07 November 2012
Review of Ted and I by Gerald Hughes
Ted and I by Gerald Hughes (Robson Press, 2012), brother of the poet, is a book worth reading. In some ways Gerald is "the other" or is "an other" in the life of Ted Hughes: a dream, an ideal, that would never be realized. Ted and I is divided into three sensible parts; "Childhood"; "The War Years"; and "Keeping in Touch". Each part is further divided into subparts.
"Childhood" was the least emotive part of the book: a series of broken memories, shorter staccato vignettes and mostly nondescript that in some ways could describe the childhood of any myriad of boys and girls. Not a criticism by any means, just a failure to engage the reader in a period of time long ago...Ted Hughes himself spoke about these years quite convincingly as being crucial to his development. Particularly so in his "Two of a Kind" interview with Sylvia Plath and Owen Leeming in January 1961. Ted Hughes says, "when I was about eight then all that was sealed off, we moved to Mexborough which was industrial and depressing and dirty and - oh well at the time made us all very unhappy but it was really a very good thing. It became - it became a much richer experience for me than - than my previous seven years had been, but in being as different it really sealed off my first seven years so that now I have memories of my first seven years which - my first seven years seem almost half my life. I've - I've remembered almost everything because it was sealed off in that particular way and became a sort of brain - another subsidiary brain for me." Readers of Sylvia Plath will note with particular interested how the image of childhood sealed off would be reused more succinctly in her own way in her late January 1963 prose piece which examined the landscape of her childhood: "Ocean 1212-W".
"The War Years" was incredibly moving and well written. The stories and experiences of Gerald Hughes during this time make the book memorable, as well as the last part "Keeping in Touch". Readers of this blog will find "Keeping in Touch" of the most interest for this is where Sylvia Plath is inserted into the story. The never published before photographs complement quotations from previously unpublished letters from Plath's to Gerald and his wife Joan, whom she never met. The original letters from Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes to Gerald and Joan are part of Hughes Mss II at the Lilly Library. These letters of course were readable in the Reading Room, but before now not really ever quotable. They provide some biographical information, are mostly chipper, show some wit, and in my opinion make Plath quite a likable figure when compared to the impression one gets when reading her letters to her mother in Letter Home. Gerald even says of the tone of the correspondence: "We felt close" (144).
As the memoir progresses we see Plath pass. Gerald describes Plath's death as "dreadful" (163). But in citing some of his brother's letters, we get a differing opinion from the one so often discussed in biography. What is generally reported is that Hughes and Plath were close to repairing their relationship; that they were two weeks away from reconciling things. But in Ted and I, we see Ted Hughes writing to his brother, "All this business has been terrible - especially for Sylvia - but it was inevitable" (163) Gerald describes the breakup, in Ted's words, as a "relief" (163). This is not dredged up to pick a fight with the Hughes family or Hughes readers and fans, but it does show that the dissolution of the marriage was messy and in some ways we will obviously never know what Ted Hughes' intentions were, nor where the relationship actually stood. Maybe we are not meant to.
Gerald Hughes writes sincerely about his brother post-Plath. The paragraphs on Plath's nervousness surrounding the publication of The Bell Jar are difficult to read, but also highlight an under-exposed circumstance in the last weeks of Plath's life: how publication of the novel affected her under all the circumstances she was living in during January 1963. Not to digress too much, but how different might Plath's situation have been had The Bell Jar been published in 1962, as was originally planned by Heinemann? Copies of the proof of the novel have a copyright date of 1962. The novel's publication was of course delayed because Plath one the Saxton grant, and Heinemann were quite gracious in delaying it so she could claim all the reward money. Remember that as the novel was already completed, Plath just bundled it up into four installments and submitted it quarterly per the requirements... Had the novel been published in 1962, it might have been before the breakup of her marriage and she might have been in a different frame of mind to see her story out there. All these "might have"'s are largely speculative, of course, and also rhetorical in nature.
Back to Ted and I and the chapter "Keeping in Touch", Assia Wevill and her daughter Shura pass, too, and eventually Ted Hughes. These episodes are treated naturally, with tact and genuine feeling, so that with each death the reader cannot help but feel affected for the personal way in which she or he engages with Gerald Hughes' writing. The reproduction of Gerald Hughes' artwork are quite impressive, and show a creative talent running through the family.
Ted and I, with a foreword by Frieda Hughes is a good book. Overall the sibling and family love is clear and candid. Thank you Gerald Hughes, and Frieda Hughes, for getting these memories in print. Buy the book from The Robson Press.
Publications & Acknowledgements
- BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
- Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
- Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
- Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
- Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
- Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
- Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
- Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
- Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
- Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
- Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
- Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. 2000. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books. (Acknowledged in)
- Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
- Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
- Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
- Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
- Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
- "Banking on his passion for Plath" by Melissa Davis Haller. UMW Today. Spring 2005.
- "Sylvia Plath's Three Women to be staged in London" by Alison Flood. The Guardian. 3 December 2008.
- "FBI files on Sylvia Plath's father shed new light on poet" by Dalya Alberge. The Guardian. 17 August 2012.
- "There Are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia Plath" by Ashley Fetters. The Atlantic. 11 February 2013.