Messages from July 2005
Lisa, Thank you very much for the link to the articles about Caroline Blackwood. It was a good long read but very interesting. Riveting as all the articles were, I thought The Evening Standard one was the best.
I will have to consider carefully my answers to the questions about Plath's poetry in your last post addressed to me.
Thanks to Morney Wilson for the information on the medication Sylvia was taking. I too beleive that it was the medication that drove Sylvia to her final act. I myself am on Paxil but was placed on several different medications before that one came out. Elavil, which I am told is a very good medication for some people, was disastrous for me and I can well see how an incorrect medication could have an effect on one's logic.
Sylvia was not some out of control person at the end. She was in a desperate state, but she knew that and was seeking help. I was also wondering, it seemed so many people knew her frame of mind that last night, friends, neighbors, the doctor who admitted he was taking a risk to leave her alone... everybody but Ted, apparently. Why didn't someone call him and tell him? It isn't like he and Sylvia were not on speaking terms. He is so often portrayed as the villain but I do not see him that way. Does anyone know if he was alerted to her state and simply thought going the next day was close enough? Did the doctor who knew he was taking a risk to leave Sylvia alone call Ted and tell him that? I will certainly be reading both Her Husband and Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House.
Hi Alys,from Italy, Thank you for the comment, but I have to say, I have never thought that Sylvia Plath was ever abused sexually by her father. Is that what you meant to convey? I have never gotten that impression, though I certainly respect your opinion in this regard, I just have never gotten that impression myself, personally. I think what has been determined about Otto, her father, was that he was incredibly self absorbed, obsessive about his writing and his research and gave little time to Sylvia. I think he was in all other ways entirely decent and civilized. I do not believe that Assia Wevill enjoyed the same kind of upbringing. I suspect that Assia was abused sexually as a child, and a teen, it certainly would explain her early departure from her parents' home wouldn't it? I believe she was 16 if I am correct.
I think she suffered from pure and incredibly concentrated envy, jealousy and a sense of having been left out, and that this feeling resulted from a thwarted early life, lost innocence perhaps? Sexual violation perhaps? I personally think so. It would be interesting to see or hear what her elderly younger sister Cecilia thinks. In any event, I really do believe that Assia was abused in this kind of manner by someone very close to her. Her behavior if you look back on it was really textbook in terms of her acting out, her rage against mothers etc. The obsession with infidelity, with stealing Daddy from Mommy so to speak.
But Sylvia Plath I believe had two very serious minded and decent parents, maybe harsh task masters, perhaps a bit distant, but decent nonetheless. I don't believe her father would ever have had the perversity of character needed to violate his daughter in such a manner. From all that I have read of him, he comes across as decent and moral. Thank you for your comments in any event. And keep visiting the forum.
I am a little disturbed by some recent trends in the forum, namely the discussion of "spirits" that might have driven Sylia to suicide. Chris Kaye suggested that "a mentally ill person can draw spirits to them, many of them negative." Then Lisa said, "I certainly would not rule out the possibility that malevolent entities may have played a part in the disintegration of Plath's mind." Whoa!
Sylvia was, above all else, a rational person. Disturbed maybe -- depressed, even psychotic toward the end -- but not delusional. I sincerely doubt that she would have sanctioned all this speculation about evil spirits/entities invading her mind. As Cressida very accurately points out, "now we are into supernatural nonsense."
Let's get back to the poems, and here I must question Therresa's reading of Sylvia's last poem, "Edge". Theressa says, "I also believe in the powerfully destructive effects that malevolent spirits can have on an already troubled mind". She goes on to say that "I will always interpret the last stanza of 'Edge' as her commentary on Assia . . ."
First, I must admit that while I think we don't know everything that is going on in the universe -- many unanswered/unanswerable questions -- I don't think we gain much by leaping into the supernatural for solutions. Let's tread a little more lightly here, and more humbly.
As for the last lines of Sylvia's last poem, "Edge", I think she was looking death in the face, and so her depiction of the moon as "staring from her hood of bone" just depicts that hard and bright and dead clestial body as gazing down on her and her death without any emotion. I can't see any reason to bring another living person (i.e., Assia) into the final equation. I worry that some very intelligent contributors to the Forum are on the verge of taking it into a realm of utter speculation and even occultism, which I don't Sylvia would have embraced.
Can we all stand back and take a deep breath?
Hi Honeybee. Although I am by now quite accustomed to visiting Plath's grave (I put flowers on it each year if I am able, on her birth and death days) I often reflect upon what a desolate & landlocked setting it is for a poet who was more urban than rural & who loved the sea so much.
As you have just read Crow Steered Bergs Appeared you might be interested in reading both my own & William Bedford's reviews of it in the Review section of the Forum. I am surprised you were able to read it quickly as I found it a rather dense, though worthwhile book to get through.
I understand exactly your feelings on Hughes as I share them. I feel it is almost always unfair to hold anyone responsible for another person's suicide & that instinctive feeling that people should not lay the blame for Plath's suicide at the feet of Hughes was reinforced by the sense I gained of the man when I saw him read on two memorable occasions. I felt as if I had been in the presence of true genius and also that of a man who had suffered a great deal. I believe my own book Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House (1993) was the first one from a feminist perspective which did not castigate Hughes for his wife's death, although I was critical about the way he handled her writing via his sister's control of Plath's estate.
I think you probably have got a rather rare book in your copy of Trevor Thomas's memoir. I have been looking out for one of these for some years and haven't been able to locate a copy. As I recall, Hughes began court action against Professor Thomas and most of the copies of the memoir were withdrawn from book shops. I don't remember the final outcome though. Perhaps someone else has accurate information on that?
I haven't logged in here for ages but am reminded of your existence following a recent trip from my home very near to the Plath/Hughes base in Devon to Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall last week.
I was delighted to find a single copy of the Lucas Myers' memoir Crow Steered Bergs Appeared in the Hebden Bridge bookshop and snapped it up. I have been looking for this one for ages and having read it through quickly just wanted to add my commendations to reviews on here. It's a real pleasure to read anything that attempts to give a fair slant on how life must have been for Ted Hughes and also offers us a picture of a man who was haunted by the tragedies of his life. I have always been a great supporter of Hughes and this book confirms my belief that he was fundamentally a good, honest, caring man who was wrongly persecuted for most of his life. I think it was a 50:50 situation and so I have never been able to take sides, to me they are both great poets who deserve to be remembered for giving us what they did.
It was of course only a hop and a skip up to Heptonstall so I have finally paid homage to Sylvia Plath's grave and that was really quite emotional, more than I thought it would be but just standing there amongst the graves in a sadly overgrown and neglected churchyard was a memorable experience. There is a beautiful bee borage plant growing on the grave which felt so appropriate together with what I took to be rosemary (for remembrance surely). Not far from Plath's grave is that of Ted Hughes' parents probably largely unnoticed by the Plath pilgrims.
I came straight home and immersed myself in all the Ted and Sylvia books again, I never tire of the subject, which reminds me to ask; I bought a genuine original of the Trevor Thomas memoir a couple of years ago, are these quite scarce now? It makes for yet more fascinating though slightly less credible reading from the last person to see Plath alive.
While looking for information on Caroline Blackwood, who I am researching in accordance with Lowell, I stumbled across a really interesting piece in "The Weekly Standard" entitled "The Art Of Infidelity: Blackwood, Lowell, Plath And More". The article explores the viability of romantic/sexual unions among like minded artists. "As with Hughes and Plath, Lowell and Blackwood seemed made for each other, sometimes in ominous ways," writes the author...." As Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald had proved decades earlier, alcoholics and the mentally ill may enchant one another, but do not wear well. 'We're like two eggs cracking,' Lowell wrote."
Lisa A. Flowers
Just as a postscript to my message which mentions truth and accuracy and perpetuating a myth,(now that we are into supernatural nonsense). A Canadian author Laura Penny, has just written a book called "Your Call Is Important To Us". about that very subject.
Quote:- "Never in the history of mankind have so many people uttered statements that they know to be untrue. Presidents, priests, politicians, lawyers, reporters, corporate executives and countless others have taken to saying not what they believe, but what they want others to believe - not what is, but what works."
So much rubbish is written about Sylvia Plath, her work, her life, her likes and dislikes and about Assia Wevill too, all of it hearsay. Neither is here to defend herself. Tales like snowballs rolling down a hill get bigger and more shapeless as they go along. Speculation, presumption, imagination and now superstition are all rolled up into one big shapeless ball. I admit I joined in myself at one time but now the novelty has worn off.
Let them rest in peace poor souls, they had enough to contend with when they were alive.
I would like the person who can summon up spirits to bring back Sylvia Plath, there are a few questions I would like to ask her.
Chris of Dublin-thanks for the information on the William Trevor/Assia material. I'm looking forward to reading the pieces you described.
Cressida, I didn't mean to imply that I thought you were in any way excusing the death of Shura, nor did I take offense to the Biblical reference for its own sake; I merely thought it inappropriate in that particular context. I don't consider myself Christian, Catholic, or anything else that can be thus classified. You made some valid points. One thing I am genuinely curious about, though, is what your feelings on Plath's late work actually are, particularly as contrasted with the poems of the Colossus era. I'm not sure if you're saying that the Ariel poems should be appreciated and accepted as finished art, and their mystery left alone and unprobed, or if you're saying that there's no mystery there at all. I do absolutely understand your aversion to "official" explanations, so to speak; and agree wholeheartedly that no creative work of art can, or should, be thus classified or pigeonholed.
Of course, there's a big difference between that and a group of people discussing their individual interpretations, as you pointed out with the fire/ink blot analogy. Hence, what I guess I don't understand is why you would find speculation (along these lines) as to the possible meaning of Plath's work objectionable. Again, just curious-
Lisa A. Flowers
Hi Lisa, Chris, I also believe in the powerfully destructive effects that malevolent spirits can have on an already troubled mind. I think I read somewhere that there was some possibility that Ted Hughes and Assia Wevill may have tinkered with black magic at the expense of Sylvia Plath, I don't know where but I read this somewhere.
I also think that Sylvia Plath was aware to some extent of this phenomena and that she saw these very elements in the aura of Assia Wevill. I will always interpret the last stanza of "Edge" as her commentary on Assia, her complete lack of moral sense, and how that related to her "hangers on", the spirits that plagued her.
The last lines are so revealing to me, and being as evocative and mysterious as they are, does anyone else have a different interpretation that could prove convincing enough to me as opposed to my ideas on this score?
The moon has nothing to be sad about,
To me these lines define Assia and her evil presence, along with the possibility that she was followed by malevolent unseen spirits. Call me a loon but it's what I think. Thanks for all the interesting posts.
To Therresa Kennedy: I utterly & completely agree with what you say. I've also thought for my whole life that also Sylvia Plath was abused by her father (see why love & hate for him). and this you can better have by reading one particular poem by Sylvia: "The Zoo Keeper's Wife." I believe it's so clearly explained/revealed.
Hi Chris, I totally want to give feedback on your psychic phenomena post but I'm not sure where to start. Can you evidence any other psychic phenomena in Plath photographs? I feel that there was more to work with I'd be overflowing with ideas on your photo theories.
Hi Julie, In Her Husband by Diane Middlebrook, the anti-depressant that Sylvia was given shortly before her death is named as Parnate.
Middlebrook does not give much information about it - just that it apparently was the same (or had the same ingredient in it) as an anti-depressant that Sylvia had been given in America at the time of her earlier breakdown. She had turned out to be allergic to something in this anti-depressant at that time - but this was not known when she was given it again in England just before her death. I am not entirely sure why this is - either it had a different name or her American medical records were not available.
She was given it because it was supposed to be a faster acting anti-depressant than other ones. It was generally meant to take about 10 days to work. She had been taking it for around 7 days when she killed herself. According to Middlebrook, both Ted Hughes and Aurelia Plath believed that her suicide was mainly a result of the Parnate (either because of her 'allergy' to it or because, as some people believe, with a lot of anti-depressants, there is a brief period where the medication starts to work, but the feelings of depression are still there and in fact the first thing the medication can do - temporarily - is give the patient the 'motivation' to act on their suicidal feelings).
This is not something I have read elsewhere so I am just repeating what I read in Her Husband. Middlebrook's conclusion is that "Depression killed Sylvia Plath."
If you put 'Parnate' into a search engine (I just tried it in a Google search engine) it comes up with quite a lot of information about it. Hope that helps.
Hello Lisa, I also agree with all that you have said, it may sound strange, but I do, and you know for months I was continually troubled by what Assia did to Shura, murdering her in cold premeditated calculation. (Notice the first and last letters of the child's name) S-hur-a/ S-ylvi-a. It has always been my contention that Assia was pathologically competitive, if you read some of the poems Hughes wrote about Assia, he comments upon it, it was something he saw as well. I think the morbidity of it troubled him. He couldn't understand it and was thus fascinated and troubled by it. If you read the poems you can really see it.
Assia wanted to "best" Sylvia in everything, was with Hughes for seven years, just like Sylvia. Lived in nearly all the homes that Sylvia lived in, no doubt tried to "best" her as a sex partner to Hughes as well. It is known that Assia collected some of Sylvia's under clothes, jewelry and other objects including diaries. Her biggest ambition was to marry Hughes, but Ted would not, he continually put it off. He would not betray Sylvia in that manner. Consider it odd, but I have always thought it was a manner in which Ted could remain loyal to Sylvia. His love and loyalty to Sylvia are clear in his last book of poems Birthday Letters. There can be no doubt that Sylvia was his emotional and intellectual soulmate. Assia could never compete in that regard, she had not even completed high school from what I have read and did not attend college or university, let alone complete any under graduate or graduate degrees like Sylvia had. More than likely she suffered extreme insecurity because of this lack of polish with regard to her back ground and education.
Assia named her daughter Alexandria and yet "nicknamed" the child a name that had the same first and last letters as Sylvia's first name. One more manner in which Assia could claim herself the victor? In a sense owning Sylvia's very name in a secret manner? For many years this competition, this need to "best" Sylvia was enough to satisfy Assia, but then as she became older, and lets face it, she was never, never a "young" mother, she became less able to be satisfied with this bizarre and hollow form of competition.
I really and truly believe she killed Shura as a way to get revenge on Ted for not marrying her, for not finally and legally making her the "victor" by making her take the one place that Sylvia had occupied, but that she herself had not. She never made it to the "Throne of Wife" as she had with all her other men. She would never be respectable. Ted would not do it, he wouldn't marry Assia and I believe it was the despair, anger and rage at this that drove Assia to consider and then act out a most hideous revenge on Ted. And lets all face this as well, Assia's choice of death for (herself) was also one last way she could "best" Sylvia, by copying her very exact manner of death, sticking her head in an oven, just like Sylvia.
I have often wondered why, why this bizarre and chilling competition on the part of Assia? I can only tell you what my gut instincts are. I believe that Assia had been sexually violated in some manner at an extremely young age, and perhaps even into her teens. She did leave home quite early didn't she? She was a teen as I recall. I don't know why and I really can't explain it, but her behavior is just so absolutely textbook for a woman who has been sexually abused. The rage at women, and mothers=Sylvia, could be translated as rage against her mother who did not protect her from abuse. Could it have been her father? I think it could have been, or perhaps an uncle or other relative. Women of that era were raped and sexually abused right, left and center. It just wasn't "talked" about. It has been reported that Assia was the "apple of her father's eye" and sometimes, not all, but sometimes that includes sex.
So, yes, I also am always saddened when I think of the calculatedness of Assia's actions with regard to little Shura. I am also at times repulsed by Assia, by her selfishness, and her conceit, but I think perhaps she was the one who succeeded in hiding the biggest secret. Maybe she never even told Ted. Maybe she told no one of her shame, but I think it would be a likely scenario in explaining the strange Amy Fisher like rage at other women and (mothers) in particular.
Hi Cressida - I'm not certain I'm understanding you correctly. Among other things, you seem to be making a point about the uselessness of abstraction and the internal world in the context of history. I believe I addressed those issues in my own post, where I described the development of privacy in an eventual historical context.....ie, after a while privacy must be turned over to the custody of history.
But again, I cannot be certain that I'm actually addressing your concerns, because, not to be flippant or disrespectful, you seemed to miss my point entirely. Your points about the tangible (bones; actual evidence) as opposed to the intangible, and/or perceived, were valid and well taken...and perhaps my analogy was inappropriate in that context. But what beyond that? What is the actual result of what you're saying? If it is that something must be comprehensible in order to be valuable, you're treading a thin line...especially since evidence and fact , in their starkest definitions, have a tendency to evaporate with time. Too, comprehension is often subjective.
Perhaps, then, the effectiveness of a given thing should be defined by people's reactions to it...and reactions to Plath's poetry have made her one of the most famous artists in the twentieth century. There's no question of accessibility there. Poetry can perhaps be defined as something like leaving a camera on in a haunted room: often one doesn't know what one has picked up until one rolls the footage.
And this brings me to Chris's very interesting post about psychic phenomenon. I can attest that intermittently/chronically mentally ill people do, unquestionably, draw entities to them. As a sufferer of clinical anxiety/panic attacks, I have dealt with this phenomenon on more than one occasion....although, even in moments of clarity, it is difficult to sort out where the illness ends and the outside interference begins. An opened cup of yogurt left in a warm refrigerator will draw bacteria to it; so it is with certain states of mind and what they inadvertently evoke. I find it interesting, too, that many people who are otherwise spiritual are so often put off by these possibilities, denying them as illogical; if you want to go down that road, the existence of spirits is no more or less possible than the existence of God...and yet nobody would call someone who professed a deep faith in God "crazy." I certainly would not rule out the possibility that malevolent entities may have played a part in the disintegration of Plath's mind...not because they created her mental illness (which was chemical) but because they were drawn to it.
Anyway, Chris, I'm definitely going to go back over my photographs of Plath. Also, if you would like to discuss this subject in more detail/compare findings, please email me. If anyone else has any observations/experiences to share on this subject, I wish they would.
Lisa A. Flowers
Lisa, I cannot match your emotional outburst. You chose to take offense at the Biblical reference when it was only made, (if you had read my message correctly) in reply to the mention of "Gods and Godesses" (note the capitals) by Chris Kaye. It really had no other significance. Human sacrifice has been around a long time and still continues today with the suicide bombers. Whatever the basis for this twisted thinking, religion, drugs, life events, once the idea of suicide takes hold it is mind altering. Assia could not be expected to behave rationally. I feel like the devil's advocate here, but I am no such thing. What Assia did was a terrible thing, I am not making excuses for her, I just think she was not in her right mind when she did it.
Karlyn, Welcome to the forum, I agree entirely with your sentiments about Ted Hughes.
I am a student of psychic phenomena because of some really interesting things that have happened to me over the last couple of years, and one of the avenues I have pursued is psychic photography, which I have used to verify the presence of some "people" that I felt strongly were around me. Consequently I "read" pictures for psychic anomalies, at this point it is second nature.
I've just purchased "The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath" and am quite amazed at the anomalies present in almost every picture. There is a picture of her at Smith with spirits peeping around a door as her picture was being taken - others taken there have much dramatic content.
Throughout her life she said she was psychic - maybe she wasn't fooling. But a mentally ill person can draw spirits to them, many of them negative because they are drawn to that kind of misery, it is their energy source. Spirits at the Devon house, spirits at the Yeats house, both ancient buildings with many inhabitants through the years are bound to be "occupied". In one of the pictures of Sylvia in a grassy field with Frieda, there is a man in the background with round, professorial looking glasses looking on in the background - I'll leave you to guess who I think that was.
I wouldn't be surprised if other people have picked up on this - perhaps Ted did, given his interests, and maybe their children picked up on it too. It wouldn't surprise me. If anyone on this board has I would love to see some feedback.
With all due respect, it is my belief that evoking the story of the sacrifice of Christ to illustrate sympathetic points about Assia Wevill is completely inappropriate. Surely Assia is entitled to sympathy and, like most of the dead, deserves a voice; but I think we are in trouble once we find ourselves accepting...in the name of her despair... what she did to her daughter. I have posted on this subject before, not to sound redundant; but sympathy and understanding of this sort must stay within the lines of morality itself to be useful on earth ....never mind sainthood. In other words, personal identification is one thing and the larger good of mankind is another. As DH Lawrence wrote, "And whomever opens himself up to love anybody/begets a murderer in his own body" I'm getting a little off topic here, perhaps, and veering toward abstraction....but the point I'm trying to make is that, if we excuse Assia's actions in the name of suffering, why not excuse anybody's actions in the name of suffering? Child molesters, rapists, suicide bombers....where are the boundaries? The simple fact is that Chris is right: there IS no excuse for what Assia did to that little child.
And the idea that the illegitimacy of Shura should have been a major factor in Assia's decision to commit murder is also highly suspect. The fact is that Assia did have options for Shura, and she knew that she had options. There was her sister Celia, whom she already knew would take care of Shura; they had already exchanged letters on the subject. Assia could have dropped her daughter off at hospital, left her with neighbors, sent her off with the au pair, anything......anything...would have been better than what she did. ... up to and including giving Shura up for adoption, or putting her in a "children's home."
Perhaps if Assia had not been so pathologically narcissistic, so pathologically self absorbed, she would have been able to grasp the concept that there was a functioning world outside of herself that her daughter had a right to exist in. As it is, she couldn't even grasp the concept that her daughter had a LIFE of her own. Sylvia Plath...another person who was pathologically self absorbed...is proof that suicidal despair does not rule out rational thought on the behalf of others. We must never forget that this was a child, an affectionate child who loved to snuggle and loved her mother and loved being read to and perhaps sang small songs to her dolls as she played. How does one dissolve sleeping tablets into a cup for their four year old child, then watch her drink it ? How does one pull the small, flushed, limp body of their drugged child up into lethal gas? Perhaps focusing on these images would be more beneficial than excusing them.
Chris, I agree completely with everything you said, and I'm very sorry, too, to hear about your own experience. All the best to you.
Lisa A. Flowers
Are there any connection between Plath's poems and Walt Whitman's? Does Plath often reference his works in her own? Has she ever commented on his poetry in a positive of negative light?
Andrew Price Rea
There is a very interesting profile of Assia Wevill on the Guardian Unlimited Web site; I'm posting the link. Written by Eilat Negev in 1999, this article refutes some of the points raised here around Assia's suicide and the murder of Shura: 1. That the "young" Assia had nowhere to leave her children, but with the Hughes family. In fact, 42-year-old Assia had named her sister as Shura's guardian, and planned to send the child to Canada, to be raised with her sister's other children. Her father, a respected surgeon, was living near her. She may indeed have suffered childhood traumas, as the daughter of a prominent Russian Jew living in Berlin prior to World War II, but her family emigrated to Tel Aviv and thus escaped the most horrific sufferings and deaths that befell so many Jews at the time. She was, according to her childhood friends, and as quoted by Negev, "egocentric, stubborn, and always (had) her way." On holidays, her family entertained lavishly. She made a habit, said her friends, of 'stalking' men. Her childhood does not seem that horrific to me. Certainly, Sylvia Plath's childhood was difficult by anyone's standards.
Is the late Assia Wevill deserving of compassion? Of course. I continue to be puzzled, however, at the lack of compassion shown to 'jealous, paranoid' Sylvia Plath, even after HER suicide, where she such pains to spare her children. Wrote Hughes: "My first wife's death was complicated and inevitable, she had been on that track most of her life. But Assia's was avoidable." I find that an incredible statement. Plath's death was "inevitable"? There is always hope for a suicidal woman. And as Wevill's sister wrote, "Sylvia drove him (Ted) into the arms of my sister." Anyway, it's a great read! Much thanks to Eilat Negev for the remarkable scholarship around Assia Wevill.
I am trying to find out exactly what medication Sylvia was on at the time of her death. In Bitter Fame by Anne Stevenson, Dr. Horder is quoated as calling it a 'mono-oxidase inhibitor' but does not give the exact name of the medication.
I have just finished reading Diane Middlebrook's book, Her Husband, and was moved to Google both Hughes and Plath. Came across this forum. I actually had Middlebrook for a class at Stanford (when I was on a fellowship there about 15 years ago.) I found her book fascinating but was very disappointed at what she left out---and what she tossed in whatout much comment.
I accept that Plath's suicide is a complicated issue and cannot be blamed solely on Hughes. But from that point on, am I crazy to think that he should have been a bit more careful about how he treated the women in his life? And, after the woman he left Plath for, Assia Wevill, kills herself and her child, this guy goes merrily on his way, remarries, to Carol Orchard, and continues to cheat. What disappointed me about the book was Middlebrook's scant information about how the cheating affected Orchard. To think that he could go off to Australia after the death of Orchard's father, and begin an affair with Jill Barber, and disappear with her for months at a time was appalling. At that point, any respect I had for Hughes as a human being ended. This was selfish, cruel, monstrous behavior---and I just had to share my feelings. If nothing else, you would think he would have been more careful for fear of driving another wife to suicide. Maybe she was long-suffering. Maybe they had an understanding. It just floors me to think he could have done this to his second wife after what had preceded his marriage. Middlebrook just tosses this stuff into her book and the reader never gets any idea of how the wife was handling it. I don't care how great a poet he was, this behavior was inexcusable.
Dear Lisa Flowers, I am sorry I missed your post dated June 12th. in which you attempt to explain the reason why researchers derive so much satisfaction from trying to solve a puzzle which does not exist.
You liken it to archaeologists studying the bones of ancients, a poor analogy, since a mystery does exist there; but how can it be possible, if you do not know the meaning of the poetry you have written for anyone else to decipher it? It is more comparable to a psychologist showing you an ink blot on a piece of paper and asking you what you see, or staring at crackling flames in the fireplace to see what pictures you can make. If what you see is just an ink blot on a piece of paper, or flames crackling in the fireplace, you are a realist. If you see a cat or a horse or anything else, you are a dreamer. Nothing wrong with that, except when significant importance is attached to it, such as attaching significant importance to the work of a poet or an artist when there was none there to begin with!
People no longer value truth and accuracy, we live in a world hungry for news, so what is unknown is invented. If there are many missing links to a story someone somewhere fills in the gaps. The story gets passed around, a few more bits are added and in time the myth is accepted as truth. There are many missing links in the Sylvia Plath story, it seems an idle pastime to endlessly speculate on the work that makes no sense, since there are no definite answers to the riddles.
It makes me think that if she were still alive today she would be chuckling all the way to the bank.
Yaddo. I keep finding parallels between the creative processes that Plath unearthed in the colony and cross-fertilisations with Emily Bronte's later poems. The domestic ]shelter or womb as final resting place and not a creative crucible. The objects that Plath uses to convey her smallness are sharply observed , musical. It conveys the grief experience and personal alienation so intricately that I felt Plath was so alive and attuned to her personal totems and symbols, that she had achieved something huge in poetical terms. I discovered her writing months before her fate and wondered why students couldn't find her on the English syllabus in UCD, Dublin.In terms of inspiration, I found in my own writing a sense of bravery and unwillingness to flinch from life experiences. I've learnt to map the geography of death, birth through these women writers. The intensity of discovering sister poets has enriched my life.
Re:- Assia, there are some beautiful contemporary portraits of her in William Trevor's fiction and prose. The Table purports to be a fictional story based round their inital meeting. The name of the portrait: "Assia", deals with Trevor's friendship with her until her death. I can't remember the prose collection I read it in, however, it mentions the two blades of grass she sent to Hughes, whch he describes in Birthday Letters. Another Irish link is to Richard Murphy, who has anecdotes in his autobiography. I have survived the suicide of a close friend and it is devastating, forgiveness is the hardest thing.The poetry is immortal, but the desire to understand another's motivation, necrophile. A cul de Sac.Medean rage is fascinating to me. It's white hot and its glare is radioactive. Assia is and never was Medean in her rage.Plath was. interesting. The desire to destoy everything created in a bomb of anger and recrimination can go on for years, it doesn't tally with the portait of Wevill that Trevor presents. He suggests abandonment and the Mortuary triangle that she could not free herself from.
I was wondering if anyone else thinks that Sylvia's use of cocaine shots in treating her recurrent sinusitis may have had any bearing on the fluctuations of her moods? Being bipolar (and now it seems highly likely that Plath suffered the illness), I know all too well the disastrous effects of narcotics on an already tenuous control of manic and depressive episodes.
Hello Chris, I too shared your outrage with the lovely Assia Wevill and for a long time I posted angry comments about what a hateful thing it was to kill little Shura, not to mention all the many diobolical things she did which had a direct impact on Sylvia Plath's suicide, harassing her via the post, including becoming intentionally pregnant,(she is reputed to have aborted the baby soon after Plath's suicide) and this has been confirmed by several reliable individuals. Assia was known to have had many abortions during her life. I have read a good number of biographies on both Plath, Hughes and articles on Assia Wevill and so have a fairly good spectrum of acquired knowledge on Assia. I have since tempered my angst toward Assia. For a variety of reasons, one being I suspect there may have been some kind of dysfunction going on in her early home life.
I also doubt very highly that Assia took little Shura to "hell" with her. Shura was an entirely innocent four year old at the time of her death, so I see no reason why God in all his loving mercy would condemn a blameless child. Perhaps you were just making a flip expression and didn't literally mean it, but I certainly do not see as how that could ever have happened.
I see the death of Shura as either a form of extending her desire to get revenge on Ted, (which is quite possible by the way) or as what has been suggested, that she couldn't imagine little Shura being subjected to scorn, ridicule or neglect being the illegitimate child that she was and so, Assia just decided to take her with her. It will be hard to say. Perhaps it was a combination of both.
I think Assia did feel sincere pity toward little Shura because she was regarded as a bastard child and was not awarded the same kind of status that Hughes's "good" acknowledged children were. "His children born of marriage." This was the middle and late sixties but was still a time when those things would be hugely problematic and this was not the casual 70's and 80's when children born out of wedlock was no longer taboo.
I do know that Assia was an odd mixture of many good and bad qualities and since I have begun a very friendly email correspondance with one of her elderly ex husbands, a wonderfully gracious gentleman, (who has since promised me a copy of an original photo or two), that I have a different opinion on Assia. Certainly she was a selfish and cunning woman but she was also many other things as well. Her ex-husband says he is going to go through many old photos during 2006, when he has more time and has told me that he is taking very good care of these old photos, all of which have never been seen by the public. I am thrilled to think he would send me a copy of a snap shot or two and I promise that (if) I am lucky enough to get any, I will scan them and send them to the forum for all our enjoyment.
Mr. Lipsey seems to have the most realistic understanding of Assia and I think his take on things is long overdue. Ted Hughes is said to have had a very good understanding of Assia but the reality is that her other ex-husbands can also offer important and illuminating observations as well. The whole story, (and also the horror that Hughes survived, being the calculated suicides by two of his women) is very much like the title of one of the biographies The Malignant Sadness. That is what it is, a very malignant sadness indeed. I also feel a huge compassion for Hughes as well and always will. I don't believe he ever anticipated these events nor did he ever (deserve) them. There has been rumor that all the women who ever came into contact with Hughes fell madly in love with him, and frankly I find that kind of myth just a bit tiresome. Not all women found him atractive, and while he had a diverse and active love life, he was not a complete Lothario.
His poetry is wonderful and I would encourage any one interested to read it. He had a wonderful mastery of the craft and was able to mature as a poet and to tackle many different types of poetical composition. In any event Chris, your feelings and thoughts are well taken and completely understood by me. I think where ever little Shura is, she is safe and in bliss.
"What is hardest for me to live with is Assia's killing of her little girl Shura. I despise her for taking that little girl to hell with her - there is no excuse for it. Having been a child hostage of deranged adults myself, it is a wonder that I'm still alive, and I wish Shura could have lived. I wish Assia would have thought, "I have done enough damage - I will leave my child alone". But it was not to be."
Another view of the event above is that Assia loved her child so much that she could not bear to leave her behind. After all Ted Hughes' family was already committed to rearing two of his children! How many more times was this going to happen? How many more of his kids were they going to end up looking after?
Imagine, if you were as unhappy as this young woman must have been. I have never contemplated suicide myself so I cannot speak from personal experience, but I suspect it takes a lot of thought. Sylvia Plath had been thinking about hers for years. Assia had already been married three times she had a child to Ted Hughes a serial womanizer, she obviously could see no future with him. She became depressed enough to want to end her life, what was going to happen to her beautiful little daughter? She probably thought that she would never be loved and cared for enough, perhaps never even accepted. Perhaps she may even end up in a children's home.
Imagine holding your little girl close in your arms, crying, and thinking these thoughts, but being so desperate to take your own life the only solution seems to be to take your beloved daughter with you.
This is just a hypothesis, but if you are going to invoke the gods and goddesses Chris, remember that God so loved the world that he gave (sacrificed) his only begotten son. Instead of hating and damning Assia for what she did, perhaps you could charitably think that in her desperate frame of mind, perhaps she did the only thing she could think of to do out of love for Shura, and that was to take her with her.
A terrible tragedy, the second for Ted Hughes, but he weathered it.... His poor mother was not so lucky however.
Hi Mary Elizabeth, that was an interesting idea about sharing street names and addresses in actual towns. I feel such information should be shared offline, however. It seems a bit unfair to publicize such addresses over the Web, and possibly violate the rights of the individuals currently living in Plath's old homes. I know that wasn't your intention, of course, Mary Elizabeth. I used to live in a house where a famous poet had lived during his college years, and I was occasionally harassed by people knocking on the door, asking for information, etc. Most were polite, some were unbelievably rude. And, this person was nowhere near as famous as Sylvia Plath.
I'm new, haven't posted here before but have been floating around and reading quite a bit of interest. Of particular interest is the section with an analysis of the poems. I am currently studying/comparing Ted Hughes' poem "Sam" to Sylvia's poem "Whiteness I remember".
I have researched a fair amount, and have found that "Sam" is supposed to be a metaphor for the analogy of Plath and Hughes' life together, rather than just the story of an event that happened. I was just wondering if anyone had any insight to Sylvia's side of the story, whether there is any hidden meaning or metaphors in her representation of that particular horse ride as both are told quite differently.
Hi, great to read all of above. Just one question - people mention visiting Sylvia's girlhood homes in Winthrop but never mention actual street addresses - please if you have actual house numbers and street names in towns, please share with the group. Also, is anyone out there convinced Otto Plath lied and was actually Jewish or part Jewish? So much of Sylvia's identity issues and struggles seem very Jewish. I've always thought it was possible he was a very assimilated Jewish man and denied it to his own family. Anyone out there of similar mind? Let me know. Keep in touch.
Mary Elizabeth Rutkowski
Well, the truth is there are always going to be endless interpretations on Plath by the various biograhpers. In their totality there are important, because they offer different takes on what motivated her, what she actually experienced and how she responded to those stresses. I think it would be enormously naive to presume that Plath and her complex emotional and mental problems were ther result of PMS. That kind of explanation just seems too trite, too one sided to be taken seriously.
I see it as hugely simplistic and it does not take into account postpartum depression, her experiences with shock treatment which may have contributed to permanent neural damage to her brain, and the simple emotional pain of sexual betrayal.
One thing most certainly did not cause her suicide, it was a barrage of stresses that contributed to her feeling of utter hopelessness and despair, which led to her suicide. Reading as many diverse biographies on Plath as possible can only assist us in understanding the complex and multifaceted aspects that led to her death. It is a dangerous thing to condemn biographies that have proven to be based on reliable first hand testimony that have also given readers a real light into what she survived, and what she was contending with in the time leading to her death. Each book is only a glimpse but I would hesitate to trust even one of them too willingly, they should be taken as sources of information in unison, valued in that manner. Hero worship of one author as opposed to others is not a wise course of action, at least when attempting to research a late writer and their life. Research in this particular vein must be thorough and complete, taking many perspectives into account.
Would you know which of Plath's poems deals with "biscuits and suicide"? I'm a French English teacher and this summer I'm finishing my Master's. I'm studyind Michael Cunningham's The Hours? and I link one of the characters to Plath's idea of the perfect housewife in a perfectly clean house but with the "perfect" feeling of suicide. ?If I remember well it says that the biscuits are on the table and that all will be perfect when he comes home but that she won't be there any more... Thank you very much.
I have been knocked out by Plath's work for about 25 years and just recently have been reading some of Ted H.'s stuff, which to me is of an entirely different animal.
This isn't why I'm writing this. I have been thinking about Assia Wevill and her last actions on this earth, which were even worse than stealing a woman's husband. It seems that Ted was ready to make some move like this by then - Assia was merely convenient. And for Assia to sit in Sylvia's house, eating her food, drinking her wine, forcing her to engage in some strained hospitality - it is too awful, but I'm sure more common than ever aired in polite circles.
What is hardest for me to live with is Assia's killing of her little girl Shura. I despise her for taking that little girl to hell with her - there is no excuse for it. Having been a child hostage of deranged adults myself, it is a wonder that I'm still alive, and I wish Shura could have lived. I wish Assia would have thought, "I have done enough damage - I will leave my child alone". But it was not to be. Where ever Shura is now, may she have peace, may she have a new life filled with love and the protection of loving beings, may she be far away from her deranged killer. God and Goddess bless and protect her forever.
Hi there, Kate. Just looked briefly through my own copy of Janice Markey's book & there are several references to "Three Women" & quite prolonged discussions of the verse drama in Chapters 4 & 6. I hope it's not too egotisticial/self/promotional to refer you to my own book Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House which also gives an analysis of this work in Chapters 4 - Men and 5 - Children & Motherhood. I also write extensively about how Plath was influenced by 1950's society and cultural expectations of femininity.
Both books are available via the Forum. If you're interested in mine it's quicker to order it directly from this site.
Thank you all for some very informed and interesting discussion of Plath.
I am currently working on a thesis that involves Plath as a departure point. I am writng about representations of successful femininity through maternity in current popular culture (think of all those glamourous 'celebrity moms' who can be beautiful, sucessful, mothers and can get their 'body back' within weeks of giving birth). I am using Plath's 'Three Women' to illustrate change (or lack of change) in perceptions of being a successful female only if you achieve motherhood. If anyone has any interesting information about 'Three Women' it would be interesting to hear from you.
I have also been unsucessfully trying to get hold of Janice Markey's A Journey Into The Red Eye. Does this work contain anything interesting about 'Three Women'? If so, I will keep trying to get a hold of it.
What do you think of the idea of Plath being representative of 'popular culture' in her time? How do you think she represents the ideal of successful femininity? Her three voices offer us difference, but do they all voice the same goal? If we are 'unpregnant' are we unsucessful as women?
Has anyone here read the article in the Atlantic Monthly online archives (posted in April '04) entitled 'Domesticated Goddess' by Christina Nehring? With the possible exeception of Kate Moses' article on Salon.com 'Did PMS Kill Plath,' I think this is the most fascinating article on Plath I've yet read.
Unlike Plath's biographers, who all seem to reveal only various parts of Plath's person but not the whole, Nehring seems determined to understand Plath in her entirety. She also makes the claim that all of Plath's previous biographers who dealt with Ted Hughes via letter or in person fell madly in love with him and therefore were unable to represent Plath accurately as they had fallen under Hughes spell (perhaps even literally, he was involved in the occult after all). I would not be surprised if this were the case. At the least, I find it fascinating that there is just a vast array of views of who Plath was presented in her various biographies, when it seems that she herself laid out who she was more clearly than any other writer whose biography and letters I've read. Even Virginia Woolf did not do that (though she left us countless diaries they do not reveal much about her inner workings nor her mental illness), and Woolf was an extremely complex character. Plath let us in to the innermost, and still we debate endlessly about who she was, and in my opinion we get it wrong time after time. I think that Nehring is right when she suggests that perhaps the problem is that we are attempting to simplify Plath when she cannot be simplified. She was the domestic goddess, the good mother, the bad mother, the determined, the frightened, the pure wife, the whore. Now I am thinking of that mediocre song by Meridith Brooks titled "Bitch." But the lyrics to that song can perhaps help my point. "I'm a bitch, I'm a lover, I'm a child, I'm a mother, I'm a sinner, I'm a saint."
David, I think you've begun an important discussion of this poem which has been reflected in the contributions made by others on here. I have put "Edge" on the Poetry analysis section along with the posting you recently sent me. I have also added Lesbos in the Poetry analysis section
I didn't mean for my analysis of Sylvia's "Edge" to cast a pall over the discussion of Sylvia's life and poetry, but I've noticed a precipitous drop-off of commentary recently. I hope no one is dissuaded/turned off from writing because I took it in a different direction. I think that "Edge" is the last gasp (almost literally) of a gifted poet tapping into her few remaining/remembered reservoirs of skill and learning to come up with something that will - poetically -- justify her impending suicide.
Sylvia was in great mental distress and bound to kill herself, and she needed to make it right somehow -- if just poetically. "Edge" is that rationalization on her part. It doesn't let her off the hook, morally. But if she was really nuts, then maybe it does, in a poetic sense. Is the real question here something we haven't asked yet? Can a writer exonerate himself/herself by writing a good poem?
Worth asking, I think, don't you?