Review by Elaine Connell of Sandra Lester's Candy Cotton Kid And the Faustian WolfAs seventeenth century Puritans saw signs of witchcraft and demonic practices everywhere they looked, so some twenty first century therapists seem to see childhood sexual abuse as an underlying explanation for almost all adult mental disorder.
Just such a therapist is Sandra Lester, a psycho and hypnotherapist who has written Candy Cotton Kid And the Faustian Wolf. This is a long poem which accounts for the illness and subsequent suicide of Sylvia Plath by speculating that she was sexually abused by her Uncle Frank and hypnotised by Ted Hughes into taking her own life.
I have read all of Sylvia Plath's published work including her journals and letters. I cannot find one piece of evidence to support the preposterous notion contained in Lester's poem that Sylvia was molested in any way by either her mother's brother or any other male member of her family. Both her grandfather and her uncle played a large part in the young Sylvia's life especially in the years following her father's death, but there is no suggestion anywhere in her writing that anything vaguely improper took place with them.
To make sexual inferences from an uncle's solo sea trips with his niece as Lester does, is not only facile, but pernicious. Lester's lines about Frank Schober are actually unsupported pieces of innuendo maligning the dead. As a feminist I am particularly incensed by them. Such malicious suppositions about a man's relationship with a young girl could well deter many other men from taking an active part in child care for fear of being thought to be paedophiles. In such an atmosphere of fear and mistrust of men, the care of babies and children will be even more firmly tied to women than it is at present.
Plath's Uncle Frank, along with her grandfather was a much loved and loving relative whom Sylvia appeared to trust throughout the whole of her short life.
Another notion that Ted Hughes had some hypnotic role in his wife's suicide is similarly asserted by Lester but certainly not proven. Hughes had very little to gain and much to lose by Plath's suicide - a fact that Sylvia herself must have known when she committed this final act of aggression towards him. He was left with two small children to care for and a besmirched reputation which in some quarters has outlived him.
One wonders if Sandra Lester has read Hughes' Birthday Letters? The poems in this volume show a man struggling not to be broken by the early, needless death of his children's mother, rather than some brazen adulterer glad to be free of his bonds to a difficult, demanding wife.
I am in contact with Elizabeth Sigmund who was Plath's closest friend and confidante when she lived in Devon with Ted Hughes. She has frequently told me how guilty and distessed Hughes was about Plath's death. Her memories are not those of a man who had taken a direct role in his former wife's death. They are rather those of a man who knew that he had fallen far, far short of being a good husband and who appreciated that his desertion of his mentally fragile wife for another woman had played a major part in her decision to die. But it was Plath's decision to take her own life and to suggest that Hughes used auto suggestion and/or hypnotism to somehow push her into self immolation as this poem suggests, borders on the absurd.
In their book on suicide Silent Grief: Living In the Wake of Suicide the psychiatrists Lukacs and Seiden quote the father of a boy who committed suicide:
"Everyone has a skeleton in their closet. But the suicide leaves their skeleton in someone else's closet." Sylvia Plath continues to rattle her skeleton in far too many living and dead people's closets. The time has come to give that skeleton a dignified, quiet and peaceful burial and to celebrate the artitstic legacy of the woman who may have been the twentieth century's greatest woman poet, rather than to constantly dwell on the manner of her death. Plath might have been providing us with her own epitaph when she wrote:
The blood jet is poetry,
There's no stopping it.
Hebden Bridge , UK
Monday, June 3, 2002