Stop digging up mother's troubled past, says Plath's daughter

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The Independent Culture

Their love has spawned films, countless PhD theses and 20th-century literature's most enduring blame game. But now the daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes has declared: "Leave them in peace."

Their love has spawned films, countless PhD theses and 20th-century literature's most enduring blame game. But now the daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes has declared: "Leave them in peace."

Frieda Hughes, who was two when her mother killed herself, has spoken out about the continuing obsession with Plath's life and her relationship with Hughes, whose critics vilified him as the philandering poet who drove his depressed wife to suicide.

The lives of the two poets and their eight-year marriage led to one of the most intense literary alliances of the post-war period and, in its aftermath, a mini-industry dedicated to poring over the details of its creation and demise.

From scriptwriters with multimillion-pound film budgets to hammer-wielding vandals who chiselled Hughes' name from his wife's grave, the relationship continues to raise passions and generate cash.

Interest in the story of the American poet and the grammar school-educated son of a Yorkshire carpenter reached a peak this year with a £7m biopic about Plath, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

But Ms Hughes, 44, said yesterday that she felt particularly aggrieved at the frequent re-examination of the death of her mother, who gassed herself in February 1963 shortly after she found out that her husband was having an affair.

She said: "When things are quiet for a while, I get a sense of the earth settling over her and a sense of peace. And then it is dug up again. Imagine I'm a boat on the ocean and there is a storm, and that storm is the rehashing, the reinventing and the publicity and people bringing up my mother's death over and over again."

It has been pointed out that the comments from Ms Hughes coincide with the publication of a new edition of Ariel, her mother's final work, and are therefore likely to perpetuate the interest about which she complains.

Ms Hughes, a painter, children's story writer and poet, has written a 3,300-word foreword to the volume in which she speaks of her mother's jealousy and "ferocious temper".

She also defends her father, who died in 1998, describing how he saw his two children daily during the separation from Plath and gave his wife control of their home, bank account and car.

But before she travelled to New York for the launch of the book, Ms Hughes said she felt her mother, who is buried in the Yorkshire village of Heptonstall, had never been laid to rest.

She said: "For me, as her daughter, it is as if it never goes away and she is always dying. For people going to see her grave, it is a tourist attraction. It makes me want to dig her up and bring her home."

Ms Hughes said her father had been unfairly criticised, despite confessing to a number of affairs during their marriage.

Describing her father as a caring man who had gone to great lengths to explain and protect her mother's memory, shebroke down and said: "He tried so hard."

Ms Hughes has proved herself to be a formidable guardian of her parents' legacy.

When she was approached by the producers of Sylvia, the BBC film starring Paltrow, she refused to allow any of her mother's poems to be used in the script and has vowed never to see the film.

Faber & Faber yesterday declined to comment on her remarks or who will earn royalties from the new edition of Ariel.

Two years ago, Ms Hughes launched a legal claim against her stepmother, Carol, over money earned from the copyright to her father's poems.

In a letter written 18 months before his death, Mr Hughes allegedly asked for the royalties to be shared between four recipients, including Ms Hughes and her brother, Nicholas.

Lawyers for Carol Hughes, who have pointed out that she was bequeathed control of her husband's entire estate in his will and that the letter has no legal status, said she had made several offers to settle the dispute, which were rejected.

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