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This review is taken from PN Review 134, Volume 26 Number 6, July - August 2000.

SEEING RED ERICA WAGNER, Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and the story of Birthday Letters (Faber) £14.99

He is British, dark, handsome and brooding, with an interest in wildlife. She is American and has multiple identities, blonde and dark, but always retains a passion for horse-riding and an icy facade of super-competence. She also has a dodgy past, suicidal tendencies, and a violent aversion to the colour red. He marries her, saying 'I've caught something really wild this time'. She is distressed. Is it because she wants to get on with her subversive but rather successful career? No, it is because she has a Psychological Complex. That's her mother's fault. He will cure her by making her dig up the Truth. But the remedy brings her to the edge...

This is not Ted and Sylvia: The Movie: it is Hitchcock's Marnie. He is Sean Connery, she is Tippi Hedren, it is 1959. They believed in Psychology then: in Complexes which were divorced from ideology and functioned like organic illness, disabling people regardless of their physical circumstances; they also believed in magical, complete cures. Sylvia Plath's patron, Olive Higgins Prouty, wrote one of the enduring romances of psychoanalysis, Now Voyager. Plath's The Bell Jar is a dark caricature of such a tale: Esther Greenwood's analyst never needs to ask or announce the source of Esther's problem, because it is all too obviously the America which electrocuted the Rosenburgs.

Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters, among many other things, offers us a similar narrative about Sylvia Plath. Various poems in the volume - mostly the slacker, ...


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