Excerpt from Capriccio: the Haunting of Sylvia Plath.
Dear Readers, how does my new sub-title ‘The Haunting of Sylvia Plath’ work for you? The emphasis in my novel about Assia Wevill, Plath’s rival and the mistress of Ted Hughes, is on the insidious influence Sylvia’s suicide had on both Ted and Assia. I’ve invented all journal entries and letters, and changed the names of any characters still living.
This is my new beginning. It’s a fictional re-creation of Sylvia Plath’s lost journal the day before she died:
Excerpt from Chapter 1, ‘Edge’ London 10 February 1963
The water’s frozen in the pipes, and the blood’s frozen in my veins. My hands are stiff and blue with cold as I write this. It’s the worst winter London has known in over thirty years. Thirty years; my age last birthday and what have I to show for it? A failed marriage, a few poems, and a mediocre novel. At least I didn’t publish it under my own name. Mother would be mortified if she knew that monster was based on her.
There’s nothing left. Only the children – my two roses. They’ll surely be better off without me. How it breaks my heart to see them, both asleep now, thank God, curled up into their little balls in the bed we needs must share, just to keep warm. I’m seizing these precious moments to write, before they wake. As the temperature drops so the words, bitter words, are pouring out of me on these dark mornings. I’ve a feeling these new poems are the ones that will make my name, make Mother proud of me. I’m putting them all together in one collection, called ‘Daddy’.
There was just enough light to see the loose page with the draft of her last poem, Edge, its many crossed-out lines and scribbled notes rebuking her.
She looked again at the title page of her collection, with its simple dedication to Fleur and Timothy. The words were wrung out of her in these early mornings, when she woke to the blackness, after the sedative Dr Horder prescribed had worn off. This hour before dawn, while the children were still mercifully asleep, was hers alone. At first, in the months after Ted had left her, the words had flowed out of her in those silent ghostly mornings at Court Green. It was as if the gaping wound his absence made inside her needed to be filled with these new, angry, savage poems.
It was almost six now, yet still dark outside. She switched on the reading lamp; it shone its yellow light on the black ring binder on her writing table. Stretching and shivering at the same time, she closed her eyes to fight the blackness that always engulfed her on waking, drawing her in and down, deeper than sleep. Let me die, the voice in her head whispered again. There was no stopping it.
With a sigh, she crossed out the working title for her collection, Daddy, and replaced it with Ariel. She would call on the power and life force of her new title poem, and through it banish the death-voice that woke her every morning.
Note to lovers of Plath’s poetry: there are many allusions to her imagery in my text, for those of you who have the perception to spot them. Do they work for you?