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Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, a Marriage Hardcover – October 13, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

Dianne Middlebrook launches Her Husband: Hughes and Plath: A Marriage, appropriately, with the birth of the poets’ lives together. Through her retelling of the historic moment of their first meeting, Middlebrook sets the balanced, literate, and brutally honest tone that she maintains throughout the book. According to Middlebrook, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes’s first encounter was violent and almost mythic, punctuated with kisses and biting. In 112 days they were married. Together, as Middlebrook shows, they formed a unique literary bond. They remained aggressive intellectual and erotic partners. But, six years later, Hughes left Plath and their two children for another woman. She committed suicide shortly after, while Hughes would go on to a long and successful career as a poet and as Plath’s literary executor.

What Middlebrook brings to this story, outside of the almost voyeuristic details gleaned from letters, diaries, interviews, and past biographies, is a scholarly commitment to infuse the reading of Hughes and Plath’s marriage with a reading of their poetry and prose. In less capable hands, using literature to reconstruct biography can lead to an undisciplined avoidance of real historical research. But Middlebrook drafts the writings to bolster her understanding of the couple in sophisticated ways that link their private language to their public statements in published works (especially Hughes’ Birthday Letters). At the same time, Middlebrook remains deeply aware that Hughes and Plath worked to re-construct themselves through their writings, often with conflicting self-portraits, for posterity. She is comfortable letting their contradictions exist side by side.

Her Husband is wonderfully told; it is difficult to imagine how this narrative of the marriage could be surpassed. One only hopes that Middlebrook will have the stamina to amend her own work—if necessary—when Hughes’s most private papers are made public in 2023. --Patrick O’Kelley

From Publishers Weekly

Joining the recent spate of books about Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, all of which concern the sources of their poetry and their dysfunctional marriage, Middlebrook's is sure to be the gold standard. Astutely reasoned, fluidly written and developed with psychological acuity, the work is a sympathetically balanced assessment of two lives that flamed brightly with the incandescent fire of creative genius. Accessing newly available materials in the Hughes archives at Emory University, Middlebrook (Anne Sexton) offers fresh evidence of Hughes's beliefs in shamanism, psychic telepathy and the predatory instinct, and she breaks new ground in tracing the couple's interactive creative relationship, suggesting that neither would have produced his or her best poetry without the other. She shows how Hughes's faith in mysticism not only led him to believe that his marriage to Plath was fated, but also acted as a counterweight, inspiring him to seek his muse in erotic entanglements with other women. She conjectures that Plath, too, needed erotic aggression to release her creative impulses, demonstrating the particulars of her struggle with the conflicting demands of motherhood. And she effectively demolishes Hughes as the demon who destroyed Plath, stating that during their marriage he displayed "a high level of tolerance toward what other people considered... antisocial, crazy... behavior"; she also writes that Plath's emotional breakdown was a recurrence of the clinical depression that occasioned her first attempt at suicide in 1953. In the end, the book is most valuable in interpreting Hughes's sources of poetic inspiration and emotional behavior, and in providing a balanced assessment of the legacy of a troubled marriage and the works of art it engendered.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (October 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670031879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670031870
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,742,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By beckyjean VINE VOICE on July 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I first began reading Diane Middlebrook's "Her Husband," I was disappointed.

"This is all the stuff I already know," I thought. "St. Botolph' marauder...pushy American girl...I've read this all before. Where's the new stuff?"

Plath fans like myself, who've read every biography and scrutinized every poem, need to hang in there for a bit. It takes a while to tap the riches in this book, but once you hit pay dirt, you'll be buried in it. You can expect nothing less from Diane Middlebrook's exhaustive research and crisp, yet sensitive writing.

The book is essentially a biography of Ted Hughes, but it is a biography of Hughes in relation to Plath -- possibly the only kind of biography that could ever be written about Ted Hughes.

Middlebrook takes what has been said over and over about Hughes and Plath -- that they were larger-than-life, highly charismatic, very intense people -- and digs deep with research and literary analysis. The result is two fully-fleshed mythical figures, with the history of -- and reasons for -- the shaping of their mythic status.

Speaking of the literary analysis, it is incredibly detailed, dissected to a dizzying extent. Middlebrook is quite a scholar, and makes bold connections between various Plath and Hughes poems (some of which were written on opposite sides of the same piece of paper -- a practice Middlebrook calls Plath & Hughes's "hand-to-hand combat"). The poems take on squirming new life in the illumination Middlebrook provides.

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were complex, inscrutable people. They believed their relationship was fated, and that indeed seems to have been the case.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Jana L.Perskie HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Diane Middlebrook's book about the ill-fated marriage of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes is an extraordinary combination of biography and literary criticism. Rather than focusing on Plath's depression and subsequent suicide, the author offers a valuable, unsentimental analysis of both their work and the influence they had on each other's lives and creative processes.
She portrays Hughes, not as an egotistical, philandering husband who abandoned his wife and family, but as a man and a poet, struggling with his failed marriage. In fact, how marriages fail, and the men and women who fail in making their relationships work, are part of the book's central theme. Hughes' inspired and encouraged his wife's creativity, but he also contributed to the anguish which led to her suicide. Living with Sylvia Plath was not an easy task though. Her work, her life and her death profoundly changed Ted Hughes' perspective on his own life and work.

Plath, more than thirty years after her death, has evolved into an icon of martyred feminism and is revered by her passionate following. Many believe that her tragic suicide was a result of the overwhelming societal demands placed on a woman/wife/mother/artist at the midpoint of the last century. However, Sylvia Plath is, foremost, one of the most brilliant poets of that century, with her roles as daughter, wife and mother taking second place to her art. Her death was a tragedy, not a personal statement or rebellion. Her history of mental illness, and the barbaric treatment she received for the disease, is a known fact. Her pain was a violent presence in her life, especially during the last months. There was nothing passive, quiet or calculating about it. Plath was a victim of her demons, perhaps the Furies, who finally claimed her.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Having read biographies and criticism about Plath for the past 15 years, this is the first book that gives an unsympathetic account of Plath and Hughes' lives as artists, as mentors to each other, and as a couple. If you are interested in Plath and Hughes as writers, not merely the circumstances surrounding Plath's suicide, then this is a book you must read. Middlebrook is a wonderful biographer. She gives insights into poems, intellectual interests and belief systems of Plath and Hughes. By the end of the book, I felt I had a more well-rounded view of their lives together, as well as Plath and Hughes as artists and individuals in their own right. Well done.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth Harvor on March 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
She was an American girl, he was a Yorkshire boy. She was a domestic paragon who read The Joy of Cooking as if it were "a rare novel," he could not (or would not) be domesticated, he was too wild, too predatory. She was one of the greatest poets who ever lived, he was a gifted but much more minor poet who both helped her and harmed her. Her need for him was so intense it was pathological, but she didn't write her truly great poems until after he left her for another woman. And when they were asked during a BBC interview in 1961 if theirs was a marriage of opposites, he said they were "very different" at the same moment that she said they were "quite similar."

Ted and Sylvia: we know their story, so why would we want to read anything more about them? But Diane Middlebrook, in her biography of Ted Hughes, Her Husband: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, A Marriage, is easily able to revive excitement about them once again. She is also incredibly fair to both of them and so is able to see their marriage as the dynamic and creative partnership it so remarkably was.

The parts of her memoir that are devoted to the childhood of Ted Hughes and to the clairvoyant visions of his mother (the night before the Battle of Britain she dreamed she saw waves of crosses on fire in the sky), as well as to his love of myth, even make his obsession with the occult easy to fathom. The village he was born in even had a "myth" in its name: it was Mytholmroyd, a village in the Upper Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. It was here that he was delivered by a midwife on August 17, 1930, at exactly "solar midnight," for in the Upper Calder Valley that night the sun (the astrological sun) reached its lowest point in the zodiac.
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