This month, we’re covering a rather controversial author—Edward James “Ted” Hughes. Controversial, because although his writing wasn’t touchy in and of itself, his marriage to Sylvia Plath was. Despite his own writing and genuine success, he could never get past her shadow, especially when she was gone.
Let’s take a look at his life, on what would be his 86th birthday.
- Born in Yorkshire, England on August 17, 1930, Ted Hughes was quite the lover of nature from a young age. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, swimming and picnicking with his family. He was also fascinated by animals.
- He was a poet, playwright, and children’s writer, better known for his 1968 novel The Iron Man, later changed to The Iron Giant.
- After college, he worked many odd jobs, like night watchmen, rose gardener, and even took a position at the zoo.
- He met Sylvia Plath at a party he held with friends, to launch St. Botolph’s Review. It had one issue.
- 4 months later, they married (1956). Plath’s mother was their only wedding guest. An important note here is that Plath did not tell Hughes of her severe depression and multiple suicide attempts until much later.
The Good Times
- His collection, Hawk In The Rain won a poetry competition run by the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association of New York. He later won a Somerset Maugham Award, as well.
- He taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst for a while. He also worked on programs for BBC, essays, reviews, talks, etc.
- He had two children with Plath: Frieda Rebecca and Nicholas Farrar.
- In 1962, he had an affair with Assia Wevill, a German woman who had been subletting a flat with her husband.
- Plath moved to a new flat with the children.
- Between the depression, suicide attempts, and the affair, Plath wanted out. She took her life with a gas stove on February 11, 1963.
- Many blamed Hughes, who surely broke her heart, but ultimately, she’d tried to commit suicide many times before. Plath’s fans still tried to chisel off the “Hughes” name from her gravestone. Feminists threatened Hughes with death. They were even upset he was the executor of Plath’s personal and literary estates.
- Later, Assia Wevill also committed suicide in the same way. 6 years later. She killed Alexandra Tatiana Elise, Hughes’ 4-year-old daughter, too. This sparked a new wave of accusations—that he was an abusive man.
- In 1970, he released what is arguably his best work—Crow.
- In the same year, he remarried. Carol Orchard, a nurse. They were together until his death in 1980. He died of cancer.
Ted Hughes may have been overshadowed by his first wife, and accused of many terrifying actions, but the man was an amazing writer. He was a man who married a depressed, suicidal woman without being warned prior to the rushed wedding. His affair, while never justified, did shed light on the male ego, and what it’s like to be overshadowed despite personal accomplishments. Whether he was abusive or not has never been determined. All that is known is that Hughes gave the world some amazing stories, all much lighter than his own life.