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Lives Remembered - Elaine Connell

Elaine died peacefully at home with her family on Monday, 1st October 2007. She was diagnosed with cancer three years before.

See below for messages and here for more photos

Elaine was the joint founder of the Hebden Bridge Web and a respected teacher and local personality.

Elaine was probably the UK's major authority on Sylvia Plath and ten years ago founded the Sylvia Plath Forum, which soon became the web's leading resource on the former wife of Ted Hughes, and who is buried in Heptonstall.


The last year or so of her illness was recounted in her online blog: www.upshitcreek.org.uk - many of the messagers refer to themselves as "Tessers" - the online teaching community who contribute to the TES online forum and which was so important to Elaine, especially when she became less physically active.

We have started a memorial section for Elaine at www.penninepens.co.uk/elaine

Elaine had a line of poetry for every human situation. She recently quoted from Hamlet: "Thou knows tis common all things must die passing through Nature into Eternity".

Click here to add your memory of Elaine

See also 60-70 messages this week on www.upshitcreek.org.uk

See a selection of photos of Elaine taken over the past 25 year or so

From Jude Howe
Wednesday, 3 October 2007

I will remember Elaine mostly for her unique sense of humour, her anecdotes and dry observations on human life. I will miss the regular chats we had over the years, at the swimming baths and on the street corners of Hebden Bridge, putting the world to rights.

From Mark Piggott
Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Bye Elaine. You were really encouraging about my work and I’m grateful. I’m sorry Chris. Take care.

From Chris Dellen
Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Elaine was one of the first people I met when I moved to Hebden Bridge in 1980. We were involved in women’s groups and feminist activities for years but there were other connections too. I like to think I was instrumental in her and Chris getting together. She rang me one day asking if I wore contact lenses (which I didn’t) as she couldn’t remove one from her eye. Chris, from a few doors down the road, came round and calmly talked her through it. They actually met at work around this time and didn’t really need any help from me to create their lasting and fruitful partnership.

I remember Elaine, with great fondness, as a strong personality. She was forthright and challenging but combined this with warmth, friendliness, humour and a genuine interest in others. Her personal honesty was inspiring and I have often been moved by this in her own writing. Elaine was incredibly helpful and supportive to me at various times but particularly when I made a short foray into her world of teaching. She was generous with her time and ideas in a way I found unusual at the time. Our worlds tended to diverge as I started doing full time residential work when my children were growing up and Elaine became the mother of a young baby again.

Elaine once told me that an ex-student of hers had recognised her, at the swimming baths, and came over to thank her for the ways she had influenced and inspired him some years previously. A specific thing he mentioned was Elaine taking a stand against racism. This had helped him to clarify and strengthen his own inclination and resist contrary pressures. When talking about this incident Elaine and I acknowledged that this kind of feedback was rare in the kind of work that we both did. You had to have a kind of faith that you were making a difference.

This is my feedback, much too late, that Elaine made a difference.

From Kim
Thursday, 4 October 2007

Although I only knew Elaine via cyberspace, having never made it to Yorkshire in the last few years, I feel her loss deeply. I first made contact with her when she began the Sylvia Plath forum in 1998, and her wonderful contribution to Sylvia's art and the community of like minded souls that she fostered changed a great many lives, mine included. Although I had not exchanged emails with her lately, I so enjoyed our correspondence over the years. She was generous, honest, open, fair, kind, egalitarian and a true light. I feel a better person having known her in the small way that I did and my deepest condolences go out to her family. Much love, kim

From Lindsay F
Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Chris and Morgan, you are the ones who Elaine chose to share her life with. Like so many others, I feel so privileged that I had such support and help from Elaine.

My wish is that her spirit lives on in you Morgan and that now she is free from pain and suffering and rests in peace.

Love to you all

From Maddy
Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Elaine you can stop paddling now and rest. Chris and family - all the tessers feel we really knew Elaine, and as a result feel we know you too. Elaine was so proud of you all.

This will be a very difficult time for you but take comfort in the knowledge that you did what you could for Elaine when she was here, and she knew that!

Elaine was an inspiration to us all.

From Jan Scott
Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Dear Chris, Kate and Morgan
Dave and I are so very saddened to hear your news. Though we didn’t know Elaine well we both nevertheless have warm memories of her. In particular I shall never forget how she generously helped me with my MA research project some 13 years ago. (And some great, often hilarious, conversations even longer ago, when I was working at The Book Case.)

I have been reading Elaine’s blog this afternoon and am deeply affected by her words and yours, Chris. She was an extraordinary woman; you remain an extraordinary family.
With love

From Peter K Steinberg
Thursday, 4 October 2007

I remember Elaine, Chris, and Morgan's hospitality to me in February 2003 on a visit to Yorkshire. Homemade bread eaten every day, lively discussions on Sylvia Plath, politics, and so much more. The Sylvia Plath Forum has been and will be a tremendous legacy. I feel very honored to have met her and will miss her dearly. Chris & Morgan, you are both in my thoughts.

From P.Viktor
Thursday, 4 October 2007

I am so sorry to hear of Elaine's death. The Plath Forum is one of the most authoritative sources on the web, and Elaine showed true dedication and vision in running it. My sympathies are with the family and all her friends.

From Lisa A. Flowers
Thursday, 4 October 2007

I've just returned from the (Sylvia Plath) Forum, and I am in shock.

This is the end of an era....though not the end of the wonderful things it set in motion. My exchanges with Elaine were few, but I recall them well... she was always kind, witty, fair, and warmly enthusiastic. Her repository has contributed invaluably to the study of Plath, Hughes, and their contemporaries, and for that (and many other things) she should be honored.

My deepest sympathies go out to her family and friends.

From Chris Green
Thursday, 4 October 2007

I remember telling Elaine about the work of White Ribbon Campaign at length, and she was very empathetic and very supportive of the work. Such support at an early stage of our development meant a great deal. She will be sadly missed by us all.

From Jack Folsom
Thursday, 4 October 2007

As one of the first group of Americans to participate in the Sylvia Plath Forum in 1998, I will remember Elaine's perceptive literary comments and her good-natured moderating of some big egos who loved to hear themselves talk. After Elaine and I became good friends via email in the first years of the forum, Marlene and I decided we had to cross the ocean and meet Elaine in person. That was a marvelous experience for us, spending the day with Elaine, Chris, and Morgan. Since that time our friendship has grown, staying close through these last months of her life.

Let us now celebrate her life. She was one of the best!

From William Bedford
Friday, 5 October 2007

I think Elaine was one of the most generous and courageous people I ever met. On the Sylvia Plath Forum, and despite her own strong feminist views, she never joined the feminist condemnation of Hughes which disfigured much of critical discussion of Plath. She remained open to new work and new ideas to the very end of her life. In her own life, and especially in the past three years when she was fighting her terrible illness, she showed the same generosity and inspiring courage. She was and remains an example for us all. For me personally, her generosity was an enormous support. We were in touch almost every day for years, and she never failed to be encouraging and supportive. I never had the chance to say goodbye properly, as she told me not 'to be so soft'. I cannot imagine how Chris and Morgan and Kate will endure their loss. I know she will remain in my heart forever.

From Trish Saunders
Friday, 5 October 2007

Dear Elaine, you'll be so deeply missed by so many around the world. I hope you had some idea of the tremendous contribution you made to the world of poetry, and how many friendships were formed by your dedication. How many of us, at the end of our lives, can look back and say, yes, these are the things I have done, and they are fine. Bless you, Elaine, you will never be forgotten!

From Richard Larschan
Friday, 5 October 2007

I was fortunate enough to meet Elaine and benefit from her warm hospitality on a visit to Hebden Bridge. Although there can be few consolations, I'm sure her family realizes how much joy they contributed to her life, and the great pride she took in their accomplishments. She was a remarkable woman and we are all diminished by her loss.

From Amy Crea
Friday, 5 October 2007

I never met her in person, but have been reading her Sylvia Plath Forum for years, and had several email conversations with Elaine, including some interviews for articles I wrote. Elaine was unfailingly friendly, thoughtful, articulate, and passionate about her work. Her strong and steady hand on the Plath Forum will be so very much missed.

From Belinda
Saturday, 6 October 2007

Elaine was one of the nicest and most knowlegeable people I've met. I had many and varied discussions with her whilst cleaning for her and Chris over the past year or two and she always had several highly amusing anecdotes or tales from her past to enliven the hoovering! Although I was the cleaner I felt more like one of the family. I will miss her and her unfailing consideration for others, and feel honoured to have known her - wish it could have been for longer x

From Rehan Qayoom
Saturday, 6 October 2007

Elaine's passing away comes as a great shock to me. I did not know she had cancer. For me her greatest legacy would be her website for Sylvia Plath which stands unique among Plath sources on the Worldwide Web. Her work in this field was unparalleled in the UK in recent years. God bless her soul.

From Julia L
Sunday, 7 October 2007

I would just like to pass on my condolences to Elaine's family and friends.

I never met Elaine and rarely spoke to her. However the courage I watched her display daily through her posts on TES was like nothing I could ever imagine. She was a caring and thoughtful lady who always offered words of comfort even through her own suffering.

May she rest in peace and may all her friends and families be comforted at this time knowing what a legacy she has left behind.

From Angela Birks
Sunday, 7 October 2007

May you rest in piece Elaine. I've had the pleasure of knowing this powerfull lady for many many years. We first met when she used to plough up and down Todmorden swimming baths doing about a 100 lengths a week she was such a strong swimmer. I was the life guard sat on the tall seat watching as she made waves up and down the pool while all the old ladies gripped their swimming hats as she used to swim with such stamina and force. That was 20 years ago. We have continued our friendship as we both lived in Hebden Bridge. We have had some very in-depth conversations over the last 3 years as I've had breast cancer twice myself. We both disscused how neither of us smoke, drink, we swam walked, really looked after ourselves yet we suffered with the cancer. You might have lost the battle Elaine but you will always be remembered by me as the iron lady for what a strong courageous woman you were. May you rest now in the palm of god's hand xxxx Angey

John and Patsy Frederiksen
Sunday, 7 October 2007

We first knew of Elaine over 30 years ago when she lived near us in Cragg Vale, and we now know she became Chris's partner not long after that.

Most of us just don't know when or how our ends will happen, and mostly live our lives almost as if death will pass us by - an ultimate ego trip.

So after reading UpShitCreek only since we heard Elaine had died, we'd like to say that it shows she was dealing with her rotten luck with a lot of style as well as bravery.

Our sincere thoughts go to Chris, Kate and Morgan on your loss.

From Kate Durbin
Sunday, 7 October 2007

Passion for Plath's Poetry

Elaine's death is truly sad news. She made the Sylvia Plath forum truly unique in the world wide web - I've never encountered another "fan" forum so intelligently put together and well-informed, yet not at all stuffy or overly intellectual.

Through her gentle guiding, she made the forum a place of research, passion, and debate, where scholars and laypeople alike could discuss their true passion-which was also Elaine's passion-the poetry of Sylvia Plath.

I never met Elaine, but I think I can speak for all who visit the forum when I say she will be truly missed. All us Plath fans will do our best to uphold her legacy there.

From Marilyn Welham
Monday, 8 October 2007

Dear Chris, Morgan and Kate

We've been away so have only just heard your very sad news. We wanted to send a card but because of the postal strike can't.

Elaine and I go back a long way (toddler group), with much in common. So sad that we won't get to chew the fat again.

All our love,
Marilyn & Arthur (Welham)

From Anja
Monday, 8 October 2007

Dear Chris,

I still remember the great day I had with you and Elaine some years ago, in August 2000, when I visited her in your home and we spoke about Plath and Hughes, about writing, teaching, the internet, how the online world changed our lives by connecting us with other people all over the world, about East Germany, etc... I still have the photo you took of me and Elaine in front of your house.

I was very sorry to hear that she has passed away, my thoughts are with you and I wish you strength to carry on and be happy with the memory of a good life with her.

From Melani, Phil, Io, Liam and Pegi
Monday, 8 October 2007

Dear Chris, Morgan and all the family,

We're so sorry to hear of Elaine's passing and send you our love and thoughts.

I always smile when I think of Elaine, for her great warmth and perception, her cutting wit and sharper than sharp intellect made any conversation with her a delight. We had many a discussion on education, our shared memories of Beech Hill School and life in general.

Elaine's engagement with life and fortitude in adversity must leave us ultimately optimistic.
Here's to Elaine.

From Claudette Coulter
Tuesday, 9 October 2007

I owe a debt of gratitude to Elaine for starting this wonderful forum. I stumbled across it four years ago and have enjoyed every minute. The forum also introduced me to many wonderful people that I got to know on the outside - and one of them has become a very dear friend. I would not have this person in my life if not for Elaine and her desire to give Plath's fans a place to meet and debate. Peace to you, Elaine, and peace to your family.

From Jean Williams and Mick Piggott
Wednesday, 10 October 2007

For Chris, Kate and Morgan: our deepest condolences in your very sad loss. Elaine was a very brave woman. She lives on in the memories of everyone who knew her, whether personally or through the internet. We haven't seen a lot of Elaine over recent years but we remember her with love and respect.

From Pat Mawdsley
Thursday, 11 October 2007

I was devastated to hear about Elaine. Having not seen either Elaine or Chris for some years, I didn't know about her Illness. As a former colleague at Halifax High, I enjoyed working with both Chris and Elaine. We kept in touch afterwards, through the school publications.

We enjoyed many a joke at the internal politics of school life. Did Elaine ever write the satirical novel based on school life that she was planning?

I'll always remember Elaine for her gentle and calm personality. She was a woman of principles though and forthright in voicing her beliefs. I admired her convictions and once, hearing about the trials and tribulations of her early life, had even more respect for her ability to cope in the face of adversity. Reading extracts from "Up Shit Creek" this obviously prevailed until the end.

Sincere sympathy and fondest thoughts to you Chris and family at this sad time. The world's a poorer place without Elaine.

From Laura Fulcher
Saturday, 13 October 2007

The first time I met Elaine was at a women's party in Hebden Bridge back in 81 when she was talking to me about Gerard Manley Hopkins and I suddenly got so stoned that I was unable to continue the conversation! Luckily, she forgave me and we would often have deep conversations at 8 am sharing a car into Fartown school where we were both supply teachers. I think it was Elaine who got me into this school and it was my first good experience of supply teaching. She was full of good advice and ideas about how to manage the vicious 13 year olds and I am very grateful to her for her intellectual generosity. My career went on from there!

More recently I was very amused to hear how she had got the sack from one of the grammar schools in Halifax for being too frank with the kids when apprehending their use of four letter words. Of course the management lost probably their best teacher - serves them right.

My thoughts go out to Chris and the rest of the family. Elaine was such a fighter! She will leave a big hole not just in your lives but in the valley community. May the Goddess give you strength.

with love from Laura (Fulcher)

From Aidan Roe
Monday, 15 October 2007

I first met Elaine when she was at St.John’s in 1969. I was her Sociology lecturer. We’ve stayed in touch ever since. Sometimes with long gaps and no more than the odd card but more frequently over the last few years. I always thought she was a fantastic human being - warm, direct, possessor of a great sense of humour and most certainly feisty. Thinking about it, maybe she mellowed into being feisty. My memory tells me that in 1969 she was feisty-going-on-explosive.

Shortly after Elaine died I was in Tesco and bumped into one of her old sparring partners from those St.John’s days. Angela Dale taught Elaine English. I told her what had happened. “Ah yes,” she said, “not a student you could ever forget. She could be difficult but she was so bright. How awful, do please send my love and condolences to her family.”

In July Elaine was talking about Angela with affection. “We had our differences, but she knew her stuff and she was a bloody good teacher.” Elaine really had mellowed...as had Angela.

In the last week of September we were still sending each other emails. She didn’t feel that she had the strength to have long conversations and the steady stream of visitors sometimes left her feeling exhausted. Humour continued to run through our exchanges. On this occasion we were musing on what would happen to Morgan at Cambridge. How would he handle the Hoorays? Would he take up punting on the Cam? Would that make him a class traitor? I’d like to share her reply.

“As for the punting I would be happy to see him take any sort of regular exercise - one factor missing in his life so far! And I know he'll handle the hoorays v. well.”

The note of positive confidence when she must have been feeling dreadful was so typical of Elaine’s gutsy, indomitable strength. And you can sense that there must have been at least an inner smile as she hit the keyboard. Mind you, the keyboard could be problematic as Morgan confirmed in his Eulogy. I don’t know how she did it but sometimes I would get emails in a green font that was so small I had to blow them up in order to read them. Three days later the reverse would apply and I’d have to shrink them to get them on the screen.

I started trying to write this before the funeral. And what a funeral. It was a powerful and uplifting experience and something which Elaine would thoroughly have approved of. The choir, the music, the poetry - including the tape of her reading her own poem - was all spot on…..and it was a first to be walking out to the grave side to Monty Python’s Flying Circus singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.’ More to the point, it was entirely appropriate.

Goodbye Elaine, you touched more lives than you could ever have imagined.

From Shifter
Monday, 15 October 2007

I only knew Elaine through TES. I thought she was a brave caring person. We 'spoke' now and again - It would have been an honour to talk to her for real

From Morney Wilson
Tuesday, 16 October 2007

I have just found out about Elaine's passing. I knew she had cancer.. but somehow (naively) I couldn't imagine that she would die.

The contribution she has made to the ongoing Sylvia Plath discussion has been huge.. I don't think anything comes close to what she did by starting the Forum. I was delighted to find it and have enjoyed many years reading and contributing to it.

For a while, I had a wonderfully interesting and open e-mail correspondence with Elaine. Her e-mails were always a pleasure to get and read, although we were often discussing similar tragedies in our pasts. Although I never met Elaine, I felt like I had found a real friend.

I'm so very sorry to hear of her passing - and Chris, Kate and Morgan, you are all in my thoughts.

Sleep peacefully, Elaine.

From Steve Farrell
Saturday, 20 October 2007

Morgan, Kate and Chris, you created a lovely event. Elaine would have been proud.

It celebrated a fondly remembered wonderful woman, her wit, her intelligence, creativity and passions. Our love is with you,

Stephen, Liz, Ben and Ols

From Patrick Gleeson
Saturday, 18 October 2008

I first came across Cycling in Search of the Cathars by Chris Ratcliffe and Elaine Connell in France. It was in a gite we rented. I had been fascinated by the heresy for ages before that. I love the book and ordered it from Penine Pens as soon as we got back to the UK. I pick it up over the years and reread it often

I never met Elaine, and was just googeling her and read the news of her death - it hurts. Her personality just shines out of the book and oddly it really feels like losing a good friend.

And Chris - I'm terribly sorry it happened, I still read the book again and again but now it is sad. Take care and thanks for the book,
Pat Gleeson

From William Bedford
Sunday, 30 August 2009

Still missed, still remembered.