27 March 2010

Frieda Hughes on the breakup of her parents marriage

Frieda Hughes publishes an article in Sunday's Times: Richard Woods contributes, as well, "Daughter of Hughes and Plath accuses grandmother of killing their marriage."

Read "The Poison that Drove Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Apart" by Frieda Hughes, the daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

With thanks to ~VC for the link to Frieda's article.

19 comments :

Anonymous said...

I see once again the illustrations used are of baby Frieda, as we must always be reminded to THINK OF THE CHILDREN, despite those "children" are actually old enough to be parents/grandparents at this point.

In this case, however, I think that manipulation has the opposite effect. Frieda was a toddler during the breakup of her parents' marriage and spent the rest of her life listening to her father bitch about his mother-in-law. She is the most reliable source.

But more importantly, I find it annoying that she only she can talk about these people. I respect they are her parents, but she can't stamp her feet for privacy one minute then sell her stories to the press the next.
Stay classy, Frieda.

Anonymous said...

she is NOT the most reliable source!

Blast.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Frieda has written some not-so-nice poetry about her maternal grandmother, who she probably knew better than her own mother. See poems in Waxworks and The Book of Mirrors particularly. See "Preparing the Ground" in the latter. How a two year-old can have these memories & impressions is remarkable.

The full article by Frieda isn't seemingly available in this country so I'm a disadvantage for full comprehension of the article. However, another source of the poison is certainly Olwyn Hughes.

The Lilly Library holds correspondence from 1963 after Plath's death. Aurelia Plath, who did not travel to England for Plath's funeral, corresponded with her son Warren and daughter-in-law Margaret who stayed in England for much of the month. Those letters do give a foundation of support that Aurelia was trying to get the children to America. This is something she attempted to do for much of the year, including her subsequent visit that summer. I recall in the Letters of Ted Hughes this subject coming up. But, from Aurelia Plath's perspective why shouldn't she try this given her son-in-law adultery and abandonement of his family & responsibilities? She had no reason to think that Ted Hughes would or could take care of the children. And the succession of help he had in the 1960s could go some way in proving AP to have been right. However, there is strong evidence that TH did turn out to be a very good father.

There does seem to be an inconsistency with what outsiders aloud to say on the matter versus what she is allowed to say. Especially given her comment(earlier this decade I beleive) about the fact that scholars & readers of Plath likely know her mother better than she did. The only thing to say that is we learned what we learned through research and study & there is enough good scholarship out there that she too could know what we know about her mother.

Thursday is Frieda's 50th Birthday. Happy early Birthday.

Peter K Steinberg said...

I love technology. Having now read the article it reminds me of March: in like a lion out like a lamb. It is clear this was inspired by not being interviewed or quoted in last week's news about TH's Poets' Corner memorial as it attempts to usurp or deny or stake a claim that she was a "true" relation to TH and not Carol Hughes.

One point of contention that I'd like to clarify. Aurelia Plath did not visit Devon in late summer 1962, she was there from early to mid summer. By late summer she was back in Massachusetts.

Anonymous said...

Here's the link to Frieda's article which has since appeared online (I live in Europe outside the UK and can read it; hopefully US readers can now, too):
http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/poetry/article7078647.ece

According to Bitter Fame, Mrs Plath arrived in the third week of June and headed back the States on August 4 1962, making Peter potentially a more reliable "witness" of events than Plath's daughter :-)

What surprised me about her article was that Frieda revealed that she and Nick did not consider Shura to be Hughes's child – both of them having been told that the young child was simply "Assia's daughter".

Have a good Sunday!
~VC

panther said...

Oh dear, here we go again ! Who needs classical mythology-we've got Plath and Hughes !

Of course Frieda has (or is likely to have) views about this which were formed for many years by Ted Hughes himself.And he didn't like his mother-in-law.

Elizabeth Sigmund is quite right to say you can't "skirt around" the fact TH was having an affair-he WAS having an affair !

On the other hand,Mrs Plath was not an easy person, and could be domineering, and there IS evidence that she wanted Sylvia and the children to move to the United States following the break-up. (SP herself rejects this offer in a letter dating, I believe, from December 1962 or January 1963).

What I'm really trying to say is : the break-up, the acrimony, the tragic outcome, etc etc-none of it is attributable to one single cause. It could be argued that TH drifted into an affair because SP was a very difficult person to be married to-SP herself says several times in her Journals things like "I don't know how Ted stands me." I'm not offering bland excuses-I'm just trying to understand.

Ted Hughes was not a saint. Nor was he a demon. Ditto with SP. Ditto with Assia Wevill, too, though I know it's not easy for a lot of people to hear that.

I too get cross that Frieda Hughes bangs on about privacy and happily goes to the Press when she want to but hey ! we're all a mass of walking contradictions !

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thanks ~VC for the link. I've updated the post to reflect the availability of the whole piece.

Kristina Zimbakova said...

A three year old Frieda to remember conversations between her mother and her grandmother. Sorry, but this is just so ridiculous, and represents humiliation of readers' intelligence.

Anonymous said...

It's certainly natural that Frieda wishes to believe in her father's decency and to protect him in any context, esp. that of the breakup of the Plath-Hughes marriage and Plath's subsequent suicide. He is, after all, the parent she bonded with and knew for most of her life. But I agree that her repeated assertions that she 'heard this' or 'understood that' as a child of between 2 and 3years old seem far fetched. I have some very early memories from before I was 3, but they are fleeting and I have no psychological insights from that time, let alone an understanding of the relationships of the people around me at that age. Aurelia may have been complex and at times difficult to deal with, but I don't think it's unusual for her to have wanted her daughter and grandchildren to come live in the US as the marriage was breaking up. She must have seen how distraught Sylvia was and there was no one else alive - not Ted nor any of Plath's friends in the UK - who knew 1st hand what Sylvia had gone through when she first attempted suicide, but Aurelia. Aurelia must have known that the betrayal and loss of Ted was something that would prove very dangerous to Sylvia (as indeed it did) and she likely wanted to be able to be near her, to monitor her health and to be able to care for the children if and when necessary. That Frieda should paint her attempts to help Sylvia as the actions of a wicked witch attempting to steal the children away and banish their father from their lives shows very poor psychological insight or maturity. It may be useful in some way to Frieda to continue to hold Ted up in her mind and heart as a paragon of virtue, but it is hardly fair to the other people in her life that she continually suspects of the basest motives. I don't think Hughes is as dark as some would paint him, but he was human and he did have faults. I would hope that as Frieda is almost 50 she might approach the entire history of her parents marriage, her mothers death and her father's subsequent life, with a more open mind, and even to do in depth research of her own, as she is uniquely placed to do. But I think the emotional wounds are too deep and she's relied on her image of Ted for too long to allow any fissure in that edifice. At this point, I just feel badly for her. She can't have had an easy time of it psychologically and emotionally and with the rift with Carol Hughes, the death of Nicholas and her 3rd marriage ending, for her to see her beloved father as the "bad guy" would be one more loss and one she possibly could not take. It seems she has built quite a bit of her life on her relationship and views of her father and I don't see her ever changing her feelings or ceasing to defend him when necessary.

I did find the assertions that Shura was not thought of as her sister or as Ted's daughter as somewhat odd. It may be that as Ted's relationship with Assia was frowned upon by many, not the least by his parents, who lived at Court Green for a time, the paternity of Shura was not for open discussion. And it may have been that Ted did not want Frieda and Nick to bond with Shura as siblings if he knew things with Assia were not working out well. If you wanted to put the worst possible spin on it, I would guess that it is far more comforting to believe you are the only daughter of Ted Hughes, than to have to 'share him' with another daughter, even if that other daughter is not alive.

Peter, I do think you are astute to suggest that this article was timed to come out after no one asked her for her opinion on the Westminster Abbey honor and quoted Carol instead. kim

Peter K Steinberg said...

Kim, you bring up an excellent point about the fragility of Plath in the wake of Hughes' infidelity and her mother's natural concern based on events from the summer nine years before. I said the very same thing to Elizabeth Sigmund.

And I also agree with Kristina that it is an insult to our intelligence.

BridgetAnna said...

Thank you, Peter, for posting the links to these two articles. And thank you, other posters, for such fascinating reading and discussion and debate! I'm sorry that I don't have anything more to add to the discussion... I think I'm going to have to let your comments, and Frieda's article, simmer in my brain for a bit before I can come to any conclusions or thoughts worth posting.

panther said...

The not-acknowledging of Shura by Ted Hughes leaves an unpleasant taste.I think you're right, Kim, to suggest that it wouldn't have been openly discussed in that milieu, not least because of the Hughes parents being very disapproving of the whole thing-scandalized, in fact. And maybe TH didn't want the children to bond, either.

The idea that Shura was in some ways a dirty secret is not a happy one.Was he ashamed of her ? I hope not.Whatever else had gone on-and a lot else had gone on-none of it was the child's fault.

Catty said...

TH himself officially acknowledged Shura as his own at her death, although it seems clear he never acknowledged her emotionally.
That said, I think Shura was always going to be Assia's child first.

I need to go have a look at this article now. It wasn't online when I first read the post and it was too late to get a paper copy.

Catty said...

That article is actually quite sweet. And I think in context I do believe Frieda probably remembers watching Aurelia browbeat Sylvia as the marriage imploded. Something so life-altering probably was seared into her memory, although memory is unreliable.
That said, I don't think Aurelia was wrong. She might have been a pain in the arse (who among us isn't?) but if my daughter found out her husband was cheating on her and blowing their savings on his mistress, I'd give her the same advice. Hit that bastard in the purse.
But I also think TH needed to grow up and resented Aurelia for pushing him to do it.

panther said...

I think it's a mistake to presume that Aurelia Plath was inviting Sylvia and the children to come to America out of completely pure motives. (Not many of us have those, after all !) I'm not saying she wasn't concerned about the marriage breaking up, the effect it would have on her daughter, etc. Of course she was concerned. But her relationship with Sylvia was always a fraught one, each enmeshed with the other to an unhealthy degree. This is something SP explored in her therapy with Dr Beuscher. And something that Aurelia Plath found very difficult to acknowledge.

If Sylvia had returned to America with her children, she would have been returning (at least in her own mind, but quite likely in outer reality too) to that same old difficulty which she had striven so hard and long to resolve. It would have seemed (to her) like a defeat.

She made it clear in at least one interview that she wanted to stay in England. (I think it's the Orr interview, in October 1962, after the break-up itself.) I suspect that part of that desire was a desire to be her own person, not Aurelia Plath's daughter.

Anonymous said...

I think Plath was above all this family drama...Whatever!

Anonymous said...

It's worth remembering that after Plath and Hughes split Sylvia must have recoiled at the dopplegangering (is that a word?!) of her own life and her mother's. A single woman with two children, a girl and a boy, born two years apart. That alone, I think, would have compelled her to stay in the UK and go it alone, despite the difficulties it would present emotionally and financially. So if there were arguments btw Plath and her mother at Court Green, would she have dared tell her mother that she didn't want to live her life as her mother had, working herself to the bone in a job that she possibly disliked, living through her children, rather than living the life of a poet? To voice this would have been the greatest rejection of Aurelia and the life she made for herself, Sylvia and Warren after the death of Otto Plath. The recriminations, the recriminations...Oh, to be a fly on the wall.... kim

Christine said...

Hi, I stumbled across your site while I was googling: happy accident! I'm doing my dissertation on Plath. I'm also putting together an anthology of work inspired by her, if you or your readers are interested: http://fatgoldw.wordpress.com/

Catherine said...

I find it odd that she should want her family privacy respected but then turn around and write something like this. The fight with Carol Hughes is sad because she, more than anyone, was the primary mother figure in the lives of the Hughes children.

I also suspect that Ted Hughes knew that his children would be more than well provided for from their mother's literary estate which, like J. D. Salinger's, must pull in a significant amount each year or easily enough for two siblings to share. Now, of course, Frieda has it all. So, why fight with her stepmother who likely has no other means of support?

Ted wasn't faithful to Carol, either, as several memoirs detail. She seemed to be his steady anchor, of country stock, who actually kept the homefires burning at Court Green much longer than Sylvia ever did. Talk about ghosts and legacies! Let her have the money, she deserves it. Besides, it will never rival Sylvia's.

I am reading THE LETTERS OF TED HUGHES now. I've always imagined that he was never the bad guy and that it takes two. However, Sylvia strikes me as someone who was likely borderline or narcissistic in some way. At one point, in a letter to Anne Stevenson, I believe, he mentions that he often cared for the children when Sylvia was still alive and did so in her death. It wasn't a big transition for him. He also mentioned the "brewing thunderstorm" that was her personality.

One realizes the scope of the legacy of death on a family and how the public pries and is fascinated with the people that remain.

If Frieda was so upset about bearing that legacy or not having it poked into, she would have gone to Alaska like her brother or at least have never made a public commentary.

Hughes, in another letter, predicts that ARIAL will one day be as popular with some people as CATCHER IN THE RYE had been for Salinger. He was correct. And with that popularity comes myth and legend and great storymaking.

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