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New letters from Sylvia Plath reveal the extent of Ted Hughes’s abuse


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In a series of unpublished letters, Sylvia Plath alleges that her husband, Ted Hughes, beat her and wanted her dead.

Plath was a prolific letter writer. The letters in question were in correspondence with Dr Ruth Barnhouse – the model for Dr Nolan in The Bell Jar – who treated her after an attempted suicide in 1953. They reveal a humorous and intimate relationship.

At the core of the collection are nine letters, written after Plath discovered Hughes’s infidelity. The most shocking of these detail the physical abuse she suffered just days before she miscarried their second child in 1961, mere weeks before the pair separated.

Hughes was born in Yorkshire and Plath in the US. They met at Cambridge University in 1956 and just four months later they married – which resulted in one of the most tumultuous literary relationships of the 20th Century.

Initially, their marriage inspired each of them to produce some of their best works, such as Hughes’s Hawk in the Rain and Plath’s The Bell Jar. However, in the months these letters describe, Plath produced her darkest poetry, which was compiled in her collection Ariel posthumously after she committed suicide in 1963.  

Although a collection of Plath’s letters are set for release in October, these shocking new correspondences will not be published for a short while, as they belong to the Barnhouse estate.  

Andrew Wilson, who wrote Mad Girl’s Love Song about Plath’s life before she met Hughes, suggests that these letters provide the “missing link” in her biography and literary history.

“These letters look as though they could fill certain gaps in our knowledge, and seem as though they can shed new light on the turbulent, controversial marriage between Plath and Hughes,” he said.

We can only hope that these letters will be published in the near future, in order to benefit scholars and students alike.


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