- Plath, Sylvia
born Oct. 27, 1932, Boston, Mass., U.S.died Feb. 11, 1963, London, Eng.U.S. poet.The daughter of an entomologist, Plath was driven to excel as a writer from an early age and published her first poem at age eight. At Smith College she made an early suicide attempt and submitted to electroshock treatment. While attending Cambridge University on a Fulbright grant, she married the poet Ted Hughes. After their separation, she committed suicide at age 30. Though she was not widely recognized in her lifetime, her reputation grew rapidly afterward; by the 1970s she was considered a major contemporary poet. Her works, often confessional and preoccupied with alienation, death, and self-destruction, include the volumes The Colossus (1960), Ariel (1965), and The Collected Poems (1981, Pulitzer Prize) and a semiautobiographical novel, The Bell Jar (1963).
* * *▪ American authorborn October 27, 1932, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.died February 11, 1963, London, EnglandAmerican poet and novelist whose best-known works are preoccupied with alienation, death, and self-destruction.Plath published her first poem at age eight. She entered and won many literary contests and while still in high school sold her first poem, to Seventeen magazine. She entered Smith College on a scholarship in 1951 and was a cowinner of the Mademoiselle magazine fiction contest in 1952. Despite her remarkable artistic, academic, and social success at Smith, Plath suffered from severe depression and underwent a period of psychiatric hospitalization. She graduated from Smith with highest honours in 1955 and went on to Newnham College in Cambridge, England, on a Fulbright fellowship. In 1956 she married the English poet Ted Hughes (Hughes, Ted). For the following two years she was an instructor in English at Smith College.In 1960, shortly after Plath and her husband returned to England, her first collection of poems appeared as The Colossus. Her second book, a strongly autobiographical novel titled The Bell Jar, was published in 1963 under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas.” The book describes the mental breakdown, attempted suicide, and eventual recovery of a young college girl.During her last three years Plath abandoned the restraints and conventions that had bound much of her early work. She wrote with great speed, producing poems of stark self-revelation and confession. The anxiety, confusion, and doubt that haunted her were transmuted into verses of great power and pathos borne on flashes of incisive wit. In 1963, after a burst of productivity, Plath took her own life. Ariel (1965), a collection of her later poems, helped spark the growth of something of a cult devoted to Plath. The reissue of The Bell Jar under her own name in 1966 and the appearance of small collections of previously unpublished poems, including Crossing the Water (1971) and Winter Trees (1971), were welcomed by critics and the public alike. Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, a book of short stories and prose, was published in 1977, and The Collected Poems, which includes many previously unpublished poems, appeared in 1981. Plath kept a journal for much of her life, and in 2000 The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, covering the years from 1950 to 1962, was published.Additional ReadingBiographies include Paul Alexander, Rough Magic (1991); Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (1991); and Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes (1994). Linda W. Wagner (Linda Wagner-Martin) (ed.), Sylvia Plath: The Critical Heritage (1988, reissued 1997); and Steven Gould Axelrod, Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words (1990), offer analyses of her writings.
* * *