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Listen to a rare interview with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

Listen to a rare joint interview with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

(Credits: Far Out / Giovanni Giovannetti / Grazia Neri)


American writer Sylvia Plath was one of the most prominent poets of the 20th century, known for her confessional style of writing, which has resonated with readers for decades since. Through her poems and stories, Plath explored themes such as her struggles with depression and her experiences of motherhood to the very end. In fact, she wrote one novel, The Bell Jar, which was released in the United Kingdom just one month before her suicide in 1963. 

Her passing at 30 years old remains one of the most tragic literary deaths of the 20th century, with Plath gassing herself while her young children slept in another room. The writer faced severe mental health issues for most of her life, yet these struggles were exacerbated when she discovered her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, was having an affair. Letters to her therapist also revealed that Hughes was mentally and physically abusive, reportedly beating her two days before she miscarried their second child. 

The pair met at a party in Cambridge in 1956, with Plath recalling in a rare interview with the BBC in 1961, “I happened to be at Cambridge. I was sent there by the [US] government on a government grant. And I’d read some of Ted’s poems in this magazine and I was very impressed and I wanted to meet him,” she said. “Then we saw a great deal of each other. Ted came back to Cambridge and suddenly we found ourselves getting married a few months later… We kept writing poems to each other.”

From the outside, the couple seemed to have an ideal relationship, inspiring each other creatively, both rising to become two of the most significant writers of their generation. However, Hughes began an affair with Assia Wevill in 1962, which crushed Plath, who loved him intensely. She once wrote in her journal: “How we need another soul to cling to, another body to keep us warm. To rest and trust; to give your soul in confidence: I need this, I need someone to pour myself into.”

In the same BBC interview, Hughes discussed their relationship, but little did he know how tragically it would end just two years later. He was asked whether their relationship and career as writers came into “conflict” or were “parallel” with each other. He explained: “We’re very alike — we like the same things, live at the same tempo, have the same sort of rhythm in almost every way. But obviously this is a very fortunate covering for temperaments that are extremely different. But they lead secret lives, you see — they content themselves in an imaginative world, so they never really come into open conflict.”

Hughes also explained how they aided each other creatively. He said: “What she writes out needn’t be at all the contents of her own mind — it needn’t be anything she knows — but it’s something that somebody in the room knows, or somebody that she’s very close to knows. And, in this way, two people who are sympathetic to each other and who are right, who are compatible in this sort of spiritual way, in fact make up one person — they make up one source of power, which you both use and you can draw out material in incredible detail from the single shared mind.”

He continued: “It’s not that you choose the same things to write about, necessarily, and you certainly don’t write about them in the same way — it’s that you draw on an experience, it’s as though you knew more about something than you, from your own life, have ever really learned. It’s a complicated idea to get across, because you’ve first of all to believe in this sort of telepathic union exists between two sympathetic people.”

Tragically, Plath found herself unable to take Hughes’ behaviour any longer, killing herself in 1963. Strangely, Wevill also similarly killed herself in 1969 due to her treatment at the hands of Hughes, who was similarly unfaithful and domineering.

Listen to the interview below. 

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