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Spectral Ophelia: Reading manuscript cancellations contextually in Ted Hughes’s Cave Birds

Smith, Carrie ORCID: 2018. Spectral Ophelia: Reading manuscript cancellations contextually in Ted Hughes’s Cave Birds. Roberts, Neil, Wormald, Mark and Gifford, Terry, eds. Ted Hughes, Nature and Culture, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 195-214. (10.1007/978-3-319-97574-0_12)

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Imagine that it is 16 June 1956. Sylvia Plath, her boyfriend Ted Hughes and her mother Aurelia are off to Stratford upon Avon, the home of Shakespeare, to see Hamlet. Although Plath had written to her mother planning their trip to see the play, they never attended this performance. Instead, on 16 June 1956, Plath and Hughes were married, with Plath’s mother Aurelia and a hastily requisitioned curate as witnesses. I begin with a fiction, therefore, a potential but unrealised theatre trip to see Hamlet, as a means to illuminate a broader chain of missed encounters, absences and silences around Plath and the figure of Ophelia. This chain of absence connects Plath’s and Hughes’s writing through one small, specific erasure in his drafting process that resonates with a much larger structure of omission and silence connecting Plath and Ophelia in his writing and compositional process. In the drafts for the poem ‘Something was Happening’ from Cave Birds (1975) written twelve years after Plath’s death, Hughes crosses out two lines relating to Ophelia. This act of crossing out is thus the starting point for a far wider interrogation of where Ophelia is not within Hughes’s work. Across this chapter, I argue that Hughes’s fixation on avoiding the potential for his poetry to be read through a biographical framework, specifically that relating to his and Plath’s life together, produces a sensitivity about particularly charged cultural references, like Ophelia, in his work.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN: 9783319975733
Last Modified: 24 Oct 2022 08:23

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