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The Litterbug

The Independent newspaper (UK) reported on the latest instalment of the Plath and Hughes saga. This time, we have 'A Lover of Unreason' by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev. This is a biography of Assia Wevill, the lover of Hughes at the time of his break-up with Plath, who herself committed suicide in 1969, at the same time killing her and Hughes's four-year-old daughter. A tragic story, which some would say would be better left as a private history, particularly as some of the people involved are still alive. Jeremy Robson, the publisher, who seems to have picked up some marketing tips from the British tabloids, says the book will give "a whole new slant to the story," adding: "There will be a lot of revelations." Hughes, he said, was "a powerful and mesmeric presence, hypnotic to women." Wait a minute, let's replay that: "Plath was a powerful and mesmeric presence, hypnotic to men." Doesn't seem quite the same, does it? The power structures and gender relations implicit in that sentence just don't work in women's favour. But Robson ploughs on, spluttering about how "The whole thing was like a Greek tragedy", and quoting some lines from Hughes's 'Birthday Letters' describing Wevill when they first met:

In flame-orange silks, in gold bracelets,
Slighty filthy with erotic mystery -
A German/Russian Israeli with the gaze of a demon
Between curtains of black Mongolian hair.

'Slightly filthy'? All set for a 'dirty weekend' with Hughes I suppose. And the gaze of a demon? Is this a real person, or a caricature of an exotic 'German/Russian/Israeli/Mongolian'? 'Birthday Letters' showed us why Hughes's writing about people was refracted through the simplifying medium of animals; he lacked the subtlety and psychological insight to write about people directly. But the last thing the scandal-mongers want is an assessment of whether their subjects wrote good poetry, all such considerations being lost among the gossip (Get over it dude, it's always been that way. Ed.)