Newly released by the British Library archive, and published in the New Statesman, Ted Hughes’ poem “Last Letter” recounts the three days leading up to his wife Sylvia Plath’s suicide, ending with the moment he is informed of it. Fervent Plath fans, of the kind who vandalized her tombstone to remove his name from its inscription, may or may not receive his anguish well, for he is commonly blamed for her suicide, given that their break-up (initiated by him) immediately preceded it.
It is dangerous when fans, readers, and critics meddle in the private lives of writers, for their biographies, poetry, and nonfiction are all a kind of fiction; we can never know them, let alone judge them, the way we can never know ourselves. For anyone who thinks words, of any sort, lead to truth, I say: look outside. It is odd how Ted Hughes can finally be vindicated, as if such a pardon was ever needed. He had a severely depressed wife who killed herself, much like Leonard Woolf, except the former was also famous, so more meaning was attributed, relished, to their drama. Biographies are highbrow soap operas.