Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Five Reasons Why We Hate Aurelia Plath

Witch, bloodsucker, martyr -- and she probably voted for Eisenhower. She's not a writer, not talented. She was manless, not sexy, not a real professor. She had bad taste in clothes, furniture and wallpaper: Photos prove it. She gave her daughter Sylvia Plath advice she didn't ask for, was a terrible role model, a helicopter parent who nearly suffocated Sylvia out in the suburbs -- except Sylvia got away and became a great creative artist! 

Aurelia Plath worried, lied, edited, tried to make her dead daughter seem like a happy person, sacrificed to give her children what she had not had and brand-name schooling, and loved them and her grandchildren in very wrong ways and anxiously. Folks just hated Aurelia, couldn't stand her: There is testimony. She was Mrs. Greenwood, blind to Sylvia's pain, prim, unenlightened, never had much of a life.

That narrative of Aurelia's evil banality is so embedded I can only build on it. I wondered why trolling Aurelia -- even now! -- is so easy and popular that anyone can do it. It must come down to trolling basics.

1) Sexism. Sylvia's father was her important, influential parent, yadda yadda, and his death was her life's most important event; next-most was marriage to Ted. Aurelia had no man and thus no life worth looking into. Sylvia believed that, and as she came of age under patriarchy scorned her mother and allies as hags and rivals. She wrote that being like her mother was the worst that could happen. First Worlders aware that starvation or prison might be worse can sort of sympathize, because of:

2) Freudian cultural debris. Yes, we are post-Freudians but still vigorous individualists and deep down blame our own and other people's parents for all ills. We can't forgive Aurelia or our own mothers for Not Letting Us Be Ourselves and other psychic injuries. We experience Sylvia's hate-my-mother rants as quintessential and truthful, not political or cultural or even a problem.

3) Snobbery. Aurelia's immigrant parents, who never went to college, had three kids and no money and had Aurelia choose either two years in secretarial college or no college. Exceeding expectations Aurelia became a teacher and married a man with better degrees than hers, which makes him brilliant but her not. Widowed and, it is said, coveting WASP respectability, Aurelia moved her family from the oceanfront to a boring suburb and taught business subjects and never had sex with strangers or did anything cool that we know about.

4) Ageism. Letters Home, published in 1975, was Aurelia Plath's debut as a public figure. She was 69 years old. Sylvia, dead at 30, is a forever young and ageless rebel -- as are we! Otto, being male, looked seasoned, never old. Aurelia kept sorting and doing and saying things of no value until she had to be put away.

5) Cultism. Venerating Sylvia's every word and thing, we annotate, edit, air our views and skip what doesn't fit our narrative. We identify with Sylvia and sentimentally cling to any trace of her. Our view is the only accurate view. Polite and passive-aggressive in public, among ourselves we are judgy and pissy. In short, we are Aurelia.


Rita said...

Is there a good reason why Ted Hughes despised Aurelia? (Other than mirroring Sylvia's resentment towards her mother). I'm referring to a couple passages from Red Comet.

Catherine Rankovic said...

Their hatred was mutual. Aurelia believed Ted's cheating and emotional abuse drove Sylvia to suicide and left her grandchildren inadequately cared for. Ted's distaste was personal. He hated Aurelia's worrying and wanting annual visits with the grandchildren. Thus began mutually toxic dealings. He let Aurelia see the children in exchange for her silence about the breakup and her daughter's death; a word, and he'd cut off access. Aurelia shamed Ted into sending the money from Sylvia's writings to the children's accounts. Ted put his saber-toothed sister in charge of Sylvia's estate and Aurelia for three years blocked U.S. publication of The Bell Jar. Shefinally granted permission in exchange for the right to edit and publish a volume of Sylvia's letters home -- giving Ted the right to the final edit. He left the later entries in shreds. Aurelia's publisher called lawyers . . .