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This review is taken from PN Review 204, Volume 38 Number 4, March - April 2012.

Elective Affinities? heather clark, The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Oxford University Press) £53

In The Grief of Influence, Heather Clark enters the vast and colourful field of scholarship, journalism and accusation which has followed Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes over the past forty years. She does so deftly, and this study of Plath's and Hughes' reciprocal influence is meticulously documented and carefully argued through close readings of key texts. While acknowledging the critical and biographical controversies, Clark does not rehash old ground and approaches them tactfully, within new contexts.

The study is broadly chronological, tracing the poetic relationship (or rivalry) from its early stages, when Plath and Hughes shared a writing table, each reading and critiquing everything the other wrote, through their respective responses to America and England, to the bitter 'talking back' of Ariel and The Birthday Letters. There are several poems which seem to lie at the heart of their exchanges, starkly revealing their differences in treating similar subjects, including Hughes' 'The Hawk in the Rain' and Plath's 'Pursuit', and the series of moor poems in which they cast themselves under the ominous shadow of the Wuthering Heights ruins. Clark shows that they continually return to and revise images and ideas from these poems throughout their careers. While for Plath the moors almost always represented alienation, Hughes envisions them through the Romantic sublime.

Clark's archival research is extensive and through unearthed journal entries, letters and college essays she challenges certain critical commonplaces. She undermines, for example, the frequent assumption that Plath's interest in '“positive violence,” and ...


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