The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Sexual/Textual Politics in The Garden of Eden

A discussion of Hemingway’s posthumous novel, The Garden of Eden, seems particularly appropriate for a conference entitled “Culture Agonistes: Text Against Text.” Indeed, one of the structuring dynamics of the novel involves textual warfare, two counter-narratives that stand in figuratively for the struggle, or “agony,” that the writer-hero David Bourne must endure, or given his name, “bear,” in his fight to maintain an unadulterated masculinity. There is the text that his wife Catherine forces him to write, which is essentially a record of their journey into androgyny, and there is the antidotal counter-text of David’s African story in which a boy becomes a man in a man’s world. A kind of psycho-autobiography, it a text rife with conflictual desires that rehearses more transparently than any other its author’s anxieties and insecurities concerning gender, most particularly Hemingway’s attraction to, and repulsion from, androgyny. In short, the novel dramatizes more clearly than any other Hemingway text the fact that what has often been read as a chauvinistic misogyny can be read as an over-compensation for, and a flight from, an attraction to androgynous relations. Allied to this biographical motif, indeed a crucial aspect of it, is the subtext of how writing as a gendered space of masculinity acts as the Redeemer in this story of the Fall. It is this latter aspect of The Garden of Eden on which I want to focus here, but it must be pointed out that this is an extremely rich text that lends itself to numerous interpretive strategies for the Hemingway scholar. There is the controversial relationship between the 1500 page manuscript and the published text; there are the biographical determinants—sisters, wives, lovers, rivals—that are woven into the fabric of the fiction; and there are the various threads of the novel that beg feminist treatments, most especially Catherine’s role as Hemingway’s most aggressive woman, so threatening indeed that the text must condemn her to “madness”; and, finally (although this does not exhaust the possibilities), The Garden of Eden can be read as a kind of meta-fiction. It is Hemingway’s most self-reflexive novel, considering time and time again its author’s philosophy of composition, and this is allied to the theme I have just mentioned of writing, or “work,” as a prophylactic against despair. It is also a text that comprises several journeys, both literal and figurative. There is the literal journey that the newly-married couple David and Catherine Bourne take across France and Spain; there is as well their sexual journey into transgressive gender-relations, including the triangular relationship with the erstwhile lesbian Marita; and there are the necessary excursions that David takes into Africa as a way back to his father. And all these journeys from innocence to experience, are framed by Ernest Hemingway’s journey into self, or, more appropriately, “selves.” One cannot help but feel that this latter journey served as a kind of cathartic confession, if only to himself, of the complexity of his sexual fears and desires. In this way, he has his alter-ego David Bourne speak for him: “He started in again on the new and difficult story and worked attacking each thing that for years he had put off facing.” Hemingway’s personal journey and how this is interconnected with his various texts, including the unpublished manuscript of The Garden of Eden, has been exhaustively treated elsewhere. I want to make it clear here that it is the published version with which I will be dealing in this short talk. Despite its shortcomings, and there are many, it nevertheless affords a consistent dramatization of what I am primarily concerned with: the triangular dynamic between David Bourne, his wife, and his “work.” My reading is a less “personal,” or biographical one (although I have provided a pictorial handout which, if you like,

. However. and the one that I am emphasizing here: that between writing (or “work” as David Bourne calls it) as a masculine space of integrity. no mirrors. from a state of plenitude. the necessity to write. David Bourne. there are various triangulations of desire in the text —that between David.” or “Writing. between homosexuality. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously.” to loss. just “being. of the vicissitudes of the subject as it negotiates its way through the registers of the Imaginary and Symbolic. writing is the antidote to “hurt. Hemingway’s alter-ego. to an eventual and complete restoration of “self. and most particularly.“iconically” summarizes the biographical coordinates of The Garden of Eden). But the point I wish to note here is that in the text according to Ernest Hemingway. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it . heterosexuality. and Wounds. a self-protective and reactive gesture against the disintegration of selfhood. or deflection from. ostensibly in the third-person but filtered through David’s consciousness. wants to compete with you and ruin you. you are a rummy.All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is. Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work. or allegorizes.” stands in as a form of redemption in relation to such hurting. are echoed in David and Catherine Bourne’s relationship. For this reading of The Garden of Eden. becomes the victim of such a narcissistic wounding. in which there is no selfconsciousness. his wife’s descent into madness. or at least the inability to write. and androgyny. but rather I will treat the novel more as a text that dramatizes. . is primarily a narrative of his struggle to restore his integrity. and that David Bourne’s “wounding” is more psychological than physical. wherein the subject (the “je”) identifies with its “moi” or authentic self. and the published version. . when we meet him and his wife in the first chapter of the published version they are living in an Edenic world of plenitude. and Marita. . completely at one with its desires. most especially the text under present discussion. But you’re no more a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are . even if the warfare is more of a textual/sexual nature.” There is much of Fitzgerald and Zelda in The Garden of Eden. It’s not as simple as that and I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and.All we are is writers and what we should do is write. no work. the triangulation of this with the temptation to taste the fruit of androgyny by the Eve in this text. The former’s homosexual anxieties and their connection with writing. the subject’s (in this case David Bourne’s) negotiation of gender positions in its precarious journey into and through Culture.” It has been noted by more than one commentator that the Hemingway text is more often than not structured around the three significant W’s: War. Scott Fitzgerald the following: “Forget your personal tragedy.” This is a world of unity. This trinity is again a structuring element in The Garden of Eden. It is a space of unmitigated . his wife Catherine. Women.” As befits such a psychoanalytic allegory. I would like to suggest yet another significant W: how the notion of “Work. and the concomitant fear of emasculation which is figured as the inability. through narcissistic wounding and dis-integration. by the oral and scopic. the threat of what one critic has termed in relation to Scott Fitzgerald as “vocational emasculation. In 1934. Indeed. This is an economy structured by dual relationships and primary drive modes. it can be read as a kind of Lacanian psycho-drama. of course. and what Hemingway saw as her jealousy of her husband’s creative powers. most particularly in this Garden. a Lacanian “Imaginary” (what is Lacan’s masternarrative after all except a re-telling of the biblical myth?). of fusional logic. Hemingway wrote F .

In response to her pressing him.” (190). dream-like story (as it should be in any psychoanalytic allegory).” This is “necessary” because that immediacy of the body and its appetites (what we witnessed in the first chapter of G. and at the close of the first chapter David marks this lapsarian phase as an over-determined sense of loss: “. (quote) “There was only happiness and loving each other and then hunger and replenishing and starting over. It was going so well too and we were just coming to the most exciting parts. and his more urgent need to salve his narcissistic wounding by writing manly stories about his childhood in Africa. their story as les enfants du paradis is over.” (14) But this is another “happy Garden state” that were best experienced without a mate. Someone has to show you that the stories are just your way of escaping your duty. Catherine is anxious that David finish their story. into the realm of triangular relationships of desire. despite the painful negotiation . (not unlike Milton’s protagonists) into a more social sphere.) can never be eliminated entirely. a realm premised on “loss” or “lack.” This is a nocturnal. In terms of the psychoanalytic allegory that I have been suggesting. thus symbolically emasculating him.hedonism. His fear that their private “Imaginary” world would be made “public.” the subject undergoes a necessary “splitting. Although these two counter-texts have several motific similarities—they are Blakean journeys from innocence to experience.” that Catherine would eventually “show the dark things in the light. Such an act parallels Catherine’s emasculation of the mature David. After only eighteen pages of published text. indeed the prostitution of his talent.E. David replies that he “just didn’t want to get the work mixed up.” his writing. Catherine “twins” her husband by having her hair cut short as well as assuming the male position in their new sexual experimentation. the necessary Oedipal drama that every subject must negotiate in order to secure its gender position.” David turns to what he calls his “work. or jouissance in Lacan’s terms. This conflict of textual production comes to a crisis in Chapter 23 of the published novel. into what (to extend the psychoanalytic allegory) Lacan calls the Symbolic.” and Catherine responds in the following ironic fashion: “But it’s you who mixed it up.” and “belief systems. as well as Conradian excursions into darkness.O. For him. Yet not any old writing will do. while he has been moving further and further away from that narrative and deeper and deeper toward his father in the counter-narrative of the elephant hunt in Africa. Yet. and both are essentially stories of betrayal—David Bourne sees his real “duty” as lying elsewhere. yet there is the necessary introjection of cultural law. the young “Davey” must “suffer” through an “effeminized subordination to the father as a condition of finding a model for his own heterosexual role. . of what Catherine comes to call David’s “Puritan” streak. “I will never tell anyone anything again” the young Davey vows after the huge remaining tusk of the elephant has been removed. because as the two settle down with Marita into their ménage a trois. these adversial texts demarcate an essential difference between his ambiguous role as feminized lover. but its latent content reveals a tale of a night journey back to the Father and a scene of symbolic castration and repression. . a conflict arises between Catherine’s desire to have her husband textualize their strange journey into androgyny (what is referred to in the text as the “narrative”). about a boy coming to such terms with his father.” does indeed come to pass and in order to counteract further wounding of the “Self. It is the story of an elephant hunt on the manifest level.” So they move. structured by a differential logic and marked by “laws.” “Can’t you see? Jumping back and forth trying to write stories when all you had to do was keep on with the narrative that meant so much to all of us.” “taboos. of conscience.” In this economy. whereas the story about Africa is an account of that prototypical triangulation of desire. albeit reluctantly.and his heart said goodbye Catherine goodbye my lovely girl goodbye and good luck and goodbye.

In the following passage. But so far as you corrupt or change that grows or strengthens. as you have deteriorated morally. and David Bourne is very aware of this state of affairs. interesting parallels here with Hemingway’s short-story “Mr.” more secure in his masculine identity. In a wastepaper basket probably.third-person point of view. by the way. while at the same time nurturing that “work” by participating in androgynous love. that a crucial element in David Bourne’s dilemma is his realization that his writing. (Quote from MS) “All that is left entire in you is your ability to write and that gets better. when confronted by his wife’s and her friend’s lesbianism. that narcissistic moi figured by the masculine province of his writing.” (MS. or perhaps more precisely. a world that she must inevitably destroy by burning David’s manuscripts. After his mad. and the older David who has been writing his Self out of his ambiguous gender position emerges from his writing room.) David’s dilemma then is how to preserve his “integrity. clearer. “He had been happy in the country of the story and knew that it was too good to last and now he was back from what he cared about into the overpopulated vacancy of madness that had taken. by Scribners’ editor Tom Jenks. he comes very close to summarizing the tropes of division and the redemptive power of writing that I have been stressing: “He had not known just how greatly he had been divided and separated because once he started to work he wrote from an inner core which could not be split nor even marked nor scratched. David is made whole again by the erstwhile lesbian Marita.” in which the would-be writer Hubert Elliott. he used the French phrase in thinking. typical of the novel’s pseudo.) In the published version.”) There are hints in the published version. but repentant wife Catherine leaves. what he calls “his own country. even if a reluctant one. Elliott. As if this were not enough (there is obviously a certain amount of wish-fulfillment going on in Ernest Hemingway’s day-dream). while he sees it as a necessary prophylactic against the narcissistic wound that she has inflicted upon him. as it were. retires every night to his room to “write” and emerges in the mornings looking “exhausted. and plus net . of the need to put himself in touch with his “feminine side. By everything you have been taught it should. . He knew all about this and it was his strength since all the rest of him could be riven. Marita realizes the .” (193) Catherine’s “madness” is a punishment for her transgressive sexual behavior and is in opposition to that “sane” world of normative heterosexual. but her potential agency due to her ambivalent gender promises a great future for David’s creativity. into the country of transgressive gender relations. indeed as an enclave of masturbatory practice. There seems to be a realization on his part.” (215) Despite her instability. now. Such a state of affairs can only lead to a “splitting” of the subject. this flight from androgyny. and Mrs.” she puts it this way: “It’s worse than carrying around obscene postcards really. perhaps too neatly. Speaking of David’s serious “work. (There are.” depends to some extent on his excursions beyond the boundary ( again his very name signifies this idea) of a masculine integrity. I think he reads them by himself and is unfaithful to me with them. You would think it would be destroyed.All that you know is that you have written better. made much more explicit in the manuscript. “homosocial” relations. She sees this homosocial space. the new turn of exaggerated practicality. Catherine is. It should not but it has.” to use a cliché. as essentially auto-erotic. now converted (absolutely ?) to heterosexual love.” and rightly reads David’s excursions into his African territory as a flight from their sexual experimentation.” (183) (Emphases added.” his wholeness.of this primitive terrain—indeed because of it—young Davey safely emerges from this heart of darkness as a secure post-Oedipal subject. only mad “nor by nor west. . Not only does this boy-girl help him reconstruct verbatim the stories Catherine has destroyed. his “creativity. this “country” of men without women. this dilemma of divided selfhood is resolved neatly.

the imaginary “you” of this early poem was to take on the reality of a grand passion when. The reader has a feeling that in this poem the young Sylvia Plath is more involved with practicing a strict poetic form—experimenting with the technical intricacies of the villanelle—than with any deeply felt experience. but only to provoke a reactive. as if her father had abandoned and betrayed her. . betrayal and loss were to haunt her later life and writing. women. Although this is no doubt a poem about a fictional lover. and the “madness” of its title is meant to convey the delirium associated with youthful passion. Incorruptibility. In Hemingway’s textual world. so does his rewriting. It is poignantly prophetic in its portrayal of a young woman’s desire for some imaginary demon-lover. fashion. in 1955.integral. or more often than not. inviolability. a wound that manifested itself in both a profound sorrow and a deep resentment. a lover who drives her to distraction and then abandons her. but somehow “imaginary” as well. . creative response. having won a Fulbright Fellowship to Newnham College. the title could nevertheless serve as an analogue of her later mental instability and how this drove her into the creation of various other “songs” or poems. the thrust of this statement lies in its gender specificity and its categorical imperative. Hemingway commented to an old friend on the theme of the novel he was currently writing: it is about “the happiness of the Garden that a man must lose. The poem ends in disappointment and darkness due to the failure of the lover’s return. such a “marriage” can only “hurt” the male protagonist into writing “plus net” in order to save his masculine soul “Mad Girl’s Love Song”: Sylvia Plath and the Work of Mourning The first half of my title is from one of Sylvia Plath’s earliest published poems.necessity for David’s occasional flights into a purely homosocial space: “I want you to have men friends and friends from the war and to shoot with and to play cards at the club.” published in the August. 1953 issue of Mademoiselle magazine. indivisibility—these are what have been at stake in this textual/sexual struggle. Just as she had attempted his in-scription into an ambiguously gendered space. his reiterative “scripting” of the African stories. Sylvia met the up-and–coming poet Ted Hughes at a party. and at times anger because of this loss.” Apart from the Judeo-Christian mythological implications (actually maybe because of them!). He was real enough. It is no coincidence that this recovery of selfhood is figured in the re-writing of those texts that his wife had previously destroyed. but these themes of love. akin to the black despair that was to afflict Sylvia Plath later in life. From this very early publication. Some few years later. coming as it does to a resounding chord of harmonious restoration (the final word of the text is “intact”). In true Blakean.” are a necessary evil. Integrity. her very own Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. allow him to retain or renew his integrity. through the poems she wrote in those frantic months just before her suicide in 1963. In June 1948. the villanelle “Mad Girl’s Love Song. provides David Bourne once more with that (to coin a phrase) “virginal masculinity” that he had prostituted earlier in the novel. The death of her father when she was only eight years old seems to have left her with a deep psychic wound. dialectical. Their first meeting has become legendary by now: when she first meets Hughes at the party she . and the concomitant literary allusions (Marvell and Milton. It is the male of the species that is doomed to be the “Fall-Person”and it is a necessary fall. inflicting pain on their male counterparts.intact . “girls. many of Sylvia Plath’s poems are marked by a sense of loss. Cambridge. . to name a few).” (245) The closure of the published version. .

is an indication of how the two men became fused (or confused) in Sylvia Plath’s consciousness. wins a competition to spend a month in New York as a guest editor on the popular magazine “Mademoiselle. Plath’s fictional alter ego in The Bell Jar. and by extension on Plath herself. One is Sylvia Plath’s only published novel (although another unfinished one has come to light) The Bell Jar (1963). or rather sub-consciousness. When she returns home to Massachusetts. hurting her into those frantic last poetic utterances such as “Daddy. I got some ink on my fingers. whom she has to “kill” if she is to regain any psychic peace. Just as her father had hurt her into early expression. Her poem “Daddy” portrays her father as an evil spirit. in which she refers to Hughes as a “colossus. the failure to mourn) and its differentiation from the pathological state of melancholia sheds much light on the plight of Esther Greenwood. but there is something missing in her life that she cannot quite define for herself. more importantly.recites some of his own poetry to him. What caused the brilliant young student-poet who penned the plaintive “Mad Girl’s Love Song” to become the mentally unstable woman who wrote the shrill and cathartic shout of a poem such as “Daddy”? The psychological dynamic between Sylvia and her father (or. Hughes. Eventually. an evil spirit that haunted her dreams and interfered with her mental stability.” Well. BJ. The publication in 1998 of Hughes’ posthumous volume Birthday Letters (deliberately and necessarily posthumous because of the revelatory nature of the poems) reveals just how much he understood. one might say. Freud’s examination of the psychic work of mourning (or. after winning various other prizes. 293) and written under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. an ogre. The other text is Sigmund Freud’s seminal essay “Mourning and Melancholia. a recent find under the floorboards of her old house in Massachusetts is a note written when she was aged eight which reads: “Daddy. indeed a vampire. They played out a psychic drama in which Otto Plath (Sylvia’s father) played the third party in what was a virtual ménage a trois.” for which she is best known. Esther learns of the first real academic disappointment thus far in her life: she has been turned down for a summer writing course at Harvard University. (Sylvia Plath was also turned down that same summer when she applied to attend the fiction class of the well-known Irish writer Frank O’Connor. how much Sylvia’s chronic memorial to her father had affected both the stability of their marriage and his wife’s mental equilibrium.) Esther shortly thereafter becomes withdrawn . and when he kisses her on the neck she sinks her teeth into his cheek. very early in her relationship with Ted Hughes. Sylvia’s father recurs as a nightmarish figure. which she described as “autobiographical apprentice work which I had to write in order to free myself from the past” (Plath. Sylvia Plath would also come to this realization.” the title she was to choose for her first volume of poetry. Plath’s autobiographical novel (a kind of feminine Catcher in the Rye) tells the story of the summer of 1953 in the life of a highly successful college girl who. Plath recorded this incident in her journal. indeed! To understand her psychic voyage from young writer to her suicide in 1963. the “lack” of her father) is crucial for an understanding of her growth as a woman and a writer. two key texts will help us.” and “Lady Lazarus.” from which the other part of my title comes. Time and time again as Hughes’ poems survey their marriage. a lack of fulfillment as if she were not living her life in the “real” world. would play a similar role. a poem about the (even if ambivalent) renovation of a powerful figure for posterity. The fact that the title poem in that volume is about her father. but rather under a bell jar. even if retrospectively. so too her “substitute” father.” She is highly successful and popular. As if to underscore this connection. He too betrayed and abandoned her.

having made a recovery and won all the glittering prizes. in Europe. shortly before the close of the novel we read the following: “How did I know that someday—at college. italics added. anywhere —the bell jar. Esther makes her first serious attempt at suicide. However./ I thought even the bones would do. and this news shortly after her return from New York is certainly a turning point in the novel. . and by extension. lately. sleeplessness. Esther “seems” to regain her equilibrium. so the graveyard and even his death had always seemed unreal to me. and it seemed fitting I should take on a mourning my mother had never bothered with. This is the same age that Sylvia Plath was the year after she lost her father.” (Plath. Just as Sylvia Plath had done. back to you.and suffers what was then usually called a “nervous breakdown. CP 224. As Plath puts it her poem: “I was ten when they buried you. and he had died in the hospital. Esther Greenwood decides to seek out her father’s grave. none of us had ever visited him. speaks more directly to the nature of Esther Greenwood’s pathology. However. But she is found alive. It is true that not gaining entry to the writing course was certainly a big blow to Esther Greenwood’s ego (as it was to Sylvia Plath’s)./ But they pulled me out of the sack. and when she discovers it the narrative continues thus: “Then I remembered that I had never cried for my father’s death. Esther also has a desire to kill herself. Earlier in the novel.” (BJ 186. . Without any connective narrative explanation the next section of the novel begins: “I knew just how to go about it.” It seems that Esther Greenwood has survived a serious psychological malady and has shaken off the demons that have afflicted her. . the condition that was preventing her from fulfilling herself both as a woman and a writer.) Esther then wanders around the graveyard trying to find her father’s grave. indeed no desire to do anything: and./At twenty I tried to die/And get back. this conscious acknowledgement of her loss and the recognition of her deep sadness about not mourning her father. I had a great yearning.) In the novel. to pay my father back for all the years of neglect. Esther takes a bottle of sleeping pills and creeps under the crawl space beneath her house. [there is a great deal of ambiguity here] and start tending his grave. We read the following: “I thought it odd that in all the time my father had been buried in his graveyard. one that could be termed the epicenter of the book.” the “it” being the desperate act of suicide (189). Esther records the following: “I thought how strange it had never occurred to me before that I was only purely happy until I was nine years old” (82). I laid my face to the smooth marble and howled my loss into the cold salt rain” (188-89). another climactic scene. somewhere. My mother hadn’t let us come to his funeral because we were only children then. no desire to eat. Her mother is convinced that her daughter’s condition has been caused by her disappointment in not being admitted to the summer writing course. as was Sylvia Plath by her brother after two or three days. After this cathartic moment in the graveyard. I had always been my father’s favorite. and a few half hearted attempts at suicide (when Plath roughed out her novel she listed the various ways one could commit suicide). known only to herself. with its stifling distortions. Esther then has herself fitted with a diaphragm and tells herself that it was now time. to that of Sylvia Plath. back.” Her symptoms are recorded as follows: loss of self esteem. After psychiatric help and electric shock treatment./ And they stuck me together with glue. “to find the proper sort of man. After undergoing a series of electric shock treatments. wouldn’t descend again?” (271) That possibility became a reality for Sylvia Plath.

a betrayal that would lead her to those last desperate days and poems published in the volume Ariel. seems to be (in Freud’s findings) a loss of a more ideal kind—what the loved one represents more than what he or she actually was. a sense of security. Freudian or otherwise. I do. lack of interest in the outside world. Melancholia. this would be the loss of feelings of reciprocal love. . but can also harbour a hatred for the lost love-object: “In [these] disorders the sufferers usually succeed in the end in taking revenge. Mourning is a normal stage in psychic life. Some years later. etc. in which there is nothing unconscious about the loss.If Plath (and Esther Greenwood) had had decent psychoanalytic therapy rather than the crude shock therapy that they received. in her poem “Daddy” she seems to have come to an understanding of this transference: “And then I knew what to do. Sylvia Plath came close to curing herself when she wrote that graveyard scene. the root cause of their psychological/pathological plight might have came to light. and so on. The necessary work of mourning eventually recognizes that the loved one is gone.) Ted Hughes would also betray and abandon her. the latter with a revenge on the father and patriarchal power. I do” (Plath. When Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes at that party (her new “colossus”).” (Freud. but eventually the reality principle gains the upper hand. irreparable feelings of loss. Freud speaks to her pathological case in his essay when he distinguishes mourning from melancholia. Reality dictates this state of affairs. and by extension the association of such power with fascism.) Moreover. in contradistinction to grieving. in this pathological state. In the case of the loss of a father./I made a model of you. even though memory and desire wishes this were so. Esther ponders over all the things that might have been and what her father might have taught her had he lived. 224. CP . loss of appetite. (In the novel. the incubus that was to haunt her the rest of her short life. much of this sense of loss in melancholia is unconscious. For a time the ego (the subject) refuses to believe this and clings to the beloved object (in psychological terms it is unwilling to divest its libidinal position). the subject not only suffers a great loss. on the other hand. might have got to the bottom of Sylvia Plath’s argument with her father. . at least not until it was too late and she wrote poems like “Daddy. is both a chronic guilt at not mourning her father properly (like Esther Greenwood she was not permitted at her age to attend the funeral—his death was not “real”). she and her heroine Esther Greenwood as young women certainly manifested many of the symptoms./And I said. (all those symptoms endured by Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar). This is a realization that the beloved deceased cannot receive the love directed toward him or her. Freud goes on to remark on how such sado-masochistic tendencies can at times lead to suicide. familial bonding. by the circuitous path of self-punishment. nor can they give the love desired from them. Whether Sylvia Plath would have been diagnosed as melancholic or not. At times. It is within such a context that we can locate the roots of such poems as “Lady Lazarus” and “Daddy.” A good analyst. Although both mourning and melancholia share similar symptoms—dejection. indeed it is necessary for psychological health. although it is usually caused by the loss of a loved one. she almost immediately displaced her libidinal investment in her father on him. there is a fundamental and crucial difference in the two states. But Sylvia did not completely succeed in this exorcism. sleeplessness. Freud has remarks on this syndrome as well. 132-33). whereas melancholia is a morbid pathological state.” the former concerning itself with the “practice” of suicide./A man in black with a Meinkampf look/And a love of the rack and the screw. not long before her suicide. a quarrel that contributed to her eventual suicide. is dead. At the heart of Sylvia Plath’s argument with her father. but also a profound resentment at him leaving her at the tender age she was. Most of the last poems .

“Tragedy” always has the signature of a “too-lateness” about it. in her final poems. If only Blanche Dubois had not met Stanley Kolowksi. but she made sure that the door to her children’s room was made secure from the leaking gas and she left each of them. if only the telephone Sylvia Plath had ordered to be installed had arrived so that she might have called someone. but perhaps also a recognition that she could not cure herself. If only Sylvia had proper psychoanalytic treatment to rid her of the incubus of guilt with regard to her father: if only Ted Hughes had not left his distraught wife on the edge of a breakdown for another woman. she got up each morning before dawn and before her children awoke to write her last poems. if only that winter had not been so harsh and depressing. some of them such as “Daddy” with a vertiginous velocity. and Ted Hughes in his volume Birthday Letters. the most severe winter in England since the time of Keats and Shelley. Sylvia Plath “fell” on February 11th 1953 when she took some sleeping pills and put her head in the gas oven. Sylvia had moved by this time into a flat in a house in London once occupied by W. . and it was perhaps this awareness and the fear of the bell jar descending on her once again that led to that final act of “revenge. a momentum that seems dangerous.” the last poem that she wrote on February 6th could serve). maternal to the last. Ted Hughes records in an early poem in Birthday Letters how he believed that it was written in the stars that he and Sylvia Plath should be partnered by fate. as she put it “like a very efficient tool or weapon. There was no note (perhaps “Edge. 1962. and the early part of the next year. . She was right! Despite the crippling cold and her depressive state. and so hard to be alone in. Separated from her husband.” If only King Lear could have seen his daughter Cordelia’s sincerity. Frieda and Nicholas.” suggesting a dangerous virtuosity that is always prone to a fall. if only he instead insisted that she seek help.” These poems have an immediacy that gives the illusion of them having arrived alive like a new born baby. which she felt would be a good omen for her writing. . If only . Her final poems seem to approach a coming to terms with her sickness.B.” There is something truly tragic in her and Ted Hughes’ story. and an “if only. . If only Macbeth had not listened to his wife.were written in October. feeling. Sylvia Plath. but it was too late. Yeats. But Fate too is a prerequisite: as if these things have to happen. both seem to have come to an understanding of their predicament. The poet Robert Lowell (whose poetry workshop Plath had attended in Boston) perhaps found the perfect metaphor for them when he described their movement as that of “the control of a skier. a glass of milk by their bedsides.

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