Tuesday 25 October 2016

Feminists have abused my mother's suicide, says Sylvia Plath's daughter

A furious Frieda Hughes deplores the way her father, the poet Ted Hughes, was blamed by know-nothing 'outsiders'

Hannah Furness

Published 04/10/2015 | 02:30

CHILDHOOD HAPPINESS SHATTERED: Sylvia Plath, who later took her own life, with the children, Nicholas and Frieda
CHILDHOOD HAPPINESS SHATTERED: Sylvia Plath, who later took her own life, with the children, Nicholas and Frieda

Feminists who exploited the death of Sylvia Plath to accuse her husband Ted Hughes of mistreating her committed an "abuse" and a "horrible form of theft", the couple's daughter has said.

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Frieda Hughes, the eldest of Plath and Hughes's two children, said she had been "appalled" by the appropriation of her family's tragedy to suit a cause.

Appearing in her first television interview, Ms Hughes, a poet herself, said she deplored the judgment of "outsiders" who mistakenly believed that they had an insight into her family's life.

Ms Hughes was two years old when her mother committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30, while in the grip of depression.

The episode was described by Ms Hughes in a poem as "head in oven, orphaning children".

Her father, who later became poet laureate in England, went on to have a relationship with his mistress, Assia Wevill, who killed herself and the couple's child in the same way six years later.

The incidents, which left Ted Hughes unable to write his Crow collection, were taken up by furious feminists, who idolised Plath and accused her husband of having mistreated both women.

Ms Hughes will appear in her first television interview this month, where she shares memories and insight into her father's life.

Speaking in the documentary, to be broadcast later this week on BBC Two, she said the links made between the two deaths were a form of abuse in themselves.

"I was appalled that something that happened in 1963 could be carried forward," she told the programme-makers.

"What an easy way out for somebody to think, 'Yes, we're right, we have got the real story, we know what really happened and we are going to punish this complete stranger for something we weren't around to witness, we know nothing about, but we're the ones with the answer.'

"For outsiders - because that's what they are, outsiders - to make judgments that affect somebody in their life, for all of their life, is a sort of horrible form of theft. It's an abuse."

This is the first time that Plath's daughter has co-operated with programme-makers about her parents' lives, after the BBC set out to produce a complete overview of Ted Hughes's life, works and inspiration.

As one of the contributors, Ms Hughes also gave an insight into the lighter side of life as the daughter of two poets, from being taught how to skin a badger to finding her father's works in her O-level exam syllabus.

"I telephoned my father and said, 'You know, I have a bit of a problem, because you're on my syllabus'," she said.

"And he said, 'Well, that is marvellous! I can tell you what I meant! We can go through the poems together.'"

She told the programme he also offered to help her decipher the true meaning behind her mother's words, before the young Frieda had a change of heart.

"I said, 'If you tell me what you meant, actually the examiners might disagree with you and then they're going to fail me.

"And what if I then argue and I say, 'Yes, but I got it straight from the horse's mouth. In fact I live with the horse.' And then if you don't help me, they're going to think you did anyway. I actually can't win.'"

On another occasion, she told the programme, the famously country-loving Ted Hughes told his bemused young daughter he would teach her to skin a badger.

"He puts the badger on my lap, so I've got this dead badger on my lap," Ms Hughes recalled. "He gives me a knife, he says, 'Now, this is how you do it.' And he shows me how to skin a badger."

The programme, Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death, will also include interviews with his friends and family, and academics who have studied his life and works.

A spokesman for the BBC said: "By talking to those who bore witness to his life and work, the programme will seek to answer some of the questions that have for the past five decades haunted his legacy and his reputation."

It will be broadcast on BBC Two on October 10.

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