Sylvia Plath was born on October 27th 1932 in
Her father, an avid bee-keeper who always impressed Plath with his ability to handle bees without them stinging him, died in 1940, when she was 8, from an easily curable form of diabetes. Shortly after this her first poem was published in the Boston Herald
Plath was an excellent student who was particularly gifted
at creative writing and in 1950 she won a scholarship to attend
During this time she was also writing articles and short
stories, one of which, ‘Sunday at the Mintons’ won
her a position as a guest editor on the young ladies magazine, ‘Mademoiselle’
A combination of these events perhaps prompted Plath’s first suicide attempt when, on the 24th August 1953, she took a blanket, a bottle of sleeping pills and a glass of water and crawled underneath the porch having left her mother the note ‘I have gone for a long walk. Will be home tomorrow.’ Plath was eventually found two days later with only eight sleeping pills left in the bottle.
Following this suicide attempt, Plath spent a considerable period of time being treated at the McLean Hospital in Belmont (a mental institution) after which she eventually returned to Smith College in the spring of 1954 going on to gain admittance to the Harvard Summer School that year, graduating Summa Cum Laude in 1955 and winning a Fulbright Scholarship to Cambridge University in England.
Plath was excited about living in
Plath and Hughes spent two years in the States where Plath
was initially plagued by fears of her inadequacy as a teacher in addition to
suspicions she had about Hughes faithfulness after she discovered him flirting
with a student on the last day of Summer Term 1958. In 1959, however, Plath
became pregnant and the two returned to
Plath became pregnant again in 1960 but suffered a miscarriage in February 1961. During her hospitalization following the miscarriage Plath began writing ‘The Bell Jar’ and a series of poems including ‘Tulips’ and ‘Morning Song’
In August Plath and Hughes moved out of
Attempts to fix their relationship failed and in September Plath and Hughes decide to undergo a legal separation (not a divorce). This controversial move meant that Hughes, as Plath’s widower when she died, was given control of her estate and her works. He has been subsequently heavily criticized by feminists for censoring her work, in particular he is suspected of removing unflattering references to himself.
Following this separation Plath spent October writing frenziedly
and produced some of her most outstanding poems, including ‘Lesbos’, ‘Lady
Lazarus’, ‘Daddy’, ‘Cut’ and ‘Ariel’. After this period of hectic creativity
she moved back to
That winter was one of the coldest on record and Plath suffered partly due to the weather, the sickness of her children and her isolation from friends and family in the States. In January 1963 ‘The Bell Jar’ was finally published in America and received some good reviews and it was about this time that Plath wrote her last few poems, culminating in ‘Edge’.
Plath committed suicide on the morning of the 11th of February 1963, before her children woke. She baked cookies for her two children, sealed their room from the kitchen using tape, turned on the gas oven and, leaving it unignited, placed her head inside eventually suffocating on the fumes. It has been suggested that this suicide attempt was merely a ‘cry for help’ as she had enquired of her downstairs neighbour what time he would wake up and left a note for him to call the doctor possibly relying on him to save her. The gas fumes, however, seem to have seeped through the floor and knocked him unconscious. Plath was eventually discovered by her Au Pair girl who arrived at 9 o’clock to take care of the children but could not get in until a group of painters and workmen, also working on Plath’s flat, arrived with a key.