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Warning to potential readers
on 19 February 2003
Anne Stevenson is a fine and talented poet, but this biography was the result of a very ugly tussle with the Hughes estate, which originally commissioned Stevenson to see off Hughes's many critics (not all of them shrieking feminist-separatists). When she found evidence that contradicted their version of events they became very uncooperative, so that Stevenson had to struggle to appease them.
The biography contains daft passages as a result of this appeasement: my favourite is the long analysis of how very paranoid Plath was to continue to suspect Hughes of having an affair - when he WAS having an affair! On the other hand, the biog. doesn't help us much with understanding Hughes either because it's all so strained: for that you want Elaine Feinstein's far better biog. of Hughes himself. The best parts are the engagements with Plath's development as a writer.
It is honestly tragic that the lives of two of the finest poets of last century have been so ill served, not least by the custodians of their own writings. I suspect we won't get a good biography of Plath until another thirty or forty years have brought perspective to all concerned.
In the meantime, to understand Plath the best way forward is to read her own journals and (with due caution) letters home.