Was Ted Hughes really such an SOB that he drove Sylvia Plath to suicide, or at least too insensitive to give the support she needed?
Let me say upfront that I have never read The Bell Jar. I have read some of Hughes’ poetry, and I think it’s badass. But I’m not asking about them as writers, just as people. The reason I have never read The Bell Jar is because I’m not known for my stability. It would be just too easy for me to fall into the flirting-with-death pattern. Similarly, I’m never going to watch The Virgin Suicides. I want to know about people who overcame, not people who gave up.
I’ve never really been suicidal except once. Long story, but I was going to commit suicide by thug…a friend talked me out of it by pointing out that I might not die. But if I ever had, or had attempted, no one else would have been culpable, not even my parents. So why has Hughes been so reviled?
After all these years and reading practically everything by both of them, including biographies, I’m inclined to say that it was more 50-50 than actually Hughes driving Plath to suicide or Plath driving Hughes to separation/divorce. They were both passionate, talented people who were competing in the same literary field. Personally, I think it takes a very secure person to hold his/her own against an already-established spouse (as Hughes was at the time). Plath, for her all her drive and dedication, lacked that “security” within her – at least that’s always been my conclusion.
You really should read <i>The Bell Jar</i> if you want to understand Plath’s psyche better. It’s what’s called a “roman a clef”, meaning that it’s a fictionalized account of an actual event. I would also recommend any of the biographies of her, save <i>Rough Magic</i> (the author wasn’t allowed by the Plath estate to access any of her journals, etc., – why it was ever published I’ll never understand). <i>Letters Home</i> is collection compiled by her mother, who wanted to put a less tragic spin on what led up to her suicide – “this was <i>my</i> daughter” sort of thing.
I could go on and on with this, but for the sake of brevity and for anyone else reading this, I’ll stop here. If you want more info, my e-mail addy’s in my profile
I honestly suspect there’s no answer here. And that’s speaking as someone who’s read *The Bell Jar[/] and the Ariel poems and believe them brilliant, but little else of her work, yet who has read Alvarez, Janet Malcolm, Josephine Rose and who walks past the house in Primrose Hill fully concious of what happened there. I really don’t know what happened.
The degree to which the British media is commenting, albeit in passing, on the Gwinith Paltrow version suggests that the Silvia and Ted story is still a seller. Buyer beware.
Sorry to hijack this thread, but I just found out something surprising.
Gwyneth Paltrow is currently shooting a movie about these two, she plays Sylvia Plath, and for reasons unknown they are filming some of it in the place where I lived my yong kiddie life for twenty years. A tiny insignificant seaside town on the south island coast of New Zealand. A place where nothing happens at all, ever, and a Hollywood star is there making a movie.
hey guano lad! that’s not quite true. Dunedin’s a beautiful place.
They shot The Frighteners in Lyttleton. Now that was weird.
WRT the Sylvia/Ted thing. I don’t think that the truth is clearcut but it’s interesting that Sylvia was not the only woman in Ted’s life to suicide. Assia ::blanking on name:: suicided and killed their child at the same time. Either Hughes has appalling taste in women or there’s something screwy there.
Primaflora: Yes, I heard that his second wife also committed suicide (didn’t know there was a kid…how awful…), but since I didn’t know the details, I thought I’d wait for someone who did to bring it up.
Another work to consult is Plath’s own journals, which reveal her to be tough as nails about her ambition. It reveals an unusually harsh side to her personality and exonerates to a degree (note the qualifier) Hughes’ side of the story. She wasn’t the victim she had been painted as.
True, Hughes’ second wife (Assia) did commit suicide, but whether or not Hughes “contributed” to it will probably never be known. If I remember correctly, she was mentally unstable before meeting Hughes. The child, I believe, wasn’t Hughes’, but I could be wrong.
When was really “into” the whole Plath/Hughes saga back in college, what struck me was how nasty she could be, both professionally (her ambition, etc.) and personally. By all accounts – and I know her biographers back this up – she was not an easy person to live with. I always felt sorry for Hughes and could only imagine what their relationship had truly been like. By the same token, he probably contributed much to it, too.
Indeedly do. And they shot ‘my’ movie, Scarfies, there. But that ain’t what I’m talking about.
There’s a tiny little village about 40ks north of Dunedin where I spent the first 20 years of my life, called Karitane (where the plunket nurses come from), and they’re shooting some scenes there. Quite amazing to think of that happening.
How did she kill herself? (Didn’t she stick her head into the oven? How does one do that without getting burned? -note, I do NOT want to do this, I just wonder how the hell anyone could manage that!)
I read The Bell Jar for a book report in 10th grade. It wasn’t really depressing so much as it seemed to be looking inside the mind of someone who was mentally ill.
It was more surreal than anything else.
If memory serves, Plath wrapped her head in a towel, in addition to placing a towel on the stove bottom. I assume this absorbed any heat, or at the very least she thought this would make her death more comfortable.