Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes while ‘very very beautifully drunk’ at a literary party in Cambridge on 25 February, 1956. She already knew his poems from student magazines, but in this diary entry she describes with vivid intensity the first time she saw ‘that big, dark, hunky boy’ in person. They shouted about poetry over the noise, and then he kissed her, ripping off her earrings and ‘lovely red hairband’, and she ‘bit him long and hard on the cheek’.
Why were Hughes and Plath at the party in Cambridge?
Plath had a Fulbright scholarship to study English at Newnham College. Hughes had graduated in 1954 and was living partly in London, partly in Cambridge. The party, at the Women’s Union in Falcon Yard, was to celebrate the launch of Saint Botolph’s Review, a literary magazine written by Hughes and a group of his friends.
Plath had read the first and only issue and she went to Falcon Yard, after downing whiskey with Hamish Stewart, intending to meet the writers. She describes her shouted conversation with these ‘boys in turtle-neck sweaters’ – Daniel Huws, David Ross, Daniel Weissbort, Than Morton, ‘satanic’ Lucas Myers and Ted Hughes.
How did they know each other’s poems?
The diary reveals the rivalries and literary relationships between these young poets, who read and critiqued each other’s works in Cambridge student journals. Huws had written a cutting review of poems that Plath had published in Chequer magazine (issue 9, Winter 1956). He said ‘Of the quaint and eclectic artfulness of Sylvia Plath’s two poems my better half tells me “Fraud, fraud,” but I will not say so; who am I to know how beautiful she may be’. At the party, Plath confronted Huws, asking provocatively, ‘Is this the better or the worse half?’
Plath and Hughes were also connected through Chequer magazine, even before their meeting. When they first talked, Plath quoted – ‘most dear unscratchable diamond’ – from his poem ‘The Casualty’, which was first printed in a 1954 issue of Chequer (number 7), where Plath’s work would appear later.