Thursday, December 17, 2015

Paullina Simons

Paullina Simons is the international best-selling author of novels such as Tully, Red Leaves, Eleven Hours, The Bronze Horseman, and Tatiana and Alexander.

Her latest novel is Lone Star.

Recently I asked Simons about what she was reading. Her reply:
“There’s a panther stalks me down. One day I’ll have my death of him.” So writes poetess extraordinaire Sylvia Plath, the day after meeting England’s future poet laureate and her future husband Ted Hughes in February 1956. They fell in love and three months later married. Seven years later, in another frozen February, her premonition came true. She was thirty years old when she kneeled in front of the gaslit oven, while her two small children slept nearby, and put her head inside.

Lately I’ve been consumed by all things Plath/Hughes. Who was this man who drove his passionate heartbroken wife to suicide? And why did tragedy continue to follow him down the road of life? Many years later his only son also committed suicide. I re-read Ariel, the book of poems Plath wrote in the six months before her death. Ted Hughes was the love of her life, but he had fallen for another woman. He left Sylvia Plath, abandoned her and his children to travel joyfully abroad with his new lover, a childless yet married Assia Wevill (rhymes with devil not evil).

While they gamboled, Plath nursed her wounds and her babies and wrote Ariel, arguably one of the best poem collections of the twentieth century. And after she was done writing, she glanced around and Ted wasn’t back. She was still alone, and his new lover was pregnant. Plath may have known this. Or the winter of 1963 may have been too cold and too long for her, the burdens too heavy, the future too bleak. Who knows. Not even Ted Hughes knows. This, according to the books I read.

I read Sylvia Plath: Letters Home, followed by Her Husband by Diane Middlebrook, and Assia Wevill, Lover of Unreason, by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev. I read Sylvia Plath: The Unabridged Journals. Not stopping there, I read The Savage God, a study of suicide (mainly hers) by their mutual friend, the critic Al Alvarez.

But it was two books of poetry by Ted Hughes himself that brought me to my proverbial knees. One is Birthday Letters. The other is Crow. He started writing the former just after Plath died—as a series of letter-like poems addressed to her—and continued writing for twenty-five years. Having been mute on the subject of his dead wife, he didn’t publish Birthday Letters until 1998, months before his own death and thirty-five years after hers. Crow, a small volume of raw suffering was written right after Assia, the lover he left his wife for, killed herself in 1969, also by oven, along with their four-year-old daughter. A short while before she died, she wrote to a friend, “There can never be another man for me. Never.”

She might have been able to compete with a live woman but she could not compete with Plath’s ghost. Having read Birthday Letters and Crow, I conclude that Assia was right. Ted Hughes never recovered from the devastation of his wife’s death. “With all her babes in her arms, in ghostly weepings, she died,” he writes, and he has been haunted by her ever since. “What would he do, do, do without me?” Sylvia Plath asked in Ariel. As it turned out, to this last breath he was never without her.

“What can I tell you that you don’t know of the life after death?” he says in one wrenching poem in Birthday Letters. “[I was] dropped from life.” And “two babes who have turned, in their sleep, into orphans.”

To read these two books is to look almost too deeply inside the black heart of anguish. Hughes calls the word “grief” a euphemism.

“Who is stronger than hope?” he asks in Crow, in “Examination at the Womb-door.”
“Stronger than love? Death.
“Stronger than life? Death.
“But who is stronger than death?”
And replies: “Me, evidently.”

Maybe, as Sylvia Plath wrote in her last poem, “The Edge,” “the moon has nothing to be sad about,” but the human hearts were permanently broken.
Visit Paullina Simons's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lone Star.

--Marshal Zeringue