Revealed: Sylvia Plath’s Last Desperate Letters

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Going through a breakup with her on-off boyfriend Richard Sassoon in the spring of 1956 Sylvia Plath wrote to her mother that her doubts about Richard stemmed from his physical inadequacy. “I see now through the boyish weakness of his frame, & the delicate health & unathletic nature, to a soul which is kingly and beautiful and strong.” The all-American good looks of a different beau, Gordon Lameyer, created the opposite problem. Plath was looking for a man to be her partner in life and the father of her children who was her equal in both physical and intellectual vigor. She found him, at a party in Cambridge just a month after writing to her mother about Richard. His name was, of course, Ted Hughes.

Plenty has been committed to paper about Hughes’ betrayal of Plath, when he began an affair with Assia Wevill in the summer of 1962—an affair which stretched on through the winter of 1963, when Plath committed suicide. (Assia moved into Court Green, Plath’s home and gave birth to a daughter by Hughes, named Shura. She cared for Plath’s children and Hughes’s household until Hughes was unfaithful to her, and, in 1969, committed suicide by gas oven, also killing Shura, then four. For more on Assia, read Yehuda Koren and Eliat Negev’s excellent biography, Lover of Unreason.)

Plath’s agony over Hughes’s betrayal is on full display in surviving letters to her friends, her mother, and of course, in her final Ariel poems, which were subsequently collected by Hughes after her death. (Hughes claimed to have burned and/or misplaced Plath’s final journals.) But then, at the end of 2016, came a startling discovery: 14 never-before-seen letters from Plath to her psychiatrist, Dr. Ruth Beuscher, detailing Plath’s struggle after Hughes’s infidelity. These gut-wrenching letters are published for the first time in the second volume of Plath’s letters, edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil. The volume bears a foreword from Plath’s daughter, Freida Hughes, recounting her difficult decision over whether the letters should be published.

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