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Sylvia Plath’s Tombstone Returned; Husband Lashes at Critics

April 22, 1989 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ The stone has been returned to the grave of Sylvia Plath, restoring the married name that vandals - perhaps her admirers - have repeatedly tried to erase.

On Saturday, Poet Laureate Ted Hughes struck back at recent criticism of his custody of the grave and of the legacy of his wife, the tormented American poet who killed herself Feb. 11, 1963 at the age of 30.

″When I first had the lettering set into the stone ... the only question in my mind was how to get the name Plath on to it,″ Hughes said in a letter printed in Saturday’s edition of The Independent.


″If I had followed custom, the stone would be inscribed Sylvia Hughes, which was her legal name. For her children, it was their mother’s name.″

But, he added, ″I was already well aware, in 1963, of what she had achieved under that name, and I wished to honor it.″

Plath, who was born in Boston, was posthumously honored with the Pulitzer Prize in 1982. She was estranged from Hughes at the time of her death, and some of her partisans have accused him of smothering her in housework and leaving her for another woman.

Many of her poems were intensely personal. Some of the best-known ones, such as ″Lady Lazarus″ and ″Daddy,″ deal with illness, suffering and death.

Hughes burned the last volume of her journals, saying he did not want their son and daughter ever to have to read them.

He said that her married name, set in riveted lead letters, was chiseled off the tombstone three times.

After a fourth attempt, he had the stone removed and was contemplating a new design. However, he said, he found the stone had been repaired last year by the engraver who was keeping it and he agreed to have it restored to its place near the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle in the village of Heptonstall.

The stone bears the name Sylvia Plath Hughes and a line of poetry: ″Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted.″ It is a sentence from Sanskrit that ″I used to tell her when she was low,″ Hughes said.

The controversy was stirred up earlier this month when Julia Parnaby of the University of Lancaster and Rachel Wingfield of the University of Cambridge wrote to The Guardian newspaper complaining about the lack of a marker on the grave.

″By failing to replace the headstone and thus leaving Plath’s grave unidentifiable, her place in the tradition of women’s literature is being denied and her work devalued,″ they wrote.

In a long letter published Thursday in The Guardian, Hughes attacked the two women for falsely claiming that he and Plath had signed divorce papers.

″I am no great student in the Fantasia which has obscured the life and death of Sylvia Plath, but so far as I am aware Ms. Parnaby and Wingfield are the first in 26 years to decide that this bit of her history needs to be rewritten,″ Hughes wrote.

″There is rather more to it. Perhaps Ms. Parnaby and Wingfield will plead that they did not invent this bit of apocrypha, but that certain other people have been accepting it as gospel for some time.

″If that is so, perhaps it would explain why Sylvia Plath’s grave has been so repeatedly vandalized. Ms. Parnaby and Wingfield’s wording of their mischievous falsehood can be read, to my mind, very like an incitement for other misguided enthusiasts to desecrate the grave afresh.″

Hughes’ letter to The Independent took issue with an article by Ronald Hayman, who complained that Hughes and his sister had kept ″a firm grip on biographers,″ to the extent of threatening to withhold copyright material from authors who criticized Hughes’ family.

″Mr. Hayman tells us that ‘nobody owns fact.’ I hope each of us owns the facts of her or his own life,″ Hughes wrote. ″Otherwise you, reader, might suddenly find yourself reinvented by a Mr. Hayman who had decided that he owns your facts and can do what he likes with them.″