Guide Letters of Ted Hughes

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We grow up slowly, but, it appears, with a bang. Anyhow, Ted came back. It occurred to me almost immediately that he felt a lot worse than I did.

Not sorry-worse. Bored, bored, bored.

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Pictured are Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes in , the year they married. These previously unpublished letters show the heartbreak the poet was feeling during the split. She literally moved into our London flat after we left! Well, the old girl has done me a big favor. But coming from a distance, from a space, a mutual independence. Ironically, this great shock purged me of a lot of old fears. I feel very elated. He told me the truth about the femme fatale. It is all back. I really did believe it was the Worst Thing that could happen, Ted being Unfaithful; or next worst to his dying.

Now I am actually grateful it happened, I feel new. I have no desire for other men.

Reviewed by Marjorie Perloff

Ted is one in a million. Sex is so involved with me in my admiration for male intelligence, power and beauty that he is simply the only man I lust for.

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I know men feel differently about sex, but I thought they, too, were capable of deep and faithful love. The thought of Ted making physical love to them, registering them under my name in hotels, letting all the people we know see this, hurts and nauseates me horribly. And the children who so delighted me are like little miasmas, crying for daddy. I have been at a nadir, very grim, since my last letter to you.

What, above all, does Ted think I am? His mother? A womb? What can I do to stop him seeing me as a puritanical warden?

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I realise now he considered I might kill myself over this as did the wife of someone we knew and what he did was worth it to him. The real crux to me now is what to do about the Other Woman business. Am I an idiot to think that there is some purpose in being bodily faithful to the person you love? In riding through infatuations without always indulging yourself, if you know it hurts someone? I mean, my pleasure in love-making is spoiled by thinking: is he comparing my hair to this one, my shape to that one, my talents to the other?

How can I have any self-respect? It humiliates me. He hates me to be tearful, but my god, the prospect of this makes me cry. When I think he wants to follow every infatuation into bed, shall I just let him? This is what freedom, it seems, means to him. I am not beautiful. The couple had two children, Frieda and Nicholas, before their divorce. Sylvia wrote: 'I am bloody, raw, nerves hanging out all over the place, because I have had six stormy but wonderful years, bringing both of us, from nothing, books, fame, money, lovely babies, wonderful loving, but I see now that the man I loved as father and husband is just dead'.

And he does genuinely love us. He says now he dimly thought this would either kill me or make me, and I think it might make me.

'More life than a wood-full of cats'

And him, too. What I also need is wisdom for him. He takes a lot of understanding. He is, I am sure, a genius.

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A really great writer, a handsome and great man. I have been so hurt this week I feel like upchucking at the thought of his laying about with other women just this minute. But I would like to be able to cope with this again, if it came up. If he needed to test his freedom, to test me. And believe me, women are dying to get their hands on him.

And on me, too. I have come to this country town because Ted said it was his dream — apples, fishing, peace, clean air, etc etc. But I am damned if I want to sit here like a cow, milked by babies. I love my children, but want my own life.

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I refuse the role of passive, suffering wife. I think your advice about not having any more children for years a good one. He says this means travel, not tarts, but I feel naturally now the two go together. And I feel wasted. Your letter came today, at a most needed moment, and I feel the way I used to after our talks — cleared, altered, renewed. I am really asking your help as a woman, the wisest woman emotionally and intellectually, that I know. You are not my mother, but you have been midwife to my spirit. The end — the end for me at least — just blew up this week. I have been very stupid, a bloody fool, but it only comes from my thinking Ted could grow up, and my wanting to give us a new and better and wider start.

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I was prepared for almost anything — his having the odd affair, traveling, getting drunk — if we could be straight, good friends, share all the intellectual life that has been meat and drink to me. I was ready for this, to settle for something much different and freer than what I had thought marriage was, or what I wanted it to be. Even our professional marriage — the utterly creative and healthy critical exchange of ideas and publication projects and completed work — meant enough to me to try to save it.

But Ted made even this impossible, and I am appalled. I am bloody, raw, nerves hanging out all over the place, because I have had six stormy but wonderful years, bringing both of us, from nothing, books, fame, money, lovely babies, wonderful loving, but I see now that the man I loved as father and husband is just dead. I realize, stunned, that I do not like him. Although he is handsome, I can hardly look at him, I see such ugliness. After the first blow-up, Ted came home and said the affair was kaput.