'I made Plath:' ex-husband says: 'I wasn't the bad guy,' Ted Hughes wrote to troubled poet's mother

from: The Ottawa Citizen - April 10, 2000

by James Bone

Ted Hughes, angry at being blamed for the suicide of Sylvia Plath, told her mother that his wife would never have become a great poet without him, and would have ended up instead as "a brilliant academic figure longing for a sabbatical so she could write some verse."

Britain's future poet laureate, who maintained a long public silence on the doomed marriage until the publication of his Birthday Letters two years ago, revealed his feelings in a missive to his former mother-in-law, Aurelia, in January 1975 as she prepared to publish Ms. Plath's Letters Home, which cast Mr. Hughes as the cause of her misery.

A carbon copy of the typewritten letter is buried in two and a half tonnes of his personal papers, which were opened to public view at Atlanta's Emory University on the weekend. Challenging Ms. Plath's view as "propaganda," Mr. Hughes insists Ms. Plath "would certainly never have got out of Smith (College) on her own steam," and says he convinced her that writing was a job that required "as much full-time pressure as, say, becoming a dentist."

He testily informs Aurelia that he had cared for the couple's two babies so that Ms. Plath could write for four hours each morning and, until the last month or two, he even did the washing up. Despite her claim that he squandered their money before they separated, Mr. Hughes recalls that he borrowed $480 from his Aunt Hilda and left Ms. Plath "everything else -- a few hundred pounds -- and all we possessed." Between the end of September 1962 and her death on Feb. 11, 1963, he gave her about $2,150. "It's no good trying to whitewash Sylvia completely," he writes.

"Her distress in those last weeks was the result of the form of attack she chose to make against me. I may well have deserved it, but it made it impossible for me to understand what she really wanted. But the picture she projects of a helpless abandoned person being cruelly used is simply false -- in those last weeks she had everything on her terms, as never since before we were married." In a passage that casts new light on Ms. Plath's final days, Mr.

Hughes reveals that shortly before her death, she had changed her mind about wanting a divorce.

"If we reveal some spicy details we have to reveal the lot," he writes. "The dominant theme toward the end of this is divorce, her steely determination to get that divorce. At the time, it seemed to me impenetrable. So it came as a great shock, on the Thursday before her death, to hear that she didn't want a divorce at all, and that I was a complete idiot to have ever thought that she did. The whole crazy divorce business was a bluff. So what is to be made of that? She mismanaged those last months even worse than I did." Ms. Plath continued to haunt Mr. Hughes after her death, to the point where, some time in the late 1960s, he recorded a dream about her coming back to life.

Caption: Black & White Photo: The Ottawa Citizen / Ted Hughes, the British poet laureate, and his wife, Carol, in 1984. Mr. Hughes's stormy marriage to American poet Sylvia Plath dogged his reputation after her suicide.

Copyright Ottawa Citizen 2000


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