Saturday, October 22, 2011

Her Husband: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes - a Marriage by Diane Middlebrook

Ever since reading The Bell Jar, I have been in love with Sylvia Plath.  I loved her writing and her strong, strong feelings. So I have been reading everything that I could about her and her life, from her journals, to her letters and her poems.  So when I saw this book at the library, I picked it up and brought it home with me, even though it's not solely about Plath, but about the often volatile relationship that she had with her husband, Ted Hughes.

Diane Middlebrook examines the relationship between the two poets from the moment that they meet while studying in England until after Sylvia dies, and beyond.  She begins with their meeting and courtship and ends with Hughes' passing.  She must have done an immense amount of research in writing this book, because her narrative was very detailed and very articulate.  It was a pleasure to read, in part because I could tell that she was truly striving to give us an unbiased account of their relationship and what, in her opinion, really led to Sylvia's death - depression and anxiety and not necessarily Ted Hughes himself (since Sylvia apparently struggled with intense depression even before she met Ted, including a suicide attempt that left her underneath her porch to be found by her brother and then sent to the State hospital for electroshock therapy).

The message that I got from this book is that their marriage was often very intense and was the muse for each of them, in the sense that it fueled her poetry as it did his. I felt that this book gave me insight into Plath, just as much as Hughes.  When they first met, I realized that she was like me in some senses: she wanted it all in the sense that she wanted a home and babies and a wonderful domestic life in addition to a satisfying career as a writer.  And she thought that Hughes could help her to have that. I also got some insight into Hughes that I hadn't had before - he really wasn't the jerk that we all thought he was and perhaps truly loved Plath or at the very least, felt badly about treating her the way that he did during their marriage.  For instance, after her death, Ted Hughes managed her work and got it published and re-published.  He memorializes their relationships and his feelings for her in Birthday Letters, which he published after Plath's death.

While I'm not sure that I agree with Middlebrook completely about Hughes (really what excuse does anyone have to be mean and/or abusive to their spouse), the book is a wonderfully researched and informative read.


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