July 11, 2020

Sylvia Plath is not a 'souvenir' | Culture


In the first episode of the highly recommended Happy Valley, a very powerful series of police station that could go through Mike Leigh's movie in installments, appears the tomb of Sylvia Plath. It is surrounded by pens and the surname Hughes appears partially erased, as it is in reality. The series takes place in the not so pleasant and much less not as dangerous as we imagine English countryside. In particular, in the place from which its creator, Sally Wainwright, West Yorkshire, that is, Halifax and its surroundings. A handful of gray streets – it's an industrial city, for years it was devoted to the wool industry – in the midst of an exultant perpetually wet green. The first thing I asked myself when I saw Sylvia Plath's grave in the middle of a tiny cemetery, surrounded by a lot of other tombs of, for sure, former inhabitants of that little village, little Heptonstall, was what the hell was she doing there. Had not he died in London? Was not born in the United States?

To find the answer, it is enough to dive a little into your family history and connect the ends. When the poet died (1963), Ted Hughes, his ex-husband, was still alive, he did not die until 1998, and, although by then they were already separated (they had separated only a year earlier, Plath was in a deep depression, all the world knows the story of his head in the oven and children's breakfast prepared), was still the closest thing to a close relative he had, and the one in charge of deciding where his remains should rest. Hughes, who had been born in West Yorkshire, chose Heptonstall with the intention of visiting his grave often, since it was the place to which he always returned, around which everything revolved. To the fans, I discovered, it did not sit well for them to do so. After all, he was the bad guy in that movie. He had left her, and she had not been able to bear it, had committed suicide and had been trapped forever in her universe.

The poet defended himself by assuring that Plath had never wanted to return to America. The fact is that, who knows if feeling guilty, he went looking for a bunch of seashells on Devon Beach, where they had lived together, and placed them on the grave. But they soon disappeared. Obviously, Hughes was very upset. And not just because of the shells business, but because of the feeling that, when he became a legend, his ex-wife had become public domain, and his followers felt, in some way, owners of the tortured soul that not only Hughes had not been able to save but, as everything pointed out, had pushed to the grave. The poet was terribly upset until his death, and today continues to bother, to the point of becoming a poetic weapon, his daughter, the only one who has survived the collapse of the family – his brother Nicholas committed suicide in 2009 -, Frieda .

Silvia Plath along with Ted Hughes, in 1959.
Silvia Plath along with Ted Hughes, in 1959.

Frieda Hughes was two years old when her mother died and grew up in the shadow of a multiple-owned ghost. Then she grew up, she also became a poet and began to write poems that talked about how her mother's fans used their mother to exorcise their demons. In one of them, Mother, even talks about the movie that starred Gwyneth Paltrow, simply called Sylvia. Writes Frieda: "It has occurred to them to make a film / for those unable / to imagine their body, their head in the oven […] Then they will rewind it / to watch it die / again and again […]" In the poem, Frieda imagines the spectators returning home with a piece of her dead mother as if carrying a souvenir. It is the idea of ​​the idealization of his death that Frieda does not support, because he had nothing ideal. In any case, let's face it, the daughter of Sylvia Plath is still alive (she is 58 years old) and is a poet. Why has not anyone been interested in his poetry in Spain? Maybe the lack of interest is giving him the reason.

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