Close to a year ago, when Nicholas Hughes, Sylvia Plath's son, tragically put an end to his life, Linda Gray Sexton wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times. She makes connections between her own situation and that of Plath's two children. I read the article and found myself asking: what purpose does this serve? Yes, suicide is a terrible health problem. Our society does not seem to have figured out depression. But the article offers no advice, doesn't suggest what to do, what signals to watch out for. We do learn that Gray Sexton's son also struggles with depression. Was it wise to reveal that detail? Who does it serve? I also learned from the article that Gray Sexton has tried to take her own life three times, all of them after the publication of her memoir. I think I admire more the other sister, Joy, who has published not a line about all of this.
Anne Sexton's Daughters
This weekend I read Linda Gray Sexton's memoir: Searching For Mercy Street, published in 1996. Linda Gray Sexton is the older daughter of poet Anne Sexton, who committed suicide in 1974. It's a very depressing read, and as I finished the last page I found myself questioning the wisdom of its publication. The story is fascinating, there's no doubt about that. But I can't help thinking that some things that are intensely private should stay private. In at least one sense it's impossible to blame Gray Sexton: her mother wrote extensively about Linda in her poetry. More importantly, Sexton was a thoroughly horrible mother and Linda and younger sister Joy suffered greatly. It's all in the book. It's also true that before publication of this memoir, Gray Sexton had herself already played a major role in expanding the public's knowledge of one family's dysfunction through the publication of the Sexton biography written by Dianne Middlebrook in 1991, and the volume of Sexton's letters published back in 1977. (Gray Sexton is her mother's literary executor and her collaboration with Middlebrook was essential to her biography.) Writing as therapy might be great, though ultimately it didn't help Anne Sexton, but publishing those writings can get very complicated when the subject matter is intensely private. We have choices about what we reveal. Sometimes those choices involve serious ethical considerations.