Sylvia Plath and the Communion of Women Who Know What She Went Through

“Each time I left the Charles Woodruff Library at Emory University during my week-long visit there, I set off the alarm. I carried nothing but a tote bag with my laptop, cell phone, wallet, and one book—Charles Newman’s The Art of Sylvia Plath, a discarded library book from the early 1970s. This last was the culprit. The librarian at the front desk ran it through a scanner intended to de-library it. Still, the alarm sounded. Still, I walked quietly backwards, removing the book from, and handing over, my bag. Plath in hand, apologizing. I went to Emory in November 2019, because Ted Hughes’s papers are there, and I needed to round out several chapters of my forthcoming book, Loving Sylvia Plath. Hughes and Plath were famously married from 1956 until her suicide in 1963, but estranged at the time of her death, with Plath actively seeking divorce. Because Plath died intestate (without a will), Hughes inherited all of her published—and, importantly, unpublished—writing. Loving Sylvia Plath deals with the ways Hughes used the editing and censorship of his late wife’s work to construct an image of a maniacal, death-obsessed Plath that was simultaneously a publishing phenomenon. The Emory archive contains the bulk of his correspondence related to this editing and publishing—so, three days after Halloween, I flew south to Atlanta, my stomach in knots. I felt like I was facing the twisted history of Plath, Hughes, and the many fans and scholars who have tried to write about the whole complex mess. Until his death in 1998, Hughes was an immovable force—feminist scholars, in particular, were anathema to him, and he often forbade access to Plath’s work, or permission to quote it, to a range of writers. And while I have been sniffing around this story since I was a very young woman, I have too often (and probably too easily) been put off the scent—plenty of friends, and teachers, had told me I was wrong about Hughes’s character and his role in creating Plath’s iconic image. What if those people were right? My fear that there was nothing to find went deeper than turning out to be the literary-feminist equivalent of Geraldo forcing open Al Capone’s vaults to find a handful of empty aspirin bottles. If I went to Atlanta and discovered there was nothing to discover, what did that mean for my understanding of Sylvia Plath? And since Sylvia Plath means so much to me, means so much to my life, its odd trajectory—what would my life mean, then? In an essay I once wrote about Plath, I decried the idea that my work on her was ‘a Grail-like quest.’ But maybe I had spoken too soon. …”
NYBooks – Sylvia Plath: Rage and Laughter
Guardian: Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes
LitHub: Why Are We So Unwilling to Take Sylvia Plath at Her Word?
New Yorker: The Silent Woman By Janet Malcolm (August 23, 1993)

Sylvia Plath on her first day at Mademoiselle, 1953

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Books, Feminist, Poetry and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Sylvia Plath and the Communion of Women Who Know What She Went Through

  1. Kenny Wilson says:

    Reblogged this on Kenny Wilson's Blog and commented:
    The continuation of the strange story of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.


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