My MA thesis revolved around Sylvia Plath’s work, where I discussed the autobiographical elements in prose, comparing The Bell Jar and her short stories to her personal journals and letters. It was a dark year for me, one that found me crawling under my own bell jar, convinced that I was better off alone rather than surrounded by my friends. I began to resent Plath, her personal essays soul-sucking, selfish, full of anger and hatred. I found solace in Ted Hughes’ poetry, her husband and the one person who caused so much of her pain, anger, and grief. His words made me feel like I was soaring while hers, once burnt into my heart as a shield we’re bringing me down with her spirit. For some reason her darkness didn’t jive with mine anymore, and I pushed her away. Last year I finally had the courage to read Ariel again, and found that raw beauty that has attracted me to her work in the first place, and cried because I had missed the place that she held in my heart. And then, just around that time I also read a long article detailing how violent Ted Hughes was with Plath, and it broke my heart. It had crossed my mind that it was strange that both of his wives committed suicide, but at the same time, Plath had been severely depressive before she ever met him, so while tragic, it wasn’t the first time she had attempted to end her life.
I don’t know why I didn’t dig deeper into Plath and Hughes’ marriage from an outsider’s standpoint. I think I was so immersed in her darkest moments and also the fake happy times she described in her letters home, that I forgot to take a larger step outside of her writing and look into what was probably obvious.
I’ve witnessed domestic violence through the eyes of a child and a young adult, I know the signs and I know the ways of hiding it. I also understand the trauma it creates. So why was I oblivious to the obvious signs that Plath gave us? It’s very possible I was too stuck under my own bell jar at that time that I didn’t look for the clues. And then I refused to read her work after I presented my thesis, dancing the stress of a whole year suffocating in anxiety away in a rain shower, promising myself that I would bury that year under a headstone. That year marked the end of academia for me, once the only route I envisioned for myself, because I realized that track was not for me anymore. I probably should have taken that year as a sign that I needed to do a lot of processing for myself, but burying it down was easier. I continued to turn to Ted Hughes though, finding some peace in his words, searching through his 1998 collection of poems entitled The Birthday Letters for some possible insight into Plath and suicide. My own experience of parental suicide definitely clouded my thoughts on Plath (“how on earth could she have done that while her kids were at home?!”), and possibly also my own depressive state that has a tendency to reappear from time to time, unexpectedly.
But why was it so hard for me to see Ted Hughes for who he really was? To understand that one can be a talented human being, capable of writing a most beautiful story of love and passion, but also a monster, a predator? I feel that Polanski receives the same treatment (and I have been guilty of this too in the past, even writing on here about my favorite Polanski movies back in 2011, neatly pushing what I actually thought about him as a person aside). I never had this issue with Woody Allen though: he always seems to fill me with disgust, however talented he may be, probably because I’ve never been a fan of his work. Nowadays, however, I find it difficult to separate both entities: artist and human, human and artist. As more and more people are being revealed as perpetrators of harassment, abuse, and assault it’s on all of us to recognize and call out those who abuse others, because if we don’t then who else is going to stop them? Look at Terry Richardson; he was basically given free rein to prey on young models, because to be photographed by him could also be your catapult to fame. Weinstein used his power to get whatever he wanted from people, assaulting so many women the final numbers will most likely be in the 100’s. It happens everywhere though. There was a man at a company I used to work at who I always avoided like the plague because he gave off major predator vibes. I found out that a few years later he assaulted someone and I guess it never went to court (not sure on the real story as I can’t find any legal documentation online). In any case although he doesn’t seem to work for the company anymore they still quashed the story, and this company is lead by a woman.
And now Kevin Spacey, with another PR spin to it. “Oh I’m sorry I was drunk, it was 30 years ago, oh and I guess I had better come out now so let’s talk about that instead people!”
It’s just everywhere.
And I strongly feel that if we give one person a pass because they may have a certain talent that we admire, then we are just giving the rest of them a pass too. The young girl in me tells me that even if I couldn’t speak up back then I can now. We ALL can. We no longer need to tolerate this crap, these feelings of shame and anger. We no longer have to hide our feelings. Because if we don’t act now, we will just continue to be directed by predators who are so sure of their power they won’t care whether we know about their crimes or not. Let’s never forget who the current president of the US is.
We are coming to the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I have been writing about a lot of things in regards to this, as well as sexual assault and abuse over the past few months. A lot of it is very triggering for me, but also very enlightening. We CAN start putting an end to this, by standing proud, and giving those who cannot yet speak about their pain a voice. We can also stop giving abusers a free pass, a slap on the hand and a get out of jail free card. And we can show our children that they don’t have to live in silence, be subjected to any kind of abuse or harassment, as well as teaching them what respect and consent mean. No Ted Hughes, you don’t get a free pass anymore. I don’t care how much your poetry moved me before, now your words just fall flat in a dank bucket of drain water.
(Just as I was about to post this I googled Plath and abuse and found this gem of an article by Emily Van Duyne – I wish I hadn’t given up on my teenage idol so fast, just like so many of her contemporaries did. One day I will type up my thesis again, the floppy disc it was on lost somewhere in my moves. I’m still pretty proud of it).