Diary: Sylvia's battling biographers

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The Independent Online
IT IS now 30 years since the suicide of Sylvia Plath, but the public's interest in her life has not waned. Nor have people lost interest in the many biographers who have fought with Ted Hughes, Plath's former husband, for the right to tell the unexpurgated story. So far, only one biography - Bitter Fame, by Anne Stevenson - has received the Poet Laureate's blessing, and that book failed to receive critical acclaim. Depending on whom you believe, here is the reason.

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Ms Stevenson tells Janet Malcolm that her biography would have been extremely good if it had not been for Olwyn Hughes, Ted Hughes's sister, who helped her to write it. 'The image I have of myself and Olwyn is of me sitting happily at my desk writing, with Olwyn looking over my shoulder. Every time she doesn't like what I write she shoves me off the chair and takes up the pen herself . . . I didn't dislike her until she began treating me as if I were a recaltricant sixth-former . . . My husband warned me: 'If you try to break off with her now, she won't let you.' He was right. I had fallen into a trap.'

Fighting back, Ms Hughes says in the article: 'Anne was a mistake. I regret I didn't get somebody brighter . . . I had to nanny her along. She wasted a year of my life.' Ted Hughes was celebrating his 63rd birthday yesterday, so I left him alone. I should have done the same with his sister. 'I really don't want to talk about that, do you mind?' she said, and put down the phone.

TEN MINUTES before the game last Saturday, Aberdeen's football stadium was plunged into darkness. An inauspicious start to the season for the match sponsors, John MacLean Lighting Systems.


Following my note yesterday about the mistress of the last King Charles being related to the alleged mistress of the next one - Camilla Parker-Bowles's family tree shows a descent from the illegitimate son of Nell Gwyn and Charles II - I have more bad news for Mrs Parker- Bowles. The same family tree shows that she is a cousin of the Princess of Wales, albeit eight times removed.

This relationship also has a link with Charles II. Both women are descended, it seems, from William, Lord Russell, who was executed in 1683 for plotting against the king. The Princess of Wales comes from the line of Russell's son, Wriothesley, the 2nd Duke of Bedford, while Mrs Parker-Bowles is descended from Russell's daughter, Lady Rachel. Lady Rachel's son, the 3rd Duke of Devonshire, married a commoner, Catherine Hoskins, a woman once described by Hugh Walpole as 'more delightfully vulgar than one can imagine'.

SUCH A BBC folk hero was Mark Tully after his attack on John Birt that his photograph in Broadcasting House was adorned, as I reported the other day, with a halo. No longer. A gap is all you will see, with a note: 'This picture has been removed due to vandalism.'


A man from British Rail has rung to complain about my account of a disabled man who was not allowed to put his wheelchair on a train at Scunthorpe because he did not give BR 48 hours' notice that he intended to travel. I'm happy to point out that although this 48-hour rule does exist, the man was actually turned away because there was already another wheelchair on the train, and there was not enough room for two.

But why, I ask the spokesman, has the disabled person now received only BR vouchers, rather than cash, as a refund for his ticket? 'The fact that the man wanted to travel on BR in the first place suggests that he would like to travel this way again,' he told me, adding that if someone bought the Independent, he or she would be expected to continue doing so.

Now I hear of another passenger snarling about her BR voucher. Elisabeth Hoodless had to pay a pounds 30 taxi fare in order to make it to a conference she was addressing in Didcot. Her train from Paddington failed to stop at Didcot and went on to Swindon. Even then, the guard assured her she could yet arrive in time - the train back from Swindon would wait an extra minute for her. It didn't. BR sent Mrs Hoodless a pounds 5 voucher. It may be some time before she uses it.


18 August 1944 Norman Lewis, a security officer with the Allied Forces in Naples, writes in his diary: 'I have temporarily moved into the Hotel Vesuvio, once pride of the town, and possessing not only ten bedrooms but the only Turkish bath in the province. The hotel has been concentrated and simplified following damage suffered in the great air-raid. Now only one large room remains, a corner of which contains some twenty or thirty hatstands, as many spittoons, and a small grove of potted palms. This room, according to the hour of day, serves as a cafe or restaurant, and punctually at midnight Japanese screens are produced, and four iron beds normally standing on end against the walls are lifted into position. I sleep on one of these, much troubled by the mosquitoes and the heat.'