which she must now exist within(father this thick air is murderous). This was created long ago by obsessed fans/ scholars/ purported feminists/ critics and others in various positions of academia. FH is and will always be first and foremost SP/TH's daughter and that should never be forgotten! Her position is a difficult one. How to honor/ respect/ promote your parents works when half the literary establishment hates one parent and half the other parent, all the while trying to have a creative career of her own.
Since she has taken over as executor of both parties, SP's original Ariel was published and two bio's of TH, TH's collected which also contains the Howls and Whispers poems several of which were originally published in Birthday Letters. I have yet to hear a single words from any scholar regarding FH turning them down for any reason with the exception of some of what went into the monstrosity of which is the film Sylvia and that was for obvious good reason! As far as FH keeping her parents names alive, both SP and TH's works do that in and of themselves or we wouldnt be having this discussion, now would we?
for those of you who have expressed interest in Richard Sassoon and his fate post-Sylvia, I will be giving a talk (withpictures of Richard, his art, and recordings of him reading some of his poetry at the New England Poetry Conference in April (as posted earlier by Prof. Hilary Holladay.) The conference, which is in Lowell, Mass, is free and open to the public. Information, schedule and directions are at this link:
Linda Wagner-Martin, who wrote a biography of Sylvia, will also be speaking, along with other Plath scholars. (See the speakers page at the conference site.) (note that my talk is not scholarly as much as personal and anecdotal! It's a bit intimidating to be with all these scholars!! :-) Yet I so look forward to meeting them as well. )
I'll also be hovering around Lowell through the conference, so if anyone is interested in more info (we have very limited time for presentations), come find me at breaks or lunch, etc.
Just a probably superfluous couple of follow-up coins. I've now received...and, for the most part, perused... Frieda Hughes's "45." With all due respect, I'm not finding it to be a departure from the derivative quality of her earlier work at all. In the sense that it doesn't echo TH's work so conspicuously, yes....it's a first. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to agree with Jim Long that FH is, in all likelihood, not really a poet. This isn't necessarily a bad thing...there are plenty of established unremarkable writers out there. It's not necessary to be brilliant to be passably good. But if FH does hope to gain a place in the arts that isn't directly affiliated with her parents, she's better off sticking to a visual medium, I think. "Waxworks" was so imitative of Ted Hughes that if one had handed me the book, author's name obscured, and told me that he had written it, it would not have occured to me to question them. For example, someone recently asked me if I was familiar with Cormac McCarthy's body of work. I replied, "no, but I know Faulkner pretty well...." same thing.
On the subject of Frieda Hughes, I also don't hold any animosity against her as a person, and I do sympathise with her because of the kind of life she has had as a repercussion of her mother's death and her father's vilification. What does upset me however, is that as the executor of Plath's estate, it seems to me that she is not doing enough to promote her mother's work. Whilst I am all for Frieda having her own career, I do think that she should take her role as executor far more seriously, or, hand over the management of it to a trusted devotee who would do the promotion for her.
For instance, the estate owns the domain name sylviaplath.co.uk (and other domain variations), and yet there has never been an official Plath presence on the web to promote her work, apart from this essential forum and various fan sites. This domain site has remained unused. I find that truly puzzling. Another matter is that there have been no new Plath publications since Ariel Restored (all previously available material), despite the wealth of miscellany - unpublished letters, juvenalia, short stories etc. - that are held in the various Plath libraries. This material is of great interest to Plath scholars, but remains unavailable.
The estate is also reknowned for its strictness when quoting Plath material, hence the botched jobs of numerous biographies, and the film Sylvia, which, although would still have had the tendency to be a Hollywoodisation of Plath's life, might have had more merit if the estate allowed her work to be included. Although there is much danger that many people might think that I'm suggesting that Plath should become more commerical, I am simply saying that this isn't the 1960s anymore when poetic reputation alone publicised work. This is 2007, and more should be done to extend Plath's poetry into new realms and mediums.
It seems to me that Frieda expects her mother's work to sell by name alone, but isn't there a danger of future generations not knowing who she is or about her work, beyond the notion that she is 'that poet that killed herself'. Frieda has her own agenda, and I do not blame her for being protective over her mother. But she must also acknowledge Sylvia's desire to be a published writer, and the most 'famous poetess in America' - she gave herself to the public domain. Therefore, although her mother does not belong to us, her work does, because she wrote it for us. I think Frieda Hughes has to accept that, and get on with allowing her mother's work to be published and read.
Hi Morney, I enjoyed reading your post, because I enjoy seeing vigorous discussions about my favorite poet. I think that I might have been misunderstood, however. I certainly have no animosity toward Freida Hughes; why should I bear her any ill will? In fact, I wish her well. Of course she has the right to publish her own works, it would be more surprising if she did not. My point is that, she continually -- yes, continually -- berates other women for criticizing Hughes's treatment of Sylvia Plath's works and the author herself, as if she and only she were entitled to speak about this immensely important writer. That's ludicrous. A poet of Plath's immense stature is going to be the object of much discussion. If she finds any mention in print to be that painful and objectionable, I wonder why she brings up the subject herself? It's as though she is a sacred object...able to criticize freely, but untouchable herself.
Morney wrote in reference to Freida Hughes:
"Someone please explain why the hostility towards her? Ted Hughes is dead now, so she gets the criticism?"
I think part of the problem is that Frieda comes across as narcissistic and bombastic to some. If she strikes that chord in you it becomes easy to feel the need to return a parry. When I first read the post you are responding to my impression matched the poster. And yet your point has made me reflect on this disposition.
My own tendency to judge her poorly has been magnified by a recent reread of the one-upmanship she displays in the foreward to the restored Ariel. Specifically, she takes such relish in countermanding the arguments of those who feel Sylvia's blue commemorative plaque should have been placed outside Fitzroy Road, rather than Chalcot Square. By the fact that she publishes her seemingly successful argument, line by line, she comes across like a shrill child trying to stake a singular claim on land deemed public. It is easy to be turned off by her haughtiness.
Thanks for the post. It made me look more clearly at the unfairness of my own judgement.
Trish -- I think Frieda uses the word 'feminists' because early on, in the early 1970s, when Frieda was still quite young, but old enough to be aware of the hubbub, the people who protested the loudest about Hughes' treatment of Plath and his culpability in her death, were people like Robin Morgan, who actually were feminists. Morgan, is you recall, wrote a poem accusing Hughes of murder and publicly embarrassed Hughes by attending his readings carrying signs saying exactly that. This would not have been lost on Frieda; even if she didn't witness it herself, she certainly would have heard it discussed with some emotion in the Hughes household. She only had one parent left, and he was under attack over something of which she had only the vaguest notion...(remember, in one of the poems in her new collection, she claims that she didn't know until she was 14 years old that her mother had committed suicide). So it's not surprising that she would associate these public attacks with 'feminists'.
Then there's the question of why people react with some vehemence towards Frieda when she claims eminent domain over the subject of her mother's death. She obviously feels that her family's tragedy has been, and still is being, exploited for their own profit by writers, movie-makers and the like. I can hardly blame her for that; I would probably feel the same way in her position. But I think some people also think she reserves to herself also the right to exploit the tragedy for her own ends. I, for example, can't help but think that her poems would hardly have seen publication if she were not Sylvia Plath's daughter. That is my opinion; others may very well feel otherwise. Frieda did not, after all, pursue a personal career, as her brother did, that does not involve exploiting the material of her own life in her art, as her mother did. She may not be a poet, but she followed her mother's example to that extent, that she exploits the death of her parent for the purposes of her own art....and, possibly, keeps her name in the newspapers at a time when she is anticipating the publication of an important work of her own. My personal feeling is that, if anyone is entitled to put her own spin on the material of her family's history, it is she. If she is able, because of who she is, to find an audience for her work, in which she is working through the meaning of her personal tragedy in her own life, I wish her well. She has every right to speak or not speak. But if she's going to make public statements and publish her own version of events, she going to have to get used to other people, like ourselves, who have loved and lived with her mother's work and legacy for decades, to express their own opinions as well. Her mother was, after all, after Hughes' publication of the Ariel poems, a public figure. It was he, after all, whether Frieda likes it or not, who made her family's tragedy a very public one by publishing the poems to the world.
I don't have an opinion one way or the other about Frieda Hughes's speaking out...except to say that I thought her foreword to the restored "Ariel" admirably free of sentimentality and rhapsodizing. I've certainly never gotten the sense that she was actively pushing the issue of her mother; if anything, her commentary on that issue has always seemed to me to be vaugely...and even resentfully....dutiful. Sure...there's no doubt her connections got her into the prestigious publishing houses she works with, but what does one expect? Connections are connections, and they are to be leveraged...whether fate engineers them via years of obscurity or inserts them into one's mouth in a silver spoon.
I don't expect anyone in their right mind would have turned down the opportunity to get their work into print under such auspices. I admit that I've never cared much for FH's poetry in the past....it could just as well have been written by her father....but reviews of her new collection have been outstanding. Based on these, I've ordered the book and am looking forward to finally...hopefully...seeing something given to her by her own muses. At least it's not another "Story of Adele H." Re: Prince Charles, I've read that he was a close friend of Ted Hughes...and maybe subsequently the Hughes family...so perhaps that factors into the letter. I doubt very much that FH just threw it out there randomly. Maybe it has to do with new flak following the release of "The Queen".....who knows.
In all the books I have read on Sylvia Plath, Eddie Cohen (Her Pen-pal) seemed to know her very well and was always honest, wether good or bad with his opinions about situations Plath was experiencing. Can anybody tell me what happened to Eddie Cohen since Sylvia Plaths death and how it affected him ?
(Please note that this is not all a response to Trish's post - it's something I've wondered about for ages because it's an attitude I've seen in so many places.)
Ok, I am truly baffled by the general attitude I see/read in most places towards Frieda Hughes. I've seen it elsewhere and never been able to get someone to explain what it is. I'm dismayed to see it on the Forum too and I honestly would be interested to know why people have such a problem with her expressing her opinions.
Where has she continually brought the subject up herself? Am I missing something? She wrote the foreword to the Restored Ariel, she gave some interviews, she's just written some poems about her life and she's written a letter to The Times. She didn't talk about this subject at all until she was in her 40s. I wouldn't mind betting that if she stayed silent about it, many people would think that was strange. She can't win. Whatever she says or does, people are going to criticise her.
It is, as was said, something that is speculated on endlessly in public anyway. She doesn't need to bring it up herself, it's already there. If she responds sometimes, or talks about it sometimes, so what?
Whole biographies are written about this subject and all Frieda Hughes has to do to get people wound up is write one letter. What is this about?
I don't get it. The fact that she writes a letter to a newspaper or gives an interview or writes a poem about this subject doesn't mean she "has no problem exercising her right to speak out" for a start. Whether she does or she doesn't, it doesn't mean that other people have the exact same right as her. Sure, they have the right - it isn't the exact same right as her. She was Sylvia Plath's daughter, hard as some people seem to find that to take.
Aside from that, other people (feminist or otherwise) have exercised their right to speak out about it for decades. She has every right to speak out about it or respond to it.
I don't mean offence, but I think the view as far as Prince Charles goes is totally different here in the UK. Maybe it isn't seen the same way in America, but what Frieda Hughes says in her letter is completely true. In fact, I can't think of a more appropriate comparison to make. It isn't stretching anything - the public sentiment towards Prince Charles is very similar to the public sentiment towards Ted Hughes.
It's like "be quiet child, I'm a Plath scholar, you're just her daughter, what can you possibly contribute? And how dare you have the arrogance to think you have the right to talk about this anyway?"
Sylvia Plath is public property - where does Frieda Hughes get off thinking she's got the right to say anything about her?
Someone please explain why the hostility towards her? Ted Hughes is dead now, so she gets the criticism?
I wonder what her mother, who so many claim to admire/respect/love/whatever, would think about the general attitude displayed towards her daughter?
Jane - I located the memoir by Max Gaebler online. It appeared in, Wisconsin Academy Review, Vol. 46, issue 2 (Spring 2000). Thank you for bringing it to our attention. I wasn't aware of this particular Plath bio (actually a long article.) Here's the link
It seems strange that Frieda Hughes should object to endless speculation about her mother's death and her father's suffering....and yet she herself continually inserts the topics into public discussion! This letter is one of the strangest accusations I've seen from her yet. Just what did these 'feminists' (why that word?) get from criticizing Hughes and his treatment of Sylvia Plath? Fame? Money? Notoriety? If they did, it was shortlived.
Although several authors undoubtedly earned advances and some royalties from writings about Plath, surely there are easier ways to make a living. I somehow fail to think that profitmongering was their goal, as biographies of Plath just don't sell in the billions. I also fail to see any profit motive from people who spoke out in anger over Hughes' treatment of Sylvia Plath's work. Frieda Hughes has no problem exercising her right to speak out against perceived injustices. So haven't these awful 'feminists' the very same right? Really ...comparing her mother's death and her father's reputation with public criticism over Prince Charles seems quite a stretch.
Freida Hughes recently wrote a letter to The Times in which she compared the blame her father had borne for Sylvia's suicide to the blame now borne by Prince Charles for the death of Diana, it is a fairly long letter and here's the onlinelink to it
Bridget, thanks for the quotations from the letter. Though I clench my teeth and am unsure why you've chosen to present these particular passages as I think Ted has borne enough blame for the mistreating Sylvia as it is. Maybe he was just bad at putting on pram-straps like I am! As I said elsewhere on this forum I don't think Ted was entirely innocent or helpless with what he did but he saw the world and his relationship with Plath in completely different terms than we would. Both were poets and both believed they had destinies to fulfil - I do think he mismanaged affairs in Sylvia's last year but I doubt he had premonitions of the price he'd have to pay for it.
I am trying to locate what I understand to be a biography of Sylvia Plath, entitled "Sylvia Plath Remembered", supposedly published in 1982 or 1983. The author of this work is Max Gaebler, a minister of the Unitarian Church. He was also a friend of the Plath family. Has anyone else heard of this biography?
It`s good to see the end of frozen February and spring return to the Forum. Thank-you so much Bridget for sharing your findings at the Lilly. It's obvious that Ted Hughes did not care for children but I would like to hear opinions on why he 'fooled' Sylvia on that issue. Bridget, were you able to read all Lamayer's book? Does he comment on Plath's journal entries re their travels in Europe?
To Eve I would just like to say that tho' you yourself may be the sweetest of souls, life consists of many who struggle with quite rotten feelings of guilt, hate, envy, cruelty, cowardice and selfishness. Some save themselves by driving other more vulnerable people mad. If, as you claim, Ted Hughes cared more for others' pain than his own needs, then I would say we all have a clear warning - Beware of the Healer who doesn't understand his own wounds.
H. Mc Cormack
Bridget, thank you so much for posting the excerpts from your readings. Aurelia Plath's comments are revealing but troubling, and difficult to read. I'm not sure how to react, as it's quite possible this broken-hearted woman might have written something very different, had she been reading the letters on some other occasion than on the suicide of her much-loved only daughter. The comment most intriguing to me was the note, "My Sylvia!" next to the bit about 'disappointing you hurts as much as anything else.' (paraphrasing). Was poor Aurelia writing in exasperation, or love? Because that is such an odd choice of words, isn't it? 'Disappointing' Aurelia Plath? Did SP honestly think her mother would be disappointed? Shocked, grieving, yes, but disappointing? Hmmm...
Wasn't the Lilly library surreal?
I'm not in a place where I can access my notes from my own trip to the archives, but I recall reading letters where Plath wrote about Hughes and the incident with the pram. I believe she also wrote about this in a letter to her mother which, of course, was not included in Letters Home. I don't know if I am imagining this, but I seem to remember there being some account that countered Plath's claim, something about Plath either fabricating the entire story or maybe that the details between two separate accounts of the story differed significantly. I know the author of Rough Magic (was it Paul Alexander?) mentioned the episode, but I've never heard a big deal made about the story. Why do you think this is so? What is your idea on the story?
Did you happen to read any of Aurelia's "unsent" letters? I recall reading an open letter to a paper where Aurelia thanked those who helped Plath get through her rough patch in Devon, but also said something along the lines of "and those you that systematically destoryed her, you know who you are."
Sat Sept 29, 1962 Letter to Kathy (of the couple Kathy & Marvin whom Ted and Sylvia were friends with): On replying to this message, I think people can just be plain cold sometimes especially when it comes to dramatic things such as your child falling. I remember when I was a child jumping from a tree house and my finger got caught up in a rope. I nearly twisted my finger off and when I came running to my grandmother she just ignored me. Something is wrong in people when they cannot relate to other people's pain---Something that defines a sociopath or just someone cold-hearted. It makes sense for someone like Ted Hughes to react upon, and one of the reasons why I don't care for his being or his poetry.
I just got back from spending two days at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. I spent several hours reading unpublished correspondence between SP and many, many other people/friends/acquaintances; Gordon Lamayer's unpublished book on his relationship with SP; some of SP's calendars; and other interesting artifacts at the Sylvia Plath archive there.
I took some notes while perusing the correspondence and thought I'd post some excerpts here.
I'm not going to comment on these quotes; I thought they may serve to start up some much-needed dialogue again on this website.
(The underlined text below was in red pen by Aurelia Plath)
From a 1955 letter from Richard Sassoon to SP (RS never dated any of his letters to SP, but it is estimated that this letter was written sometime in 1955):
[Written On Yale University stationary]
On my mouth, which is now very clearly all yours, the markings have become dark and distinct: two teeth! Was ever man so mouthed and marked but by a wounded animal?
Feb 6, 1961 letter from SP to Mother:
I am so sorry about disappointing you as anything else, for I'm sure you were thinking of the birth as joyously as I was Aurelia's handwriting, with arrow to underlined prose, 2/14/63 My Sylvia!
Feb 19, 1961 letter from SP to Mother:
Ted and I think seven is a nice magical number & both of us feel our true vocation is being father and mother to a large brood. Aurelia's handwriting along the margin next to this sentence: 2/14/62 False Ted! / Reread after Sylvia's death [I'm guessing that Aurelia meant to write "63" instead of "62" when she dated this note, but perhaps because she was bereaved after SP's death she wasn't thinking clearly when writing this note.]
Sat Sept 29, 1962 Letter to Kathy (of the couple Kathy & Marvin whom Ted and Sylvia were friends with):
I don't know whether I said Ted almost killed Nicholas while I had flu. I kept asking if he had him strapped in to the pram & he lied & said yes, then I heard a terrible scream and came down. He had not strapped him in, & the baby had fallen on the concrete. Ted didn't ever bother to pick him up. He could have broken his head or hurt his little spine.
Anybody have any thoughts on these excerpts?
Lisa and Anna - I'm glad the Alliston poem was of interest. After I posted it, I received an email from an informative source stating that Susan Alliston's dates are 1940-1969 (not 1940-1966 as I supposed.) 1969 must have been a particularly rough year for Ted. Deaths: Susan Alliston; March 23 - Assia Wevill; May 13 - Edith Hughes (mother).
Nancy...wow. The Alliston poem is a remarkable find...all the more remarkable in that it's a stunning piece. If this is any indication of the overall quality of SA's work, I hope to hell those poems eventually see the light of day. Thanks so much for finding and sharing that. It never would have occured to me to browse The Nation's archives, but there you have it....a gem shining there matter of factly at the bottom of a pile of years.
Kim....I would love to see that article. I googled Alliston and found a mention of St. Botolph's Review, but I didn't realize that much information was available. I greatly look forward to seeing that.
Viktor... re: the upcoming Bell Jar film...Maggie Gyllenhall has apparently been cast in the role of Esther. Though it's far from a terrible choice, I no longer hold out any hope for these kinds of enterprises.... they've been butchering literature for far too long. Who knows, though...it may surprise us. In any case, it's better than Lindsay Lohan in talks to play Caitlin Thomas (no...I'm kidding.... I do so wish I were :-))
The 2nd St. Botolph's Review came out last year, with offerings from many of the original contributers, and it contains an article about Susan Alliston (what's 49 years or so between issues?!) The piece discusses her life, her poetry and her relationship with Ted. When I locate my copy I'll post more, if you are interested.
Ted Hughes was (as per Megordo's comments) a sensitive, compassionate man who cared more for other's pain than for his own needs.
He was attracted to the 'wounded' and to those who were 'needy' because of his compassionate nature and his inate desire to absdorb some of other's pain, and to heal and to help if he could.
He was also vulnerable to those who had no conscience and/or saw him as a way to enhance their own image and/or to gain what they wanted for themselves.
Naming no names but Frieda's book "Forty Five" has attracted litigant attention from one who used and abused Ted and his children for 25 years. In consequence, "Forty Five" may not be published in UK as planned.
In order to understand Sylvia Plath and her personal pain, her own journey; learning more about her parents, in particular her father, would give more insight into how she came to be who she was.
Ted Hughes enabled her to develop a certain courage to express something of her search for who she was. Ted was in no way, the cause of her suicide. Never would or could be. Similarly, in Assia he sought to 'heal' and perhaps to find a way to change the direction another woman was intent on persuing; another woman whom he saw intinctively, as intent on self destruction.
Through a desire to experience the extremes of emotion, to risk the chances in living that most will evade as "too frightening" .. being aware of one's inevitable end in death and perhaps, understanding that one's end truly is an inevitability (no matter what or who one is) Sylvia Plath either ignored, or was unable even to consider the effect her actions may have upon those who loved her and those who needed her.
It is that despair that is the knot within mental illness that makes such an illness one of horror.
Unless mental illness is accepted as being one of the most profound of influences upon Sylvia Plath (most certainly that of growing up with those who have such illnesses) by all those who read and feel for her poetry and writings, then discovering how she came to be who she was and to be where she ended will remain a never ending journey to nowhere. Detachment and acceptance can be - perhaps - a beginning.
The movie was, as is usual for such entertainment, mostly nonsense.
It's the first time I write in the Forum, but I read it pretty often. I find it really interesting and, most important, it keeps the flame of Sylvia's poetry alive.
I'm an Italian student and I'm writing a thesis about Ted Hughes: I've always felt very strangely about him, swinging between the biggest admiration and the bitterest suspect. This because I often identify myself with what Sylvia has written, especially when she was younger and struggling for her true voice and talent to come out... As far as poetry is concerned, though, I think Ted Hughes' work has no equal and he can transmit powerful emotions with the careful choice of words and sounds in every verse he has written.
Writing about him is really the most difficult decision I've ever taken in my academic career! Sometimes I think I should have chosen a Plathian subject, but there...I would have been too partial and made my supervisor very upset...
I've recently read Frieda Hughes "Forty-five", I had it shipped from England for I was dying to read it after having seen the paintings on her website. I think it is an extremely intense collection that has left me unbearably sad in some occasions, and moved. One must be very strong and determined to let every feeling flow like pure water, knowing that most people would be very curious about the most personal parts (as I admit I was). I hope I'll be able to read her previous collections as soon as possible to talk about her style in a more competent way; all I can say now is that her delicate poems and passionate paintings make me think she is a very gifted artist, no matter what other people may think.
Just a few words for Melanie from Paducah: I would suggest you Jillian Becker's book "Giving up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath". It contains a very detailed description of Sylvia's flat in Fitzroy Road, it may be useful for your work.
To Nancy Howell: Thanks! Reading Susan Alliston's poem was really a pleasure.
Cheers to everybody
Greetings from a sporadic forum poster, but very avid reader.
I'm currently working on a translation of "Three Women" to Brazilian Portuguese and I'm looking for books/papers/essays that could offer me good information and interpretations to this particular work of Plath. I'm also interested in material on Plath and feminism and Plath and motherhood. I'm doing some research, but I always get some privileged feedback from the forum members - I would love to get some views of the play from you. I'm also quite interested in hearing from translators who have worked with "Three Woman", for a change of experience.
Marina Della Valle
I have loved Sylvia's Poetry since I studied her in my last year of school in 1978 in Australia. Tulips is the life and thoughts of many women. Twenty five years later I still relate to her amazing life and poetry.
Sylvia Plath's grave - February 2007
A Lover of Unreason by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev (Robson Books, 2006)
Review by William Bedford
In the past, I have seen some questions and discussions about Sylvia Plath's grauation thesis, 'The Magic Mirror: A Study of the Double in Two Novels of Dostoevsky'. The work was published by Embers Handpress in a small, hand-made edition in 1989 and has become very rare and quite expensive.
My wife and I are the people who published, printed, and bound this edition. We ceased our printing operations shortly after publishing this Plath work, and some remaining copies have never been bound. As we are now starting up again, one priority will be to finish binding this and other editions.
If anyone would like information on the availability of this work, please send a message with subject line 'magic mirror' to me and I will send a brief text with information about the current state of affairs. I would be grateful if students would bring this message to the notice of school and university librarians. This will probably be the only chance to acquire a copy. Thank you.
Yes, I've just read Forty-Five by Frieda Hughes. I think it's the best (and most interesting, I suppose) book of poetry I've read since 'Birthday Letters.' Some books of poetry (rarely I think) really benefit from being read from start to finish, in one sitting if possible - at least certainly the first time they're read. I always thought that about 'Birthday Letters' and I felt the same way about 'Forty-Five.' She also painted 45 paintings to go with the poems. They're not in the book but can be seen on her website (I think there may be another copy of the book coming out later this year which will include the paintings).
Apart from the obvious interest factor in this book, I felt the poems were very good and still would have been if she wasn't who she is and wasn't writing about what she was writing about. I've got all her volumes of poetry and have to admit that I didn't think much of some of the earlier work. I really had the feeling with 'Forty-Five' that she had 'found her own voice' (I know, echoes of it being said that SP really found her voice with the Ariel poems). Maybe when she was writing her earlier books, she was too aware of the fact that she would be compared to her mother and to her father. This book is really HERS if that makes sense. I'd like to see anyone trying to argue that her poems are just her copying her mother or father.
I wouldn't say that it deals with how she views her mother's suicide exactly. It's written about, it's mentioned, but I don't feel that she expresses her view of it. A lot of it deals with her falling out with Carol Hughes (their difficult relationship while Frieda was growing up and their complete break after Ted Hughes's death). I think she does express her views about this in quite some detail. I found some of the poems heartbreaking because she had so obviously been wanted to be loved by a mother figure and her stepmother just wasn't that loving person.
I think it's a wonderful book of poetry and I'd recommend it to everyone.
I had a few thoughts about a particular section of Hughes's "Gaudette." I know the fictional premise of that work, of course, but I'm speaking now of its unacknowledged autobiographical elements.
It's been established that the "Susan" mentioned in Birthday Letters's "Number 18 Rugby Street" was the poet Susan Alliston.
The most powerful, moving, and terrible section of "Gaudette" contains the following lines:
"Waving goodbye, from your banked hospital bed
Like a pillar over Athens
In the blinding metropolis of cameras"
"I know well
Holding too lucidly the deep glimpse
Of lifting away yourself
And weeping with the ache of the effort."
The latter half of the first excerpt does seem to refer to Sylvia (and/or Assia, perhaps....elsewhere in the poem Hughes writes, "the grass blade is not without/the loyalty that never was beheld"...an interestingly ambiguous line that could be a reference to Plath or Wevill.)
However, "A Lover Of Unreason" chronicles how Hughes became curious about Alliston ("an aspiring poetess with a shoulder length mane of dark bronze hair") after seeing a poem of hers in "The Nation." Subsequently they did meet; and struck up a relationship that endured for a long time...both before and after Plath's death....and was, according to Lucas Meyers, "not essentially sexual, but one of intellectual and artistic sympathy and friendship, and Ted thought well of her poetry."
However, when Alliston was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease a few years later, Hughes admitted that the friendship "took on a new life, under that horrible cloud." (In Negev and Koren's biography, this was treated as one of the first major examples of Hughes's "infidelity" to Assia.) It states that after Alliston's death, Hughes collected Alliston's poems from 18 Rugby Street, and attempted to find a publisher for them.....unsuccessfully, for some reason.
Now, apparently, the unpublished poems (with a "touchingly intimate" introduction by Hughes) are in the Hughes archive at Emory University. Obviously this is a tragic and deeply moving story; but the only reason I dwell so upon it is because there seems to be a good possibility that the above quoted section of "Gaudette"...which goes on for a long time and is frankly agonized.....largely (though obviously not entirely) concerns the death of Susan Alliston. However, I can't recall that any of Hughes's biographers have discussed this in detail. Anyone have any information?
Marco Ribeir . . . . I agree with you regarding fame and poetry in general...especially in the states. However, I was not referring so much to the forseeable likelihood of "Ariel" attaining success as I was to Hughes's confidence in his own genius and n the genius of his wife. Even at that early date, he was already more or less permanently established in the literary world.
Marco Ribeiro - Thank you for showing us that passage! It definitely shares some light on the whole thing.
I figured that the journal was probably destroyed in an act of resentment, yet I still find it hard to understand how TH thought he had the right to do that, especially since they weren't even living together, Sylvia's property deserved much more respect than that - it doesn't matter what was written in it, if she wanted it destroyed she should've and probably would've done it herself. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders what Frieda thinks of that matter.
Viktor - I didn't know there was a Bell Jar movie and I'm just hoping that it's good. I'm assuming that Frieda signed off on it being produced? Speaking of her, thank you also for the link to her book which I look forward to reading.
Megan - thank you for sharing that info on your father. It's interesting to say the least. And to speak personally about Ted and who he was, I find it enough to trust Frieda and believe that he was a good and caring father, a good man who had done some bad things. And while there is little doubt that he hurt Sylvia greatly, her decision to leave us all was a very personal decision made for a vast number of reasons, the seeds of which were planted long before Ted came into the picture.
And since I found this site recently I wanted to thank the creaters and moderators for giving the world a much-needed place to remember her and her work. Forty-four years is only the beginning.
Rest in peace Sylvia we love you and miss you...
Does anyone know where i could get pictures or a description of the inside of 23 Fitzroy Road? I have to write a paper on Sylvia Plath as if I was her. I'm writing it diary-style, sitting in the kitchen. I need to know what it looks like on the inside. Any ideas?
Although all things Plathian seem to have gone a little quiet of late, there does appear to be some activity. Has anyone on the forum read Frieda Hughes' book Forty-Five, which apparently deals with how Frieda views her mother's suicide. And also a new book by Anita Helle called The Unraveling Archive, which is a riveting book of essays on how Plath has been depicted in fictional novels, documentary and film. Does anyone have any views to share on either, or the new Bell Jar movie slated for 2008?
Regarding Sylvia's last journal, Meri, see Diane Middlebrook's Her Husband, especially pp 235-238. Middlebrook has gone through the Ted Hughes Papers at Emory University, and she notes: "In the draft of a long letter addressed to the literary scholar Jacqueline Rose in 1990, Hughes initiated a confession: 'I have never told this to anyone-- I hid the last journal-- about 2 months of entries,' a decision he now regarded as an expression of his 'utter foolishness' at the time he did it. he says that only the last page might have proved damaging to their children; he was actually protecting "somebody else," whom he doesn't name. But even while drafting this disclosure, Hughes had second thoughts, and crossed out those self-incriminating words. He sent Jacquelin Rose a much less interesting-- though still very interesting-- letter. But he saved the evidence of his impulse to tell all. The whole slew of draft pages of this unsent letter went into his archive, fragments of the 2 1/2 ton jigsaw puzzle he left to posterity." (Her Husband Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath-- A Marriage, by Diane Middlebrook 2003, Penguin Books, Page 238)
Lisa Flowers: no one could have known prior to the release of Ariel that it was going to become a sensation. In this day and age, in the US and England, poets are never famous - except in English Departments. In the U.S., Sylvia Plath (& Anne Sexton) are the great exceptions to this rule
This all highlights for me the fact that you can never really know someone.
My late father was a childhood friend and classmate of Ted Hughes at Mexborough Grammar School.There were only about 16 students in the graduating class. They had a superb English master named Jack Fisher. Dad admired him tremendously. Dad became a physician, and he and Mum emigrated to the US in 1957 and ended up in Massachusetts. He'd lost track of Ted after they both left Mexborough, but at one time in the late 50's, they must have been living within a mile of one another in Boston. I was born in 1963 and later attended Brookline High School, where Sylvia Plath's mother Aurelia had, unbeknownst to me, apparently taught for years.
We always had Ted Hughes' books in the house, and I gradually learned about him and the whole "Sylvia thing". Dad had very fond memories of Ted, describing him as funny, "gentle as a lamb" and always carrying a little notebook with him in which to write. He was not the type to leave the pub before he'd bought his round. Dad also remembered that Ted was always coming across wounded animals and nursing them back to health. Hmmm.
On the other hand, I went on to read biographical information about Sylvia, most of which portrayed Ted as a selfish brute. I've been to Heptonstall where Syliva is buried, but I did not know that at the time either. It's a very gothic place, to put it mildly.
Dad could never reconcile his memories of Ted Hughes with his public image. The more I read about it, the more confused I get as well. As I said above, you can never really be sure you know someone, and now that Ted, Sylvia and Assia are dead, we can be sure we never will know them.
Thank you, Lisa, for your sensitively drawn distinction between art/fantasy and life/biography. Your insights make your theory seem, to me at least, wholly plausible.
I have my own theory about the contents of the journal that Hughes supposedly destroyed. I suspect that it contained extensive rants on Sylvia's part on the subject of Ted's cheating, his sexual habits and preferences etc. similar to things she had already written about deficiencies in his personal hygiene, but much stronger. I also suspect that he did actually destroy it and it will likely never be resurrected in some safe deposit box because he made sure the children would never see it, even as adults, period.
I have long had a theory about the contents of Plath's last journal....undoubtedly not an original one; I have heard variations of the following idea in various scholarly and fictional works about Plath and Hughes, including Kate Moses's "Wintering"; but all concern the possible underlying meanings of the poem "Edge."Olwyn Hughes said that reading the journal would be a "nightmare" for F&N, and Ted claims the journal was destroyed because he did not want Sylvia's children to have to read it. Assuming he's telling the truth, one wonders what could possibly be in there that hasn't already been disclosed to the public? Conceivably, only one thing: perhaps the journal contained a detailed plan, or summary....entirely rooted in fantasy, in my view....concerning Plath's doing away with her children. I want to state again, emphatically, that I do not think, as Jillian Becker and others have suggested, that Plath ever truly considered, or could under any circumstances have been capable of, such an unspeakable act.
But it's no stretch at all to consider the possibility that she outlined an anguished revenge fantasy that she wanted Hughes to believe she had the capacity to carry out. She obviously knew he would be reading the journal in question: as Jillian Becker observed, Plath's death was addressed to Hughes, and through him to the world. SP made use of everything, so it makes sense that she would have made use of any fantasy within her power to attempt to purge herself from the all-consuming hold that Hughes had on her.
Far from symbolizing a sick personality, such liberation and risk in artistic expression, in my opinion, is indicative of the potential to heal.The moral person will make a distinction between reality and fantasy, and seek their own therapy and release in the latter ("she has to act out the awful little allegory before she is free of it," SP said of her own writing.)It is therefore perfectly conceivable that Plath could have been the most loving, caring parent in the world while simultaneously penning a fiction of the worst kind of darkness....which, to a great extent, she already officially did, in "Edge". Decent human beings will draw a distinction between art and life. It is the real psychopaths and/or monsters of the world who fall into Assia's category, and feel no responsibility whatsoever to that distinction.....or any distinction.
Maybe this is nonsense; but again, if so....I don't know what could possibly be in that journal that the public doesn't already know.....or that Hughes couldn't have forseen would eventually have been disclosed. He was already as good as famous, and he must have known how "Ariel" would be received.
Also, to stray a bit from the topic of the Assia biography, I was wondering if anyone knows the current situation of Olwyn Hughes? I came across something that interests me just now while searching, a quote by Olwyn Hughes about Sylvia's last journal from the last months of her life:
"Ted Hughes destroyed it, possibly mistakenly, certainly understandably, in order, as he says, that her children would not have to read it. I read it, and I think it could have been a nightmare for them." Olwyn Hughes as quoted on this webpage.
This is the first time I have heard that Olwyn herself read Sylvia's last journal. I know this has been discussed over and over again but I will remain interested in it until I know for sure if the journal was really destroyed or if it was just put away. At one time I had read an article by someone whose view was that Ted Hughes and those in charge of the Plath estate before one of her kids took over would realize the importance of Plath's last journal and surely would not actually destroy it, but make sure it's kept away from view until probably after the lifetime of her children.
Reading Olwyn's comments above about having read it herself, and the usual vaguery about Ted's motives for destroying it. I thought I remembered Ted Hughes coming out later and saying maybe he *didn't* destroy it but was never going to publish it. ?? I know it's probably wishful thinking but a lot of people do speculate that the journal was not really destroyed but would be kept away from her children and the public.
At the very least, it seems from reading Assia's biography the she was one of the people who read Sylvia's last journal as well! Does anyone here know exactly who has claimed to have read Plath's last journal besides Assia Wevill, Olwyn Hughes, and Ted Hughes? Do you think there is a chance it still exists? And, do you think that having read it Ted or Olwyn at least have written an account that details some of the things it said, to be put in her archives after a certain time period in the future?
It just seems such a shame the journal would be destroyed. I fully understand and support it not being published (thought wouldn't I love to read it to complete my understanding of Plath). I know this has been stated over and over, I just had never seen that *Olwyn* had read the journal, I thought Ted destroyed it with no one else having seen it. Then I read that *Assia* had read it as well. It seems a shame...I feel like if it were my mother, I would probably not want it published ever, but I would want it saved and viewable in a private collection after a lengthy time because I would view it as an important piece of her history. I might want to read it myself if I were Frieda or Nicholas, as an older adult...but if not, then I would probably not have wanted it destroyed.
What are some thoughts on this? And has there been any knew info?
Hi Meri....yes, all that and more. It just seems superfluous and/or redundant to insinuate that Assia was making some sort of dutiful, reluctant observance to Plath's suicide by not bearing that gossip-columnesquely dubbed "love child."
What about her callous response to Plath's death, which you mentioned; or she and Ted's joint residence at Fitzroy Road, or the Ireland/Spain trip, or yadda yadda, etcetera?
There's nothing about her behavior at that point in time that wasn't "morally unacceptable," as far as I'm concerned; so citing one example is akin to running somebody over in the street and then expecting credit for putting a fresh, unbloodied shirt on the corpse and leaving a flower in its buttonhole.
I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with Jen that that the writing in this biography was detached. In descriptions of Plath's neuroses (for want of a better term) there is a subtle snideness in the authorial tone that, again, just doesn't seem to be present in descriptions of Assia. Among many other things, Plath is described as "virtolic;" a maker of "particularly nasty" scenes (descriptions that are superfluous to the narration of actual events) while Assia (whose sociopathic behavior, granted, speaks for itself) is described in a manner that is alternately neutral and sympathetic.
I wonder if there have been any truly in depth interviews with the authors about this book? If anyone knows of any, I would be very interested to read them. In the meantime, I'm going to have to agree with Meri that this books's agenda remains baffling.
Strange, too, is the fact that there are moments in this book that could have been potentially redemptive for Wevill, had they been allowed a wider breadth. Some of Assia's diary entries, as Peter Steinberg noted, show an objectivity and self awareness that inspires one to want to read more. "I was endowed with too many minor qualities, but neither the will nor the huge intelligence to bring them a life of their own" .....this is penetrating writing worth further consideration ....not because it's self-deprecating, but because it indicates perception and insight.
If the aim of Negev and Koren really was to humanize Assia, why didn't we see more such entries? From what I understand, they had access to all of Wevill's journals. And very little, comparatively, is said about Assia's translations of Amachai's work. Beautiful those translations may be....but they are never really discussed in detail or expanded upon. Worst of all may be the insinuation that Shura, at the ripe old age of 4, was as disillusioned and world weary as her mother .....that her childhood had been so irrevocably damaged by Hughes that her death, too, was inevitable ....pathetic ...give me a break. But that, too, is only the tip of this bizarre iceberg in the midst of a melting pot.
Lisa: (here's a quote of what you wrote):
"And I love this, on page 119: "Even if she (Assia) and Ted wished to keep their love child, Plath's suicide made it morally unacceptable." Uh...morally unacceptable....as opposed to...huh?"
I completely agree. Some of the statements in this book are just, I don't know...odd. Like the above. I mean--David Wevill gave his name to Shura, who was born a few years later and was (as far as I know) acknowledged to be Ted's. Still out of wedlock, but still a mistress of a man whose wife committed suicide after being upset over their affair (among many other factors that played into it). It's either morally acceptable for the time, or not, but it sounds crazy to pin it all on Plath's suicide- which, is mentioned in the book also, Assia told her coworkers "something horrible has happened, Sylvia killed herself" and then when they said she (Assia) must feel terrible, Assia's reply was "Why should I, it has nothing to do with me." This is all paraphrased as I don't have the book on my desk. But it is a book that has an agenda that seems to be not quite on Assia's side. It puzzles me.
I have now finished the book, and I NEVER felt a great sympathy for Assia in regards to her behavior. All I ever felt was that she was selfish, vain, and had no care for the feelings of others in her affairs- her husband, or anyone else. She was very calculated in going after Ted and her behavior after Sylvia's suicide was just horrible. She stole some of Plath's writings and mailed them to her sister in Canada! Her sister later returned them to Ted....but that is awful. She read Plath's last journals, and went through her possessions, etc. And it wasn't even sympathetic that she left something to Plath's children in her will because she left them intangible things "lots of love" or whatever it was. I really need my book to provide the citations for this.
All I can say is that the book made me look at Ted in a worse light, and I have read all the other bios. It didn't portray Assia as at all warm or human but it portrayed Ted terribly. He really treated Assia poorly in the end. As he seemed to have Sylvia. He was the same with his mistresses but the difference seems to be that Assia and Plath both loved him SO much, the other mistresses knew their place or gave up on him, etc. When he married Carol Orchard he sent her away and slept with someone else on their honeymoon night, not telling the woman until the next morning that he had married!
So this Assia bio did not make me sympathetic to Assia, it just raised my awareness of Ted's behavior as well. I did feel a twinge of sympathy for her in the end when I realized that Ted did continue to treat her with such disregard. And I get the impression from several of the bios that Frieda was the only one of his children that he was warm with.
This biography (and yes I have read Ted's own) leads me to think "What was wrong with TED??" And why didn't Assia just move on?
Hi Meri.... re: the bio, don't hold your breath waiting for a figure to emerge from the mist, so to speak. I wasn't going to say any more on this topic, but the following observations are less about Assia than they are about the possibilities of Negev and Koren's agenda.
I'm not going to rattle on citing example after example....that would take too long.... but here's a few prominent illustrations. First of all, I can understand how the authors might have wanted to point out the fact that Plath's sexual possessiveness and jealousies were in some (and arguably many) ways akin to Assia's.... I will grant that is true. Nevertheless, there is a flippant tone to their presentation of Plath that doesn't seem to be at all present in their analysis of Wevill. Is it just me, or did anyone else notice this?
Assia (by implication, not direct statement) is presented as a woman who was ahead of her time in boldness and independence of spirit; an unconventional soul who "defied the conventions of a pre-feminist society." Pre-feminist? Wevill's behavior is indicative of a mindless sense of entitlement, not a trendsetting, sexually liberating frontier spirit. And to even attempt to insinuate her, however subtly, into a feminist canon is equally absurd (this means you, Robin Morgan).... for reasons obvious to anyone who has read this book.
Did anyone else notice, too, that the authors reinforced Anne Stevenson's much-maligned assertion that Plath's "overreaction" to Assia and Ted's chemistry led to their affair? It's on page 97 (in the UK edition)...."ironically, it was Sylvia's rage over the telephone call that enabled the barely budding romance to quickly bloom." Ah, rage.... it's better than Miracle-Gro.
And I love this, on page 119: "Even if she (Assia) and Ted wished to keep their love child, Plath's suicide made it morally unacceptable." Uh...morally unacceptable....as opposed to...huh?
And then there is the following: "Only two photos of Ted with Assia and Shura survived. In one of them, Assia holds Shura's hand, helping her to stand up; in the other she is pushing the pram. In both photos Ted stands reserved, uptight, his hands in his jacket pockets. They hardly look like a family.... unlike a similar photo, taken a few months after Sylvia's suicide: Assia and Ted are relaxed and smiling, standing close together, with the three year old Frieda between them, hugged in Ted's arms." Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but what is this supposed to imply? That Plath's death was a huge burden off Hughes's shoulders, finally freeing him to cavort lightheartedly with his lover and the child of his dead wife? Is this a "compare and contrast" kind of a thing.... before, and after?
These are just a few examples... there are so many others, I don't even know where to begin. Peter Steinberg made some very valid and astute points when he pointed out the similarities between this book and Bitter Fame... the thing is.... in this bio, it is Plath, again....even though her appearance in this volume is comparatively brief.... who seems to be being used as the scapegoat. I find a lot of indignation (in the author's voices) for the suffering of Assia, but virtually none for her predecessor....at least not until Assia's letters to Aurelia Plath are mentioned towards the end of the book. A lot of the statements made here are just downright inexplicable. I don't know.... perhaps I'm just missing something. I will say this, though: the book did, if nothing else, seriously renew my interest in David Wevill as a poet. There's some very compelling excerpts from his work here..... so compelling that they've inspired me to purchase a copy of Departures...... ("Wastes grow/you lean into the sun/as towards a good husband/hoping its fire/will incinerate your trash and not you")
My brief take on "A Lover of Unreason", the Assia Wevill biography:
I, too, was suprised at the portrayal of Assia. I've read all the biographies of both Plath and Hughes (and lest the readers here think me completely nuts, many hundreds of others as well - I love good biography, though great ones are too rare). While not expecting it to be necessarily an Assia love-letter (those excerpts were hair-raising) I did think it would at the least present a person with many sympathetic qualitites - or at least circumstances. Not so. The writing is quite detached - it's got nothing of the obvious bias of Bitter Fame, for example - but that detachment unfortunately makes Assia come off even more repulsively. The same goes for Ted Hughes.
I've read some touching, devastating scenes in many books about Plath, but none have made me cry - actually cry. The retelling (again, done in a-believe it or not-dispassionate, factual manner) of the Plath-Hughes post-breakup trip to western Ireland with Hughes "mysteriously" (til now, that is) leaving Sylvia alone with their host without any word, to supposedly join up with her later... it's honestly a sceanrio that is shocking from any perspective - except, apparently, the POV of Hughes and later, Assia Wevill.
There are many letters from Ted as well as those from close friends of both Hughes and Assia whose words make Ted truly seem as bad as he certainly appeared to Plath the year of their breakup. I've never had this feeling of sheer revulsion before at the actions of otherwise ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. Assia was clearly the absolute worst person for Hughes to have hooked up with at that time, or any time - that's the overriding effect of the book for me; he already had a strong streak of pure selfishness and his personality was to me horribly flawed; he hated to be needed, obviously. Everything from sex to fun to work to any other aspect of life was important only insofar as he got what he had to have, period.
Assia was exactly like this also, which is a horrific basis for a relationship. If he was cruel to Plath, then, he was perhaps doubly so to the clueless, foolish Assia - a woman whom he plainly compared to his dead onetime wife and found lacking; he made lists for her to abide by: why couldn't she be beautiful and cook and clean immaculately and teach Sylvia's kids german by the schedule he'd laid out? Unbelievable. He basically wanted to have fun and sleep with a glamourpuss (I for one fully believe he screamed at Plath that she was "a hag", as she told others), but the gamourgirl's big treat was--guess what? That she got to be slept with (nice euphemism) by the great Ted. It's disgusting, really...and I feel sad and depressed at having finished the thing. THIS book truly did make me feel like I'd seen someone's very dirty laundry; It may be a part of the story - perhaps an essential one, finally - but it's not flattering to anyone but Plath, who was practically a superwoman to live as long as she did under the conditions she did. Which in my opinion, for all her neuroses, is the most apt picture of that entire debacle.
Hi Karen... thanks for the info. I had truly dismissed the possibility that "that" Sassoon could be "the" Sassoon, but there you have it....reminds me of a quote: "the unseen is not hidden" (or, rather, not necessarily hidden) :-)
This is a reply to Peter, who commented that Lover of Unreason shows a more human side to Assia. I am a few chapters into this book, reading it for the first time. All I can say is it is certainly teaching me more about Assia's life but it is not portraying her as more human or sympathetic to me. I am surprised- I thought this book's intent was to respond to the way Assia and Shura have been edited out of so much of Hughes' story, and the way Assia has been demonized for taking Sylvia's husband.
I must say, I have not reached the part in the book where she meets Ted yet. I am just getting to her 3rd marriage, to David Wevill. But from a totally neutral standpoint, I see this book as only continuing the harsh portrayal of Assia. Maybe it will change as I get into the book more. But so far she is vain, petty, manipulative, and valued only for her looks while she uses people. I have more understanding of her family background but Assia is not coming across in a flattering or even neutral light to me in this book. I guess I expected a more neutral light but maybe there's no way to neutralize what she was. Her behavior was certainly...well, she seemed to just not care about her affairs and didn't care who she hurt. I skimmed a part after Sylvia's suicide and Assia just seems cold hearted and selfish. She was going through her things, reading her last journal, throwing tantrums.
Is this book suppposed to make us sympathize with Assia???? I truly thought it would allow me to feel more empathy for her and be less harsh in judgement but it is making her out to be worse than I thought.
I can only see sympathy in the way Ted Hughes treated her. And perhaps how she was valued only for her looks when she wanted to be more. But other than that I see a vain, selfish, cold woman who does not care if she goes after married men or betrays her own man. This book is not flattering to Assia. No one ever said she was perfect. But I thought this book would allow me to give her more credit than what I have seen so far. She seems to have been a horrible person- someone who went after Sylvia's husband and didn't care what it would do to the children or Sylvia. Conniving. It takes two and surely Ted shares blame for his own actions. But it doesn't excuse Assia's behavior. For example, when David Wevill overdosed on pills Assia told him coldly that Ted raped her- she didn't even wait for a more appropriate time. And it was a lie to boot.
How do you feel, those of you who have finished the book? Did it change your opinion of Assia gathered from the biographies? I feel as though I am coming away from this to be disgusted even more by Assia. It always disgusted me more that when she decided to kill herself it was a copycat of Sylvia, a pointed revenge at Ted, and she involved her daughter on purpose. She should have left Shura out of it. No, Assia does not come across well for me. I am obviously sympathetic to Plath but I do not think Plath was perfect either, but I find no sympathy for Assia. If she behaved differently she could have found a man who did find more in her than looks. What did she expect in taking another woman's husband and bragging about it?
Opinions please? I do not feel I am being too harsh. And I do not feel ths book is being at all empathetic to her, either.
To clarify Fiona's statement about the "spoiled little princess" designation: There is an expression in the US, used to describe a certain personality type, which is abbreviated JAP, for "Jewish American Princess". But, apart from this phrase, it wouldn't have occurred to me that simply describing her as a "spoiled little princess" was a reference to her ethnicity...it is too neutral for that. The mere word "princess" has no such connotation. There is such a thing as taking political correctness to absurd extremes.