01 April 2012

Sylvia Plath's Gravestone Vandalized

The following news story appeared online this morning:

HEPTONSTALL, ENGLAND (APFS) - The small village of Heptonstall is once again in the news because of the grave site of American poet Sylvia Plath. The headstone controversy rose to a fever pitch in 1989 when Plath's grave was left unmarked for a long period of time after vandals repeatedly chiseled her married surname Hughes off the stone marker. Author Nick Hornby commented, "I like Plath, but the controversy reaching its fever pitch in the 80s had nothing to do with my book title choice." Today, however, it was discovered that the grave was defaced but in quite an unlikely fashion. This time, Plath's headstone has had slashed-off her maiden name "Plath," so the stone now reads "Sylvia Hughes."

A statement posted on Twitter from @masculinistsfortedhughes (Masculinists for Ted Hughes) has claimed responsibility saying that, "We did this because as Ted Hughes' first wife, Sylvia deserves to be known by her married, legal name. We'd say more but r restricted by Twi". The update ends here, we presume, because of Twitter's 140 character limit. This is quite a bold move, and legions of Plath's fans around the globe will likely seek vengeance. An early sign of this retribution was spotted at a Waterstone's bookshop in Castle Street, Norwich, where all of Ted Hughes' books were defaced. The late poet laureate's name on the cover, spine and title page on all three of the stores copies of his books was redacted in black ink. Over it, in pink ink, is the word "MR. TED PLATH." British immigration was asked if Plath fan-site moderator Peter K Steinberg, who generally has too much free time on his hands, was in the country, as he would be a prime suspect, but they could neither confirm nor deny his whereabouts. Another scholar, Gail Crowther, has been detained and is reportedly uncooperative.

Attempts to contact Plath's British publisher, Faber, went unanswered. "No surprise there," commented one Plath scholar, who spoke under the condition of anonymity of not being named. Prompted by the news of the desecration of her father's books, the artist and writer Frieda Hughes, who we are lead to believe is the daughter of Ted Hughes, told a BBC reporter "This is an unfortunate occurrence, the behaviour of which I thought was left firmly behind in the last century." Hughes continued, "It's simply barbaric.As a result of the treatment of my father's books and that other issue [the desecration of her mother's gravestone], as Executor of my mother's Estate, I will be reissuing all of my mother’s books under her married name effective immediately. This way we can have all our books together on bookshelves. I just want us to be a family again." Hughes continued, "Those who have books by 'Sylvia Plath' are encouraged to return them to the publisher where they will be pulped. In return the good samaritans will be given, as a fair and even trade with no questions asked, copies of my own books which are most readily available."

In another Plath-related international news story, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently addressed the United Nations 4th Council to Appraise the Legitimacy of Literature in the English Dialect (UN-CALLED 4) and denied the existence of Sylvia Plath. Ahmadinejad, speaking through his interpreter Constantin, said, "They have created a myth in the name of Sylvia Plath." Ahmadinejad's stance on Plath as a myth is because she "used Holocaust imagery and metaphor to relate her personal suffering and we know that because the Holocaust never happened that her metaphorical suffering - whether it was an actual, congruent pain or merely a perceived appropriation - could not have happened either. Therefore Sylvia Plath did not exist." Ahmadinejad was then asked, "Who, then, wrote works attributed to Plath?" He privately smiled with a twinkle glistening in his eyes as if laughing at a joke, held out his thumb and index finger in the shape of a gun, and said, "Roy Rogers? Pchoo-Pchoo."


Caitlin said...

:( This is very sad, she'll always be Plath to me. Not Hughes, not at all.

thewrathofplath said...

Awful people. Also why is her grave so lifeless, if I lived near it I would plant piles of flowers and tend to them each day.

susanl said...

I was with you until I got to the Ahmadinejad section then belatedly realised the date...well played lads :)

P.H.Davies said...

Oh you kidder Peter! This is up there with your blog becoming all about Hughes! Good one!

Kristina Zimbakova said...

Hey wonderfully deadpan Peter. I miss the president of Israel in the story, who has a penchant for the statements of the quoted Iranian chap. But I've got no doubts he is on pins and needles and is about to retort any time now.
And I suggest Plathophiles throughout the word start signing a petition IMMEDIATELY for release of Gail Crowther.

Marion McCready said...

Lol, nice one Peter!

magiciansgirl said...

I've already begun printing "Free Gail Crowther" T-shirts & am in process of returning all my Plath books to Faber&Faber so I can get bright shiny new copies - thanks for the head's up.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Heh heh heh!

Julio, thank you for posting those commandments. I need to practice a few of them personally! Maybe not the "French daily" and certainly not the "stay sober"!


Melanie Smith said...

Again you made me laugh. I still remember being tricked last year, oh I w sucked in.

Right Mind Matters said...

Hysterical! It had me going too, but Ahmadinejad and the date persuaded me otherwise. Thanks for the word, "Plathophile," as I am certainly of that persuasion.

I'm writing a chapter on her in my book, tentatively called Rhymes and Delusions: Poetry, Neuroscience and the Creative Process. I have read most of her works, including the very illuminating journals and Letters Home. Now reading Rough Magic. Any suggestions from Peter and the group for the best things to read to understand her psyche, especially at the end? My work concentrates on atypical cerebral lateralization, which, along with genetic predisposition and early trauma, veers one towards poetry and the paranormal. See my Web site and blog if you are interested in this angle: www.carolebrooksplatt.com

Rehan Qayoom said...

Usually am not fooled but was by this one. It made me quite sad until about half-way through, I sussed it and checked the post date.

Anonymous said...

You totally fooled me! Up until the Frieda & pulping books part! Hahaha!

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Ha ha! I fell for it until I got to your name, and then I looked at the date of the post!

Well-played, my friend. ;-)

Boy, I would have been terribly upset to have finally gotten to England this June to visit that grave, and have the stone removed for rework!

Anonymous said...

I have just completed a disseration on Plath's grave and its elevation to the state of shrine and witnessed hundreds of people trooping to this "pilgrimage site"..sometimes a couple of hundred during a single month. During the past nine months of research I have never witnessed any vandalization of her grave, in fact I was astonished at the reverence with which all the tokens and objects on the grave were handled, nothing was ever stolen or defaced. I am angry and disappointed that such petty absurb expressions of politics should be targeted at Plath's headstone, using it like a dart board. I have taken over two hundred photographs of Plath's grave since last June which attests to the scrupulous not unscrupulous regard with which it is usually held. The lead lettering on the headstone can easily be replaced and wouldn't cost much and I am sure that the funding will be found from willing contributors like myself.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha, just saw the date..!! I blogged the last comment and admit that I hadn't read the entire posting..but at least it gave some food for thought!! If anyone is interested in the photographic collection I have of Plath's headstone and grave site, which regularly is festooned with a mosiac of pens, notes, stones,gifts and flowers,then I can post some on the site.

Right Mind Matters said...

I invite you all to read my new blog post on Hughes and Plath through the lens of Hughes's Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complet Being.


Nora Cook said...

Hilarious!!! Believed it right till the Freida part:) Even the twitter jocks were swallowed up in horror...HA!
Will visit the grave in july btw! :)

steve said...

This is quite funny, Peter �� Steve

Anna said...

Oh Peter, this post is just a gift that keeps on giving ;)
Even to such an extent that someone took it seriously and incorporated it along with the picture into an article in "The Oxford Student". ;)


Anna said...

And, they immediately removed it after I wrote them ;)

Rhea said...

Man, I thought even her daughter wouldn't stoop that low. What crummy people. Plath deserves to stay on all of the books. Hughes did nothing but cheat and abuse that poor woman. If he didn't burn those books, maybe Freida would've known better. Truly the most maddening event in history.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Rhea, this was an April Fool's Day blog post and was entirely made up. ~pks

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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.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • 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)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (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. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • 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. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • 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. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.