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Her Husband:Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath: A Marriage

About the Book

Her Husband:Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath: A Marriage

In 1955, the young American writer Sylvia Plath arrived in England on a Fulbright scholarship, where she soon met the struggling poet and Cambridge graduate Ted Hughes. They plunged into a marriage that would last just over six years, produce two children, and become one of the most sensationalized and scrutinized domestic partnerships of our time. Plath has since been acknowledged as one of the most important American poets of the last century. After her suicide, Hughes continued to write for more than forty years and, in spite of the enduring infamy of his scandalous personal life, became a lauded poet laureate of England. In Her Husband, Diane Middlebrook tracks the development of these two distinctive poetic voices. She uses an innovative approach, writing a balanced biography not just of the two individuals but of the enduring impact of the marriage itself, particularly on the writing life of the surviving partner, Ted Hughes.

Hughes and Plath were strong-willed, eminently creative, and brilliant individuals struggling to balance writing and love, family and new fame. In their years together they were emerging as writers, and the tension between working and family life was the central axis of their life together. In Plath, Middlebrook reveals a contemporary woman, fighting against tradition, seeking to conduct a fulfilling home life in the context of an engulfing artistic ambition. Plath's poetry, conventional in her youth, came to embrace anger and cultural taboos even as it reveled in motherhood and the feminine. Plath ingeniously used her own struggles, such as the psychiatric breakdown she suffered in college, as subjects rather than mere inspiration. Middlebrook reveals a complicated Plath, "a woman poet conscious of her status as a mother, ambitious to be the voice of her generation."

Hughes's poetic self emerged over many more years, as he struggled to realize the themes of his poetry, themes that had first emerged during his partnership with Plath. It was with Plath that he first realized the primal importance of the landscape of his childhood to his own personal and poetic mythology. That landscape, along with his interest in the occult and astrology, animals and their symbols, and his father's-and nation's-experience of war, would provide the subject matter of most of his writing, including work for the theater, for radio, and for children. Middlebrook shows how ideas about women as muses-influenced by Robert Graves's book The White Goddess-were reflected in his relationship with Plath and the many other women in his life. Hughes's journey as an individual culminated in his ultimate embrace of his autobiography-and of Plath's importance to his identity-in his final works, especially the bestselling Birthday Letters.

As a portrait of a marriage, Her Husband is necessarily focused on Hughes as he struggles with the enduring effects of those brief six and a half years. Middlebrook carefully draws out the links between life and work to explicate the intertwining of personal experience with creative expression. Hughes and Plath's marriage is one of the iconic collaborations of the twentieth century. Its tragic end, Plath's suicide, has resulted in their alliance often seeming like a story "forever simplifying itself into a tragedy and rushing towards its horrible ending." Middlebrook slows down that rush to the end, spending time on the intimate details of this famous marriage, and stressing the artistic exchange that led to work by both poets that has endured long past the moment of Plath's death. This brief coming together in love and work between Hughes and Plath became a dynamic literary inspiration, the fount of two important poetic oeuvres. In Her Husband, Middlebrook demonstrates that the poems of these great artists were to them not just works of literature, but also prophecies, cathartic performances, modes of resolution, and statements of fate.

Her Husband:Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath: A Marriage
by Diane Middlebrook

  • Publication Date: August 31, 2004
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0142004871
  • ISBN-13: 9780142004876