Sylvia Plath’s drawings

‘ can
I accuse
Ted Hughes
of what the entire British and American
literary and critical establishment
has been at great lengths to deny
without ever saying it in so many words, of course,
the murder of Sylvia Plath…’ (Robin Morgan)

Not many people knew that Sylvia Plath was a talented artist. London’s Mayor Gallery showed her drawings for the first time. If Ted Hughes could paint or draw, the world would have known about it decades ago.

Sylvia was sent to a psychiatric hospital. She received electric shock treatment for months. It is so hard to believe a talented poet and artist like Sylvia Plath was mentally sick. She was different from others. She was more intelligent as well as sensitive than others. That was probably a good reason to accuse her of being crazy. Ted claimed Sylvia’s suicide was inevitable. But many people do not think it was inevitable. Ted’s behavior particularly his decision to leave her for other woman after six years of marriage, pushed her over the brink! Yes, it did.

Ted destroyed Sylvia’s last journals which contained entries from the winter of 1962 up to her death in February 1963. Ted wrote, ‘I destroyed her journals because I did not want her children to read it.’ What did Sylvia write that Ted did not want her children to read? We all can guess Sylvia wrote about Ted and about Ted and about Ted, not about the Ted everybody knew as a wonderful poet but about the Ted Sylvia knew as an abusive husband. Writers and poets are against censorship, they believe in freedom of expression but Ted’s acts did not prove that he believed in freedom of expression. I so much wish to read Sylvia Plath’s journals that were destroyed by Ted Hughes, one of the twentieth century’s greatest English poets.

Nicholas Hughes, the son of Plath and Hughes, killed himself. Did he get his mother’s depression genes! You may say so. But I wonder, why Ted’s second wife Assia Wevill and their four year old daughter Shura Wevill committed suicide exactly the same way Sylvia committed suicide using a gas oven! Is it just coincidence or Ted killed them all?


  1. teh_faust says

    “A mentally ill patient could not write the poems Sylvia wrote.”

    I have to admit I’m not familiar with what she wrote and I most certainly don’t want to condone the horrendous practices in earlier psychiatry.

    But this quote just strikes me as so incredibly wrong. I am fairly certain that mental illness doesn’t need to make people incapable of creating beautiful, insightful and lasting things.
    In fact, it needn’t keep people from being high achievers in any respect.

    It’s unforgivable to declare someone mentally ill just in order to shut them up and so I agree with the message of the post.
    But so is using an actually existing mental illness as an excuse to shut someobody up.

  2. Taru Dutt says

    Taslima – again you are writing about Westerners without taking the permission of great white masters such as Tigerloaf and Gorbachev!!! When will you realize that we need their permission before we can say certain things? They and their like are the imams and puruths of the Western world. Only when they allow it, can we speak our inferior brown minds freely.

    Of course, these great white male imams have assumed that you have no right to speak about white women and white culture, this being their domain. They thought they could cut you down to size by their rudeness and thinly disguised racist condescension. Pity – it’s not working.

    Roar, sister, roar. Say what you want, and sucks to these self-styled imams of a different stripe, but with the same desire to censor and control that you’ve just pointed out in Ted Hughes. The destroying of his late wife’s journals was indeed a despicable act.

    Now, like good brown slaves, let us wait for Gorbachev, one of the other “non-racist” imams here, to come and dictate to us what we may say or not say, analyze or not analyze, discuss or not discuss.

    And these people claim to be for freedom of speech and thought. Only the kind THEY want, I guess.

  3. Taru Dutt says

    Interesting that Tigerloaf, the Western imam here (and there are quite a few others) to protect the great Western culture from the silly tirades of inferior brown slaves – oops, women, had nothing to say about the quote from American poet Robin Morgan with which you opened your blog post. Why didn’t he? Because all his attention seemed to have been taken up with getting his knickers in a knot at your audacity – you dared to talk of Western cultural flaws, while being brown. THAT was unforgivable. You had to be punished with a verbal tirade. You had to be shown your place.

    Instead of noting that you had quoted a celebrated American feminist poet who was also questioning and seeking to re-examine the trauma of Sylvia Plath, and that therefore you obviously knew a bit about poetry, female poetry, and so on – he hastened to verbally browbeat you. CAN’T be non-white and criticize whites. NOT allowed. Keep to your ghetto, uppity brown person.

    These sort of people are racists. Pure and simple. There is really no kinder or truer way to put it. Racists. Period.

    • says

      Except that Tigerloaf’s criticism was quite accurate, in that he was objecting to the statement “A mentally ill patient could not write the poems Sylvia wrote.” Obviously, given the large list of poets who committed suicide. Pointing out a legitimate flaw in reasoning is not censoring, oppression, or racism. It’s called a “discussion.” You seem to be the only one here who has been acting racist.

      Hell, the worst Gorbachev did was point out that Taslima might not understand the intricacies of Western culture due to being raised in a very different culture. Culture. Not “race.” Unless you think people who criticize Islam are, in fact, being racist. But, hey, maybe you’ve never heard of “culture shock.” It exists. People of one culture, whatever it may be, often don’t understand the complexities of other cultures. This is to be expected regardless of “race.”

      I hope with that cleared up, you will begin debating people with whom you disagree with good faith, rather than derailing any meaningful conversation with baseless accusations. I, and I’m sure many others, would be much more interested in hearing your actual opinions and reasoning.

  4. Paul Durrant says

    Below are my comments on your article.

    Perhaps more interesting (to me, if to no-one else) would be why I felt I had to comment. I’m not really sure. I believe I would have wanted to comment on this article whoever had written it. But I can’t be certain of that – who of us understands all our motivations?

    Anyway, since your article seems to have been intended to start a conversation, I’ve finally decided to post this.

    I knew, in general, about Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Your article prompted me to look a little deeper into the matter, which was interesting.

    Ted Hughes was an unfaithful husband and lover. But if he was abusive as well as unfaithful, it seems odd that his second wife stayed with him for 28 years until his death.

    Sylvia Plath was severely ill with clinical depression, and attempted suicide on at least one occasion, before she met Ted Hughes. So we can’t blame Hughes for her depressive nature.

    I find it very easy to believe that a talented poet had severe depression (for which ECT was a standard treatment, and even today is used when all else fails).

    I don’t think we’ll ever have proof or disproof of any physical or mental abuse (apart from the lack of faithfulness) in their relationship.

    You think he was an abusive husband. He might have been. I think we can’t know, but if I had to make a guess, I think he wasn’t.

    Destroying the journals was, I agree, unforgivably wrong.

    Your final dichotomy is a false one. The manner of the second suicide was obviously not a coincidence, but that doesn’t mean that “Ted killed them all”.

      • Roger says

        Shura Wevill didn’t kill herself. She was murdered by her mother.
        There’s a biography of Wevill, A Lover of Unreason: the Life and Tragic Death of Assia Wevill, by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, which discusses her life and death. It is pretty plain that Wevill, like Plath, had the sort of personality and background that makes suicide more likely. It is also pretty plain that Hughes was attracted to women who had that sort of personality- or, rather, with other qualities that often go along with such personalities. It’s also likely that what Hughes and what he offered, the ‘magic’ of a poet/shaman as partner/spouse, may have been particularly attractive to people with such problems. That’s aside from the complications caused by the poetic ambitions of Hughes, Plath and Wevill. Coal gas, used in England in the 1960s and used by both Plath and Wevill to kill themselves, was the most easily available and most effective way of killing oneself available at the time.
        Hughes undoubtedly had some responsibility for Plath and Wevill and for their deaths but to speak of ‘murder’ in either case is nonsense

    • says

      “But if he was abusive as well as unfaithful, it seems odd that his second wife stayed with him for 28 years until his death.”

      Yea, totally. Why ever would woman being abused be afraid to leave her abuser? Checkmate, feminists!

  5. says

    It is difficult to explain Sylvia Plath’s suicide because as with many suicides there are so many different factors in play. I try to sort it all out again in AMERICAN ISIS: THE LIFE AND ART OF SYLVIA PLATH. St. Martin’s Press will publish the book in late January 2013, marking the 50th annniversary of Plath’s death on February 11, 1963. I doubt my narrative will please everyone, but at least it is a new account based on archival material previous biographers did not see and on fresh interviews.

  6. says

    The issue of responsibility for another’s suicide is a difficult one. Abuse can certainly push one to believe that there is no escape except through death, and a pre-existing mental illness will exacerbate that belief.

    Was Assia Wevill mentally ill? We may never know. She may never have been disgnosed, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t ill. There is evidence that nearly aall suicides (in western culture) are commited by people who are mentally ill.

    Having said all that, by most accounts, Hughes was a real shit of a man.

    Paul D. – Hughes and Wevill were only together for six years. She killed herself when Hughes moved on to someone new. After that, he did his best to ipretend she had never existed.

    Btw Taslima, thanks for the heads up on Plath the artist. I remember reading that she ‘sketched’, but I had no idea she wa so talented.

    • says

      We will never see again the exhibition of her drawings. All are now sold to different people. Her daughter did not keep anything but the drawing of Ted Hughes. If I were Sylvia’s daughter I would never sell any of her drawings. You want to say Assia was probably mentally ill. What about the child? Was four years old Shura also mentally ill! You know what? I think among all of them it was Ted who was mentally ill. He was a poet cum serial killer.

      • Roger says

        ‘If I were Sylvia’s daughter I would never sell any of her drawings.
        You aren’t Plath’s- and Hughes’s- daughter, so you’re in no position to say what you would do or- by implication- what she should have done.

        ‘I think among all of them it was Ted who was mentally ill. He was a poet cum serial killer.’
        Well, Hughes’s own theories of poetry- which were very like Plath’s, in fact- involved a load of nonsense about ‘black gods’ and ‘white goddesses’ but do you really think he crept up on Plath and Wevill and somehow held them down and turned on the gas andleft them to die? That he literally, physically, killed them? If not, you are exaggerating Hughes’s part and diminishing Plath’s and Wevill’s own parts in their own lives and deaths- turning them into appendages to Hughes.
        A better poet than Plath or Hughes asked:

        Must men stand by what they write
        As by their camp-beds or their weaponry
        Or shell-shocked comrades as the sag and cry?

        You- and probably Hughes as well- answer ‘yes’. A poet’s works and a poet’s responsibilities- anyone’s works and responsibilities- are more complicated than that.

        • says

          I do not think Ted literally, physically, killed his two wives and a daughter. But I believe that he abused them so much,made them feel so small and insignificant and worthless that they didn’t hesitate to kill themselves.

          • Roger says

            You’re assuming- again- that Shura Wevill chose to die. What makes you think that?
            By ‘abused his two wives’, do you mean that Hughes physically attacked them? Is there any evidence for it? If not, we are discussing the interactions of three intelligent, complicated and flawed people with- in the case of Hughes and Plath- very strange theories of poetic inspiration and the price they were willing to pay for it.
            What makes you think Plath felt ‘so small and insignificant’ when she killed herself? She was writing extra-ordinary poems- poems which many people think made the earlier poems she and Hughes had written look insignificant- in fact, the difference between the elation of writing poetry like that and dealing with two small children in a small flat in the worst winter for many years may have made life outside her poetry seem even worse. Philip Larkin thought that Plath’s depression and her later poetry were interconnected- that they fed off each other- and wondered if the price was worthwhile.
            Wevill wasn’t Hughes’s wife. That was one of the things that worried her about their relationship- that he hadn’t married- woudn’t marry- her. She had literary hopes, but she wasn’t as obsessed as Hughes or Plath, and she was someone who would worry about marriage so she probably accepted her husbands’ or lovers’ valuation of her and valued herself by their importance- indeed, she seems to have made a career out of upwardly mobile marriage before she met Hughes- but she was over forty, worried about losing her beauty and attractiveness to men and without other wats to identify herself when she killed herself.
            An actuary, given their family and personal histories before they met Hughes, would assess both Plath and Wevill as well above average in their chances of killing themselves. This doesn’t excuse Hughes, who- in his early life, at least- seems to have thought poetic dedication meant he could do whatever he wanted without regard for other people, but to claim he ‘murdered’ Wecill and Plath diminishes their own autonomy and- especially in Plath’s case- her own identity and ability to choose.

  7. says

    The four year old’s death was definitely the result of murder. Whether Assia was mentally ill or not, I have no idea. If she took her own life and that of her child, she likely was. If Hughes abused her, and she committed suicide, then he is certainly responsible for her death. However, determining that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ would be difficult.

  8. Theo says

    Thank you for editing your post to reflect the earlier comments re: mental illness. Mental illness, artistic talent, and great intelligence are in no way mutually exclusive; in fact, in many people, they converge. I’m a little troubled by your insistence that Hughes’ later wife was /not/ mentally ill; of course I’m not saying she was, but that’s not a thing that someone completely unconnected from a person can say about them posthumously. You can’t always tell even about people you know personally. In addition, it’s not a BAD THING to have a mental illness; it doesn’t mean one is morally deficient or an ogre.

    • says

      Of course not. It is not a bad thing to have a mental illness. But it is a bad thing to tell other people have mental illnesses, only because we are not able to justify their actions.

      • Theo says

        Well, I realize it’s probably not your intent, but it seems like you’re flinging around the “mentally ill” label like a weapon. Instead of the surrounding stigma, you’ve identified mental illness itself as the monster. You “defended” Plath and Wevill against “accusations” of mental illness, because obviously they could not have been, they were so good and gentle and talented and sensitive, and must be protected against the stain of mental sickness. Then you turn that label back onto Hughes, whom you clearly dislike–please understand, I’m not attempting to defend his character here; from everything I’ve heard, he was quite a nasty man. But the implication in this post is that Hughes was nasty and abusive and unlikable and a liar, and was therefore mentally ill.

        I do want to thank you, though, for sharing some of Plath’s sketches; I hadn’t seen them before and they’re so gorgeous.

  9. says

    An interesting thought. I don’t know if the idea of Ted Hughes killing Sylvia Plath has any more weight than most conspiracy theories, however. I’m disinclined to believe until someone presents actual evidence rather than simply “Well, it looks kind of suspicious and it feels right, so it must have happened that way.” It’s the same reasoning as the Moon landing deniers, the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists, and UFO believers, and, I’m afraid, the same amount of hard evidence. Which is to say none.

    Still, as an artist, myself, I greatly appreciate the sketches. She definitely had some skill. Pity that her work isn’t more well known. Really, it’s a pity she didn’t make more work. Such is the unfortunate fate of the great artists, it seems.

  10. Fay Green says

    From the Bell Jar it is clear as crystal that the last thing Sylvia Plath should do would be to marry. To marry and/or have children. She wanted to be the arrow. Not the place where the arrow came from. The Bell Jar curtails swiftly. You are not sure if Esther (six letters, Sylvia) is going to strike out successfully, or relapse. It is left fragile, friable, an unknowable ending. Now we know. It has NOTHING to do with Ted Hughes.

    What I cannot forgive him for is destroying part of her work. Maybe she ranted against him, why, of course she did but what an insignificant thing in the wider history. Its like destroying part of shakespeare’s writings. Something was created, something was destroyed. Her journals, her work to me, seem like a continuous suicide note. An explanation. Meant to be read. What Ted Hughes destroyed was meant to be read. By him, by us, by her children (i assume this from Slyvia’s lioness courage, holding back nothing), by generations to come. An insular, demeaning act of vandalism, for paltry reasons. He could have sent them to an attorney or the British Library with instructions to publish at a 2050 or later date. It was self protectionism and small mindedness. Sylvia’s explanations, her voice throughout her life, was dedicated to us, the big wide world. Badly done, for that. Ted Hughes.

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