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Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and the Story of Birthday Letters

3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  404 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
When Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters was published in 1998, it was greeted with astonishment and acclaim, immediately landing on the bestseller list. Few suspected that Hughes had been at work for a quarter of a century on this cycle of poems addressed to his first wife, Sylvia Plath. In Ariel's Gift, Erica Wagner explores the destructive relationship between these two poets ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 17th 2002 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2000)
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Nov 13, 2007 h rated it really liked it
it's true that poetry is not biography. and yet, confessional poets abound and their life stories do provide context for their work. the work, however, stands as well alone (at least, it does if it's well-written). plath is among the most controversial and confessional poets of all-time. hughes, her widower, broke his lifelong silence about his first wife, her suicide, and the aftermath when he published his first confessional work in birthday letters the year before his death. in this book, the ...more
Jee Koh
Sep 23, 2015 Jee Koh rated it really liked it
In Ariel's Gift, Erica Wagner composes a running commentary on the poems in Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters. The commentary calls on Sylvia Plath's fiction, journals and letters, and on Hughes' few public statements after Plath's death, in order to shine a light on the poems. Wagner is particularly good, I think, on Hughes's sense of fate in the making of his and Plath's poems, and in the events that overtook them. Critics of Hughes may see the avowals of ignorance and helplessness in the Birthday ...more
Drew Hoffman
Dec 10, 2014 Drew Hoffman rated it it was ok
"Ariel's Gift" attempts to look into the relationship between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes with a sympathetic eye on the much vilified Hughes, Plath's husband and fellow poet. The book sinks into the mire of evenhandedness however and leaves several important questions unanswered: if Hughes was such a calm and gentle force, the eye of Plath's embittered hurricane, why then did his second wife- like Plath- also commit suicide, even killing the child she shared with Hughes? If Hughes really held P ...more
John Fredrickson
Dec 19, 2015 John Fredrickson rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, biographical
I picked up this book on a whim, with no real prior exposure to Plath or Hughes. What a fascinating eye-opener!

The author has provided an informed and insightful presentation of Hughes's Birthday Letters, his own biographical poetry account of his relationship with Plath. Through the book, one gets a sense of the general history of their marriage. The vortex of issues and passions that their relationship goes through is disturbingly fascinating - the author presents the Plath experience through
May 08, 2008 Ilze rated it really liked it
Maybe Wagner leaned too much on the emotional content of the poetry, but in all, she manages to provide a fairly clear-headed text comparing Birthday Letters to Plath's work and integrating it with the Hughes' lives.
Katie Dreyer
Jun 04, 2012 Katie Dreyer rated it it was amazing
An excellent analysis of the work of both Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. I now realize that I failed to recognize the sheer brilliance of the poetry contained in Hughes's "Birthday Letters". While I certainly enjoyed the poems and especially appreciated the insights it gave me into the complex marriage of Plath and Hughes, I did not fully comprehend the gravity or poetic genius of the work. Erica Wagner has given me a greater understanding and appreciation for both Plath and Hughes. Wagner is also ...more
Maria Ch
Feb 07, 2013 Maria Ch rated it it was ok

A fairly good account of criticism regarding Ted Hughes’ collection Birthday Letters, 88 poems about Sylvia Plath and his marriage to her. It gives a lot of historical background and approaches poems in a linear chronological order providing information about what was going on in the life of Hughes and Plath at each instance. It also provides parallel readings of poems by both Plath and Hughes with common theme or content that I found very interesting. What I did not particularly like was the fa
Mar 05, 2016 Dar marked it as to-read
I can't help to think plath was a cash cow for Hughes!
Susanne Clower
Apr 23, 2014 Susanne Clower rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, england
This did look interesting, but after starting it, I decided I didn't want to spend this much time with someone who committed suicide. Maybe I can read this another time, but for now it is too depressing.
Dec 29, 2013 Laura rated it really liked it
The best kind of literary criticism: gives the reader the background (and what context could be more notorious and suffocating than the Hughes/Plath mythology?) without relying wholly on it and still seeing the poetry as exactly that - that is, poetry. Well-researched, measured, thoughtful.
Feb 04, 2014 Destiny rated it it was amazing
I have become fascinated with this woman. It amazes me that if she were alive today she would be my grandma's age yet I like she's me. Idk I just feel connected to her. A bit too much I think.
Feb 08, 2008 Vanya rated it it was amazing
poets in love. poets in hate. poets writing poems for one another. poems analyzed to reconfigure heartbreak. yes.
Feb 02, 2009 Pipfugl rated it really liked it
Reread this while putting the baby to sleep. I like Plath.
Stephanie Kelley
Dec 23, 2012 Stephanie Kelley rated it liked it
Wish I could give 3.5 stars!
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  • Her Husband: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath - A Marriage
  • Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes' Doomed Love
  • Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness
  • Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet
  • The Haunting of Sylvia Plath
  • Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath
  • Sylvia Plath: A Biography
  • The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
  • Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath
  • The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath
  • Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath
  • American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath
  • Letters Home
  • Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted
  • Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath
  • The Savage God: A Study of Suicide
  • Letters of Ted Hughes
  • Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury
Erica Wagner is an American author and critic living in London. She is former literary editor of The Times.

She is the author of several books, including a collection of short stories, Gravity, and Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters, and the novel Seizure.

Her husband, Francis Gilbert, is author of I’m a Teacher, Get Me Out of Here!. She also reviews regularly
More about Erica Wagner...

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