Tuesday, November 08, 2005

She Was Very Pretty

Friday, before I left town, I went to see the Sylvia Plath/Ted Hughes exhibit at the Grolier Club on 60th Street in Manhattan. Yeah, I know. Smith College and Emory University opened their archives and dumped them out in glass cases, for which I was grateful. There was an older couple there, and the wife seemed to have known Plath at Smith. At one point her husband, tiny, tweedy, said, "She was pretty." Quietly, as if this was somewhat of a surprise to him. She, standing beside him as they gazed through the glass, corrected him: "She was very pretty." In the proprietary and defensive way, I suppose, many women have corrected what they feel to be shortsighted, erroneous impressions of Plath. Worth noting: on the Smith College memorandum paper she'd pilfered from the school and used well into adulthood, she made an outline for a novel called Falcon Yard, which was, of course, a thinly veiled retelling of the dissolution of her marriage to Hughes. She had brief descriptions for every character, and this was the heroine's creed: "A voyager, no Penelope." I wish she'd written it. No other American woman novelist seems to have created such a heroine since then except Erica Jong, and Fear of Flying, for me, veers off and away into an ether of yammering chatter. Also of note: in a letter to a friend complaining about encountering some suspicion of Hughes' ability and desire to make a living in America, she writes that she wishes people would get off his back and stop asking what he's doing. "He lives, people! That's what he does." I love how she suddenly gets all Rosalind Russell or Bette Davis on their asses. Not a usual Plath move. And I should know, because I discovered that I somehow knew many lines from the correspondence on display somewhat by heart--that and John 3:16 and some lines from Hamlet. I think I just lost a husband right there.