Sylvia Plath’s suicide note - did it name a final lover? | Books | The Guardian
Ted Hughes was in bed with his lover the day estranged wife Sylvia Hughes for six months - had assumed it would not reach him until the. Plath and Hughes were the guests of the poet Richard Murphy, son of an she met Ted and Sylvia, whose London flat she and David were renting. giving separate addresses: Halifax in Yorkshire - his parents' home - for. Not to oversell ''No Other Appetite: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and the Make up your own minds about who we were and what we did -- if you dare. the poets' fervid meeting at a party in Cambridge in February , through their " Over the years people have separated my parents' lives and careers.
In a BBC interview, Plath describes how she met him: I was sent there by the [U.
Neurotic Poets - Sylvia Plath
Ted came back to Cambridge and suddenly we found ourselves getting married a few months later… We kept writing poems to each other. Then it just grew out of that, I guess, a feeling that we both were writing so much and having such a fine time doing it, we decided that this should keep on.
The following year, Plath and Hughes moved to the Massachusetts, where she taught at her alma mater, Smith College. It was a challenge for her to find the time and energy to write when she was teaching. By the end of after another move and extensive travel, the couple moved back to London. The couple had their first daughter, Frieda, on April 1st, The next year, Plath miscarried their second child. It was later revealed in a letter to her therapist, that Plath wrote about Hughes beating her two days before the miscarriage.
Intheir son Nicholas was born. In looks alone, she was eclipsed by Assia Wevill, who had exotic beauty and an animal magnetism not unlike Ted's. Born in Germany, from whence her family fled to Palestine to escape persecution, she was married to her third husband, the poet David Wevill, by the time she met Ted and Sylvia, whose London flat she and David were renting.
Ted and Sylvia had moved down to Devon after the birth of their second child, Nicholas, in an attempt to give their marriage time and space.
The Irish sojourn of Sylvia Plath
Stuck for intelligent company, and caged by the harsh Devon winter, they invited the Wevills for a weekend, a weekend Assia began by announcing, in seductive tones, at the ad agency where she worked, "I'm going to seduce Ted. The moment came around the Sunday lunchtime.
Ted and Assia were in the kitchen, preparing food. David and Sylvia, whose second child was barely a few months old, were outside chatting, the sounds of the kitchen drifting towards them. Sylvia, David Wevill recalls, suddenly went absolutely still, then sprang up and ran into the kitchen.
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She did not return and at lunch was very quiet. That afternoon she seemed on edge and keen for the guests to leave.
On the train home together, Assia made no secret of the cause of her distress: This gave him the excuse he needed, and he left for London and Assia.
Neither bothered hiding their affair, orthe sexual charge between them. Ted's furious lovemaking delighted Assia, who told one of her work friends, "You know, in bed, he smells likea butcher.
Assia found him there and rushed him to hospital, where she walked him around all night to keep him alive. Yet Ted didn't cut Sylvia out of his life entirely. He couldn't, and continued to journey back and forth from London to Devon, from Assia to Sylvia.
This, then, is the emotional backdrop to those lost five days in Ireland. They lunched together that day, talking of country life, fishing and the sea.
Sylvia, as was often the case, spoke more than her husband, but it was the "strong and silent" Hughes who made the more profound impression on Murphy. They listened, fascinated, as Murphy talked about the West of Ireland and his push to make a living taking tourists out to sea in a revamped hooker, the Ave Maria. Although the rules meant he had to adopt a literary pseudonym he chose 'Fisherman'he got a letter from Sylvia before the official verdict telling him that Years Later, the epilogue to his poem, had won first prize in the Guinness Awards.
This was the same prize she had won the year before with Insomniac. It seemed an auspicious start to the friendship. Plath also suggested a visit to Connemara, saying she "desperately needed a boat, the sea, and no squalling babies" and that he seemed like a lovely personto visit. Hughes, despite the separation, came with her, and they arrived one Thursday in September, after the tourist season, when Murphy could give them his full attention.
They signed the visitors' book in the Pier Bar in Cleggan, giving separate addresses: Halifax in Yorkshire - his parents' home - for him, Court Green, the Devon house, for her. As Richard's old van chugged along, Sylvia sat in front with him, talking about his marriage and hers, while Ted sat in the back. Richard had been married to Patricia Avis, also a writer, and had spent much of the marriage feeling "bound to prevent her from having a nervous breakdown as a result of the strain of being married to me".
He didn't succeed, and she requested a divorce. At the Tower, Ted, egged on by Sylvia, carved his initials into the copper beech tree alongside those of Yeats, because, she said, he was more deserving than some of the other names up there - Synge, Bernard Shaw. When Sylvia and Ted noticed a moss-covered apple tree, and as one - much to Murphy's disapproval - they insisted it be shaken and the apples be gathered up to make apple tarts through the winter.
From there, the strange little troop paid an afternoon visit to Murphy's Aunt Bunty in Milford, where Sylvia was warmly welcomed, and Richard feared that Ted, with his West Yorkshire accent, would be sent to the kitchen to take tea with the servants.
Richard Murphy showed Sylvia framed prints of Rangoon in hanging on the wall of the stairs, and these were to later appear in her poem The Courage of Shutting Up. But by that night Richard was feeling the strain. The poison of a marriage in shreds was starting to spill over; though each was "marvellous company", and an inspiration, his guests were not getting on together, even though they neither quarrelled nor spoke sharply to one another. He rang Thomas Kinsella and asked him to come down from Dublin to "break the triangle into a square".
Next day, while waiting for Tom, Richard took his visitors out in the boat to Inisbofin, Sylvia lay prone on the foredeck, breathing the sea air with deep, ecstatic gasps. Years later, Richard heard from the islanders that Sylvia had made a good impression, Ted a bad one.
Even there, miles from the literary and social round-keeping of London life, the two were pitted head to head, compared and judged. Over the few days, Richard found himself the confidant of both Ted and Sylvia, though neither was telling all. Ted said the marriage, which had been hugely creative for him, had become destructive and that he needed to get out, even just for a while. Sylvia spoke of separation, not divorce, saying she couldn't imagine either of them ever married to anyone else.
Neither of them mentioned Assia. Richard urged Sylvia not to divorce on account of an affair that might not last. He offered practical help, agreeing to help her find a cottage for the winter, although he was alarmed when, in her enthusiasm, she offered to rent his and let him live in it. Instead he introduced her to a local woman, Kitty Marriott, from whom she arranged to rent a cottage from the November.
At dinner, the steady ripples of tension and mute attraction began to spread. Ted, Sylvia, Richard and Thomas Kinsella sat down together, maintaining a flow of good conversation. Sylvia took her due part in this, but something else was driving her. She kicked Richard gently under the table. But whatever her intended message, he didn't, or couldn't, respond. Already an outsider - by birth, by religion, by accent, by the failure of his marriage - Murphy was on thin ground, but he walked it well.
Although had his attraction to Plath been strong enough, he would have found ways to make the impossible happen. Sadly for Sylvia, history was against her. The demands of her fragile nature were too close to Murphy's ex-wife, Patricia. He has said, "I didn't want to be overwhelmed by her genius, or to become as deeply responsible for keeping her alive in Connemara as I had been for keeping Patricia alive at Lake Park.
Ted had gone to stay with the painter Barrie Cooke in Co Clare, without a word to his host. Sylvia planned to meet him on Wednesday for the return to London, leaving her three days alone with Richard. The question of motivation, as nearly always, is a mystery, a whisper. Was Sylvia abandoned as she said, or had she hustled this opportunity?
Was he tacitly giving his approval, hoping for an outcome that would somehow unburden him to follow his heart? Richard's reaction was born of panic. He insisted Sylvia leave for Dublin the next day with Thomas Kinsella.
Her warmth and enthusiasm changed in an instant to "strangulated hostility" and she unburdened herself to Mary Coyne, who was clearly inspired with the strongly protective feelings that were so often the reaction of kindly older women who encountered Sylvia.
Of those moments, Mary Coyne said, "I never saw anyone so miserable. My heart went out to her. In doing so she mocked him and his fear of public opinion, saying that he couldn't stay with her because there was a little cripple hunchback who kept an eye on everyone who came to her house. It's a spirited response, a challenge to what she must have seen as his cowardice, but it was cruel, too. Murphy heard from Sylvia just once more.
In October, she wrote to say she was getting a divorce, and was writing each day from 4am until the children got up. Still expecting her to take a cottage in Cleggan for the winter, he waited, wanting to answer in person.