blackbirdonline journalFall 2015  Vol. 14 No. 2
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“Viciousness in the Kitchen”: The Backstory of Sylvia Plath’s “Lesbos”

On Saturday, October 13, 1962, the day after she wrote “Daddy,” Sylvia Plath woke at 4:00 a.m., wrote a rough draft of the poem “Eavesdropper,” then went for her weekly horseback riding lesson. She returned to Court Green (the manor house in the village of North Tawton in Devon, England that she and her poet husband Ted Hughes had purchased the previous fall), piled her children (two-and-a-half-year-old Frieda and infant Nicholas) and two cats into her black Morris Traveller station wagon, and drove a distance of ninety-four miles to visit her friends Marvin and Kathy Kane, who were staying in St. Ives, a seaside town in Cornwall. The visit did not go well. Hughes had “deserted” Plath and her children only two days before, and she was angry. She spent the night in St. Ives, drove back to Court Green the following day. On Monday, she started writing again. By Thursday, she had completed four new poems. (Plath would produce a total of twenty-six poems that October, most of which went into her manuscript of Ariel.) These “dawn poems,” written “in blood”1 (as she herself said), are Plath at her most enraged, and her most vengeful: attacks on a prying neighbor (“Eavesdropper”), on a clingy mother (“Medusa”), on a sadistic husband (“The Jailor”). In “Lesbos,” an attack on a faithless friend, Plath gives a scathing account of her weekend visit with the Kanes.

Sylvia Plath’s poems invite us to read them biographically. That’s more or less the point. She was excited about the recent work of Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton. The “new breakthrough,” Plath called it (in an interview she gave in London less than two weeks after writing “Lesbos”), “this intense breakthrough into very serious, very personal, emotional experience which I feel has been partly taboo.” In the same interview, she said that her “poems immediately come out of the sensuous and emotional experiences I have.”2 “Lesbos” (written just days after her visit with the Kanes), “Fever 103°” (written when she was actually running a 103 degree fever), “Cut” (written after she accidentally sliced off the tip of her thumb), and “Ariel” (written the same morning she went for a horseback ride) are examples of such immediacy.

Compared to poems like “Lady Lazarus” and “Daddy,” “Lesbos” has received very little critical attention. Maybe there’s not much that can be said: it is what it is, as we say. But what is it? It’s been called an “acidly vindictive” attack on a well-meaning woman “upon whom Sylvia exercised her gift for malice”3; a “record of disillusionment, and white-hot hate”4; a “long domesticity-gone-haywire monologue”5; an “incoherent, splenetic outburst”6; and “petty revenge, gossip, and whining decked out as art.”7 “Lesbos” is quite likely all of these things. It is also an intensely autobiographical poem and a “creative account,”8 as Plath scholar Gail Crowther puts it, of the time Plath spent in St. Ives, October 13–14, 1962. For over half a century, the identity of the “Lesbos” couple was kept a secret. Only in 2014, in Crowther’s Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year’s Turning (Fonthill Media), was the Kanes’ relationship to Plath and the poem made known. Before the book’s publication, biographers, if they mentioned them at all, referred to them anonymously. They are a mysterious “couple from London who had infuriated [Plath]”9 in one biography, “a young American writer and his wife”10 in another. Elizabeth Sigmund, a friend of Plath’s, has said that the Kanes struck Plath as “selfish and insensitive.”11 Another friend commented, “If Sylvia sought good company she went to the wrong place.”12

The Backstory
Plath and Hughes had become acquainted with the Kanes in 1961, when both couples were living in London. Marvin Kane, like Plath, was an American who had decided to make his home overseas. He was born in New York City in 1929. In the early 1950s, he immigrated to London, where he began an acting and writing career. Most of his work was for the BBC, both as an actor and a performer of poetry. He married Irish-born Kathleen (known as Kathy) Kindley in 1952. Two of Kane’s plays, The Bonus (1958) and The Londonian (1959), were broadcast by the BBC. He won praise, in 1958, for his dramatization of William Saroyan’s novel Tracy’s Tiger. In January 1961, his comedy We’re Just Not Practical was produced at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Kane clashed with director Joan Littlewood; he was unhappy with the changes she was making to his script. As a result, he was barred from rehearsals. His wife Kathy was “excommunicated”13 as well. Kane publicly dissociated himself from the production, which opened on January 24 and ran for only two weeks. He got the last word, though, by publishing an article (“Pity the Poor Playwright”) blaming Littlewood for distorting his work.

Six months after this fiasco, when Plath was commissioned to record some of her poems for the BBC’s The Living Poet series, Marvin Kane was brought in to assist. (The BBC customarily paired authors with actors for poetry readings.) “Yesterday morning,” she wrote her mother on June 6, “I spent at the BBC recording a 25 minute program of my poems and commentary, with an American boy reader for some of them.”14 As Kane was in his early thirties (and three years Plath’s senior), there is a hint of condescension in her reference to him as a “boy.” And as a mere “reader.” He was better known professionally than Plath—evidenced, perhaps, by the fact that he was called upon to recite more of her poems than she was. Plath read four (“The Disquieting Muses,” “Parliament Hill Fields,” “Spinster,” and “The Stones”) whereas Kane read five (“Magi,” “Medallion,” “Sleep in the Mojave Desert,” “Suicide Off Egg Rock,” and “You’re”). Nonetheless, Plath was pleased: “There is a Living Poet every month, and I am on a list of Americans among Robert Lowell, Stanley Kunitz and Theodore Roethke, which I find quite an honour.”15 The recording, broadcast on July 8, shows that both Kane and Plath had adopted faux British accents.

At the end of August, Plath and Hughes moved to North Tawton. Hughes, feeling the pressures of fame, wanted to distance himself from the literary scene in London. Plath gave birth to Nicholas on January 17, 1962. In March, Kane wrote to Plath inviting her to take part in a BBC program he was hosting, What Made You Stay?, about Americans who had chosen to live in England. Plath wrote back agreeing to participate, provided Kane wangle a tape recorder and interview her at Court Green, as the newborn baby prohibited her from traveling to London. In her letter, Plath describes their new property (ancient thatched house, cobbled courtyard, two-and-a-half acres of land, complete with apple orchard and plethora of daffodils) and, as if already rehearsing for Kane’s program, plays up her Americanness. She refers to herself as a loyal American housewife and states that, in the garden she and Hughes are planting, she looks forward to raising the bits of Americana she most misses: Country Gentlemen corn, Kentucky wonder beans, and pumpkins.

In a follow-up letter, Plath informs Kane that she has made arrangements for his visit (he’d obviously wangled a tape recorder). This letter, as Gail Crowther notes, is “witty and sharp”: “Look out, she tells him, for someone covered in straw and red mud [from gardening] at the railway station—it will be her.”16 Plath complains, tongue in cheek, about the “horrid” weather they’ve been having: “gale force winds have carried off all of her lettuces and deposited large spiders everywhere, mostly in her coffee cup before breakfast.”17 She’d made a reservation for Kane at the Burton Hall Arms, an inn five minutes from Court Green.

The interview, which took place in the sitting room at Court Green on April 10, went smoothly. Crowther observes that Plath provided “confident and humorous reasons why she chose to stay in England” and that “some of her answers are so funny, you can clearly hear Marvin Kane stifling his laughter in the background.”18 Plath, however, was irked. In addition to his wife Kathy, Marvin had brought along an acquaintance and her two young daughters. (They were on their way to Cornwall, where the Kanes hoped to find a place to rent.) Afterward, to her mother, Plath griped about the children’s behavior:

 . . . two of the most ghastly children I’ve ever seen—two girls of 5 & 6. They had no inner life, no notion of obedience, & descended shrieking on Frieda’s toys, running up & down through the house with mucky boots . . . They almost knocked us out . . . They kept sneaking up to peer in the rooms & at the baby though they’d been told repeatedly not to. How I believe in firm loving discipline!19

She says she could have kicked the unruly girls (“firm loving discipline,” indeed) and characterizes their mother as a tearful, ineffectual creature. Plath’s letters and journals are full of such irritations and judgments. Though usually socially polite, she often seethed in private about other people. She continually condescends to Kane: he is “an American boy reader,” a “young American boy,” “a young American.”20 In her journal, she calls him “that Marvin Kane.”21 She doesn’t seem to really like or respect him, but he is helpful to her career. It is obvious from Plath’s tone that she considers herself and Ted Hughes to be Kane’s artistic betters.

We haven’t heard from you? Are you mad at us? Marvin apparently wrote something to this effect, within three weeks of the interview, that prompted Plath to reply, on April 30, that no, she and Hughes were not angry, just overwhelmed with spring gardening. (The Kanes’ letters do not survive, so one must infer, from Plath’s and Hughes’s, the other half of the conversation.) Plath sounds somewhat put out at being coerced into reassuring them. Yet she says they loved having them at Court Green, then offers that she and Hughes had felt instant affection towards them, as though they’d known them for years. The Kanes’ trip to Cornwall had not been successful: landlords, with an eye on summer trade, were hiking rents. Plath mentions that there are affordable cottages in Devon.

In June, Marvin wrote to Hughes asking if he would write a letter of recommendation for an Arts Council grant. Hughes responded that he’d be delighted to sponsor him, even though he himself had applied for one and been turned down. Since he wasn’t familiar with Kane’s plays, Hughes asked him to fill him in on the details of his career. Plath attached a letter of her own (this was the first of several joint letters to the Kanes), again reassuring that their silences were innocuous. (Marvin must have intimated, once more, that he and Kathy felt neglected by their poet friends.) They are living, Plath explains, in a kind of country eternity where time doesn’t mean anything. She falls into bed each night, exhausted from weeding the garden. She wishes Kathy were at Court Green so the two of them could sit and talk and pluck weeds in a Zennish manner—an allusion to Kathy Kane’s involvement in Zen Buddhism. Plath’s and Hughes’s letters are chatty, even warm. Hughes says his main activity has been clearing the yard, every morning, of fallen nestlings and bird eggs. Both poets compliment Marvin on his performance in the BBC’s The Day the Money Stopped, an adaptation of Brendan Gill’s novel, which they listened to on May 28.

A second joint letter reveals that, by the end of June, Plath and Hughes were actively looking for a place where the Kanes could live. It seems they liked the idea of having another literary-minded couple nearby. One of their Devon neighbors, Kathleen Macnamara, a small and feisty white-haired woman who exuded prosperity, was seeking a couple to live with her at Cadbury House, a nineteen-room renovated rectory with vast grounds, a rose garden, a gardener, and lots of cats. Free room and board. Wages for Kathy, who would be expected to cook and help with housework. Time and space for Marvin to write. Plath promised that, should they take the position, she and Hughes would visit them often. In order for Hughes to familiarize himself with his work (for the Arts Council recommendation), Marvin had sent him two of his plays. One of them was We’re Just Not Practical, the comedy that had flopped in January 1961. Its plot was almost identical to the situation Plath and Hughes were proposing for the Kanes: a couple becomes housekeepers in a boardinghouse in order to save rent and expenses while the husband devotes his free time to writing. Hughes said that both plays had made him laugh, and it wasn’t easy to make Ted Hughes laugh—on paper, at any rate.

The arrangement with Mrs. Macnamara did not pan out. The Kanes preferred to be by the sea. Still, Plath and Hughes continued to keep an eye out for cottages in Devon. But all such helpful house-hunting would soon take a back seat to a more urgent drama. On July 9, Plath discovered that Hughes was having an affair with Assia Wevill, wife of poet David Wevill. (The Wevills sublet Hughes and Plath’s London flat when they moved to Court Green.) From this point forward, Plath would be in a fairly constant state of hurt and fury. Plath wrote to the Kanes (no more joint letters) in mid-July. She did not let on that her marriage was in trouble. But she did sound distressed. She may have broken her toe—how? had she kicked something? And her mother was in Devon for an extended summer vacation. What was at first a blessing (her mother looked after the children and gave Plath and Hughes time to write, freedom to travel at will) had become a strain. Plath had read the copy of We’re Just Not Practical that Marvin had sent Hughes and laughed like crazy. If it made her laugh in the midst of great angst, she told him, it had to be good. She also expressed gratitude for Kane’s efforts to line up a radio program of her reading poems—all by herself. (This proposed broadcast would not come to fruition.)

One month after Plath learned of Hughes’s infidelity, August 9, a Thursday, she took the train to London to record a poem (“The Surgeon at 2 a.m.”) for the BBC’s series The Poet’s Voice. Her mother had just returned to America. She spent the night at the Kanes’ flat—a flat from which they were about to be evicted. Plath offered to put them up at Court Green, on the condition they chip in for food and help with Frieda and Nicholas. The next day, back at home, Plath wrote the Kanes to let them know that Hughes would drive up to London the following Monday and help move them to Devon. And to inform them that she had already made plans for them to babysit: novelist Olive Higgins Prouty, Plath’s patroness, was in England; Plath and Hughes would need to spend Wednesday night in London.

While Prouty was feting Plath and Hughes (she treated them to cocktails, dinner, a performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, and a room at the swank Connaught Hotel), the Kanes were having a difficult time handling their new job as babysitters. Plath complained in an August 17 letter to her mother:

We now have with us a young American writer, who was evicted from his London flat, and his wife. They are fantastically neurotic, she has dozens of illnesses, all untreatable because she has decided she is allergic to any medicine that might help—for instance, she has ulcers, she says, yet can’t swallow, she says, milk. And migraine, but is allergic to codeine. And she is a fanatic about food. I just take all this calmly. They are living in the guest room—I said we would take them in rent-free for a month or 6 weeks until they were rested enough to look for another flat, if they would help pay for the food and help with the children. They took over the day we were in London and it nearly killed them.22

Plath had hoped that the Kanes would mind the house and children while she and Hughes took a trip to Ireland in September (a trip she also hoped would save her marriage). She now had “grave doubts as to their staying power.”23 Plath and both children came down with a bad case of flu (she would later blame the Kanes for making her sick). In a subsequent letter to her mother, Plath vented more criticisms of the Kanes. Marvin is a depressive. Kathy, a big-boned Irish orphan, is manic. Nevertheless, she is thankful for Kathy’s presence. She helps with the children and cooks one meal a day. She is kind. Without her, Plath would not be able to work in her study each morning. “This suggests,” says Gail Crowther, “that Hughes was not around and indeed [Plath] informed her mother that he spent most of the week in London. Feeling that she was leading a degraded life, waiting for him to come home, she had decided upon a legal separation.”24

After little more than two weeks, the Kanes left Court Green and moved to St. Ives, the beach resort on the southwest tip of Cornwall. At last they were near the ocean. Biographer Paul Alexander asserts that “the Kanes had become exhausted by caring for the children . . . and by the stress they themselves felt over the Hugheses’ marital trouble.”25 Plath was peeved that they left sooner than she expected. To Elizabeth Sigmund, she renounced the Kanes for eating her out of house and home and then traipsing off to the seashore. She forwarded some mail to them on September 5 and penned a bitchy note. She has been ill since they departed, with flu and fevers and chills, and by the way do they have any idea where Frieda’s brand-new doll pram is, it can’t be found and the girl is desolate without it. Oh, and good news, we’ve hired a nanny to look after the children while we’re in Ireland. We wouldn’t have been able to enjoy ourselves, worrying about you, and besides, we don’t want to spoil your fun in the sun.

Plath and Hughes’s trip to Ireland did not save their marriage. Instead, it heralded the end. On September 16, four days into what was to be a week-long vacation, Hughes abandoned Plath and, without telling her his whereabouts, went to Spain with Assia Wevill. Plath made her way back to England, and Court Green, by September 19. A letter from Kathy Kane was waiting for her. Plath responded two days later. It had cheered her up, she said, receiving her letter. She found Frieda’s doll pram—no worries. She admitted her marriage was over, likening it to a gangrenous limb that must be amputated in order to survive. She asked if they had room in St. Ives for her and the children to pay them a short visit.

On September 26, Plath traveled to London to see a solicitor. “I am getting a divorce,” she declared to her mother. “It is the only thing.”26 In a September 29 letter to Kathy (the last letter, actually, that Plath would write to either of the Kanes), Plath bared all. She very much wanted Kathy’s sympathy. Kathy had been kind to her when the Kanes were staying at Court Green. She was in need of an ally; perhaps Kathy could be counted on for support. Hughes abandoned her in Ireland two weeks ago, she confided, and hasn’t been heard from since. He has been spinning elaborate lies. He has gone berserk. He is squandering all of their hard-earned savings. He never had the courage to tell her he didn’t want children. Frieda just lies on the floor miserably, sucking her thumb. Plath never wanted to leave London, it was all Ted’s idea. She is going crazy, stuck in this cow country with no one to talk to. The evenings are hell. She can’t sleep without pills. She would love to drive down to St. Ives for a weekend visit. She loves them both.

Ted Hughes returned to Court Green on October 4 to pack up his things—books, papers, clothes—and relocate to London. He left, for good, one week later. By then, Plath was fiercely turning out her October poems. It was “hurtful to be ditched,” she wrote her brother. “But thank God I have my own work. If I did not have that I do not know what I would do.” Every morning, when her sleeping pill wore off, she’d write “from dawn to when the babes wake, a poem a day, and they are terrific.” The week that Hughes was there, she composed the bee sequence. The day he left, “The Applicant.” The following day, “Daddy.” The next day, she put the kids and cats and a sack of potatoes (from the garden at Court Green) in the car and set out for St. Ives. Proudly, Plath designated this her “first independent act.”27

Since we do not have Plath’s journal from this period (it’s either been lost, destroyed, or hidden away), we do not know if she wrote in it about her weekend with the Kanes. All we have is a tidbit from an October 16 letter to her mother, in which Plath puts a positive spin on the trip: “After Ted left with all his clothes & things I piled the children & 2 cats in the car & drove to stay with a . . . couple I know in St. Ives Cornwall—the most heavenly gold sands by emerald sea. Discovered Cornwall, exhausted but happy.”28 (The ellipsis indicates that Aurelia Plath cut something when she edited her daughter’s letters for publication in 1975. The word she omitted is “horrid.”)

We also have “Lesbos.” Keeping in mind that it is a “creative account” (it is, after all, a poem), what can it tell us about Plath’s visit to Cornwall? Can it give us an inside view of what actually happened between Plath and the Kanes? Here is an attempt to read the tea leaves, so to speak, to forge—using Plath’s poem and letters—a dramatic recreation:

Saturday, late morning, Plath drives down A30, the main road through southwest England, passing many towns and villages, a distance of ninety-four miles. It takes several hours to reach St. Ives. Her first glimpse of the ocean is breathtaking: the most heavenly gold sands by emerald sea. She is exhausted but happy to be out in the world, away from the “mausoleum”29 of Court Green. She locates “Quaintways,” a cottage in Hicks Court, where the Kanes are staying. A low cement wall surrounds the porch of the cottage, creating a sort of well. Plath opens the metal gate; the Kanes greet her at the Dutch door. After Plath settles in, they stroll through the cobbled streets of the tourist town, browsing the shops. The emerald sea glimmers in the afternoon sun.

Back at “Quaintways,” the two women stand in the cramped kitchen. Kathy is cooking some of the Court Green potatoes that Plath brought as a hospitality gift. They hiss in the pan. The décor of the cottage is too cute for Plath’s taste; it seems as phony as a Hollywood set. The fluorescent light blinks on and off. She’s dazed from the sleeping pills she’s been taking. Frieda writhes on the floor. Plath says she’s worried about Frieda; she’s regressed awfully since Ted deserted them. Kathy doesn’t seem at all sympathetic. She can’t stand the smell of Frieda’s sick kittens—they are puking and crapping—so she sticks them outside, in the cement well. She tells Plath she should drown them. Kathy has no interest in girls. Nicholas, though, looks good enough to eat. He smiles like a fat snail on the orange linoleum. She complains that Marvin is no good, sexually. His possessive Jewish mother ruined him for other women. When Plath complains about Ted, what a betrayer and philanderer he is, Kathy encourages her to have an affair of her own. This is not what Plath wants to hear. No, Kathy is not sympathetic at all. Now she’s whining about her psychosomatic health problems. Too bad Marvin went out for a coffee. Plath could have used him here, to deflect some of his wife’s bitchiness. The close, smoke-filled kitchen feels hellish. Kathy and Plath are venomous opposites.

That night, they walk down to the beach as the full moon is rising above the harbor. At first, it is blood red, then, as it gets higher in the sky, stark white. Marvin befriends a stray dog and walks ahead of the women. The eerie, moonlit sand gives Plath the creeps. She and Kathy keep picking up handfuls of the silky grit, working it like dough or a mulatto body. The next morning, Kathy is still whining about her marriage. Day in and day out, she has to coddle Marvin, build up his confidence. It’s exhausting. I’m the one who’s been abandoned, thinks Plath. She can’t take a minute more of Kathy’s harping—what a bloodsucker. She expected the Kanes to understand what she’s going through. But they are a horrid couple, selfish and insensitive. Livid, she gives Kathy the silent treatment. She packs up the children, the sick cats. She even packs the rest of the potatoes—a gift she is retracting. Kathy stands at the cottage door, watches her guest depart. What’s the point, she mumbles, shaking her head. Plath looks back. Sees Kathy as a sad hag. Sees Marvin, down by the gate that leads to the sea, as her impotent prisoner. Plath says she might pay them another visit. Both women know she is lying. They’re never going to see each other again, in this or any other life.

Once we know the backstory of “Lesbos,” it’s easy to contextualize it within Plath’s “very personal, emotional experience.” All the dots begin to connect. Many of the poem’s details can be traced to Plath’s letters. The sick cats, for instance. The day before the outing to Cornwall, October 12 (i.e., the day Plath wrote “Daddy”), Mrs. Macnamara (the Devon neighbor who’d been looking for live-in help) gave two kittens to Frieda. Plath tells her mother their names and the colors of their coats: “Tiger-Pieker and Skunky-Bunks, the first a tiger, the second black & white . . . They’re very good for her now.”30 By “now” she means in the wake of Hughes’s departure. And it was due to Hughes’s departure, she freely admitted to her correspondents, that Plath was now addicted to sleeping pills. (She would take them until the end of her life.) She considered them “a necessary evil” and blamed them for the “great, black shadows”31 under her eyes. In “Lesbos,” she notes the effects of her drug dependence: “I’m doped and thick from my last sleeping pill.”32 The potatoes Plath carted from Court Green, angrily taken back at visit’s end, are hard, like her feelings. As is the moon:

That night the moon
Dragged its blood bag, sick
Up over the harbor lights.
And then grew normal,
Hard and apart and white.33

A bit of Internet sleuthing confirms that the moon was in fact full (hence “blood bag”) the weekend Plath went to St. Ives. Its depiction as a sick animal corresponds with the sick kittens. We’re even given the real-life location: “I should sit on a rock off Cornwall and comb my hair.”34 The poem has a GPS.

From beginning to end, “Lesbos” is riddled with coded insults, digs at Kathy Kane’s marriage, at her spirituality, at her (in Plath’s eyes) neurotic maladies. Certain lines (“The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine”; “The sun gives you ulcers”35 ) hark back to the complaints Plath voiced about Kathy in her letter of August 17: she has ulcers, she says, yet can’t swallow, she says, milk. And migraine, but is allergic to codeine. “I call you Orphan, orphan”36 is another personal swipe: Kathy, a big-boned Irish orphan, is manic. Still another comes in the final, solitary line, where Plath uses Kathy’s Buddhist belief against her, to permanently brush her off: “Even in your Zen heaven we shan’t meet.”37 “The point,” writes Judith Kroll in Chapters in a Mythology: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath, “is that even in the most radical and complete state of enlightenment, where all opposites are reconciled, the speaker and her friend will still not ‘meet,’ so irreconcilable is their ‘venomous’ opposition.”38

Plath wrote “Lesbos” on October 18, in one sitting, “at about four in the morning—that still, blue, almost eternal hour before cockcrow, before the baby’s cry.”39 It came in a five-page, handwritten rush, with many furious cross-outs and revisions. She made further changes on two typed drafts. Formally, Plath tried something new. She almost always wrote poems in stanzas of even-numbered lines—couplets, tercets, quatrains, cinquains—with an overall sense of shapeliness. In “Lesbos,” she abandons her usual penchant for order and lets the lines stack raggedly down the page—long lines jutting out in between short ones—as her anger spews forth. She’s literally letting loose; the chaotic look reflects her rawness. The stanzas thin and shorten as the poem progresses, diminish as her emotion runs its course. Because of the title, some readers mistakenly assume the theme of the poem is lesbianism. Plath may be equating the setting—the most heavenly gold sands by emerald sea—to the Isle of Lesbos. But foremost she is being facetious. “Lesbos” is a hate poem. And a condemnation of sisterhood. She had turned to Kathy Kane for sympathy and support, but came away feeling betrayed.

In the last months of her life, Plath submitted “Lesbos” to The New Yorker, The London Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and Poetry. All four magazines rejected it. She included it in her manuscript of Ariel, placing it between “Magi,” a proto-feminist declaration (“What girl ever flourished in such company?”)40, and “The Other,” an enigmatic meditation on her rival Assia Wevill. After Plath’s death, Hughes removed “Lesbos” from the English edition of Ariel (but did allow it to be published in the American version). When he was rearranging Plath’s manuscript, he cut “the more openly vicious” poems, attacks that were “aimed too nakedly” at their targets. He was undoubtedly trying to protect the Kanes, at least on their side of the Atlantic. “I no longer remember . . . why the US edition is different from the English,” wrote Hughes in 1971. “I think most of it was concern for certain people. I don’t think I overestimated the possible injuries.” Hughes knew that Plath’s poems were based on “definite event[s]”41 in her life and thus could be decoded.

Marvin Kane continued to work for the BBC through the mid-1980s. At some point, he and Kathy moved to North Mundham, a village in the Chichester district of West Sussex, not far from the coast of the English Channel. In the nineties, Marvin sold a cache of letters (eleven from Plath, three from Hughes, all dated 1962) to a private collector; they ended up in the Sylvia Plath archive at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. These letters tell the story of the interactions between the two couples. Kathy Kane died in 1997, in her late sixties. Her ashes are interred in the Chichester Crematorium. Her memorial plaque bears the image of a cat (one can’t help but think of those sick kittens) and this cryptic epitaph: “Forget the past, let it go when it will for nothing remains.” In a 1999 letter to Karen V. Kukil, who was editing Plath’s journals, Marvin mentioned that he had destroyed his old diaries. This is a shame. They might have contained impressions of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, as well as his and Kathy’s feelings about “Lesbos.” He died in 2012, in his early eighties. A Buddhist funeral service was held at Chichester Crematorium. (Presumably Kathy also had a Buddhist service.) Marvin’s memorial plaque (next to Kathy’s) says this: “We have only now, only this single eternal moment, opening & unfolding before us, day & night.”  end  

1 Sylvia Plath, Letters Home: Correspondence 1950–1963, ed. Aurelia S. Plath (New York: Harper Perennial, 1992).
2 “A 1962 Sylvia Plath Interview with Peter Orr,” ed. Cary Nelson, Modern American Poetry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 
3 Anne Stevenson, Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989).
4 Clarissa Roche, memoir manuscript.
5 Paul Alexander, Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath (New York: Da Capo Press, 1999).
6 Susan R. Van Dyne, Revising Life: Sylvia Plath’s Ariel Poems (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993).
7 Edward Butscher, Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness (New York: Seabury Press, 1976).
8 Gail Crowther and Elizabeth Sigmund, Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year’s Turning (Stroud: Fonthill Media, 2014).
9 Butscher, Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness.
10 Stevenson, Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath.
11 Sigmund, Elizabeth, “Sylvia in Devon: 1962,” in Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work, ed. Edward Butscher (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1977).
12 Clarissa Roche, memoir manuscript.
13 Marvin Kane, “Pity the Poor Playwright.”
14 Plath, Letters Home: Correspondence 1950–1963.
15 Ibid.
16 Crowther, Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year’s Turning.
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid.
19 Plath, Letters Home: Correspondence 1950–1963.
20 Ibid.
21 Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, ed. Karen V. Kukil (New York: Anchor, 2000).
22 Plath, Letters Home: Correspondence 1950–1963.
23 Ibid.
24 Crowther, Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year’s Turning.
25 Alexander, Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath.
26 Plath, Letters Home: Correspondence 1950–1963.
27 Ibid.
28 Ibid.
29 Sylvia Plath, The Collected Poems, ed. Ted Hughes (New York: Harper & Row, 1981).
30 Plath, Letters Home: Correspondence 1950–1963.
31 Ibid.
32 Plath, The Collected Poems.
33 Ibid.
34 Ibid.
35 Ibid.
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid.
38 Judith Kroll, Chapters in a Mythology: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).
39 Sylvia Plath, Ariel: The Restored Edition (New York: HarperCollins, 2004).
40 Plath, The Collected Poems.
41 Ted Hughes, Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose, ed. William Scammell. (New York: Picador, 1995).

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