I stayed up all night last night reading "A Lover of Unreason: The Life of Assia Wevill" - the femme fatale who broke up the marriage of Plath and Hughes. She seemed to be selfish, manipulative and overly enamoured of her own beauty (though in later life she hated to be reminded of it - possibly because like many beautiful women she felt that men were not drawn to her for her talents). She went through husbands like Morgan Spurlock eating supersize burgers during his month of experiment. BUT she had such a hard time with Ted Hughes that you would tend to have some sympathy for her, taking total responsibility for his children and basically keeping his life in order without getting any thanks or acknowledgement for it.
I know there are Ted sympathisers on my friends list and apologies if I offend anyone, but he seemed to be enamoured of darkness and encouraged it in the women he sought out. There's a line about how he makes you look into yourself, see your own darkness and uses it against you - really gave me a shiver as it reminded me of the psychologically dysfunctional and abusive situation I experienced in 2002-3. Thankfully the individual in question, while coercive and manipulative, lacked the sheer faux-primitive drive Hughes seemed to have, which seemed to lead a woman only one way - straight down, a good few steps beyond the level I reached with G, which was low enough as far as I was concerned!
Hughes remained violently attractive to women for most of his life and one woman wanted him so much she had to leave the room and vomit. (I saw some photos and I can see why). He called Wevill a "Lilith of abortions" full of "filthy erotic mystery" in one of this Birthday Letters poems and blamed her for being obsessed with her predecessor - which, arguably she was, far beyond the point of pyschological unhealthiness (living in a dead woman's house and sleeping in her bed is one thing, reading Plath's copy of "The Art of Loving" and adding her own notes to Plath's notes is moving to a new level altogether.)
In the bit where he made a list of things Assia had to do while he was away (not lie in bed after 8am, forbidden to nap during the day, had to give German lessons to the kids for an hour, the improve her cooking, learning a new recipe each time so she could be up to scratch with her predecessor) you really get a shiver up your spine at the kind of controlling behaviour involved. Also he never publicly acknowledged their daughter and one time at a party made the little girl drink wine until she got drunk just to entertain the guests. He could be capable of great, mercurial passion then casual cruelty. When you read the list of stuff he put Plath, then Wevill through, it really is hard to excuse him. And to those who say this is titillating, I've read enough of Hughes editing of Plath's journals and his editorialising of his own life to be able to see a streak of drama-loving run through his works and his approach towards Plath's estate, for one. From what I've read of his own poems, I don't know if he was worth the loss of two women and a child, to be perfectly honest. The Thought Fox and the View of a Pig are damn good poems - the rest, other than Crow, left me cold. He's a poet laureate kind of poet.
In a way what Hughes did is a bit like Robert Lowell's poetry collection The Dolphin and For Lizzie and Harriet where he publicly recounts the time in his life when he left his second wife for his third (Caroline Blackwood - another muse of the femme fatale variety) and deliberately misquotes angry letters from his estranged wife Elizabeth Hardwick. Many people were very pissed off with him for this, including Elizabeth Bishop and Adrienne Rich. But at least Lowell took the flak, whereas both Assia's and Sylvia's suicides (the former particularly shocking as Assia killed her daughter with her) were very conveniently and suspiciously suppressed.
To sum up, as Oscar Wilde said, losing one woman to suicide is a tragedy, two is bordering on something far more sinister than just carelessness. IMHO.