Sylvia Plath's love letters to Ted Hughes among personal items to be auctioned with guide price of £143,000

A hugely important collection of letters and personal items belonging to Sylvia Plath, including passionate love letters written to Ted Hughes following their marriage in 1956, will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s on 9-21 July

Monday, 5th July 2021, 7:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 9:05 am

Passionate personal letters written by famed American poet Sylvia Plath to her Mytholmroyd-born husband Ted Hughes are to go under the hammer for the first time.

The sale at Sotheby's on July 9-21, which contains the most significant letters of Plath’s to ever come to auction, comprises 55 lots and comes directly from the collection of Sylvia’s daughter, Frieda Hughes.

"This auction is really about the happiest and the most dynamic part of my parent’s relationship when they were working at their best together and still very passionately in love and supportive of each other," she said

Pictures supplied by Sotheby's showing some of the items that will be going under the hammer at their auction
Pictures supplied by Sotheby's showing some of the items that will be going under the hammer at their auction

"If you read my mother's letters to my father, their passion and their love is extraordinary. I'm not sure everybody finds a love like that in their lifetime. And if they do, however short-lived it is, it's going to be quite a ride.

"I would like to think that this auction will enable these items to go on and continue to have a life beyond me with somebody who will really treasure them.

"I am very conscious that one day, after I am gone, nobody will know the origin of anything in my ownership.

"So, with this sale, I am reassured to know that the people who acquire these items will always attach them to their origins, and care for them because of their history."

Ted Hughes, who was born in Mytholmroyd and schooled in Mexborough, was appointed Poet Laureate in 1984 and held the position until his death in 1998.

He was to make his name as one of the finest poets and writers of his generation, with the University of Huddersfield, home to the Ted Hughes Network, now a major centre for the study of his life. An 18th century home he once owned, Lumb Bank, is also now a writers’ retreat.

To this day, the couple are often remembered for their tempestuous marriage, with Plath, author of The Bell Jar, taking her own life in 1963 at the age of 30.

The writer, who is also now recognised as one of the most important poets of the 20th century, is buried in the small Calderdale village of Heptonstall.

Some of the items going under the hammer

THE LOVE LETTERS

Following their marriage, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were apart for a brief period whilst Plath studied at Newnham College, Cambridge, on a Fulbright Scholarship and Ted was in London.

The current series of letters, all 16 written during this period of separation, are the only letters from Plath to Hughes to have survived. Offered as individual lots, they are together estimated £143,000 - £202,000.

THE WEDDING RINGS

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes’ wedding rings (estimate; £6,000 - £8,000) were hurriedly purchased by the couple in the run up to their wedding as Sylvia describes in a letter to her brother: ‘We rushed about London, buying dear Ted shoes & trousers, two gold wedding rings (I never wanted an engagement ring) with the last of our money.’

Plath and Hughes were married in London just four months after meeting in 1956 when Sylvia was 23 and Ted was 25 (his parents didn’t know at the time).

FAMILY PHOTOGRAPH ALBUM

This family photo album - put together by Sylvia, with handwritten captions - is a remarkable personal record of Plath and Hughes’ married life together, detailing the couple’s life over 192 photos.

The album begins with photographs taken around the Hughes family home in Yorkshire during her first visit in September 1956, we then see Sylvia in Cambridge, and move on to their two years in America, with trips to Cape Cod, Boston, and a road trip featured in Hughes’s Birthday Letters.

THE FAMILY RECIPE CARDS

A set of eclectic typed and hand-annotated recipe cards, containing recipes for every occasion, was passed down through the Plath and Hughes family, including Sylvia’s ‘Grammy’ Aurelia Plath, and her Great Aunt Dot. Recipes listed include Fish Chowder, Cherry & Cottage Cheese Cobbler, Mayonnaise, Carrot Cake, Beef Stew and a much-coveted recipe: ‘Ted’s Mother’s Scots Porridge Oats Biscuits’ (est. £800 - 1,200)

TAROT CARDS

This deck of Tarot cards was given to Sylvia by Ted for her birthday. Although at various points in her writing Plath makes references to Tarot imagery and practice, it was initially Hughes which held the interest in the Occult and introduced Sylvia to the cards as well as Ouija boards, crystal balls and astrology. (est. £4,000 - £6,000).

LETTERS TO HER IN LAWS

16 letters written by Plath to her parents-in-law, Edith and William Hughes, span nearly five years. The letters show Plath perhaps at her most gushing and see her updating Hughes’ parents on the couple’s writing and publications. (combined est. £83,000 – £118,000).

DRAWINGS BY SYLVIA

This striking ink portrait was drawn by Plath during the couple’s honeymoon in Benidorm. While a celebrated as a poet and novelist, Plath was also a very talented artist and was an art major before deciding to switch to English on the advice of her teachers (est. £10,000 - 15,000).

* Support your Halifax Courier by becoming a digital subscriber. You will see 70 per cent fewer ads on stories, meaning faster load times and an overall enhanced user experience. Click here to subscribe