Messages from March-April 2005
Hello Grega, your paper sounds interesting. I also am a student, (finishing two B of S degrees, two minors and in my last year). Your post was intriguing. I don't know if I agree with your perceptions on the significance of the poems and/or your ideas regarding their meaning. You may want to rework your thesis statement. This is only my humble opinion, so take no offense.
I think the mistake many people make is that they presume Sylvia Plath instilled more allegorical meaning into her poems then she actually did. I don't think she was a particularly difficult poet to understand or interpret. Let's remember she was quite young when she died, only 30. In terms of her getting over an "Oedipal Complex" I think what you meant to say was "Electra Complex". The Oedipal complex is the (son wanting to have sex with mother/kill father).
The Electra complex is the (daughter wanting to have sex with the father, displace and/or destroy her mother). The Electra complex is the primary reason so many women who could be described as "serial adulterers" continually go after married men. They have unresolved mother issues and are compelled to gain mastery over that, but usually just repeat self defeating behavior, (acts of infidelity) as it's the only thing that seems to make them feel alive. I think Sylvia knew enough about herself as relates to Freudian concepts to know that she probably suffered from an Electra Complex of sorts.
There was the unresolved father issue in her psyche, he was a much older man, distant, rather a mystery and one that she felt she had little or any quality contact with. She was known to be competitive in many ways, particularly with regard to academia (as her mother had raised her to be rewarded (if) she produced and learned, did well in school etc). There is much resentment of her mother in her poetry, (probably because her mother had more contact with Otto and as I recall Sylvia was not allowed any part in the process of interacting with her father as he lay dying and/or the funeral).
I think the meaning of the poem "Daddy" has more to do with her rejecting an idealized and adolescent childlike yearning for her father, after, (and this is important-her husband (who is directly attacked in the poem as well) had shattered all her dreams, visions, romantic misconceptions about life, love and marriage. It's a bitter poem, a rejection of patriarchy as related to her life, and as a result one that feminists of all kinds, (liberal, cultural and even radical) have taken to interpret as an expression of their various agendas.
Her later poems are so intensely confessional as to lose any doubt that they were anything more than a theraputic ranting, an angry cleansing of her over burndened psyche, than anything particularly infused with complex allegorical meaning. She once said, if I recall correctly, that one of her poems, I think it was "Lesbos" was really about all these unconscious and symbolic concepts, when now after much examination of her personal life, it is not difficult for us to ascertain that "Lesbos" is really a rant on Assia Wevill and her anger at her husband's impotence to recognise sociopathy and entitlement in the woman that was to ultimately ruin her marriage. "Lesbos" is a rant poem and nothing more. It's also exceedingly painful to read as it is so clearly a recounting of actual experiences and perceptions she endured and suffered from.
Remember, I'm the gal who sees Assia Wevill as the main force in the break up of their marriage. So, I think in her mind, in Sylvia's mind, it was probably easier to misdirect her intentions with regard to her poety as she explained it to others. She was known to if not outright lie, then to bend the truth. She was extremely proud and often concealed the truth to her mother about her actual state of emotions. She wrote her mother colorful letters detailing how gloriously happy she was and it was only after her mother witnessed some of the truth, (remember the infamous phone call of Assia to Ted, Sylvia rips the black phone cord fromt the wall?) that she altered the manner in which she communicated with her mother, although she still attempted to paint things far sunnier than actual events were.
The poem "Lesbos" was so confessional as to probably embarrass her also, hence the habit she had of telling people there was more meaning behind many of her poems than was really there. A huge number of her poems, her later poems are direct attacks on Ted Hughes and also Assia Wevill. For example, "The Rival", "Lesbos", "Edge", "Death & Co." are all in my estimation directly linked to Assia, with concrete references to Assia, keywords, allusions etc.
Also, another word of advice would be not to focus too much on all those poems for one paper. Do a (close reading) of perhaps only four, then do a paper on just four poems. If you choose to do a paper on too many poems you may lose focus, and the overall message could become scattered or lost in attempting to cover too much content. I would focus on only four and how they relate and or do not relate to each other. A compare and contrast paper perhaps. In any event, I wish you well with your paper and good luck to you in your studies.
I think the recent posting by 17-year-old Josh and the reactions to it - restrained, indulgent, understanding - show the maturity of this website and the good feelings almost all the writers exhibit. Josh showed an honest - a visceral - response to having read Sylvia's poems at a young age and having read some discussions of not only her poems but her life on this website. The respondents were kind and gentle but not condescending. What Josh has to learn is that with Sylvia, there is no separating the poems from the life. She wrote about her life, and that means her life is open for inspection and endless speculation. Those of us who are drawn to her poems - drawn into her poems - can't stop thinking about what kind of young woman could have come up with such gems of language and insight! We know the poems: now we want to know the poet! Will we ever? Probably not. Will that stop us? You know the answer.
First, I would like to express my gratitude to the moderator of this forum for making it possible to the rest of us to share our opinions on Sylvia Plath and her poems.
I am not an English native speaker, so please forgive me for my grammatical mistakes I may have made in this post. Also, I am not an expert on Plath's poetry, so if I am wrong in anything I am about to write, please do point out my mistakes.
I am writing a ten-page essay on Sylvia's relationship with her father reflecting in her poetry. My working thesis is that she demonized her father in order to make him more "tangible", although not neccessarily more realistic. Because she is unable to reconstruct her father as he was, she constructs a horrific "over-image" of a fascist and a Nazi. Since she is unable to make this image her father, she has to kill him.
Let's have look at a chronological order of poems on her father - partially or in whole. The list is partially taken from Coming Of Age As A Poet : Milton, Keats, Eliot, Plath by Helen Hennessy Vendler, Cambridge (Mass.), London : Harvard University Press, 2004:
1. "Conversation Among the Ruins" (the landscape is that of "Colossus"), 2. "Letter to a Purist", 3. "Spider" (Plath's source of self-image in "Colossus" and first "scraps" of her domineering father), 4. "Two Views of Withens", 5. "Oujia" (her father's God-like spirit), 6. "On the Decline of Oracles" (struggling not to forget her father), 7. "Perseus", 8. "Sculptor" (Plath makes effort to memorialize her father as a statue), 9. "Full Fathom Five" (the father as a white man of sea compared to an iceberg. The memory of her father seems to be withering away. ), 10. "Child's Park Stones", 11. "A Winter Ship", 12. "Suicide off Egg Rock", 13. "Electra on Azalea Path", 14. "The Beekeeper's Daughter" (The father is presented as a beekeeper an immense figure), 15 "Man in Black", 16. "Colossus" (A very tangible image of her father, though the statue is shattered. I think that poem represents Plath's defeat in her struggle to reconstruct her father from her memory), 17. "The Hanging Man", 18. "Little Fugue" (The beginning of her father's metamorphosis into a Nazi), 19. "Daddy" (in this poem, her father's metamorphosis into a Nazi is complete and Plath is able to face him because she knows who she is dealing with. It may be, as she says that in this poem she resolves her Oedipus complex, but more importantly she can finally resolve a life-long obsession with her father's memory), 20. "Lady Lazarus" (Father seems to be defeated, through Plath's rebirth).
I feel that with every poem on this list, her father is more real, is less of a spirit and more of a man. The list, I believe represents Plath's long-life struggle with the memory of her father and her preoccupation with him.
This is, of course, just a very brief skeleton of my thesis. Basically these are just fragments I've come up with so far. Reading through the poems again, I feel that my prediction has some ground. Any comments? Have I left out any poems that might give me further clues? Are there any studies or analyses I might be able to refer to? Preferably on the Web, since our national library and the faculty library are not well supplied.
Thank you for putting up with my rumblings.
Was anyone else able to see the Biography Channel's new documentary of Plath? It was equal parts fascinating and somewhat ridiculous(perhaps too strong a word)-the latter due to the slightly cheesy "Biography" style of terribly dramatic music under handheld "recreation" scenes(although one single staged shot-of "Sylvia" walking down a bright hallway holding her baby while her daughter scampers behind her was eerie in it's impact, somehow).
The talking heads had some great things to say-even if some of it has been said before. I very much appreciated hearing from Kate Moses, whose book I liked very much. I do not agree with the gentleman who insisted that "if it weren't for Ted Hughes, we wouldn't know about Sylvia Plath today". Oh, balderdash already! SP was not a completely anonymous poet in 1963, for god's sake; regular appearances on the BBC, her obituary by Al Alvarez and the ones appearing this side of the Atlantic, the poems published in the New Yorker and the Observer...I am certain that if Ted had decided to sit on all of Plath's output(unlikely given the literal value of the work), Alvarez, Aurelia and quite a few other people wouldn't have stood for it. After all, the Ariel poems weren't a "secret"-from anyone besides Hughes, apparently.
Anyway, that aside-I was fascinated by the snippets of Plath speaking in that BBC interview with Ted, and also the last one, the one where I believe she read from the Ariel batch of work. Why-or where-are these complete audio interviews available? They are so interesting...also, I was interested in the professor's mentioning she "shows her class" Plath's calendar for 1962; was she able to photocopy it (I can't believe that, given the rules about the Plath collection)? Can any student at University request and pore through the calendar(s)? The minutae of SP's personal life IS fascinating, no question about it, and as has been much discussed here, informs any reading of the poems.
I'm afraid I and my friends groaned at the inclusion of the Smith '04 grad who felt she had a special bond with Plath due to their both reading the same first words to their mothers(a stop sign)! Oh, dear! Well, that's youth. SP might-I say might!-have written something similar in her diary at that age re: herself and Yeats(though I doubt it).
Referring to some of the previous post. I must agree, Sylvia's burning of Ted's journals can be considered as one of the mortal sins a writer could do to his/her fellow writer. But let's not also forget the reason behind that, which pushes her to do so, and I guess if some of us will be on her shoe, perhaps the result might be worst than what you thought. If somebody committed a crime doesn't he deserve to be punished?
So, In that sense Ted burned also her important journals (for the purpose of preserving his dignity), would that make them even?
Though I'm craving to know what was on Sylvia's mind nearing her death, but I should accept the fact that the only material basis we could refer will never be retrieved anymore. I can accept that, but hearing somebody justifying what Ted did to Sylvia's journal (she did it first anyway, something like that) just adds more pain and grief to those who feel sorry for Sylvia's fate.
Anyway, I printed some of Sylvia's poems and a photo of Ted, pasted them on my writing corner's wall. If there will be an irresistible time or a temptation that could lead to an unfaithful act against my wife, all I have to do is to read her poems and glance at Ted's picture after. This is enough warning to say I would never want that to happen to my wife and definitely I would never want to end up like him, famous but living under the dark memories of guilt, haunted by history.
Re:- Frieda Hughes being told that Sylvia died of pneumonia: Yes, that is what anything I have ever read about that has said.
As far as I know, it was generally not known at the time that Sylvia had committed suicide. I may be remembering some details incorrectly, but I think that when it was written about in the newspapers at the time, it was said that she had died from pneumonia. It wasn't just something that her children were told - it was the general 'line' at the time. Obviously some people knew that she had committed suicide, but it wasn't a generally known fact.
Again, this may not be completely accurate because it's a while since I read about this, but I believe that the part of The Savage God by Al Alvarez that is about Sylvia's death was originally going to be published in two parts in The Observer, - around 1970-ish. In it, of course, he writes about Sylvia's suicide. Ted Hughes, I believe, tried to stop this article from being published (and succeeded, or at least succeeded with the second part of it...) - his main reason, he said, for doing this was that the children did not know yet that she had committed suicide. He had wanted to tell them when he felt the time was right. Naturally, if it was written about, the children would very likely hear it from friends or somebody at school etc. which obviously would be a terrible way to find it out. As far as I know, Alvarez did not know that her children were unaware of her having committed suicide by that time.
In the 'Voices & Visions' documentary about Sylvia, you hear a snippet of a radio programme that was broadcast the week after she died - the broadcaster refers to the programme that is about to be broadcast being about Sylvia "who died suddenly in London last week" - or words to that effect.
I hadn't heard that specific part about how Frieda did find out eventually, but it is certainly true that they did not know about the suicide until several years later.
It has been said - and I agree with this - that the only times Ted Hughes did speak out about this whole area of his life, it was usually to do with protecting the children. I think he gets a 'bad press' and he doesn't/didn't deserve that.
I live at 12, Rugby St, and just found out last night that Sylvia Plath lived three doors down, I just thought I would share my excitement with everyone. As you may have guessed I am a new fan of her work, otherwise I would have known.
Hi, thank you Peter Steinberg for posting the info about the Grolier Club's fall exhibit of Plath materials. I searched the Grolier Blub's official website, and here is additional info for interested folks: the exhibit is titled "No Other Appetite: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes 1956-1963." The dates for the exhibit will be Sept. 14th-Nov. 19th of this year. Hope the organization does not mind me posting this, but here is more logistics on the location and hours.
Location: The Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York City (between Park and Madison Avenues). HOURS: Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on certain holidays, and for the entire month of August. Admission is free.
Contact:- For more details regarding exhibitions, including related publications, special tours, and public events, contact: Megan Smith, Exhibitions Coordinator, The Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York, NY 10022 Tel. (212) 838-6690, Fax (212) 838-2445, firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, now people! let's go easy on young Josh, he did say he was only 17 and he is entitled to youthful passion. This forum would be less interesting without some outspoken passion upon occasion. His intentions are good and as a young man he will learn and grow in many ways, and as his betters (in a manner of speaking) we need to encourage and support his input to the forum.
Josh, certainly do keep reading and visiting the forum and don't take the criticisms personally. Also, thank you Peter S. for the wonderful heads up on the upcoming program on Plath. It sounds very interesting and I for one am going to plan to watch it. Thanks Peter.
There is an interesting profile of Frieda Hughes in More, which is a U.S. magazine. In it, Frieda says something I found astonishing: She claims her father told the children that their mother had died of pneumonia. Frieda Hughes says she grew up believing this until age 15, when a student blurted out something about Sylvia Plath's suicide during a class. Frieda says she sat there stunned, absorbing this news. I hope I don't get flamed for calling this revelation disturbing (alas, how some people's manners fly away when they believe TH has been treated rudely!) but I was absolutely dumbstruck by this news. It was certainly the first I'd ever heard that Hughes had shielded the children in this way.
Alas, Josh, there will always be the life -- as vast shelves of biographies and memoirs and biopics attest. Be advised that with your recent posting you risk joining the ranks of the lit-crit snobbies, the Plath purists, who continue to exhort (amicably, casually, stridently, dismissively) this community to turn from prurient interest in SP's mortal coil and likely foil to what you describe as "the real gem" (SP would like this phrase, I think, as would TH, although he might have chosen "jewel" instead; but would do I know?): the poems.
I encourage you, if you have not done so already, to contribute to the discussions on individual poems that forum moderator Elaine Connell has provided on this site; they are fascinating, and do deserve treatment on this forum that is separate from the "main event" -- the life. I must confess to being interested in both -- the flesh and the gem. And with my continued reading of Plath, I realize that they are absolute opposites at the same time as they are necessary complements.
This should not surprise, paradox being central to Plath. I once objected to SP's inclusion, by literary critics, among the confessional poets of mid-century America. Especially as it opened her so flagrantly to her despised/anticipated/(longed for?) "peanut-crunching crowd." Poems were life for Plath, and this is why she so attracts. They were like recipes, not for dishes placed on the table but for strategies, methods, plans, personas -- an adaptation to a life that was unacceptable/foreign to her in its given, received form. Her poems performed a sort of editing function. "Life," then, is the governing word here; for Plath used language, manipulated/appropriated language, to construct/create/alter received forms, knowledge, ways of being. Therefore the life is central to the work. But we celebrate her for the work, so the work must take precedence, no? Plath purists would encourage posters to this site, in referring to the crucial life, to make frequent, obsessive reference to the real gem here, the poems.
But who listens to purists? The life, we know, is the lure. And we all have snapped down on it and been pulled up into a bright dark world.
Below is an article from the Boston Globe, 14 April, 2005. For those who subscribe, A & E's The Biography Channel will show the hour long Sylvia Plath documentary on 22 April, 2005 at 5 pm.
The latest chapter on Plath
By Alex Beam, Globe Columnist
Sylvia Plath is to poetry as Bruce Lee is to the world of martial arts. Quite correctly, Ilana Trachtman's recently released Biography Channel film on Sylvia Plath notes that ''her death would bring more fame than she ever achieved in her life."
Advertisement Trachtman's hourlong tribute to the Wellesley-reared, Smith College-educated Plath successfully navigates some of the trickier shoals of the young poet's biography. (Plath committed suicide at age 30 in 1963.) For instance, Plath's husband, Ted Hughes, is portrayed as a literary Lothario, but not as a murderer who drove his wife to suicide. That revision may owe much to Diane Middlebrook's more sympathetic portrayal of Hughes in her 2003 book, Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, a Marriage.
The movie even quotes University of Massachusetts professor Richard Larschan's controversial but accurate opinion that ''no one would be reading Plath today were it not for Ted Hughes." Although the philandering Hughes was vilified for much of his life as a wife-tormentor, it was he who arranged for posthumous publication of the gajillion-selling novel The Bell Jar, and it was Hughes who published the collection of poems that earned Plath a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1982. Hughes died in 1998.
Trachtman's movie functions as a class reunion for the not-so-large world of Plath scholarship. In addition to Larschan and Middlebrook, Smith College professor Susan Van Dyne puts in an appearance, as does Smith's Karen Kukil, editor of Plath's journals. Also heard from are Williams College professor Lynda Bundtzen and novelist Kate Moses, who fires off the movie's most memorable line, about Plath's commitment to domestic servitude: ''She out-Martha's Martha Stewart." That is possibly the first time those two names have been linked.
Trachtman has also dredged up some unusual footage of Plath's mother, Aurelia, with whom the poet had an intense, contentious relationship. In one memorable scene, Mrs. Plath complains about her daughter writing ''that stinking poem" -- ''Medusa," the poet's angry portrayal of her mother:
"Off, off, eely tentacle! There is nothing between us."
Like others before her, Trachtman limits herself to quoting tiny snippets of Plath's poems because the poet's estate, managed by her daughter Frieda Hughes, refused to grant Trachtman permission to use copyrighted materials. ''I got a very polite nod from the estate, but I couldn't use any photos or even quote from materials that belonged to them," Trachtman says. The estate went bonkers two years ago, when the British Broadcasting Corp. co-produced Ted and Sylvia, later released as Sylvia, a Plath biopic starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the sexy, suicidal Smith siren.
You can catch Trachtman's movie on the Biography Channel, April 22 at 5 p.m. It's a Literary Ladies' High Tea! At 4 p.m., Biography will reair its one-hour documentary on Jane Austen.
One of the big problems with Plath scholarship is that three widely separated university libraries have collections of Plath-iana: Indiana University's Lilly Library, where Aurelia Plath ''placed" (read: ''sold") some of her daughter's materials in the mid 1970s; Smith College, which acquired a vast trove of Plath's papers after her death; and Emory University, which owns the Ted Hughes papers. Now Kukil, the Smith curator, and Stephen Enniss, the Emory curator, have assembled a first-ever exhibit of ''letters, manuscripts, journals, drawings, photographs, and books that document [Hughes and Plath's] extraordinary literary development during the seven years of their marriage (1956-1963)," according to a press release.
It should be worth seeing, at New York's tony Upper East Side Grolier Club, for two months starting Sept. 14.
Peter K Steinberg
Interesting post, Josh. I think it's a bit disingenuous, though. I have yet to see anyone on this forum state that they "despise" Ted Hughes. Yes, some have criticized his behavior in withholding her work from the public. I know I have. If that renders my post "worthless" then so be it. You're certainly entitled to your opinion. But then so is everyone else.
Hi everyone. I am curious about the details surrounding Aurelia Plath's death. Where, when, how? I'm assuming she has, of course, expired. I read online that she was 73 in 1979 so that would make her 99 years old now, which is not likely but not impossible. I have greatly enjoyed reading all your postings. I am writing a college research paper on The Bell Jar and find myself really interested in the details of Sylvia's life. I have learned a lot from reading all your opinions. Thanks!
Alas, a forum to use for inquiry and revelation, of the minor biographaical kind. I'm intrigued by Sylvia's true life story--Especially after seeing Sylvia's story dramatised by Ms. Paltrow. I've searched quite a bit to find no mention of the finer details of where exactly she grew up, the specific house/site of her first "incident" from which the Bell Jar story sprung.
I've been curious about why this information has been either irrelevant or being kept a protected secret. Her house I do know and it was on a street called Elmwood Road in Wellesley. I'm a Wellesleyite, born in 1954. My best friend from childhood lived next door to the Plaths, and after Sylvia's death, my friend's family was given her and Ted's camping tent which we enjoyed (I, not knowing its former owner)through our teen years. In that old tent we had many misadventures, and some plain teen fun. My friend, still close to me, now has this tent in his possession.
I'm close to Sylvia more from a writer's view. Who knows how she may have pulled me at age 8 and beyond, along to this profession? Publishing my first book of poems and stories in a few weeks. Bright the Shaded Moon. Funny now that I am even posting this message, with no analysis of her work to offer.
Nick, yes, it would seem af first glance that Plath's suicide was "selfish" a reprehensible act- and the list goes on and on in terms of finding new and creative adjectives to describe how wrong her action was. It's fairly easy to be critical of Plath's course of action in that regard, but that manner of criticism is for the (survivors) who are still alive, still part of this material world, still able to condemn, and it's very easy to indulge in that. No one will despute that suicide causes a huge and often irreparable amount of suffering and damage to the surviving children, that is a given.
It's quite another matter to fully comprehend the absolute despair and sence of betrayal that accompanies an act of infidelity by a spouse. It is indescribable and when that person is a mother, quite different from being a father, (simply because mothers in 90% of all cases tend to be the primary caregivers) many times bound to home and hearth with no freedom, or outlet, well, then the despair that comes from those combinded forces can be really dangerous and often lethal.
Elaine, I can't express enough how sorry I am for the horrible loss you suffered, living on after the suicide of a parent. I too have had to deal with the too-early (at age 17) loss of my mother, through what was self-destructive behaviour. It's very difficult to explain or get across to those who haven't had that kind of wrenching loss.
I simply must say, as for Plath, that I cannot agree with the description of Sylvia's death as a "selfish" act. As a person with one relative and two friends who killed themselves as adults and some knowledge of manic depression, which without any doubt we know Plath had seriously enough that her doctor-even in those primitive times, wanted to hospitalise her--she simply was not as you, I or anyone reading this forum is: in our reasonably "right" minds. She was probably several definitions of insane at the time.
Have you read of the many lawsuits-some successful-pertaining to the taking of anti-depressants actually "inciting" a depressed person to kill themselves? This is what at least one doctor felt may have happened in Sylvia's case, as she was on a new medication which typically takes some time to work a positive effect(and sometimes can have an egregiously negative effect, as everyone's chemsistry is different). The sick person rallies enough to "carry through" their thoughts of death before they are taken further out of the fog of clinical depression to act rationally.
I am not "defending" a mother abandoning her children, but this case has surely been analyzed enough that we can say assuredly that Plath was not in her right mind at all when this happened. She was drugged, perhaps even hallucinating...she didn't kill her self rationally, as "revenge" or in a fit of temper. What happened to her children, to lose their mother, is horrible, but frankly to me it's as if she had another terminal illness: cancer of the mind, or a heart attack.
The fact is, her act had the most serious consequences for herself: she died. Her children have lived on and as far as I have read, both Nicholas and Frieda have lived very full lives, and-according to Frieda-had the benefit of an extremely loving father, fiercely devoted to them. I just squirm at the notion that a person disturbed enough to kill themselves is acting as you or I would. It's an illness, and it routinely kills people.
Nick's posting reminds me of the suicide warning I have issued each time I have taught Plath to adolescents, that the great poetry does not vindicate what he so rightly calls the "thoughtless and grossly self-centred act of violence towards both her children and all those close to her."
As someone who has experienced the suicide of a parent myself I know that it has a traumatic effect. Abandonment by a parent is one of the worst betrayals anyone can go through. I would imagine that the younger the age of a child the worse it might be as s/he would not have any clear memories of the parent to take through the rest of his/her life with them. Anyone who is interested in this subject should read Silent Grief: Living In The Wake of Suicide by Lukacs and Seiden, two American psychiatrists who have themselves experienced the suicides of parents.
Elizabeth Sigmund, Plath's Devon friend has told me a very moving story about a visit she made to Fitzroy Rd following Sylvia's death. She was accompanied by her teenage daughter who had very long, brown hair similar in style to Sylvia's at that time. The daughter held the one year old Nick who kept playing with her hair, running it through his finers, then touching her face and looking wistfully up at her. Elizabeth felt then that he was looking for his mother in her daughter and has told me that it was one of the saddest things she has ever seen.
Don't sell yourself short, Josh. A response to a poem from the heart is a measure of that poem's success for both poet and reader - certainly not a sign of ignorance. Any real poet would prefer your response to 10,000 words of erudite literary criticism. "Big" words can be useful in conveying shades of meaning, but truths are generally simple, monolithic and speak for themselves. Words can then elaborate on, or obscure, those truths. Or to put it another way, keep posting, your views are as important as anyone else's.
Joe raised the question "Did Sylvia's suicide cause any lasting trauma to her two children?" which has thus far gone unanswered. To answer this, you'd have to ask her two children of course, who may not even be able to answer the question fully themselves. But we can at least say that her suicide was a thoughtless and grossly self-centred act of violence towards both her children and all those close to her, leaving them with a lifetime of finding ways to deal with the mountain of residual effects.
Yes, she is a wonderful poet. Her writing can turn you inside out. But on her suicide let's hold "The Mirror" up to this one, and see clearly that there is nothing romantic, trivial, self-sacrificial or compelled about the choice she made. Not for the first time, we're left to wonder at the paradox of how someone with such insight into humanity could have so little understanding of their own place in it.
Thank you Therresa for jumping head first into the subject I suggested. I enjoyed your posting very much. "Morning Song" is one of the other-worldly poems and I began to pay particular attention to it after hearing and reading Kate Moses talk about how the poem affected her before the birth of her son: "It was motherhood that first set Moses, one of the founding editors of Salon's "Mothers Who Think" section, on the path to writing Wintering. A few weeks before her son, now almost 15, was born, Moses read Plath's poem "Morning Song", which is about nursing Frieda.
Moses' friends had told her it was impossible to describe motherhood, that it wasn't something she could understand until she'd experienced it. But in Plath's writing, she says, she saw the clearest and most accurate description imaginable. When she went into the hospital to give birth, she carried with her a Plath biography and collection of poetry.
The baby is born in the first stanza; and born out of love. The major theme in the poem is love, and also effacement, illustrated in the second and third stanzas. Perhaps it is that effacement that critics have latched onto? The second stanza highlights the baby's uniqueness, like art. The baby is exhibited like a statue and the parents, no longer the "center of attention" are relegated to standing "blankly as walls." The last three stanzas further illustrate how the poet's life has changed.
There is much controversy over the kind of mother Plath was. That unfortunately opens up the nasty can of worms. For all the criticism surrounding Plath's caricature of her own mother in The Bell Jar I have seen two instances in the novel where the figure of the mother is revered. In the ptomaine poisoning scene, Esther Greenwood is coming out of her sleep when Doreen brings her some soup provided by Ladies' Day. Plath writes, "Her face was in shadow, so I couldn't make out her expression, but I felt a sort of expert tenderness flowing from the ends of her fingers. She might have been Betsy or my mother or a fern-scented nurse." Later on in the novel, Esther wasn't given her breakfast tray whilst recovering from her suicide attempt. This meant she was due for shock therapy. Esther's doctor, Dr. Nolan, came to take Esther to the electrotheraphy room. Plath writes, "Dr. Nolan put her arm around me and hugged me like a mother."
There are at least two interpretations to both the quoted lines above. The first is that Plath genuinely appreciated and loved her mother. She understood and acknowledged that her own mother provided love and comfort, amongst other things. The second, and more negative to Aurelia Plath, is that Plath sought and found mother-like qualities in other women.
In Plath's works there are ample examples of her feelings about motherhood. Some are happier than others, but one wouldn't expect a steady opinion over the course of Plath's writing life.
Peter K Steinberg
Thank you for your comments on the importance of Sylvia Plath's poems. It's true that she wrote a lot of really great poetry and that that is what we should focus on but sometimes truly understanding a poets poetry is a difficult process and so in depth investigation into their personal lives is needed to try to unravel the puzzle. Many of Sylvia's poems (and Ted's) are incomprehensible without this process.
I respect your good feeling with regard to being offended by unkind and sometimes callous opinions stated here on the forum (I myself have indulged in that spicy dish) but that is what this forum is really all about, it's about free and really casual discussion on the life and art of Plath and Hughes. It's true that there are a lot of Ted Hughes bashers out there (for a variety of reasons they may consider valid) I certainly do not consider myself one of them, and if you read my past posts, you will see that I have always defended Hughes for my own reasons, but there are going to be moments on this forum when people are going to make heated statements about what they consider right or wrong with respect to Sylvia Plath's life and Ted Hughe's life as well.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that the posts are worthless or unjust attacks on deceased individuals no longer able to protect themselves, they are just the musings of many interested and fascinated people who are still moved not only by the poetry, both Sylvia's and Ted's poetry but also by the stories of their lives, in many minds a tragic and moving example of a modern day Greek Tragedy of sorts.
So, do continue to be a part of the forum and don't get discouraged, we are for the most part a good lot. Take care.
I am a slightly more ignorant person than most of the scholars that post on this forum, so excuse me if I don't use big words.
Sylvia Plath was a very unfortunate person, who, whilst spriralling down into the darkest of depressions, produced soul searching and heart touching work. Reading her poems gave you the shivers at times, and for me, makes me actually recoil when reading it for the first time.
These poems not only give a real and dark insight into the mind of a depressed woman being oppressed by the circumstances of her time, but they really do humble the reader.
We should be purely speculating about her life in relation to what the poems are trying to say to us, not develop personal stances towards the people in her life.
I mean, come on, this was more than half a century ago, and some of you people believe you can really say that you despise people like Ted Hughes? Do you really know what happened back then? What this guy was feeling, what circumstances he was under?
I am not saying be sympathetic to him, I'm saying you can never really know what, at that point in time, their intentions were. Not even poems as great as Sylvia's can give you enough information to start making judgements, nor even people who have met her.
Stop wasting your time making judgements, and focus on the real gem here, her poems. I'm 17, and even someone as young as me can see that a lot of the writing on this forum is worthless, it's just people venting thier judgements, at times judgements that are unreasonable and unsubstantiated.
Yes, I think it would be great to open up some manner of discussion that would be a tad more fresh and enlightening in some regard. Thank you Peter S. for the wonderful suggestion! And "motherhood" as is presented in her poetry is as good as any topic in terms of analysing her poems for rich sources of debate.
I think that her poem "Morning Song" was for a long time interpreted by critics as a poem revealing a disconnected mother in some capacity or that she was not as loving and/or present as she ought to have been. This poem was siezed upon by critics of Plath (for sure!) and used for their agendas in terms of critism of her character-Tedious, very tedious!
I never saw that myself. I always interpreted that poem as showing her idea that there were larger than motherhood connatations to actually being a mother. That she felt she shared her child with the world and saw the universality in her role as mother as well. That she recognised her child as a completely seperate entity and as clearly its own unique individual.
There is someghing wonderfully detached and honest about coming to that realisation. It does not detract from lovingness and its what good parents do, as opposed to falling victim to the dangerous (symbiosis) that can sometimes result, often with fatal consequences, (infanticide) in particular, (shades of Assia?) "Morning Song" is generally the one favored poem that is used to display Plath's perceptions of motherhood but what about "Lesbos"?
Aside from being in my estimation a full-frontal, all-on assault of her husband's lover at the time, Assia Wevill, and her perceptions as absorbed by Plath, and Plath's strong and vehement reaction to them, it does present some interesting depictions of motherhood, and the cynicism that can come with many elements of being a mother and the exhausting trials of feeling so utterly theatened by a troubled and highly competitive and destructive woman-Assia Wevill. We all now know she had just cause to feel so threatened.
"Lesbos" has always been for me one of the most difficult of Plath's poems to read. For the simple reason that it is so painfully revealing, so painfully confessional, and at no time has it ever been difficult for me to understand what it means, and/or what she was trying to convey. This is a Revenge Poem, written to a woman that Plath knew would eventually have the time to read. After her death? Presumably so. If ever a poem of hers presented so many conflicting images and/or forces "Lesbos" certainly does! And yet the wonder of this poem is that it provides simple and easy understanding.
Of all her poems this one screams simplicity in all its lines. It is written to a woman, by a woman and its messages are not written in code, with the pithy or contradictory poetical language that can sometimes make poetry analysis so difficult. It is written simply, honestly and with considerable venom, providing a painful look into a situation that is recorded to have happened.
Best Regards people!
Amy, thanks for directing me to CafePress.com -- only a t-shirt and a mug available, but hey, it's a start!
I'm writing about "Mad Girl's Love Song" for class and I was just wondering what other people think about the poem and what it means. I really love the poem so if you could share your opinion and insights that would be great!
I am looking for a critical analysis of the poem "Mushrooms" by Sylvia Plath. I have looked in every critical analysis book on I can find and on the internet. If anyone knows where one is.. would you please let me know? Thanks.
The question was asked recently about Nicholas Hughes, and whether he and Frieda maintained any contact with Aurelia Plath. I have no knowledge about their relationship with Mrs. Plath, so won't venture to guess. But I'm fairly sure that Nicholas Hughes was (or still is) living in Alaska and teaching fisheries or marine biology at the college level. I've seen Nicholas Hughes's photo, and he has an absolutely astonishing resemblance to his famous father.
( Information about Frieda & Nicholas can be found in FAQ - EC)
As a black poet, teacher, feminist, and divorced mother of two, I've had all of those labels pinned on me at various times, by various people. I've often wondered why. Men just are not defined by their paternity. It's true that Plath wrote moving poems of love for her children. She also wrote of her frustrations at motherhood and the subservient wifely female role even while she apparently longed to preserve her marriage. I don't understand why discussing Plath's children so often takes precedence over discussion of her spirited independence. I can still remember my thrill at first reading her famous lines, "I am the arrow" and "will you marry it, marry it, marry it?"
It has always surprised me to see people stating that Sylvia was no feminist. What is it to be a feminist? To demonstrate on the streets, to hold a card proving you are one? For me being a feminist is simply to have a different awareness of what women's rights should be. Sylvia was a mother and a wife, and surely a housewife too, but she was primarily a writer and I don't think anyone who has read her journals and letters can fail to see it. The problem is that nobody takes into account the fact that men artists are also husbands and fathers, simply because they don't have to choose between being one or the other. Sylvia was a feminist because she wanted to be both. Because she felt she had the right.
I am writing to announce the recent publication of a very exciting book: Peter Steinberg
Did Sylvia's suicide cause any lasting trauma to her two children?
David, go to CafePress.com and search on "Sylvia Plath." By golly, you can buy a mug, coaster, and t-shirt, all with her likeness.
Lilly, the thing about destroying a journal of a brilliant writer, whatever the reasons, is that it forever denies future generations of scholars, readers and mainly biographers the chance to read the artist's thoughts in her own words which is crucial to a better understanding of the art and the artist, if such material is available. Many of Sylvia's writings are in fact still sealed and will be until well after many of us here are dead, and of course at this writing Plath herself has been dead for 40 years, so it's unlikely to have caused personal pain to anyone living to have saved and restricted the last journals, as the other writings were for decades.
I also think that the main reason that so many biographers decry the destruction is not because they have a prurient interest in sad, insane ramblings-but because they were written at the very same time that Plath was writing her greatest works. If you read any of the rest of her journals, including those written at times of great despair and the letters she wrote contemporaneously with the poems (such as letters to her mother) you'll see that she at least refers to the work she was doing, and her awareness of its importance. How much more did she likely have to say about them in her most intimate thoughts to herself? We'll unfortunately never know.
Her very last days may likely have been the most awful sort of stuff to read about, but the journals - two of them, spanning I believe over a year-were kept by a woman who, though angry, had a lot of life and work going on all through that tumultous period. I would bet a million dollars that there was a lot more of value in them than just painful, excruciating entries about the affair. And even if that was all there was, it was not anyone else's to destroy.
There's always someone, over the centuries, who deems personal materials to be their's to edit by destruction: Jane Austen's sister, for instance, and Boswell's descendants. Both of those situations involved close - or not so close - relatives with their own ideas about what was "right" and proper for posterity to see. The problem is, while it may have been the honest wish of a person to spare pain or censure from "others", that person is still making a personal decision that affects the rest of history. What Austen's heirs felt "unseemly" would well be priceless today. And perhaps no one will now ever have the chance to know what Sylvia wrote to herself, while she was composing some of the greatest poems of the twentieth century. That's more than a shame.
Glad to see I'm still stirring it up! Now remember to keep our collective sense of humor, umm-kay? Life's too short to get touchy and all worked up 'bout nothin'. I shall defend my stance that in my opinion Plath was first and foremost Ted's wife and the mother of his children, most assuredly, at least in his eyes.
(Is that a bad thing?) Seriously, I'm asking, cause maybe it's become unfashionable to be a mom, you tell me, then you know, we could all kinda organise a huge crusade against motherhood or something. Organise a demonstration on Pennsylvania Avenue or something equally powerful and socially significant.
Sylvia Plath's motherhood should not have detracted from her ambitions and/or talent as a poet, but her domestic duties (were more than likely) the roles she took most seriously.
Remember she was a woman of the fifties, not a feminist in the modern sense of the word. And if one is also a committed reader of her biographies then one should also know that she planned on having several children, was it six? Or only four?
In any event she was a woman attempting to take on all aspects of life, trying with admirable spirit and gusto and ultimately failing. She tried to be superwoman and through her efforts left behind two lovely human lives and a rather large and compelling body of work. Sounds like she did a lot of what she initally wanted to. We are all better off for it. And remember, it's okay to disagree, okay? Cheers to you all.
Lilly, I agree with everything you've said, although I still can't quite forgive Ted -- a gifted poet himself who must have had at least an inkling that his wife was equally gifted -- for destroying her final diaries. I understand why he did it, of course, but it's a literary "crime" nonetheless. What bothers me most, though, is that with Olwyn -- and now daughter Frieda -- in charge of the estate, I still can't get a t-shirt with Sylvia's face on it! A poster, for God's sake? A coffee mug? Something? Hey, this is America! Land of commercial nostalgia! Throw us a bone, Frieda! (No pun intended.)
Something people seem to be ignoring with regard to the Plath/Hughes debate currently playing out on this forum is that Hughes was not only acting for his own interests, nor for his own interests and then Plath's, but for their children. Surely his assertion that the destruction of her journal for their children has some merit to it. I'm not denying that it may well have been largely motivated by self-interest, but surely consideration of the children did play a part.
Regarding the debate over whether Plath truly intended to kill herself: for me this is precisely where the beauty of Plath's work lies: in having been there. The world is "rotten" but it's also amazing. I believe you can both want to live and die in the same moment and feel excrutiantingly strongly about both simultaneously. Intense pain makes you want to both live and die. As Whitman said: "I am large, I contain multitudes".
I have been reading the messages on this forum with a great deal of interest. I am wondering if anyone of you know how much contact Frieda and Nicholas Hughes had with their grandmother, Aurelia Plath? When did Mrs. Plath die? It seems the children of Sylvia Plath do not pay tribute to her mother's heritage at all. Where is Nicholas Hughes and what does he do now?
I am wondering about Carol Hughes and if she still lives at Court Green? She has always been such a silent partner. Ted, in the 1970`s had two affairs. One with a young Australian lady and one with Emma Tennant according to the book Ted Hughes: The Life Of A Poet. So, it seems to me that Ted would be out there with women no matter what his home life was like. Carol was a nurse, and in my opinion Ted Hughes just wanted a wife/mother figure to look after him so he could live his life as he pleased. I guess he found this in Carol Hughes, the silent woman.
In my opinion, Sylvia Plath would have killed herself eventually. It was her fate. I can not blame Ted for her death. I can not fault Ted for being besotted with Assisa Wevil, either. It just happened. It comes down to taking responsibility for our own actions.
Who would have been a better choice than Ted Hughes? Sylvia was certainly not without friends. I can think of many people who would have done a better job than Hughes! Ruth Fainlight, the poet whom Sylvia loved and trusted. Robert Lowell. Alvarez. Jillian Becker. I disagree that Aurelia Plath would have been a terrible choice, and it insulting to her to suggest otherwise. True, she did object strongly to the publication of The Bell Jar. But, she certainly didn't destroy any of Sylvia's work.
I'm responding to recent posts by both Therresa and Trish:
First, I strongly disagree with Therresa that Plath was "first and foremost" Ted Hughes's wife and a mother and not "the property of the public." Sorry, but extreme talent does lift one beyond the mundane of the home and hearth and into the public sphere. If Plath had desired to be remembered primarily for her wifely skills, then she would have not attempted to publish any poetry post-marriage or post-child-bearing. Plath's extreme talent as a poet guaranteed that she would indeed become a "property of the public"--as is the fate of extraordinary talents in whatever field.
I also disagree with Therresa regarding her assertion that Plath would not be as talked about today if she hadn't committed suicide at a young age. The suicide adds drama to her biography, of course, but truth is, she was a superb poet. If she had been a sloppy, juvenile, "spilling-her-guts" kind of poet who had killed herself at 30, then perhaps loads of relatively undiscerning goth teens might still be discussing her 40 years after her death, but not the wide range of adult critics and scholars as is actually the case today with her work. Despite her sensational demise, her work stands up after over 40 years.
Regarding Trish's most recent post concerning Ted Hughes's control of Plath's work: Who else in the world would have been more trusted by Plath herself to administrate her work? While she had plenty of doubts about his skills as a faithful husband, her faith in his poetic judgment was unquestioned. No, the sequence of the released "Ariel" wasn't exactly as her arrangement in her notebooks; no, ideally Hughes shouldn't have destroyed a journal; no, ideally Hughes shouldn't have let his antagonistic-to-Plath sister control the release of her work...
But conversely, and in reality: Plath's arrangement of her final poems was not, as far as I know, set in stone in her own mind. It was a working document. Hughes was emotionally injured at the time and chose to delete some of the more hurtful poems--at the time--which was artistically questionable then, yes. But the fact is, he did end up releasing all of the poems that she intended for her final collection. Just not as soon as we wanted him to. He did his duty to Plath's legacy.
As for the last journal: I think we readers of her work are all highly aware of the emotional pain that Plath was going through in her last months. And I think we can pretty much imagine what kind of wrath and sadness she was pouring out onto the pages. Assuming that Hughes did destroy the journal and we won't ever see it: What, really, would we readers and scholars and critics have actually gained by seeing the thing? Some beautiful writing that would have contributed to the Plath canon? Highly doubtful. I would have liked to have been able to read it, but I'm also brave enough to admit that it would have been for extremely prurient reasons, not for any new insight that I might have gained.
As for Hughes leaving Plath's estate in the hands of his hostile sister Olwyn: True, her hostility toward Plath affected biographers who sought access to Plath material. But Stevenson, for instance, was obviously anti-Plath to begin with; or, if Olwyn affected her biographical judgment to that extent, then I fault Stevenson for being so mushy and easily swayed. Besides this horribly misguided bio with its nasty addenda, I don't actually see Olwyn's influence on Plath's output, other than the past issuing of occasional expensive limited editions of Plath's work. (And since Plath's Collected Poems have been released by now, it's not as if Olwyn were still keeping anything from us.)
As for Hughes himself, I still don't see what else he could have done. He was a renowned poet in his own right and had his own affairs to attend to. I certainly don't think he should have dropped his own career in order to make a career of looking after his posthumously popular dead wife's estate.
I'm glad to see Trish articulating the same feelings of disgust I've harbored for a long time about Ted Hughes, and his mismanagement of Sylvia's writings. In this day and age, I can't believe anyone would define Sylvia as "primarily Ted's wife and the mother of his children." Plath's poetry may not have been terribly widely known at the time, but Ted was well aware of the critical notice she had garnered, and the high esteem Alvarez, among others, had of her work. She was hardly an unknown. Her work had been extensively published in top magazines, she had published a book of poems, a novel, essays, and worked hard nearly every day of her life. Even in the middle of her deepest fears and anxieties about the future, alone at Court Green with her children, Plath faithfully arose at 4:00 each morning to craft her poems.
Despite this, Ted in his patriarchal way destroyed one of her journals and allowed the other one to disappear. I'm reminded of Cassandra Austen destroying her sister Jane's letters for the good of the family reputation. I believe Hughes' actions are even more reprehensible, since Cassandra indisputably loved her sister.
Yes, Trish, I agree with your perception as well. Strange as it may sound I think it's possible to see things from several points of view. TH did do reprehensible things to his wife Sylvia Plath, much of it committed in the flush of youth and immaturity, hence my attempt at compassion for him, having known men like him, basically decent, but imperfect and weak. I do respect your views however and completely understand the reasons behind your opinions. Thank you for sharing them honestly, I always enjoy your posts.
It is also true that part of the reason he felt compelled to publish her work is that he knew she wanted it published and probably did so out of a sense of duty and guilt. The reality is that if he had not made such an effort to see her work published, I doubt her legend would have reached such mythic status. He would have served himself better I think, if he had never entertained the notion of seeing her work published, he certainly suffered for it. Naturally there are those who will say he did so for selfish reasons, to supplement income for himself and his children, but there have been those who have done far worse in recent times simply for a dollar.
It also seemes to me that he was uncommonly good natured about the fact that SP destroyed a great deal of his work, (the burning pile?) this while he was (still living!) I cannot imagine a more invasive and cruel thing to do. It is the ultimate betrayal, which she, Sylvia Plath knew at the time, and comparing his destruction of S*'s last journal (after her death) cannot logically be contrasted with her destruction of his work, a large portion, while he was still living. I think many people forget that what she did was also reprehensible.
Viggo Mortenson, one of the stars of the film Lord of the Rings, is also a poet, (and a very good one by the way) and last year while running an errand with a satchel full of hand written poems, (75 all orgininals, none on disk or hard drive) his car was broken into and the satchel was stolen. He was bereft, stunned, depressed and haunted by it for weeks following. It represented three years work. He is actively involved in a publishing company that publishes different and new styles of poetry.
I also experienced something similar when a few months ago my young daughter got onto my browser and decided she would "help" me by deleting about 130 of my files. I was furious, sad, and also quite understanding. I only lost maybe 30 files I had not saved to disk, but it showed me the intense red hot emotion that can result from being violated in such a manner. I think it was incredibly stoic of TH to not hold her vengeful burning of his work against her by complaining about it or focusing on it. I guess I just get tired of people using TH as the universal whipping boy for what can happen to men who are unfaithful.
What happened to Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and Assia Wevill was unique and unusual. Most men go down in history undiscovered and anonymous after such events, protected by their lack of celebrity. I will go to my grave knowing that Ted Hughes was essentially a very good person, irrespective of what others may decide to think. If you want to get to know the man as a person, read (Birthday Letters) and all of his other poetry. It is hugely informative as to what a kind and generous human being he was. I've read about all the young poets he helped, assisted in their careers and such and I will always believe that he was just a very young inexperienced man who paid an unbelievably high price for having become involved with two very troubled yet seductive women. The reality is that there are many such stories, many such stories and assigning blame after a time becomes tedious. This from me? Yes, I know, I already see the raised eyebrows! Best Regards people!
I'm just curious, if Ted Hughes had not taken "control" over Plath's estate...who do you (specifically, Trish) propose would have been the best for the job? I would have to laugh if anyone suggested Aurelia Plath since I would say that Plath as we know her would not exist at all had she been the one to get a hold of Plath's literary efforts. Aurelia Plath certainly would not have published The Bell Jar (for obvious reasons) and who knows what she would have done with Plath's poetic works? I just think it's interesting that people continue to bash Hughes for inheriting Plath's estate and how he handled publishing her works but no one ever seems to come up with a logical alternative to him.
Regarding the "Golden Lotus" inscription on Plath's gravestone--it is worth taking a look at the imagery--regardless where the quote came from, it is a tenet of Buddhism that the lotus is a symbol of death and rebirth, as well as a symbol of sexuality. The quote is well-chosen.
I also have a book recommendation: Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath by Kate Moses. It is Moses' reconstruction of Plath's last days "wintering" in London, while simultaneously dwelling on the events leading up to Hughes leaving her for Assia Wevill. The book is incredibly well-written. It is also sensitively written, and suitable for advanced (and mature) high school readers through college age. I would not be afraid to teach this book in my 10-12 English courses.
Sylvia Plath died intestate; as she was still married to Ted Hughes at the time of her death, Ted legally assumed control of her estate. Hughes did not have a choice about accepting the responsibility. He certainly did not "seize" it. The tables ironically turned; whereas Plath acted as his literary agent in the early part of their marriage, after Plath's death Hughes was then in a position to return the favor. If he wanted it to happen, Plath's name would never have remained in print. As a result of his position as executor, Plath has gone on to become one of the most recognizable names in the literary world.
Hughes lawfully became executor of the Estate of Sylvia Plath. And I would argue that yes, he would have been one of the best choices to become her literary executor. To begin with, he genuinely admired her poetry. Irregardless of Olwyn Hughes's feelings about her Plath, the decision to offer his sister the position he did allowed Hughes to maintain control whilst leaving some of the decision to someone he trusted. Suggesting that he cast off responsibility is both disrespectful and dramatic.
The statement of your's to which I replied to initially is pasted her to help you understand what I was trying to say: "Sylvia was dead, unable to produce more of her dazzling literary output with which to delight the world." Your sentence reads as though Plath's "dazzling literary output" had already "delight[ed] the world." The point I was trying to make was that at the time of Plath's death she was not a famous writer. You're are not the only Forum contributor to have taken Hughes to task; my opinion is that it does not benefit discussion. While I used to harbor such feelings against Hughes, time has softened them.
As a scholar, I regret not having the opportunity to read those last Journals that Plath wrote. They would undoubtedly provide insight into The Bell Jar and the last poems; not to mention other events. As with Plath's poetry, Hughes need not have published her Journals or authorized the publication of her letters. If you have such a massive objection to his actions or the position he held, why would you bother to support her estate by purchasing her works?
Peter K Steinberg
I'm beginning to relate to Frieda's frustration and anger to which she gave vent in her recent glorious preface to the restored edition of Ariel against people earning revenue on the story and life of her mother and father to which they really have no right: no, not to the extent that it has been exploited and depicted, sometimes wrongly. Sometimes taking a distorted angle.
I visited the small church where Sylvia and Ted married in Bloomsbury, last week. Even before I entered I was bombarded with people wanting to give me a free massage and attend a Yoga session for free. There were also free Welsh lessons to be had and Alpha courses advertised everywhere. The church is really great as a small church and place of contemplation had it been empty but I guess I just turned up on a bad rainy day. I had a quick walk round and dashed out, popping into Faber & Faber's on the way back.
With all due respect, as far as Ted Hughes's right to sugar and preserve Plath as, "first as foremost, his wife and the mother of this children" goes: The famous must accept the fact that they will never again enjoy the privileges of "privacy" that the rest of us do. Ethics do not enter into it (however much they should)....it is solely a matter of inevitability; the nature of such an honor and the personal sacrifice of "being remembered." History as we know it is written; history as we know it is preserved. But think of those who have lived and died through the ages who are lost to us forever, by way of their lives not being recorded. This, in fact, will be the fate of most of us (and that's ok; because of course it has nothing to do with personal accomplishment; nothing to do with personal happiness or virtue or worth).
But there is quite a bit of difference between the unrecorded life, which will die a human lifespan with the ones who remember it, and the recorded life, which will live on long past those individuals and their descendants and their descendants. In this sense, what (after a certain amount of time) value can "privacy" actually have to those who would wish to take their place among the remembered?
Sylvia's poetry was an invitation, open to anyone. It was and is an inadvertent but profound gesture of generosity, the price of which might have been her life. But make no mistake about it: in those last poems, in her journals, in everything she ever wrote, Sylvia Plath wanted nothing of privacy. Her story was intended to be told; like Dickinson, it was her letter to the world. And in this sense, yes, Ted Hughes can and should be blamed for having, to a large extent, sacrificed Plath's artistic intentions to save his own private life. "History has to live with what was here," wrote Robert Lowell, and so did Ted Hughes.As far as this subject resembling a dead horse goes...yes, no doubt it does; but it is a colorful horse, decked out like a pinata; and when one beats it spews forth wonderful candy.
Lisa A. Flowers
Could it be that Plath talked to the painter to determine if he would be up to safeguard the children? Surely Plath would know that after a certain amount of time exposed to coal gas can damage the mind, making the individual virtually a vegetable? As meticulous as she was, surely she would know this? My opnion is that the MAOI antidepressant, Parnate, that she was taking affected her judgement, and from the testimony of the painter, it sounds as if she overdosed on the Parnate that evening, due to her slurred speech.
Well, it seems to have hit a nerve with some people that I take Ted Hughes to task for assuming control over his dead wife's work, (a woman from whom he was estranged!), then abdicating much of the responsibility over to Olwyn Hughes, of all people! Olwyn made no secret of her great dislike for Sylvia. I cannot think of an odder choice to control her work. Olwyn dribbled out access to Sylvia's body of work as she saw fit, and denied access to biographers who refused to allow her control over their final output. Hmmm. And you still defend Ted Hughes as choice of executor? He was the one best suited to make decisions about her output? He destroyed at least one of her journals, and exercised such general sloppiness that much of the stuff simply disappeared out the door with several visitors. Thank goodness Assia's sister had the decency to return what Assia apparently stole!
I have to vehemently disagree, Therresa, that Sylvia was first and foremost, Ted's wife and the mother of his children. Good grief, she was separated from Hughes, and seeking a divorce. She wasn't his chattel. She died intestate? Well, I find that an insufficient excuse for seizing control of her work. In the last few months of her life, she could barely function, let alone drag herself to a solicitor and have a will made. As for the yes--draconian laws---my dictionary provides the definition: "marked by extreme severity or cruelty." I believe Sylvia herself summed up the laws in her letter to Aurelia Plath, following her visit to a solicitor following Ted's desertion: "The laws, of course, are awful." I'd like to remind Peter Steinberg that in my post, I said: "more of [Sylvia's] dazzling literary output with which to delight the world." I'm not sure what point he is trying to make, but my point is that there was nothing more to come, and it was heartless and selfish of Ted Hughes to destroy what little there was left of it.