Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes

I started reading this at the beginning of August, as a way to escape my real life. Obviously, that's part of why we read in general, but in this case, my desire was to enter the artistic, academic, passionate, disturbing relationship of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. I could not finish the book, exactly for the reason that I picked it up in the first place.

I am not a knee-jerk anti-Hughes feminist, although there were obviously better-behaved husbands in the world. I am not even terribly upset by his mythmaking around his wife, because I get it--he wanted Plath to be remembered as an artist, not someone who struggled with being a woman and an artist. Plath may have wanted to be remembered that way too. Expecting an ex-husband (or partner or child or parent) to remember a person as s/he actually was is, perhaps, asking too much. So if Hughes remembers Plath as a flighty, artistic bird, a candle that burnt bright but not long, I know that he is being condescending, sexist, etc., but I can't hate him for that. I only pity him.

The poetry itself is good, but so saturated in Plath, that I wanted to constantly run to her diaries or Ariel to compare. Feminist Americans will never be able to appreciate Hughes on his own--he is overwhelmed by the shadow of his ex-wife.

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