April 2017 | Nate Pedersen

Newly Discovered Sylvia Plath Letters Claim Domestic Abuse

Sylvia_Plath1.jpgA previously unknown series of letters that Sylvia Plath wrote toward the end of her life claim that her husband, poet Ted Hughes, beat her, leading to the miscarriage of her second child. The letters, which were offered for sale at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, have been taken off the market as a result of a legal dispute.

Plath wrote the letters to Dr. Ruth Barnhouse between 1960 and 1963 (the year she died). They were written after Plath found out about Hughes's infidelity with their friend Assia Wevill, and are thought to be some of the only surviving uncensored documents about Plath's last months. The most shocking passages in the letters accuse Hughes of domestic abuse.

The letters were part of an archive collected by Harriet Rosenstein several years after Plath died. Rosenstein was compiling material for a biography that was never finished.

Antiquarian bookseller Ken Lopez offered the archive for sale on behalf of Rosenstein, which in addition to the letters included some other Plath ephemera, for $875,000. The letters were taken off the market, however, after Smith College filed a lawsuit claiming that the letters belonged to the Ruth Barnhouse estate, which was bequeathed to the college after her death. Rosenstein, meanwhile, claims that the letters were given to her by Barnhouse almost 50 years ago.

Until the legal dispute is settled, the letters wait in limbo, with 20th century poetry scholars anxiously awaiting the opportunity to dig into the archive. Ted Hughes's widow, meanwhile, has called the claims that he was abusive "absurd" and "shocking."

[Image from Wikipedia]