Sylvia Plath wrote to her therapist claiming that Ted Hughes had beaten her two days before she miscarried their child, it is reported, in a series of previously unseen letters at the centre of a legal battle.
The 14 letters are said to allege "physical abuse and psychological torture at the hands of her husband" and shed new light on the turbulent relationship between the two writers. They will also fuel the fire of Plath supporters who have long labelled Hughes as emotionally abusive and believe his behaviour - including his infidelity - drove her to take her life.
Plath died in February 1963, aged 30. She killed herself as her young children lay sleeping in the next room, leaving out milk and bread for them in a final act of maternal love.
The letters were written to Dr Ruth Beuscher (later Barnhouse), the therapist who began treating her in 1953 and became her close confidante. The doctor was the model for Dr Nolan in Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar.
They begin in February 1960, when Plath was living with Hughes in London, and end a week before her death. Little is known about the last months of Plath’s life because Hughes destroyed her final journal, claiming that he wanted to protect their children from the contents.
Plath regarded Barnhouse as a mother figure and wrote to her regularly after moving to London in 1959. In 1962, she discovered that Hughes was having an affair with Assia Weevil.
Barnhouse, who referred to Hughes as an “evil” man, said shortly before her death in 1999 that she had burned all of Plath’s letters.
However, a feminist scholar named Harriet Rosenstein claims Barnhouse passed her the letters as research for a book.
They came to light last month when Ms Rosenstein attempted to sell them at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair via a Massachusetts bookseller, Ken Lopez, as part of an archive priced at
Mr Lopez told the Telegraph: “There are 45 pages of Plath’s writing. The first portion is not especially dramatic: she was writing about life in England, their house, a meeting with TS Eliot.
“But after her marriage breaks down and she discovers Ted Hughes’ infidelity they become very dramatic and very personal.” Plath discovered in 1962 that Hughes was having an affair with Assia Weevil.
It is reported that, in one letter, Plath claims Hughes beat her and that shortly afterwards she miscarried their second child. She also reportedly said that Hughes wished her dead.
Ms Rosenstein offered the letters for sale to Smith College, Massachusetts, Plath’s alma mater. The college holds the Barnhouse archive.
However, negotiations broke down and the letters, along with interview tapes and transcripts, were put up for sale in New York for $875,000. The correspondence enhances Plath’s reputation “as a feminist icon and [introduces] her voice on the trauma of domestic abuse”, the sellers said, with their descriptions of “physical abuse and psychological torture at the hands of her husband”.
The letters were withdrawn from sale when Smith College launched legal action, claiming they belong to the Barnhouse collection. A spokesman for the institution said: “Smith College believes it has a strong claim of ownership to the Plath letters… Among other reasons, Smith acted to honour its commitment to Barnhouse as a steward of Plath’s papers, as well as its commitment to the accessibility of the materials for researchers and scholars for generations to come.”
Hughes died in 1998 and was survived by the couple's daughter, Frieda. The Hughes Estate declined to comment on the letters last night.