Born: 27-10-1932, Jamaica Plain, Boston (US)
Died: 11-02-1963, Primrose Hill, London (UK)
Sylvia Plath was born in the United States and she grew out to become a poetess, novelist and essayist. It is her sudden death in 1963 that she is mostly remembered for. This suicide, does no justice to her literary legacy. She is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.
Her life started in the United States. At an early age, she showed that she was a skilled writer. At the age of eight, she wrote her first poem. This was around the time her father died (5-10-1940). Her work was published during her teenage years in several magazines in the United States. She tried very hard, to succeed. This wasn’t easy though.
What can we say about her mental condition? She suffered from depression and a bipolar disorder when she reached adulthood. Her first study year at Smith College was dominated by her first suicide attempt in 1950. She was treated for this in McLean Hospital and it seemed that she made a swift recovery. In 1955 she graduated from Smith College. She was again given a grant, to start a study at Cambridge University. In Cambridge, she met the English poet Ted Hughes. On June 16, 1956, the two of them married. Plath worked as a teacher at Smith College between 1957 and 1959. In Boston, she attended several literary events and made new friends. Amongst these friends were Robert Lowell and William Merwin. They showed appreciation for the work of Plath.
While pregnant, Plath and Hughes moved to the United Kingdom. At first, they settled in North Tawton (Devon) and here she wrote The Colossus. This was her first collection of poems. It was published in 1960. After her miscarriage in 1961 – caused by domestic violence – she reflected about this tragedy in several poems. At that time, her husband had an affair with the German poetess Assia Wevill. During the period of almost year, Plath and Hughes lived on different addresses. At that time, Plath had returned to London, together with her children Frieda and Nicholas. She rented a house that was once rented to no other than William Butler Yeats. The fact that Yeats lived here, made Plath actually very happy. She decided to go ahead with the legal procedure to dissolve the marriage.
During the Winter of 1962-1963, she became seriously ill. It is not sure, that this illness leads to the decision to end her life. Her depression, the winter period and the personal problems, they probably all formed the basis to end her life.
On February 11th, 1963, Plath ended her life by suffocation. She had tried to end her life on a few different occasions. Just before her death, Plath discussed her depression with her GP. This GP visited her on daily basis because he knew that there were children involved. She was getting help from a nurse, which would arrive on the day she ended her life. Upon arrival, she wasn’t able to enter the apartment. Plath was found with her head inside the oven. She died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Was this a split-second decision? The fact that she barricaded the rooms of her children with towels, cloth and towels indicate that she planned ahead.
Sylvia Plath died at the age of 30.
What is there to say about the work of this poetess, novelist and essayist. The fact that she was suffering from depression might have blurred her work. Of course, the cause of her death and her abrupt termination to create an even greater literary legacy is important. Still, we must look beyond all of this. Since not all the works she wrote deals with depression or her personal problems. There are some beautiful poems, that are inspiring and the result of writing by a beautiful, creative person.
Unfortunately, Ted Hughes, gained the trust of her personal and literary inheritance. This was the result of the legal process involved in the separation. Hughes can be blamed for one thing: the destruction of the last part of the diary of Plath. In this part, she described her marriage. The motivation to do this can be considered as personal. Hughes has always denied this.
The disrespect for the words of Plath doesn’t stop with the actions of Hughes. Aurelia Schober Plath, her mother, only published those letters addressed to her, that were positive for her.
Conventional and lack of drama
Due to the fact, that Plath’s death overshadowed her work, the critic’s reviews of the book The Colossus were mostly neglected over the years. Some say, that this book is conventional and lacks drama. The difference between the work of Hughes and Plath aren’t that great. It is the sudden death, that gave this poet a sort-off mystical status, some say.