'Dearest Teddy' / Sylvia Plath's love letters to Ted Hughes published for the first time
'Dearest Teddy': Sylvia Plath's love letters to Ted Hughes published for the first time
22 SEPTEMBER 2017 • 10:00PM
Fifteen passionate love letters from Sylvia Plath to Ted Hughes are to be published for the first time, throwing new light on one of the most famous marriages of the 20th century.
Plath wrote the letters when she was studying at Cambridge University, fresh from their honeymoon. They had been apart for a few days, a separation she described as “this huge whistling hole in my guts and heart”.
Her love for him spills from the pages. “I am all for you, and you are that world in which I walk,” she wrote.
“I think if anything ever happened to you, I would really kill myself…”
The letters have been in the private collection of Frieda Hughes since her father’s death in 1998, unknown even to Plath scholars.
She has chosen to release them for inclusion in The Letters of Sylvia Plath, a comprehensive collection of the writer’s correspondence from childhood onwards, published by Faber later this month.
In the foreword to the book, Frieda Hughes writes that her parents “are as married in death as they once were in life”.
Over the course of three weeks in October 1956, Plath wrote daily to her “Dearest Teddy” (or, as she sometimes called him, her “Dearest Teddy-ponk”).
The couple were living apart as Plath had begun her second year at Cambridge University, leaving Hughes in Yorkshire, where they had visited his parents after a blissful honeymoon in Spain.
They had wed secretly in June after a whirlwind courtship, and Plath worried that the authorities would withdraw her Fulbright scholarship if they learned she was married.
Fierce outpourings of love are mixed in with the domestic detail of student life - trips to the launderette, plans for tutorials, breakfasts of toast and Nescafe, suppers of cream crackers and cheap wine.
“I drank the last of the vinagery chilean burgundy and I love you,” she wrote, the night she arrived back in Cambridge to an empty room.
She told him: “I love you more than the whole gibbering world which owes its existence & worth - if it has any - to your being in it...” and: “I miss you like hell, because somehow I can’t bear being with people who aren’t you…”
As the days went by, her longing for him became almost unbearable, and the language foretold darker times ahead.
“I honestly believe that by some mystic uniting we have become one flesh; I am simply sick, physically sick, without you. I cry; I lay my head on the floor; I choke, hate eating; hate sleeping, or going to bed… I am living in a kind of death-in-life…”
"You must scold me, beat me, help me. This gift of creative passion I've somehow been blessed with is now ironically turning in on itself and blighting me..."
“Teddy I love you so it is simply murdering me…”
The tone changes when she speaks excitedly of their respective careers, encouraging Hughes in his work and sharing the “wonderful and incredible” news that her poems are to be published.
Hughes has been demonised by devotees of Plath, who blame him for her suicide. In February 1963, aged 30, she killed herself as her young children lay sleeping in the next room.
But in the foreword, Frieda Hughes writes: “It has always been my conviction that the reason my mother should be of interest to readers at all is due to my father, because, irrespective of the way their marriage ended, he honoured my mother’s work and her memory by publishing Ariel, the collection of poems that launched her into the public consciousness, after her death.
“He, perhaps more than anyone, recognised and acknowledged her talent as extraordinary. Without Ariel, my mother’s literary genius might have gone unremarked forever. Although, by ensuring her work got the attention it surely deserved, my father also initiated the castigation that was to hound him for the rest of his life.”
Earlier this year, a series of confidential letters from Plath to her psychiatrist, Dr Ruth Barnhouse came to light, in which she alleged that Hughes was physically and psychologically abusive in the last years of their marriage. Hughes’s widow, Carol, said the claims were “as absurd as they are shocking to anyone who knew Ted well”. Those letters are the subject of legal action over their rightful ownership.
A second volume will cover the marriage and the years leading up to Plath’s death.
Volume one includes hundreds of letters from Plath to her mother, Aurelia; to schoolfriends and college roommates; and to the men she dated before falling in love with Hughes.
The book begins with a letter to her father, Otto, written in coloured pencil, when she was seven years old. It ends with her writing to Peter Davison, editor at Atlantic Monthly. “I am convinced,” she tells Davison, “that there will be a market for a woman lyric poet…”