In the late 1950s, a young woman scribbled some thoughts in her diary about a Hollywood soap opera that was playing out in the press.
“Liz Taylor is getting Eddie Fisher away from Debbie Reynolds, who appears cherubic, roundfaced, wronged, in pin curls and house-robe...” she wrote. “How odd these events affect one so. Why? Analogies?”
The young woman was Sylvia Plath, newly married at that point to the love of her life, Ted Hughes. And in just a few years she would be dead. The “wronged” victim in a love triangle of her own. Not so much cherubic and round-faced in her final months as depressed, haunted by psychological demons, maniacally creative, and suicidal.
The demise of Plath’s marriage is by now more famous than all of Liz Taylor’s divorces put together. The world can’t leave it alone. The books, plays, movies and newly released volumes of this and that just keep coming, feeding a public who never tire of the story. “These events,” as she observed so correctly, “do affect one so.”
Of course there are modern-day examples that we feed on too. Brad, Jen and Ange anyone? At the cheaper end of the media wedge, that horse will be flogged until at least two of the three are dead. Never mind that, since Brad and Jen separated over a decade ago, Jen has remarried at least once and divorced; Ange has either birthed or adopted five children; Brad has revealed himself to be rambling and frequently wasted; and Brad and Ange now barely speak without the presence of lawyers. Yet STILL the tabloids hold out the hope that Brad and Jen will reunite and that Ange will collapse and dissolve into a puddle of envy, like the wicked queen in a fairytale.
“It’s official,” claimed New Idea earlier this year (and about once a fortnight since then). “Brad and Jen reunite!”
“Jen’s decade of despair” read another headline. “Will she ever be able to move on?” Yes, New Idea, she will. But you? Never.
The truth is that “wronged” people do recover and – while the agony of heartbreak is timeless – the possibilities to move on get better all the time. Women are no longer dependent on a prince to be their saviour, so if the prince gets distracted while out riding his steed, whatevs. Perhaps marrying another princess would be a safer bet?
Plath, however, lived in an age of few options and her pain is frozen in time. She will be, as she herself said, forever “an analogy” for our bleakest feelings of jealousy and rejection. We keep her memory alive because we need it.
The latest in the Plath/Hughes industry is a book of her last letters, written to her psychiatrist. There’s a review of that on page 12.
Ted Hughes: the Brad of the 1960s.