Volpi’s play about the violence that Sylvia Plath suffered from her husband

The great American poet Sylvia Plath; her husband, the also prominent English poet Ted Hughes, and his lover, Assia Wevill, a poetry translator and publicist, formed a triangle of death. Plath committed suicide on February 11, 1963, two years after Hughes left her for Assia, and the latter, who carried the ghost of Sylvia in her relationship with Hughes, also took her own life six years later, on March 23. 1969. Like Sylvia, Assia turned on the gas tap to her London apartment. He also took Shura, the daughter he had with Hughes.

This real life tragedy has been brought to the theater by the Mexican writer Jorge Volpi (Mexico City, July 10, 1968) in his most recent book: Dementes Needles, edited by Almadia. “I have always been a reader of Sylvia Plath. I knew her story but I did not know and it seemed more and more interesting to discover what the story of her and Ted Hughes was like with this other couple, made up of Assia and David Wevill. It seemed to me a fascinating, terrible story, with an enormous amount of subtleties, of edges that reflect an era; a story that at the same time is one of poetry, violence, repetitions ”, says the author in an interview.

Although he is known above all for his role as a narrator and essayist, it is not the first time that Volpi has written theater. In 2018, the National Theater Company premiered his work The Origin of the World, in which the author starts from reality, which he mixes with fiction, to risk a particular hypothesis about the genesis of the capitalist economic system. Now, Volpi decided to tell the story of Plath, who suffered infidelity, vanity and abuse from Hughes, and Assia in theatrical format to leave the voice to the protagonists. « What the theater allows is for the characters themselves to put their conflicts on stage, » he says.

The author of A Criminal Novel, about the case of Florence Cassez and winner of the Alfaguara Novel Prize in 2018, began to write The Demented Needles at the beginning of last year: “Of course the readings that most accompanied the writing of this book were the of the works of the various poets, including that of the poems that Assia translated. Also the different biographies and studies that are especially of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. From there I went to writing, which ended already in this time of pandemic. Because of how complex it is to have montages in this context, it seemed important to me that the book was designed both to be represented and to be read ”.

Regarding the figure of Sylvia Plath, a feminist icon whose image, however, is sometimes reduced to that of a suicidal poet, the also coordinator of Cultural Diffusion of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) considers that fortunately every time her literary figure becomes most important: “It has grown over the years. Biographies about her continue to appear, new editions, new translations of her various texts. I think that every time we are getting to know her better ”.

“Sylvia has become a kind of icon of feminism although she had to live just before the great feminist movement that began especially in the late 1970s and 1960s, and continues to this day. But her poetry already had the sensitivity of a woman capable of telling everything she lived through, with all her conflicts and with all the violence she also suffered, both institutional violence and Ted’s own violence ”.

Due to the boom that the feminist movement has gained, in Mexico and in the world, to demand an end to violence and discrimination against women, Demented Needles is a work that dialogues with the present. “It continues to be a very current story because of the issues it addresses, which have to do with gender violence. With this new strength that the feminist movement has acquired, the life of Sylvia and the life of Assia in the face of the violence of Hughes become very current ”.

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