Sunday, September 10, 2006

Brrr !

A parent committing suicide is indubitably a Bad Thing. IMHO any parent has a motive for suicide, but one just shouldn't drop a burden like that on the kids.

Via the Backword One, the story of the woman whose affair with the poet Ted Hughes caused his wife, the writer Sylvia Plath, to top herself. Not exactly a sympathetic portrait.

The only close friends of hers [Plath’s] whose phone number he possessed were Gerry and Jillian Becker; but Jillian did not ave Ted’s number. She called Suzette Macedo – but she, too, had no idea of Ted’s whereabouts. So Suzette phoned Assia. Thus it was the mistress who had the grim task of notifying Ted Hughes.

At work, Assia also spread the news. "Something terrible has happened: Sylvia has killed herself," she announced, stepping into art director Julia Matcham’s office.

Assuming that Assia must be overwhelmed with guilt, Julia sympathised: "Oh, you must feel awful."

Assia’s eyes opened wide. "Why should I? It was nothing to do with me."


Plath left her two small children motherless. Unforgivable.

Love set you going like a fat gold watch
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes
The clear vowels rise like balloons.


But in best Thomas Hardy tradition, the dead wife loomed larger in the poet's consciousness than she had when alive. Assia's 'nothing to do with me' started to sound somewhat hollow.

She increasingly doubted the permanence of Ted's commitment to her. In her view, Sylvia would remain his precious wife, while she was cast for ever in the role of mistress. "At the forefront is Sylvia, and after that, the Grand Scheme, the Genius, the children, and the fixity of the sun, the millions of hawks and fishes and owls, and nightshade that I neither see nor hear."

A horrifying thought began to creep in: that she was inviting Sylvia's doom on herself. She confided in her diary: "She had a million times the talent, 1,000 times the will, 100 times the greed and passion that I have. I should never have looked into Pandora's box, and now that I have, I am forced to wear her love-widow's sacking, without any of her compensations.

"What, in five years' time, will he reproach me for? What sort of woman am I?
The gruesome Gothic gripper moves remorselessly towards its denouement.

" ... in one diary entry Wevill blames the ghost of Plath for making her suicidal."

Old Ted - what a card.

Wevill, 42, gassed herself with Shura, her four-year-old daughter by Hughes, in 1969 after discovering that he was having an affair. It was an eery re-enactment of the suicide six years earlier of the American poet Sylvia Plath — the wife Hughes abandoned after starting an affair with Wevill.
He sure could pick 'em. Two motherless toddlers and a dead one.

7 comments:

dearieme said...

Have you seen the photos of Assia? She looked like (i) bed, and (ii) trouble.

staghounds said...

Given some parents, some children are better off orphans.

And, if you plan to kill yourself, buy lots of insurance for your children and loved ones andmake it look like an accident.

Because what would you rather be- a grieving orphan, or a grieving orphan with a million dollars?

staghounds said...

And Ted didn't pick them, he MADE them.

Anonymous said...

When I was at uni. loads of women doing English Literature or similar degrees were besoted by Sylvia Plath and regarded her as a feminist icon. I have to say I'm mystified by this. I don't doubt that Ted Hughes was a total shit but surely topping yourself because you were badly treated by a man is hardly a sign of strength and independence.

AntiCitizenOne said...

Anonymous,

To marxists and others of the non-reality community

Weakness is strength

Strength is a weakness.

Anonymous said...

AntiCitizenOne

The reason for student icons can be varied.

Obviously that of Che Guevarra is based totally on that photograph - elsewhere he looks pretty seedy. The principle fact is that most people have absolutely no idea that he ran the secret police let alone that he shot rather a lot of people including teenagers.

I used to put down the appeal of Sylvia as like a feminine Smiths - "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now"/"My Turn to Be poorly" coupled with the standard "tortured artist effect". Nevertheless, I'm sure you're right - on a victim scale she rates pretty highly.

(Apols for being Anon - when at home I used a real nym but not in the office)

George Lee said...

Sylvia Plath was a suicidal bitch from childhood on.

Richard Wilbur wrote a powerful poem about meeting her when she was a teenager:

http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/wilbur-cottage.html