Dying/Is an art, like everything else./I do it exceptionally well.” So wrote Sylvia Plath in her poem ”Lady Lazarus,” but she didn’t know the half of it: Her suicide in 1963 was so artful that both her death and the events leading up to it remain a matter of bitter controversy. Latest to become embroiled is Paul Alexander, who wrote last year’s Plath biography, Rough Magic, and has now spun off a screenplay that is said to have Molly Ringwald interested.
In both works, Alexander, who was denied permission to quote from any of Plath’s poems in his book, is quite critical of Ted Hughes — Plath’s estranged husband at the time of her death and now Britain’s poet laureate — arguing that was an abusive husband.
Hughes is striking back through his sister, Olwyn, executor of Plath’s estate, who says Alexander’s book ”is so bad, it’s over the top,” and adds, ”Surely you can’t make a movie about living people that’s totally fiction.” Olwyn calls the bio, which got mixed reviews, ”a melodrama,” a point on which she and Alexander agree. His script, he admits, ”reads like a melodrama: suicide attempts, adultery — everything you see on the soaps.”