Typed Letter Signed, to Ted Hughes

PLATH, Sylvia

I have no desire, above my typewriter, to do anything except work for you

PLATH, Sylvia Typed Letter Signed, to Ted Hughes

1956.

An extraordinary letter from Sylvia Plath to Ted Hughes, covering suicide, her devotion for him, and two stories she is working on. Five sides of blue letter paper (three sheets, folded horizontally, approximately 1,600 words), with a three line autograph postscript signed "your loving wife sylvia". Plath opens with news of Cambridge and how isolated she feels there, "How I live for your letters; such queer things are happening to me; I feel that in myself I am observing the progress of a deadly disease never before recorded... I can't stand anyone; especially men." Her dependence on Ted is underlined, quite starkly, at the end of this passage, "I think if anything ever happened to you, I would really kill myself... I shall never leave your side a day in my life after exams." The struggle of being apart from Ted is also having an impact on her writing. Despite having "a growing feeling, perhaps also delusive, of a new prowess in knowing what I want to say", she feels that "away from you my own judgments are all out of kilter, or to cock, and I can't tell if I've been typing over and over on the same line immortal folderol or what". Plath goes on to describe in detail two recently completed stories, in which suicide and a dark humour both feature and foreshadow The Bell Jar. 'The Wishing-Box' is about a "dreamless woman" with a "complete escapist" husband, who kills herself with an overdose of sleeping pills, "It's actually a very humorous terrible little story". She confides later in the letter that her dreamless woman, "is certainly an aspect of one of my selves now". In writing the second story 'Invisible Man', Plath finds "I best like doing completely realistic descriptions of psychological states, giving them symbolic form". The protagonist is a young man who suddenly becomes "invisible to himself, but to no one else". As a result, his self-image is not based on what he can see, but on the reactions to him of everybody he meets, "it is as if he must seek his own true image, the proof of his corporeal existence, in the eyes and reflections around him." She decides that this same fate will befall her character's son, who will become invisible at college "but, of a more artistic nature, commit suicide by drowning. That Narcissistic leap. It must be funny, but terribly serious." She asks Ted for suggestions on what it might feel like to be an invisible man, before, perhaps thinking she had taken up too much time on her own work, returning to his, "After I get this story done, and the 150 odd pages I have to type typed (between us we have written colossal amounts!), I shall start on your terrific plots". Plath then returns to the "queer things" she had been feeling, and how she had become a social recluse, "I work; you work; we work. I have no desire, above my typewriter and my cows, to do anything except work for you, slave for you, make myself an always richening woman for you; and that is that". Although being apart from Ted continues to be a "wrenched horror", Plath finds "I am more miserable among people than alone." She complains of having terrible difficulty sleeping without him, and begs him to stay an extra night on his trip to London the coming weekend, before signing "I love you more than the whole gibbering world which owes it existence & worth - if it has any - to your being in it - your loving wife sylvia".

Plath had now been apart from Hughes for ten days, and the strain of that separation was taking an increased toll on her psychological state.
At one point she remarks, "I have never spent such an intolerable numbed two weeks. Two---it is still only one; my god". She had found that occupying as much of her time with writing helped, but still it was the case that misery could hit which "dashed all this sense of industry".
The two stories detailed here mark a notable development in Plath as a prose writer. She identifies clearly her talent for both psychological descriptions and using black humour to approach serious subjects. The parallels of the college suicide of the second story and Plath's own experiences are difficult to avoid drawing, but as Heather Clark has noted, "Plath never mentioned her history with suicide in her love letters". Indeed, in replying to Sylvia's description of 'The Wishing Box', Ted wrote "this is the kind of poetic theme you could make exclusively your own ground."
More important than the biographical implications of these stories is that Plath had identified an approach for dealing with suicide in fiction. This would later find its full realisation in her masterpiece of vivid psychological description and black humour, The Bell Jar.

PROVENANCE: Ted Hughes (1930 - 1998); Frieda Hughes (Hughes and Plath's daughter).

Stock ID: 41595

£50,000.00

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