Letters

"No wonder people hate Americans -- we're vultures." Readers leap to the defense of Sylvia Plath's daughter.


Salon Staff
October 22, 2003 12:00AM (UTC)

[Read "Whose Plath Is It Anyway?" by Kate Moses.]

"Hughes' pained airing of relational dirty laundry ended with an apologia on her newly published book (complete with "how to purchase" info, à la Erica Wagner), lending the entire article an opportunistic, advertorial whiff."

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"Kate Moses, a former editor at Salon, is the author of "Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath," just published in paperback by Anchor Books."

Kate Moses helpfully paints the bulls-eye on herself and pulls the trigger for us.

-- Steve

Reading the whining self-justification and needless accusation in this article, I'm starting to believe that Frieda Hughes' greatest sin in the eyes of some Plath cultists is to still live. It makes their myth so messy.

-- Greg Gerrand

Kate Moses, in her defense of mining Sylvia Plath's personal life, gives us this morsel concerning her 5-year-old daughter's statement to her kindergarten class: "I want to share that my mommy finished her book, and I'm pleased to announce that Sylvia Plath is finally dead."

Either her child, in contrast to Plath's or any other child, is a brilliant wit, or: Why should anyone take anything Moses has to say about Plath, or any other subject, seriously?

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-- Mallory Conklin

I'm not sure I agree with the argument Moses makes about Sylvia Plath's work and life as "public." Why does the media demand access to every minute of someone's life? Yes, Sylvia Plath was a public figure because she was published. But the obsession over her every waking moment (and everything else after her death as well) shows why many "celebrities" have become so protective of their private lives. I don't fault Frieda Hughes in the least for anything. She's the one who had had to endure millions of Plath-obsessed lit-geeks (Moses included) for her entire life. In fact, she probably had to watch Ted Hughes endure the same fate as well. In so many cases of celebrity overload, it's just not worth it.

-- C.W. Hoffman

I just read Kate Moses' article about her experiences in dealing with the Plath/Hughes estate. And while I share her belief that dealings with the estate could stand to be a lot easier, our shared beliefs end there. I was appalled at the way Moses dissected Frieda Hughes, and speculated on her motivations for keeping such a tight lid on the estate. The insensitivity and outright slander Moses directed toward Frieda gave me the impression that Moses was using this Salon piece as a means to publicize her bottled-up rage toward Frieda. And given the fact that Moses seems to have never met Frieda, I found her dissection of Frieda particularly disturbing and rather obsessive.

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I know quite a few motherless daughters, and for anyone who's ever had their life impacted by losing their mother at a young age (especially in such a horrific way), I expect that privacy and respect of their mourning be considered. The way Moses dug into Frieda, and speculated on her financial motivations and personal characteristics, was totally disgusting.

It's a shame that she felt she had to stoop so low to try to get across a very valid longing for greater access to the estate of Plath/Hughes. Indeed, they were two luminary and legendary figures in the world of literature. And I certainly hope that someday there is greater cooperation from the executors of their estate so that the legacy of their art can live on. But Moses becomes one of the "ghouls" Frieda speaks of when she resorts to below-the-belt tactics and baseless assumptions of why two adults who grew up motherless are defending their last frontier of family.

-- Nicole DiCello

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As a U.K. resident, I can assure Kate Moses that just about every newspaper includes an endnote with feature articles that provides, in brief, where further resources on the subject or indeed titles of any media that may either have been the subject of the feature or were mentioned in conjunction with that subject can be purchased. Particularly with literary articles, including book reviews, usually the most recent title of both the author or book profiled as well as the recent work of the journalist will be mentioned. There is absolutely nothing curious or insidious about it; in fact, compared to the rampant consumerism of the States -- where one watches television in sheer wonderment at where the commercials end and the programs begin -- the endnote is dignified and discreet.

Aside from that, Moses' rather ghoulish article on Frieda Hughes was in very poor taste indeed. Moses seems to lack any respect whatsoever for the boundary between an artist's life and work, their inherent right to control and toy with that boundary on their own terms, as well as the inestimable grief, anger and mix of emotions that every child is entitled to have toward their parents, regardless of who they are. Moses can't possibly think being the child of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes is some easy thing?

Her lengthy criticism of Frieda Hughes' financial situation, resources and inheritance is just plain tacky. Moses should get her own life and leave Frieda Hughes alone.

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-- Sean O'Neil

It doesn't matter how much you whine or how you try to spin it, Plath and Hughes were people, regardless of their notoriety and gifts. Naturally their families, the rightful heirs to their works and legacy, want to control what is known about them. Sorry you don't like it, but that's usually the way it works. The kids get the estate, not the world at large.

Plath and Hughes were literary giants? Plath and Hughes' daughter is making money from their work and her own with regard to them? So what? It's her right, and if you ask me small payment for an infamous mother who checks herself out with your 3-year-old self in the next room!

"Waah, waah, waah, I was snubbed. Waah, she didn't like my book. Waah, waah, I wish they'd let me see and use anything I want." Plath and Hughes were people (have you forgotten?) not myths. Ditto their families. People have a right to their own lives. Since when did the press develop such entitlement? We're not talking about Hitler here. Plath and Hughes weren't politicians or leaders. We're talking about a couple of writers. Argue that they were two of the best of the 20th century all you want, Ms. Moses. You don't have a right to know everything.

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No wonder people hate Americans. We're vultures. We're so used to people spilling their guts about their innermost secrets on daytime TV, and the endless celebrity blah-blahing, that we assume we have the right to know same about anyone we choose, especially if they are/were public figures. If Plath and Hughes' progeny want to use, exploit, incinerate or simply grow fat from their parents' works and memories, that is their right. And none of your damn business.

-- Jodi

Using the sort of logic that Kate Moses employs to defend her writing of "Wintering," we as readers would need to have Moses' life laid bare in order to be able to understand the context of her writing.

That said, the part of her article/diatribe that I found most disturbing was the invective that she hurled at Sylvia Plath's daughter, Frieda. Time and again writers gripe and complain that they didn't get permission from the Plath estate for this or from the Plath estate for that. The fact remains that in choosing no one, Sylvia Plath made a choice, and if her children choose to be what seems capricious and difficult, that is their prerogative. They have had to live with feminists saying nasty things about their father for the last 40 years, they have been unable to grieve their mother uninterrupted.

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I found it particularly horrid that Ms. Moses accused/stated that Frieda made her decisions based on what would get her the most money, and that the quarterly statements from the Plath estate were some sort of mother substitute.

Ms. Moses has achieved a level of literary recognition that she never would have gotten had she chosen to "imagine" the life of a more ordinary suicide. It seems to me that any profit Ms. Moses makes from "Wintering" is substantially more unseemly than anything Frieda could come up with.

-- Leslie Stahlhut


Salon Staff

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