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Ladies! Stop Being Mad At Ted Hughes!

“But we weren’t mad at Ted Hughes,” certain of you ladies will doubtless tell me. And to you I say: Yes, you are! And stop it! For a man has written a newspaper blog post about what bitches you are all being!

For, you see, the world is now in possession of a Ted Hughes poem about Plath. This poem, says The Man Behind The Blog Post, “shows how intense Hughes’s pain and guilt was at her suicide.” That is… debatable, actually? Beside the point! For “however deep the pain, it won’t be enough for the deranged group among Plath’s fans; the sort who were responsible for vandalising her grave to remove Hughes’s name.”

I mean, yeah, the gravestone-vandalizing was counterproductive and wrong. Which I think every marginally reasonable person in the world agrees with. But also, this dude has such a stellar point, overall! I mean, all Ted Hughes did was pick up a gal with a history of suicidal depression and massive abandonment issues relating to The Dudes, marry her, abandon her (whoops!) in the cruelest manner possible, leave her with the responsibility of caring for two small children which as I understand it is incredibly hard and stressful even if you’re not clinically depressed and dealing with a recent traumatic abandonment that has re-opened that big old treasure trove of Your Issues and set them loose to devour your brain like Dad-shaped zombies, and then, following her totally spontaneous and out-of-nowhere and in-no-way-foreseeable-to-the-point-of-being-almost-inevitable-given-these-specific-circumstances suicide, go around re-editing manuscripts so that they excluded the poems about hating him and getting rid of diaries surrounding the circumstances of their break and her death, much in the manner of a man who has but recently thrown a lit match into a pile of oily rags being all, “well, it really is a shame that the house spontaneously combusted this way! Nothing we could have done to prevent it, I suppose. What a tragedy. Let’s not assign blame here; this is a private matter.” I mean, you guys: What could people possibly be mad at Ted Hughes for? WHAT DID HE DO WRONG????

And yet, I myself do not spend a particularly large amount of my time feeling angry at Ted Hughes. I spend a large part of my time feeling deeply uninterested in Ted Hughes; whatever I think of his behavior, his work just doesn’t appeal to me. The words “new Ted Hughes poem revealed” excite, for me, the same feelings as the words “Blues Traveler concert” or “best bar in Wyoming.” How nice for you! If you enjoy that sort of thing!

I will admit, however, to feeling irritated by Ted Hughes poems that are about Sylvia Plath. One reason for this is that I already have a whole lot of very good poems about Sylvia Plath to read, and they are by Sylvia Plath. The other reason is the same reason I occasionally refer to The Birthday Letters as You Guys, What About MY Feelings: The Point-Missing Chronicles. Which is where we actually do get into the Feminist Anger At Ted Hughes Thing. Which, as with much feminist anger, and many cultural phenomena, is not so much about a terribly sad thing that happened to one family as it is about the terribly sad things that happened to the people who heard about it.

Sylvia Plath died the same year that The Feminist Mystique was released. The result was that The Feminine Mystique and Ariel were, in a weird way, related to each other for your more reading-prone ladies. Ariel was one woman’s deeply unhinged, expressionist, interior story; The Feminine Mystique was an objective, lucid, sociological critique of the stories many women found themselves living. When ladies put the two together, and when we paid more attention to the circumstances of Sylvia Plath’s life and death, well, a story emerged. It was based on her story, granted — but it was also based, to a much larger degree, on ours. And it went like this:

You’re talented. You’re really talented. You might even be a genius. And your gentleman, he’s talented too, though not to the degree that you are. But you type his manuscripts. But you go to his lectures, you nurture his stardom, you play the part of his loving support and fan club. But you are responsible for his domestic comfort. Oh, you have your own successes. He even encourages those. But he’s the talent; he’s the big man; he’s the star. And then you get tossed over, for someone who is nowhere near as talented and spectacular as you, because it turns out that the talented, spectacular part of you, the part that you thought made you a couple in the first place (“we kept writing poems to each other,” was how Plath described their courtship, “then it just grew out of that, I guess, a feeling that we both were writing so much and having such a fine time doing it, we decided that this should keep on”) was never enough to keep him interested. Was never essential to him, the way it was to you. Was never a part of the purpose of you — because he doesn’t need talent or spectacular qualities in girls, apparently. Because he prefers his girls to lack those. So you wind up with all the responsibilities — the kids, the house, the cleaning, the cooking — while he goes off to be a genius for some other girl who’s way more suited to play a supporting part in his life story. Who doesn’t have within herself the potential to eclipse him, to be the one that the story is actually about; who’s safer, that way. You wind up writing all your work — your work, your amazing work, your genius — at four in the morning before the kids wake up. Because that’s the only time you can write it. Because that’s what women do.

Yeah, Robin Morgan wrote that poem — “I accuse Ted Hughes” — and, you know? It might have been insensitive, it might have crossed lines, it might have put all the blame for an unjust system on one guy who did lose someone in a really bad way and whose behavior very probably was motivated as much by the need to protect his children as it was by the desire to protect himself, and it might have ignored the fact that the entire weave of their relationship ultimately wasn’t knowable, but that was where we were at the time. We accused Ted Hughes. We accused every Ted Hughes. We accused everything that made Ted Hughes possible and common. We accused the men, the culture, the basic fact that we kept getting punished for being good. That talent was a liability. That the Great Artist’s Wife keeps a day job so that Great Art can exist, the Great Artist’s Wife knows that he is tormented and difficult and takes it upon herself to understand him because Great Art often comes from weird and challenging people, but there’s no such thing in this world as the Great Artist’s Husband.

This was such a big part of the second wave that it’s become a cliche: Women who date men often seek out geniuses, heroes, creators; they often seek out men who are accomplished in the same fields they want to be accomplished in. And when their boyfriends are smarter or more talented than they are, they don’t tend to be jealous or competitive. They tend to be happy. Because that’s how things are supposed to work — exceptional women wind up with more exceptional men. But when a man finds out that his girl might just be better than he is, when he learns that there is a hero in this story and he’s fucking her, well: That man has a problem. And the girl is going to pay. It happened then, and it happens now. It’s still happening. It’s not always the way things go, of course. But, if anecdotal evidence is anything to go on, you’ve got to be very, very lucky and very, very discerning to avoid it.

So, yeah. I don’t spend my life hating Ted Hughes. I never knew Ted Hughes, and also he is dead now, so it is literally impossible to dislike anything but an idea of him, and I’m not interested enough in him to spend a lot of time dwelling on that idea. But I don’t have any interest in reading poems by Ted Hughes about the story of his marriage to Sylvia Plath, because I’m familiar with the story. It’s a story about one person who did great work, and one who did very good work; one of them wound up dead, and the other wound up Poet Laureate. And, I admit, I particularly don’t have any interest in reading poems about Ted Hughes leaving Sylvia Plath that contain lines like these:

My escape had become such a hunted thing
Sleepless, hopeless, all its dreams exhausted

Because, you know, God forbid Sylvia Plath make the “escape” hard on Ted Hughes or anything. Why can’t Ted Hughes have an easier time, with the deserting her? Why can’t she just be cool about it? And I have no interest in lines like these:

And I had started to write when the telephone
Jerked awake, in a jabbering alarm,
Remembering everything. It recovered in my hand.
Then a voice like a selected weapon
Or a measured injection,
Coolly delivered its four words
Deep into my ear: “Your wife is dead.”

“Better go tell that lady you’ve been shacking up with,” the voice apparently did not add.

I mean: There is so much here. So much! About how Sylvia Plath’s death might be the one thing Hughes might not want to make entirely about his own feelings and needs, about how far gone you have to be to shatter an already very breakable person to the point that they lose the part of their brain that contains a survival instinct and then complain about how unpleasant your fucking “escape” was. But then, someone else wrote it already:

The tattle of my
Gold joints, my way of turning
Bitches to ripples of silver
Rolls out a carpet, a hush.

And there is no end, no end of it.
I shall never grow old. New oysters
Shriek in the sea and I
Glitter like Fontainebleu

Gratified,
All the fall of water an eye
Over whose pool I tenderly
Lean and see me.

60 Comments

  1. Sholmes wrote:

    Amen, sister.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  2. jfruh wrote:

    http://www.theawl.com/2010/10/the-newly-released-ted-hughes-poem

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  3. katiemonstrrr wrote:

    Thank you for this. I had the same reaction upon seeing “ZOMG NEW TED HUGHES POEM!!1!” I just really don’t give a shit about him or his work for all the reasons you described, but mostly because of Birthday Letters. And your last paragraph was just beautiful. I need to go read some Sylvia Plath now.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Meg wrote:

    Huh, I had never heard the connection between The Feminine Mystique and Ariel before, which just goes to show how I have failed utterly at hearing the stories of the Second Wave (especially since I went to Smith, where both those frustrated women went to school, and thus have even less excuse than most people.)

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  5. AngryPunkPixie wrote:

    i had to read the poem for my english class, i didn’t know the story about their marriage, but now i do and I AM PISSED!!!

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink
  6. Laughingrat wrote:

    Thank you for this.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Permalink
  7. unhurt wrote:

    yes.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Permalink
  8. Dawn wrote:

    And then read this:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/oct/19/biography.tedhughes

    “Within a period of six years, Ted Hughes faced the sudden deaths of four people dear to him. In February 1963 his estranged wife, Sylvia Plath, gassed herself in her kitchen following his affair with another woman, Assia Wevill. He was just 32 when he found himself in sole charge of their children, Frieda, who was three, and Nicholas, barely one year old.

    Six years later, in March 1969, Wevill killed herself and Shura, their four-year-old daughter.”

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink
  9. Sady wrote:

    @Dawn: And she died in March. And in August of the next year, he got married. Um: Whoops? Again?

    You know, to lose one partner to suicide may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two seems like carelessness. I see two women here with serious problems that weren’t being helped. And a kid died in part because of this.

    But that’s just my opinion! And as we established, I’m a harpy.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink
  10. RGR wrote:

    Ugh, but what a smart racket, I wish I had thought of it:

    1. Court/marry writerly woman
    2. Coax/neglect her into suicide
    3. Write preface to posthumous anthologies of poetry
    4. Become famouser
    5. Profit
    6. Repeat
    7. Release poems about how steps 1-7 were totally difficult
    8. Profit, even in death!

    Is there any way we can peg Anne Sexton’s death on this guy? As a feminist, that seems like an appropriate use of blame.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Permalink
  11. Sady wrote:

    @RGR: Anne Sexton was a whole ‘nother can of worms. We can talk about how HER husband beat her up a lot, though! I think that adds something to this general discussion!

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Permalink
  12. of making many books wrote:

    at the risk of sounding like I’m calling myself a genius, that chunky middle paragraph that starts “you’re talented” is as if you were familiar with the exact details of my life between 2003 and 2008. this spoke to me really hard. thank you for writing it.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Permalink
  13. lilacsigil wrote:

    I really like a lot of Hughes’ poetry (most of it is not about Plath) and also Plath’s, but I get very sick of this narrative of SELFISH PLATH POOR HUGHES (+EVIL FEMINISTS) and the reverse of SAINT PLATH SATAN HUGHES (+EVIL MEN). Neither is true, and neither is helpful.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  14. latinist wrote:

    I find saying absolutely anything about this sort of situation inevitably makes me feel guilty, but I’m going to try anyway:

    I guess I’m a little reluctant to blame Hughes. Partly because I’m afraid I’m biased because Plath’s poetry is wonderful, and I’ve never gotten anything from Hughes’s. And partly for the reasons Sady discusses about not knowing the whole story, etc. And partly because, along with sympathy for people suffering from mental illness, I think it’s worth having some sympathy for the people who live with them, because that can be a pretty rough time too. But also….
    Look, a man marries a woman who has serious mental-health issues, to the extent that she eventually kills herself. And then he marries another woman with serious mental-health issues, such that SHE eventually kills herself. It seems to me that this story involves at least THREE people with serious mental-health issues, right? I mean, if this were a woman who had married two suicidal men, wouldn’t everybody be talking about her daddy issues and her perverse attraction to their dangerous brilliance and blah blah blah? I feel like everyone always tells this story as if Hughes was a perfectly ordinary guy who somehow ended up in (or caused) this terrible situation, and I just find that implausible.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Permalink
  15. Xanthe wrote:

    I am so not a genius or even trying to compare myself to Sylvia Plath, but the whole “You’re talented…” paragraph suddenly seems to be terrifyingly connected to my life.

    I’m scared I may be headed in that direction, despite being a modern feminist lady.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Permalink
  16. Amy wrote:

    @Dawn

    oh holy wow! Thanks so much for sharing that, though I almost kind of wish I hadn’t read it. I was “deeply uninterested” before, now I’m kinda moving into the loathing zone (sorry The Man Behind The Blog Post, but it’s your own fault for getting on Sady’s radar). Things which disturb me to know:

    1. He moved his mistress into the “death flat.”

    2. They called it “the death flat.”

    3. Everyone knew they were having an affair – she lived in Plath’s flat – but she couldn’t be formally acknowledged. She was too tainted by Plath’s death.

    4. That all of her art has disappeared. A family member kept her journals but none of her drawings? That she was working on with Hughes? Maybe he didn’t do it, but you have to admit it’s weird.

    5. He cut out all mention of her from his journals and correspondence after she killed herself and their child. While privately admitting that he felt responsible for her actions.

    Okay. It’s that last one that gets me the most. This is not the impulsive act of a grieving man who wants to spare his children future pain. This is a concerted (several decades long) effort to shield himself from being judged for the hurts he may have caused. And he got married 5-6 months later. Yeah, definitely loathing.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
  17. de Pizan wrote:

    “It’s a story about one person who did great work, and one who did very good work; one of them wound up dead, and the other wound up Poet Laureate.”

    This reminds me how disgusted I was when the movie Sylvia first came out–the description someone put on IMDb said the movie was about “the marriage of noted and acclaimed Poet Laureate Ted Hughes to poetaster Sylvia Plath.” (obviously written by a Hughes apologist) Luckily it was soon changed.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 1:16 am | Permalink
  18. Victoria wrote:

    Hopefully, in some cosmic sense some part of this is balanced out by the fact that, for many/most people, Ted Hughes will always be “that guy who was married to Sylvia Plath.”

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 1:59 am | Permalink
  19. Seraph wrote:

    @Victoria: oddly enough, at some point in highschool I noticed that to at least some of my classmates thought of Plath as “that woman who was married to Langston Hughes” Oh the failures of the US education system.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  20. My two not very profound thoughts:

    1) The guy who wrote the post is named Harry Mount? Really?

    2) This shit is hilarious: http://www.americanpoetry.biz/2010/10/another-newly-discovered-ted-hughes.html?spref=fb

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  21. AMC wrote:

    I think the greatest revenge is that Sylvia Plath is better than him. I mean, for an artist, to have his work ultimately eclipsed by the wronged party is really the perfect answer I think.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  22. Victoria wrote:

    @Seraph: That’s kind of even better, bad educations not withstanding.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  23. anodynelite wrote:

    @Latinist

    I’m not an analyst or anything, but if you look at the clinical lit., it’s actually very common for people with narcissistic personality disorder to get into relationships with seriously unstable people. They do so because unstable people are often more reliant on their partners and are therefore more easily controlled (or so the narcissist believes/hopes). The general narrative usually goes: narcissist is deep down an excessively needy and profoundly pathological individual with no self-esteem. S/he can only feel powerful when controlling and lording over someone with even deeper pathologies than his/her own. Narcissist spots someone who probably never had much love, and then “love bombs” them (cults use this tactic, as well) until they feel they’ve sufficiently conned them into a relationship. Narcissist then goes on to use their partner for all they are worth, bleeds them dry emotionally, usually while withholding more and more love and support. So it is slowly, but surely, revealed to the unstable, needy mentally ill partner who was led to feel that they had found the person of their dreams that the narcissist was never really in love with them; that this person does not even really know them; that this person has all along been using “love” to control and manipulate them. By this point, it’s too late to just split, and often this is when the abuse or abrupt abandonment begins.

    Then they move on to their next victim.

    Narcissists are well-known for their tendencies to plagiarize and slyly rework the genius of others to get recognition for themselves. They need constant attention and recognition at any cost. That’s why narcissists are often referred to as “energy vampires”. They feed off the energy and intelligence and inner lives of others, because they have none of their own (or very paltry sums of their own).

    So yeah, that’s my (I realize, very unauthorized) guess as to why Hughes’ poetry sucked. He was faking it. And he needed to find actual poets to feed off and then dispose of (when they caught on) in order to continue faking it.

    Of course, people become narcissists usually because they’ve been severely traumatized, so you have to have some sympathy…

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  24. homitsu wrote:

    @goldennotebooks-also loved that!
    I one time found a Plath poem online about the situation in which she offers up an arm and I haven’t been able to find it since

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  25. Paula wrote:

    @Lilacsigal

    I’m with you on this. I like quite a bit of TH’s poetry although I’m a bigger fan of Sylvia’s. Their relationship was tempestuous from the very beginning. Hughes had an affair and abandoned Plath & their children which was unforgiveable but I can also see why he felt like he had to get out.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Permalink
  26. AP2010 wrote:

    http://tinyurl.com/28fxfx9

    Far and away the best thing to come out of this whole sorry mess! The real Hughes poems don’t come close.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 2:50 am | Permalink
  27. Caitlin wrote:

    I was mad at Ted Hughes, I don’t plan to stop, and I liked this very much.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 5:38 am | Permalink
  28. Laura wrote:

    Thank god for this article. I have been increasingly incensed by the reception to this ‘new’ poem. How odd there has been no published reaction to it by anyone other than a Hughes devotee.But,of course,that’s not odd at all.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink
  29. HGFC wrote:

    I’m with lilacsigil: there’s been too much extreme emotion projected onto these two, and it really gets in the way of my considering either of them as poets.

    And Hughes didn’t publish that last poem, so harsh to lambast him for private musings.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  30. strato wrote:

    Uhm… Three different reflections:

    (1) I think there are people who seem to commit suicide to punish their partners for abandoning them -like writer and journalist Larra clarly did, for instance- and I guess the abandoning partners do deserve some sympathy, no matter what.

    (2) Outside the States, I believe everybody, if slightly educated, knows Sylvia Plath, and hardly anyone has heard of Hugs.

    (3) The structural problem is structural. What is written in the “you are a genious” paragraph describes so perfectly well what we see every day in academia it is scary. I am afraid I tend to get angry with the “victims”… what, with teir working for patriarchy and their being a bad example for the young (and being generally annoying when discussing the accomplishments of their inferior men as if to overcompensate).

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  31. EmilyBites wrote:

    @Goldennotebooks
    That was amazing, I laughed so hard.
    ‘I am going to go cheat on my new wife now/ And write fox poems for the next 50 years.’

    Can’t remember any Ted Hughes (except something about a tractor, possibly?), love my dog-eared Ariel. Sylvia wins me.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  32. Sady wrote:

    @anodynelite: I think it’s dangerous to try to diagnose anyone that you’ve never met, especially if you’re not in the diagnosing business. That said, in emotional abuse literature, it is mentioned that people with NPD or narcissistic tendencies often couple up with people who have BPD or borderline tendencies, and abusive relationships — often mutually abusive relationships — can result. They’re like addicts and codependents; they tend to find each other, because the power they have to destroy each other initially presents as near-perfect compatibility.

    The person who tends toward narcissism attracts the borderline person, because he presents himself as “special,” and is very invested in convincing others that he is “special.” People who go along with this and support this idea of him, people who allow him to believe in the false, ideal self he’s created and thereby provide narcissistic supply, are treated as “special” too. They’d have to be, to get how great and unique this guy is, right? This appeals to the borderline or borderline-tending person, whose hollow self-concept and self-loathing are temporarily quelled by the idea of being The Most Special Person’s Special Someone. And the borderline makes a great supplier for the narcissist because he idealizes his partner and is willing to shape his identity around being in this particular couple.

    Sooner or later, though, the borderline starts to realize the extent to which intimacy with the narcissist is impossible, because of the self-concept the narcissist has built to shield his true self and the defensive lashing-out that happens when someone breaches it; sooner or later, the narcissist feels threatened by the borderline’s poor boundaries, and overwhelmed by his neediness. The narcissist retaliates with punishment and degradation, and emotionally abandons his partner, to push the borderline away and protect himself from intimacy; the borderline feels abandoned and starts to flip that switch between absolute idealization of the partner and absolute demonization of the partner, and to retaliate impulsively and irrationally, so as to forcibly erase boundaries between himself and the narcissist. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, and relationships tend to become mutually abusive and/or to end in abrupt abandonment by the narcissist. Which, since a borderline’s worst fear in the entire world is abandonment, and since borderlines are prone to suicidal ideation or attempts, can result in larger than average tragedies.

    Which: A lot of people have theorized that certain qualities in Plath (her ability to absolutely demonize others — “Lesbos,” a neighbor, “Daddy,” her father, her mother all the time — with not a lot of basis in reality, her history of self-harm, and her tendency for big, theatrical, irrational acts when she felt threatened) point to borderline tendencies. Or, for that matter, that Hughes’ slightly higher-than-usual concern with reputation management (erasing Assia, working to suppress the Robin Morgan poem, his personal seductiveness, getting rid of those journals) points the other way. But we don’t know either of them, and diagnoses are at best a game that we’re playing with no real prize at the end, so it’s kind of pointless and potentially disrespectful.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  33. Sady wrote:

    @HGFC: I agree with you to a certain extent, which is why I made some effort to explicitly separate the Myth of Plath and Hughes (referred to, more or less openly, as a myth) from the actual tragedy of this family. Which contains, as of this date, two dead mothers and two dead children; three from suicide, and one murdered prior to another family member’s suicide attempt. That said, the poem is out there now, and people are allowed to react to it, critically or otherwise. And since Hughes isn’t around any more, your personal quest to defend his feelings from being hurt by someone on the Internet is kind of futile.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink
  34. Pat wrote:

    It’s amazing to see the truth -or some of it- come out after all these years. In the pubs of Hampstead, (North London) there was a rumour in the late 60′s that another woman connected with Ted Hughes had also committed suicide, but this was firmly denied/scotched. ‘You must have got the wrong end of the stick/You must have been drunk/You were listening to gossip.’
    It takes a long time for the truth to reach publication and like Bob Dylan says, it takes a train to cry…

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  35. homitsu wrote:

    Oh dear! I have to agree with #12 that some of comments esp. Sady’s #32 sound way too close for comfort to my last relationship. My way of demonizing my narcissist was to write and perform a metric shit ton of original spoken word pieces about our relationship (most of it podcast. In fact I’ve become locally known for them (although he’s the only one who knows they’re all about him. Amazing what you can learn on blogs…

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  36. Wow, with a wicked wit lovingly laced with seething sarcasm, you sent Ted Hughes’ jock up the flagpole, Sady. Well done. Loved it. But I am curious to know your secret: how could you conjure up such wicked sarcasm if you are totally indifferent to Hughes’ legacy?I need to know how to do this with my own writing.

    Sad thing is that Plath and Hughes are dead, and neither can stand up and say what actually happened between them. Neither one can take responsibility for their actions. Neither one can offer forgiveness and neither can alter or undo the Past. Only the Story remains. It’s not a cool Story, because all we have are our Reactions TO the Story. My own Reaction to the Story is that what happened was inevitable. Plath was likely going to kill herself at some point no matter what… even if Hughes turned out to be a Saint. And since Hughes was no saint, the most likely outcome occurred. It seems that the Feminists and other HOT members (Haters of Ted) have their Revenge, if that’s what they sought – for Hughes died of cancer – which is the body eating itself alive (the ultimate self-annihilation?)
    and Plath is still considered the eclipsing genius who cast a titanic, sizeless shadow that Hughes never could “escape,” in life or in death.
    YAY! All’s well that ends in unpleasantness.

    I do get it. They found a new Ted Hughes poem about Sylvia Plath and yes, oh gosh, I find it very hard to make a big deal about it, and yes, it doesn’t seem to be that good of a poem ANYWAY (it reads like a bad Twin Peaks episode to me), and the only reason we’re all coming on your blog and leaving comments about it is because of the Story, and so yes, “ladies should stop being mad at Ted friggin’ Hughes.” There’s bigger fish in the world to fry, so to speak.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  37. Sady wrote:

    Oh, and since this is turning into a discussion of bad relationships, emotional abuse, and mental illness in general, some necessary disclaimers:

    1. Not all abusers are mentally ill; not all mentally ill people are abusers. Duh. Some people just do it because they’re assholes.

    2. You don’t have to be mentally ill to get into an abusive relationship. Also duh. And, in fact, abusive relationships tend to work by eroding the victim’s self-esteem and screwing with the victim’s ability to name, define, and understand the reality of her situation, so that they can create reactions that look like the symptoms of certain mental illnesses. That said, some abusers find that their work is easier when they pick up people who already have poor self-esteem or poor boundaries. But they can create poor self-esteem and poor boundaries too.


    3. Pathologizing every person who’s abused in her relationship is equivalent to blaming the victim; defining every abuser as mentally ill is stereotyping and demonizing people with mental illnesses.
    Some illnesses, like Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, do get talked about a lot in connection to abusive relationships, because abusing one’s partner is often a symptom of those illnesses. They’re notable for the way they affect people’s ability to empathize with or relate to other people. BPD gets talked about a lot in relationship to suicide too, because self-harm and suicide attempts are on the list of diagnostic criteria. But there are some people who basically blame all abuse on BPD, and others who basically blame all abuse on NPD, and in both cases, they’re oversimplifying how abuse actually works. We should try not to do the same here.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Permalink
  38. AnthroK8 wrote:

    Darryl Thomas in 36:

    You wrote 328 words telling all of us that there are better things to do than write 328 words about Ted Hughes unserweite? That seems to be the long and… long of your comment.

    If there are bigger fish of inequity to fry, get your canola oil and cast iron skillet out and we’ll catch you up when we’re done here.

    Also, Sady, the last paragraph was amazing, but I think this is the part that Darryl Thomas didn’t quite absorb:

    “When ladies put the two together, and when we paid more attention to the circumstances of Sylvia Plath’s life and death, well, a story emerged. It was based on her story, granted — but it was also based, to a much larger degree, on ours.”

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Permalink
  39. AnthroK8 wrote:

    PS: I didn’t come here and read this post because of The Story, by the way.

    I came here and read this post because Sady could be writing about the merits of wallpaper paste, and she’d do it in a way that provokes me to think more critically and carefully about the world. And she makes me laugh.

    Just wanted to point that out.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Permalink
  40. AnthroK8 wrote:

    Okay… one more and then I am grading papers, honest.

    Reasons is Sady is Awesome:

    1) Importance of Being Earnest reference in comment 9.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink
  41. Get out your word-counter….

    I agree that Sady is an excellent writer, “Anthrok8,” but I don’t understand why you took what I posted or my word count personally. I COULD relate to you my own connection to Plath’s The Bell Jar and how it affected my life and the life of my deranged mother and her own suicidal tendencies. MAYBE you would find it as interesting or meaningful as your own Story of Your connection to Sylvia Plath. But I’m guessing you probably couldn’t CARE LESS, as you probably couldn’t care less about the existence of over 6 Billion other Stories that are EQUALLY MEANINGFUL — even though they don’t involve a fatally doomed, world-famous suicide and her shady, philandering hack of a husband. When Sady ends with:

    “It was based on her story, granted — but it was also based, to a much larger degree, on ours.”

    I have an issue with that. In my opinion, women cannot lay an exclusive claim to Plath’s legacy and her words, as they belong to whoever reads them, men as well. But I am getting further away from the point I want to make, which is this –

    Within the Story, the tragedy is that neither Plath or Hughes were Innocent. The way I see it is that there needs to be some forgiveness granted at some point to Plath and Hughes, because they typify the Relationship where each withdraw into their own self-interest stack: that secret place where one only cares about one’s own pain and feelings and interests. We forget that we are All the Same in relationships. We all secretly deal in Spitefulness and the interminable, small-scale Destruction of ourselves and our Significant Others. Yeah, I’m sure there are a few relationships where a couple truly loves another, and that sure is nice to think that there are such couples who really relate and care for each other in this slap-happy world, but for most of us, we know the Eternal Jive of True Love to be a Lie. Most relationships are poisonous exchanges of Suffering for Pain, Spite for Manipulation, Lies for Secrets, Sex for Money.

    Isn’t all that the essence of the Story? The Story of Relationships? The way men and women destroy each other in the name of Love and each one’s Self-Interest? What is the Way Out? I can only see Forgiveness and being completely and radically Honest within one’s self and with the other as the answers in changing our relationships.
    I mean, imagine a World Without Forgiveness…

    Oh, snap! That’s what we have Now.

    I will go first. I forgive Sylvia for spitefully and selfishly thinking only of her own pain and stupidly taking her life over some thoughtless clod of a man, and I forgive Ted for gravy-training on the genius of his dead wife that he heartlessly abandoned, which produced a guilt that ate him alive. I forgive them both as I forgive myself, for I understand that I would have acted in the exact same way if I were forced to walk in their shoes. I forgive them because I understand that if I cannot forgive another, it means that they are representing that which I can’t forgive in myself, and I am doomed; trapped within an ever-diminishing circle of wretchedness, guilt, lies and secrets.

    And that’s no way to live.

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 1:26 am | Permalink
  42. Flewellyn wrote:

    I forgive Sylvia for spitefully and selfishly thinking only of her own pain and stupidly taking her life over some thoughtless clod of a man

    Aaaaand, we have fail.

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 2:27 am | Permalink
  43. “Aaaaand, we have fail.”

    Hahaha… yeah, totally.

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 2:35 am | Permalink
  44. Sarah wrote:

    As both a Hughes and a Plath fan, I am actually quite excited about the new poem. What I’m not excited about is some journalist deciding to use the discovery as an excuse to launch an attack on harpy literary groupies. I think in terms of what Sady was saying about how the Hughes / Plath myth became symbolic of a wider feminist anger, what we now have are ignorant men who apparently think they can perpetuate a myth of angry women just waiting for any reason to attack men in an irrational manner. I found his post deeply offensive, as a woman, as a literary scholar, as a Plath fan – and as a Hughes fan. I guess this is all part of the ‘ooh – a reason to write about how unreasonable and deranged women are – yippee’ problem that seems to exist among so many sexists who know how to type and sadly have a platform for their outputs.

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  45. Sady wrote:

    @Darryl: Dude, did you seriously come in here to complain about your mommy issues? You do realize which blog you’re reading, right?

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink
  46. HGFC wrote:

    Sady, apologies if I gave an impression that I had a “personal quest to defend his feelings from being hurt by someone on the Internet” which is indeed kind of futile. It’s just that a poem he didn’t publish seems an unnecessary stick with which to beat him. Particular when there are so many other really good ones to hand.

    I know little of either as poets, although know more fans of her than him and I suspect his reputation will not live long outside the sceptred isle, but am no longer sure if wee’re free to judge them as poets, such has become their totemic status.

    But a fascinating and thought provoking debate and I thank you for that.

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink
  47. AnthroK8 wrote:

    Darryl:

    Re this:

    “I agree that Sady is an excellent writer, “Anthrok8,” but I don’t understand why you took what I posted or my word count personally.”

    Because you used your word count to tell the commmenters and post-writer that we are misusing our internet time to fry the wrong kind of fish.

    Re this:

    “But I’m guessing you probably couldn’t CARE LESS, as you probably couldn’t care less about the existence of over 6 Billion other Stories that are EQUALLY MEANINGFUL.”

    I didn’t say that. I said that what people are talking about RIGHT NOW IN THIS BLOG is meaningful. The ones among the six billion RIGHT HERE.

    But you’re telling us to fry the fish you like, not thoroughly consider what people are talking about here in response to Sady’s post.

    “What About Me?????” seems to be your story, as told in this blog. I am intimately familiar with this narrative already, especially when it comes to men telling women what is important. So I will admit to becoming rapidly disinterested in your unique experience of Plath based on the merits of your contributions to this discussion.

    My take on your current word count is Plenty of Words, Not Very Useful Or Interesting Ones In This Particular Discussion.

    On a fully less Darryl-centric note:

    I am struck, as I probably shouldn’t be struck, at how the Great Women Get Screwed Narrative resonates with the readers here.

    You don’t have to be an incandescant genius for this to happen to you, you just have to be a woman with some ambition and some talent.

    Which is what Sady was saying. And which is so heartbreaking.

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  48. Sady wrote:

    @HGFC: Thanks! And apologies for being facetious in my response.

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  49. HGFC wrote:

    No worries Sady, but I hope you’ll understand my twitchiness at being mistaken for an apologist for all things Hughes Especially as so many have leapt onto the new poem as an excuse to trot out the mantra that “all feminists are harpies” (I paraphrase).

    And that was kind of your point, wasn’t it…

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
  50. Clay Shirky wrote:

    “in-no-way-foreseeable-to-the-point-of-being-almost-inevitable-given-these-specific-circumstances”

    This is almost certainly not true. Several dozen other married women with children were abandoned on the same day Plath was, and its unlikely that any of them killed themselves. Even adding that she was suicidal doesn’t do much to move that needle, as there are orders of magnitude more attempted suicides than actual ones.

    As the number of ‘we can’t psychoanalyze people we don’t know, but here’s my analysis’ posts demonstrate, it is almost impossible not to link the Great Women Get Screwed narrative, especially true in Plath’s case, with the personal details of Plath and Hughes’s romantic and domestic life.

    We should resist that linking, however, and not just because it is unhelpful, as @lilacsigil noted at #13, or overblown, as with @RJR accusing Hughes of coaxing Plath to kill herself, at #10, but also because suicide is almost always a pathological response.

    That Plath was wronged both professionally and personally is obvious, but any attempt to portray a suicide as having been a predictable reaction to even crushing disappointment is numerically inaccurate.

    The number of cases where suicide is a calculated response to objectively unsurvivable circumstances, as with agonizing terminal disease, is a tiny fraction of all suicides and a vanishing one of all attempted suicides.

    Even worse, treating suicide as a predictable and narratively satisfying response to personal suffering can unintentionally provide a rationale for future suicides. Especially when a suicide is portrayed as a mix of revenge and martyrdom, rather than an inappropriately outsized reaction to eminently survivable conditions, it risks subtly valorizing the very act that is deplored on the surface of the conversation.

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  51. Sady wrote:

    @Clay: Yeah, I hear that, certainly. And of course suicide is a pathological response. Which is why so many of the things that are written about Plath attempt to attach one pathology or several to her actions. Which points to another truth of the situation: In 1963, the attitudes toward and language of mental illness were different. So there’s a whole group of people who are trying to armchair-analyze or sort through the known parts of the situation. Which I think is always sort of a way to try and redeem the situation; in what I’ve read, it’s BPD or bipolar disorder or a psychotic depressive episode or WHATEVER, because that’s one thing people do around awful stuff — they try to know it and understand it because it gives them an illusion of control. Or there’s an “if we knew then what we know now” factor.

    I don’t intend to “valorize” Plath’s suicide or to present it as actually inevitable, let alone “narratively satisfying,” because that’s deeply adolescent and, like you said, irresponsible. I do think that what happened placed a large amount of stress in just the right places, that there was at least one suicide attempt prior to the final one (aside from the attempt earlier in her life, she crashed a car on purpose not long before she actually died), and that the people who were in contact with her described her as neglecting herself and as acting in increasingly bizarre ways. People are still debating whether she actually meant to die, or whether it was one more case of acting out that just went very, very wrong. I don’t see it as a “revenge” or a “she sure showed him” or an “and he PAID FOR IT” kind of deal, I see it as a woman with a severe illness who was crying out for help, albeit in a way that a lot of people couldn’t be expected to understand given the cultural context, and the people around her weren’t able to interpret that or to provide the help she needed, whether that was because they just didn’t know what to do or because they were occupied with their own lives or what. I do think Hughes needed to play a much larger part in getting help for her. Maybe that’s cruel and unfair, but he lived with the woman for a long time, and presumably knew her well enough to know that, when she engaged in self-harming or weird behavior, she was not fooling around.

    Which isn’t to say that if someone you know commits suicide, it’s your fault. It never is. And hurting yourself to “punish” someone else is abusive and deeply counterproductive. But I think it’s fair to note structural factors in suicides, and I think it’s fair to note situational factors. And losing a significant relationship can be a major situational factor; people lose their support network, they lose their routine, there’s a normal amount of pain that is just aggravated to a huge degree by the underlying condition, etc. For example (to go to the obvious lumping-in person for contrast) although Anne Sexton’s relationship with her husband was deeply dysfunctional, a lot of people think that her choice to leave him made her suicide that much more likely; she was divorced from her context and the bits of “normalcy” her life did include, she was more isolated, etc. There’s no “I accuse Kayo” stuff out there that I know of, and in part that’s because what we know about their relationship and about Sexton is so much different.

    But, yeah: Anyone who identifies with Sylvia Plath to such a large degree that she wants her story to end the same way, or anyone who sees her suicide as essentially valorous and triumphant, needs to grow up at the very least, and quite possibly to get immediate help. I think we’re in agreement there.

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  52. k not K wrote:

    I agree with Lilac that neither of the narratives imposed on this relationship between two troubled and talented people seem like a complete picture of what happened. And neither are particularly satisfying to me.

    Still, a lot of things about the way married couples were supposed to function back then (and really, still are) definitely plays into the dynamic Sady talks about with the talented woman being expected to give up her own talent and passion in order to have babies and be arm candy.

    It truly is mind-blowing what sexism did to women’s lives just a few decades ago. My own mom was admitted to Yale, but my grandpa refused to pay her tuition because “she was just going to go find a man and get married anyway”. Her high school boyfriend knew that she had major career ambitions of her own, but told her that they could get married and he’d go to law school, and then HE could be the lawyer instead of her.

    Well, she was like, “fuck that shit” and paid her own way through public college and married my dad, a dude who supported her going to law school while he helped out with raising us two little brats.

    But I am sure it’s easy to imagine an alternate universe woman who shrugged her shoulders, got hitched to her boyfriend, and spent the best years of her life in The Proverbial Bell Jar cleaning house and changing diapers while her husband became Mr. Lawyer. It wouldn’t be all that different than Plath’s married life, perhaps.

    Run-on sentences, I have them.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 7:26 am | Permalink
  53. of making many books wrote:

    @K Not K

    I think the Great-Woman-getting-shafted-for-domestic-duties story is part of why this is resonating with readers (aka me), but I don’t think it’s the entire reason why, or even the biggest reason why. I can’t speak for others but I think we’ve heard that story before and that maybe it’s not even as relevant now that our society generally has rethought the Betty Draper housewife norm.

    I think that the part of this story that has not been as explored, and thus is hitting home pretty deeply, is the part about hinging your value on Your Genius, building a relationship based on the fact that someone else finally gets this and encourages this, pouring tons of belief into it, and then figuring out (via abuse, betrayal, exploitation, or the guy eclipsing your success while being mediocre) that this equation was a lie. That your work (and you) was a stepping stone for his own ends, and that suddenly you are left with no framework whatsoever to have any value as a human being. And then have to clean up the mess, both literally and figuratively. Can I get a witness?

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  54. msrosebush wrote:

    i’m amazed at how many emotions and differing opinions are being expressed and debated some 40 years after the fact. where does the truth lay or is it all lies?
    as a woman with her own story of domestic life with a literary lion, i can relate to the complexity of the situation-it’s too simplisic to blame it all on mental illness. in my case, the “problem” was the physical illness of my partner which overshadowed everything. did i sacrifice myself to make him a star out of psychological neediness on my part? although i’m not suicidal, i find myself relating to sylvia and ted more than i’m comfortable with.
    the lost poem has opened up feelings in me that i have suppressed for over 10 years.
    maybe it’s time for me to deal with them.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 12:42 am | Permalink
  55. j wrote:

    Very well done. I am a man. I have been deeply moved by Sylvia Plath’s words. I have never been moved by Ted Hughes’ words.Plath’s poems are, I think, when she hits the pitch I sense here aiming for, intensely fierce, muscular, and elegant. That is why I keep coming back to them; I admire her ability to combine rage and strength and beauty in language. And, for what it is worth, a brief comment on man-woman relationships: I too think the better/worse, weaker/stronger dynamics are horrid traps of male oppression of women (that most likely get reproduced in non-man-woman relationships as well). I want a lover who is, above all else, fierce; and supporting her ferocity and her love of her art (or work, or pursuit, or passion) in whatever direction SHE wants to take them is for me what loving is all about; and to be honest, in my very personal case, if it comes to measurable things, where one person simply may be “better” or stronger, I’d rather be the “worse” one and thus be constantly inspired and pushed by my partner’s excellence to work harder and get better myself. But it should never be about competition, for me; I think loving someone necessarily means loving their art/work/passion and wanting to do everything you can to kiss it; and equally swooning when you feel the support and kisses yours gets from your partner.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  56. Liz Henry wrote:

    I also hate Ted Hughes but don’t think it’s quite fair to describe Assia as not a genius or less than Plath!

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  57. Chai Latte wrote:

    but there’s no such thing in this world as the Great Artist’s Husband.

    Shudder. I’m an artist, and I like to think that I’m talented. I’m also frankly terrified of ever getting into a romantic relationship with an artistic man because of this reason exactly.

    I personally do not see the harm in debating and analyzing about the Plath/Hughes dynamic, and factors that went into their relationship and its deterioration. As someone said, they are both gone from this world.

    What we say can’t hurt them now….but maybe, it can save another couple from such tragedy. This discourse may, possibly, open up some Male Great Artist’s eyes to his treatment of his romantic partners. I’m not saying that was the point of this post, but I am disturbed that some people seem to think that not knowing everything there is to be known about a situation should mean that no judgement should be made at all.

    Judging is human. Most of us don’t know all the facts when we make a judgement–and unless we’re in a court of law, we really don’t necessarily have to.

    I think it’s painfully obvious that Ted Hughes was an egotistical jerk who was attracted to vulnerable women who seemed to need him. And yes, I too find it a bit shady that all of Assia’s drawings have vanished like Hoffa. That’s straight-up suspicious, right there.

    I’m not saying Ted Hughes is an evil monster, because I don’t think he really was. Self-involved, yes, showing some signs of narcissism, sure. But that doesn’t absolve him of his role in the deaths of two women and a child. One was Great, the other Could Have Possibly Been Great, and a child who never got the chance to be Great.

    The best argument I could make for Hughes’ quick third marriage is that he was in denial about his role in the deaths. He did not kill either of these women with his own hand, but nor was he ultimately a positive influence on their lives.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink
  58. Ellie wrote:

    I can’t speak for others but I think we’ve heard that story before and that maybe it’s not even as relevant now that our society generally has rethought the Betty Draper housewife norm.

    Actually, OMMB, it hasn’t been rethought, just repackaged. That’s the whole reason for Plath’s genius being eclipsed by his mediocrity. She wasn’t putting her human value on her genius; she was merely hoping that she was more than the standard biological appliance to him, that he had respect for her as a person.

    The “story” that you claim has been done to death and is so dull for you is still at the heart of the whole mess. Some men show more true regard for a really good dog than they do for the woman they “love”.

    It’s astonishing how often “I love her” still means “I like how well she serves me, and I tolerate her yapping so I don’t have to find another appliance.”

    Friday, October 15, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Permalink
  59. “The “story” that you claim has been done to death and is so dull for you is still at the heart of the whole mess. Some men show more true regard for a really good dog than they do for the woman they “love”.”

    Unfortunately, that’s true.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink
  60. Jenny wrote:

    In re the missing drawings, I read Lover of Unreason (Assia’s bio) and seem to recall an anecdote about a trunk of her belongings being lost at sea en route to her family. Possibly her art was lost then. An alternate theory is that it’s locked away in the Mystery Trunk included with Ted Hughes’ papers at Emory, which is embargoed for another 20 years or so. Some speculate that Sylvia’s missing journals are there as well.

    The bio also says that Ted berated Assia when she stayed with him and his children at Court Green–she wasn’t a good housekeeper and didn’t cook as well as Sylvia had. This, combined with the fact that he never married her, makes me think he deliberately cast her in Sylvia’s shadow as a way of punishing her.

    The poem (Last Letter or whatever it’s called) reveals that he spent Plath’s last weekend in bed with a third woman, a poet who died of cancer a few years later.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink