Poetry News

Why Do We Struggle to Believe Ted Hughes Abused Sylvia Plath?

By Harriet Staff
Sylvia Plath

At Literary Hub, Emily Van Duyne investigates why it's so difficult for even the most devoted Sylvia Plath scholars to believe and assert that the poet was abused by her partner, Ted Hughes. "Back in April," Van Duyne writes, "the Guardian dropped an apparent literary bombshell—new letters had been discovered from the poet Sylvia Plath, alleging horrific physical abuse at the hands of her husband, the British poet Ted Hughes. The letters had gone unread by any major Plath scholar through one of those black holes so common, and frustrating, to those of us who love her work." From there: 

Examples of these holes are chronicled in various biographies and critical works on Plath: Diane Middlebrook’s Her Husband, the forward to Judith Kroll’s Chapters In A Mythology. Even, from time to time, by Hughes himself, who casually claims to have burned Plath’s journals from the last two years of her life, in his forward to the 1982 Journals of Sylvia Plath. Materials from so-called “controversial” periods of Plath’s short life (she was barely 30 when she committed suicide in 1963), including her first suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization in 1953, and the two years preceding her death have always been hard to come by, as Danuta Kean notes in her Guardian piece.

In the hunt for a deeper understanding of Sylvia Plath, things are always going missing.

The night the Guardian piece ran, I was grading end-of-term essays in bed when my phone began to go off a bit madly. Ping! It sang. Ping! Ping! Ping! The last time this happened in such rapid succession from multiple media sources (texts, email, Facebook), it was 6 am, and David Bowie, my other obsession, was dead from cancer.

Now, though, the news was Sylvia Plath’s new letters, via the aforementioned article: in minutes, four friends posted it to my Facebook timeline and tagged me, and three people sent the link via DM and text. Rather than blanch with shock, I read and reread, and felt sad and slightly numb. Then, a bit enraged.

To anyone as familiar as I am with Plath’s life and work, the fact that Ted Hughes was likely abusive—emotionally and physically—is not news.

Learn more at Literary Hub.

Originally Published: July 12th, 2017