From: The Sunday Times March 29, 2010
Plath's girl to the defence of Hughes Richard Woods
THE daughter of poet laureate Ted Hughes has challenged the view that he destroyed her mother, Sylvia Plath, by his infidelity.
Frieda Hughes dismisses "myths" about her father's behaviour towards Plath, claiming his mother-in-law poisoned the poets' marriage.
The claim has sparked a literary row, with others who knew Hughes and Plath well disputing Frieda's view. Writing in The Sunday Times yesterday, to celebrate the decision to commemorate Hughes in Poets' Corner at London's Westminster Abbey, Frieda recounted how Plath's mother visited the couple and their two young children when they were living in Devon, southern England, in 1962. Plath's mother, Aurelia, tried to persuade Plath to take the children and flee back to the US, Frieda said.
"My maternal grandmother visited us . . . and, while my father was absent, tried to persuade my mother to go back to the States with her, taking my brother and me," Frieda wrote.
"The idea was that my father would arrive home to find the house empty, but it would be too late for him to get us back."
Although Plath took no such action, Frieda said her grandmother's "poison had struck home and my father was told to move out".
To highlight Aurelia as a malign influence in the marriage runs counter to the widely held view of Hughes's role in the tragic death of Plath. Feminists have long revered Plath as a martyr who was betrayed when Hughes began an affair with Assia Wevill.
Distraught and depressed, Plath wrote some of her most powerful poetry -- and then gassed herself in February 1963.
Further tragedy lay in wait for Hughes. In 1969, Wevill gassed herself and her daughter after being betrayed by him.
In defending her father, Frieda went against the recollections of others. Elizabeth Sigmund, a close friend of the couple in Devon, said: "I am extremely glad Ted is being honoured . . . he deserves it. But the marriage broke up because Ted was having an affair. You can't just skid round that."
Sigmund recalled how Plath was deeply hurt when Wevill rang hoping to speak to Hughes. When Plath answered, she tried to put on a man's voice.
"Sylvia came to me that very night she received the call from Assia, who pretended to be a man," Sigmund said. "She came bringing the baby (Nicholas, Frieda's brother) and saying, `He (Hughes) lied to me, he lied to me, he's become a little man'."
Although Sigmund accepted that Aurelia could be domineering, she rejected the suggestion that the poet's mother wanted to break up Plath's marriage. "More than anything, she wanted there to be a happy marriage."
Ronald Hayman, who wrote The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath, took a similar view. "When Aurelia arrived in Devon, she found Sylvia in a terrible state," he said. "If anything, she seems to have calmed Sylvia as much as possible."