Mr. Plath

Illustration for article titled Mr. Plath

It's easy to vilify Ted Hughes as the callous philanderer who broke Sylvia Plath's heart, had a suspiciously high number of suicidal wives, and went on write increasingly bombastic poetry. A somewhat different picture of Hughes, who died ten years ago, emerges from The Letters of Ted Hughes, which was just published. Papercuts runs the letter Hughes wrote to Plath's mother, Aurelia, after Sylvia's suicide, and its heartbreak has none of his poetry's remoteness. "Sylvia was one of the greatest truest spirits alive, and in her last months she became a great poet, and no other woman poet except Emily Dickinson can begin to be compared with her, and certainly no living American." Yes, "woman poet" and the dig at Americans, - he couldn't help it! - but still - you'll cry. It's always a revelation, too, to be reminded of what a loss letter-writing was for emotional expression! [NY Times]


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Please everyone at least read The Silent Woman by Janet Malcom, or speak to Frieda and Nick who actually knew Hughes, before passing judgment one someone you never fricking met.

Reading multiple Plath biographies is what brought me to realise what a sick, pointless, narcissistic little industry the literary biography biz is (it's also 100% of the reason why Elizabeth Wurtzel felt she had to write something in which she hinted that maybe, maybe David Foster Wallace might have fancied her once).

I only felt a little "cleansed" when years later, on work experience, I was going through the archives of the magazine and discovered a minor article by Plath which somehow all the biographers had overlooked (even though it was eminently suitable for their little theories), and suddenly there she was in the writing - a person who made all those "literary biography" versions of herself look like puppets. Just a sudden blast of an abrasive, almost snotty energy which was nothing to do with Plath the Victim or Poor Sylvia the Suicidal Poetess, but just a fiercely intelligent woman who was unafraid to tell it as she saw it.

And it was a huge relief.

And then I stopped going anywhere near those stupid biographies by people who had never met her. Because fiction and art are not life, and biography most certainly isn't, and we should all have learned that from Flaubert long ago.