Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Happy Belated Birthday (August 17) ...

...to Ted Hughes.

I've been thinking about him recently. Our similar birthdays, and my identification with Sylvia Plath (and S.'s identification with Assia Wevill).

The book "Her Husband," about Hughes, told a story about Hughes, as a teenager, coming home from the moors... His mother was on the step of their house, expecting Ted and his older brother Gerald. Hughes was quoted in the book as saying that he came home over a hill and saw his mother and moved toward her happily... He saw her face initially light up from afar... but then when he got closer and she realized he wasn't Gerald, her face unconsciously fell... And he caught it.

When I read that, I just thought, "Oh." That's it, right there. Why he didn't trust women, why he fooled around on them. Not his mother's fault, but one can never forget that kind of thing. Coming home with your heart wide open... and not being truly loved.

On the day after Ted's birthday, also thinking of his telling a friend, after Plath's and Wevill's suicides, something to the effect of: "Maybe my darkness made them kill themselves. I'm used to it, but perhaps they weren't."

While others in the media have mocked his hubris, I see what he's saying. Plath: I think she was into the darkness and got off on it. I think she killed herself specifically because Hughes told her that Assia Wevill was pregnant with his child. The heretofore state of "barrenness" of Wevill (after many abortions) was important to Plath, as was the fact that Wevill had already had 3 husbands. In Plath's mind, the woman was a "Lilith"... an immediate sexual threat, but not a long-term threat... Once Hughes told Plath that Wevill was pregnant with his child...the end.

As for Assia Wevill's later suicide: Unlike Plath, who was an achiever, Wevill was a constant hanger-on, always attaching herself to men, relying completely on them. Hughes had such guilt over his wife's death as a result of his fooling around with Wevill that he could never commit to her completely or agree to marry her. And good for him.

I'm a "Team Plath" member, and I think he SHOULD have felt extremely guilty. Yes, I'm sure his emotional evasiveness drove Wevill to suicide 6 years later. But, after hearing about Assia Wevill living in Plath's old apartment and presenting Plath's friend with the gas bill the month after Plath's suicide, saying, "She was YOUR friend, YOU pay the bill"... I have no sympathy for her whatsoever. Just as I have no sympathy for her for later intentionally gassing their daughter Shura while she simultaneously killed herself. (Plath, on the other hand, made absolute sure that her children would not be harmed.)

"Birthday Letters," Ted Hughes' 1998 homage to his wife, released shortly before his own death, fixed things spiritually... and mentally for me, and I'm sure almost all other women who ever related to Plath and once were angry at Hughes because of his infidelity. His last act before dying was to think about his wife and to explore their relationship. He honored her. I'm very grateful to him for that.

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