Slated for a mid-fall release, the upcoming film Ted and Sylvia is set to portray the turbulent yet brief marriage of poets Ted Hughes and Silvia Plath. Likely to stir up a decades-old debate tarred by extreme feminism, irrelevant issues of artistic merit, and the question of culpability for Plath’s tragic death at the age of thirty, it’s sure to be a buzz on the poetry geek circuit.
The romance of Plath and Hughes has perhaps become more legendary than even the poems that made their names worthy of recognition; it has become the stuff of myth, speculation, and even scholastics. Odd as it may seem – after all, aren’t most literary types and modern pop icons notorious for leading badly managed lives? – There are camps divided, and like passers-by twisting their necks to gape at a terrible auto wreck, parties otherwise not involved personally with either poet that have most definitely taken sides.
A precis of the relationship would read something like the following: bright American poet girl meets bright British poet boy while studying in England. They dig each other, hook up, get married, and squeeze out a couple of ankle-biters. As fate, or at the very least as gluttony would have it, bright British poet boy turns out to be one hell of a cheating man. Now, add to that equation the fact that bright American poet girl happens to be hopelessly plagued with incurable depression, and you’ve got a tragedy waiting to be written. Mr. Hughes, either unable to harness the burden of his bride’s unfortunate condition, or unwilling to take his wedding vows with serious due value, ditches bright American poet girl for presumably lower-maintenance other-girl. Bright American poet girl, emotionally unequipped to deal with such a loss, cranks up the oven gas and takes one to many whiffs on purpose. According to the feminists, it’s Ted Hughes’s fault. According to everybody else, Sylvia Plath was a fatal figure haunted by her own emotional demons who was destined for such a mournful end.
According to me, The Bell Jar made it all too clear that Sylvia Plath was hugely ill-equipped to deal with even the slightest of life’s struggles. Her work is stunning in its painful honesty to this point. Meanwhile, Ted Hughes has had to all but grow the very horns of the Devil from his own head to live down his reputation as Plath’s lone executioner. The man is a gifted poet whose work has been dismissed by unfair critics on this single point, while Plath has been trivialized as a ridiculous icon of women as the inevitable prey of a callous man, unable to forge our own destiny without our penis-of-choice standing by our side. Might I suggest that both points of view were wrong?
Ted Hughes, obsessively guarded and private when it came to the issue of his marriage with Sylvia Plath, bore all in 1998’s The Birthday Letters. This was a intense and exposed work where the man dared an attempt to exorcise a certain bad memory that, while only occupying a sum of six years, had haunted him for the most of his life. The fact that so many junkies of this sad and very personal saga felt that they were actually owed an explanation by Hughes, or that they deserved an insight into his deepest feelings over such a private matter is repulsive. The hyper-critical response is worthy of no more than contempt, if not very real vomit.
When Ted and Sylvia is released, no doubt the critics will bloom again in full. I just hope the film-makers have the sense to realize that neither one of these folks are around to defend themselves against bad attacks against their character these days. I hope that the saga that might be interpreted as typical soap opera fodder is treated with equal decency on the part of both of their memories. Only their readers can decide. Too bad most of the have an agenda.