gigatos | June 6, 2022
Sylvia Plath (27 October 1932 – 11 February 1963) was an American poet and writer, considered one of the founders of the genre of “confessional poetry” in English-language literature. During her lifetime Plath published only her poetry collection The Colossus & Other Poems (London, 1960) and the semi-autobiographical novel Under a Glass Hood (1963). In 1965 he published Ariel, which won great critical acclaim and became one of the bestsellers of twentieth-century Anglo-American poetry. In 1982 Plath received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for her Collected Poems.
Sylvia Plath was the wife of the British poet laureate Ted Hughes. Plath and Hughes” relationship ended in tragedy: in early 1963, suffering from severe depression, Sylvia Plath committed suicide. She was left with two children. After the death of his wife, Hughes founded the Estate of Sylvia Plath, which administered the rights to the poetess”s literary legacy.
Much of the recognition of Plath”s poetic talent came after her death. At the same time there was much press concerning her suicide and Hughes” culpability in her death. Some admirers of her poetic gift as well as literary critics directly accused Hughes and called him “the murderer of Sylvia Plath.
As a true representative of confessional poetry, Sylvia Plath wrote about her own experiences, feelings, fears. Among the themes of her lyrics were family, women”s destiny, nature and death.
The Early Years and the Death of the Father
Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932, in Massachusetts. Her father, Otto Emil Plath (1885-1940), an immigrant from Grabow, Germany, was a professor at Boston University, a recognized expert on bees, and author of the academic study Bumblebees and Their Ways, published in 1934. His daughter worshipped him, but was at the mercy of his “iron will” and suffered from his authoritarian upbringing; this conflict is reflected in some of her later works, notably the poem “Daddy” (Daddy, 1962), which became almost scandalously famous. Her mother, Aurelia Schober Plath (1906-1994), a first-generation American, had Austrian roots. She worked as a typist and librarian at Boston University, and as a teacher of German and English at a high school in Brooklyn. A final year college student, she was 21 years younger than Otto, her (in the winter of 1931 Aurelia”s mother took her daughter and Otto to Reno, Nevada, so that the latter could divorce his wife, after which the two headed for Carson City, where they were married in January 1932.
At first the family lived in the suburbs of Boston (24 Prince Street, in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood), but after the birth of son Warren (April 27, 1935) they moved to Winthrop, a town east of Boston (92 Johnson Avenue), where Otto commuted daily to work at the university – alternately by bus, ferry and trolleybus. It was here that the girl first saw and fell in love with the sea. Warren grew up a sickly child, and since Otto was engaged exclusively in science, Aurelia devoted very little time to her daughter. With his father, the children developed a peculiar relationship. Very soon the daughter realized that her only chance of getting Otto”s desired attention was to succeed in school. As Linda Wagner-Martin, author of a biography of the poetess, wrote
…Only for twenty minutes during the evening did he find the strength to see the children. After that, Sylvia and Warren were taken away. With their father,
discussed what they had learned during the day, read poems, made up stories, and acted as if they were on stage. This relationship, which could hardly be considered normal, created a particular image of the father: a critic and a judge to be applauded. This deprived the children of the opportunity to know their father as they had come to know , to know him as an understanding parent.
Sylvia spent most of her childhood with her mother”s parents in Port Shirley, Winthrop, Massachusetts. They were highly educated people who knew several languages.
Otto”s health began to deteriorate shortly after the birth of his son Warren. Noticing symptoms similar to those of a close friend who had died of cancer shortly before, Plath Senior became convinced that he himself was suffering from an incurable disease, and did not undergo a medical examination. Aurelia Plath went to the doctor when the infection in her big toe had already developed into gangrene, and her leg had to be amputated. Otto Plath died on November 5, 1940, a week and a half after his daughter”s eighth birthday. The cause of death was complications from surgery related to advanced diabetes mellitus: a disease already quite treatable by then. Wagner-Martin claimed that Plath Sr. died because of inadequate hospital care, but Aurelia Plath (in the preface to Letters Home) wrote that Otto died of a pulmonary embolism. One of Plath”s friends remarked after his death that he could not understand how “…such a clever man could be so stupid. For Sylvia, the tragedy was a shock that marked her entire life and work. “I will never speak to God again!” she wrote in her diary. Otto Plath was buried in Winthrop Cemetery; impressions of one of her visits there later formed the basis of the poem “Electra on Azalea Path. In the poem “Daddy,” Sylvia goes on an angry tirade against her father, who “abandoned” her. There are Freudian motifs in the poem: the daughter resurrects her vampire father in order to kill him again. According to critics, the image of Plath”s father appeared more than once in her prose and poetry and invariably symbolized absence as well as emphasized the impossibility of everlasting love.
In 1941, Plath”s first poem appeared in the children”s section of the Boston Herald. It was called Poem (“About what I see and hear on hot summer nights,” the young poet described its content). In 1942 Aurelia took a position at Boston University and moved her family (including her parents) from Winthrop to Wellesley, to a new home at 26 Elmwood Road. Here Sylvia re-enrolled in the fifth grade of high school to study with her peers (she had previously studied with children a year older than her). Aurelia thought this would help her daughter relieve the stress of loss, but it persisted: Sylvia even believed her father”s death (which he could have prevented) was a hidden suicide. In Wellesley she lived until the moment she entered college.
Aurelia Plath worked two jobs to support her children, but according to her diaries, Sylvia had near-hate feelings toward her as a child. She attended Gamaliel Bradford Senior High School, now Wellesley High School, and throughout her years there she was considered a “star pupil”: she received only excellent marks in examinations and excelled in English, especially in the creative part of the school course. She was also editor-in-chief of The Bradford, the school newspaper.
All this time Plath was continuously writing stories and sending them to popular women”s and youth magazines. By the time she entered Smith College, she had written more than fifty short stories, at one point counting more than sixty rejection letters. There were publications, however: in all, she was published nine times during her high school years and earned $63.70. In 1949, Plath published an article in The Atlantic Monthly, A Reasonable Life in a Mad World, co-authored with a classmate. Responding to an earlier publication, the young authors refuted the thesis that modern man must live by relying on logic and asserted the importance of the spiritual and sensual components of human life. In addition, Plath also showed a talent for painting: in 1947 she won The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
1950-1955, Smith College
In 1950 Plath, under the patronage of writer Olivia Higgins Prouty, received a scholarship to attend Smith College, a prestigious women”s institute in Northampton, Massachusetts. After becoming a student, Sylvia began a correspondence with Olivia that continued for many years. In the autumn of 1950, Plath was beyond happy. It was noted, however, that in college she immediately felt the pressures of the environment: both the rigid academic requirements and social life.
The diaries, which Plath began keeping in 1944, became especially important to her in college, becoming a way to confess, but also a source of inspiration, a documentary record of fresh impressions to which the aspiring poet constantly turned. In these pages she left sketches of poems and stories, formulated plans for the future. Plath”s student poems were balanced and colorful; she worked hard on syllable, structure, and carefully calibrated her verse technique, trying to bring each line to an ideal state. By this time she had developed a craving for perfection and with it an insecurity about her own abilities. “Never will I attain the perfection to which I aspire with all my soul–in drawings, poems, and stories,” she wrote in her diary. In addition to an academic dictionary of English, the aspiring poet studied in depth the works of Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, W. H. Auden, Richard Wilbur, Marianne Moore, and John Crow Ransom. Willa Kaser, Virginia Woolf, and Lillian Hellman were also noted as sources of inspiration.
Beginning in 1950 Plath published extensively in national periodicals. In March the Christian Science Monitor published her article Youth”s Appeal for World Peace, and in September she published her poem Bitter Strawberries. And Summer Will Not Come Again appeared in the August issue of Seventeen magazine. By 1953 Plath was also contributing to several local newspapers, notably the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Springfield Union (the latter used her as its own correspondent at Smith College). If the first year was a serious test for Sylvia (her English teacher regularly gave her “B”s”), then the second year was a great success. Almost all the professors now admired her abilities and diligence. The joy of her first success was experienced during the summer break after her third year, when her story Sunday at the Mintons won her first prize in the Mademoiselle Fiction Contest, and with it an invitation to a month”s internship as a freelance editor at 575 Madison Avenue in New York. Along with a group of other winning contestants, Plath stayed at the Barbizon Hotel; the events of that momentous month were subsequently described in detail in her novel Under the Glass Hood (the hotel appears there as The Amazon).
From New York, Plath returned exhausted-emotionally, intellectually, and physically. She had hoped to enroll at Harvard for a summer literature course, but was rejected. It turned out, moreover, that there was not enough money to continue her studies at Smith College: she had to transfer to Lawrence. All this time she was in a creative impasse, she was haunted by depression and fears stemming from the same “unquenchable desire for perfection. In a sense, this predetermined the further course of events: in July she stopped keeping a diary; moreover (if we believe the novel), she lost the ability to sleep, read, and write. Aurelia Plath specified that her daughter had read, but only one book: Sigmund Freud”s Abnormal Psychology. All the details of the fateful summer of 1953 are documented in her few letters and her novel Under the Glass Cover.
In a state of severe depression, the girl attempted suicide. On August 24, leaving a note: “Gone for a walk, I”ll be there tomorrow,” she took a blanket, a bottle of water, a can of sleeping pills, and hid in the basement of her house, where she began swallowing pills one after another, washed down with water. Soon (leaving eight pills, which were later found next to her) she lost consciousness. Aurelia Plath did not believe the message of the note and called the police hours later. At first only a disappearance was considered, then, after sleeping pills were discovered missing from the house, a suicide theory emerged. An intensive search for the “Smith College Belle” began throughout Boston, with Boy Scout groups; special attention was given to the park area and Morse Pond. On August 25, reports of Plath”s disappearance appeared in the newspapers: many of her friends joined the search. On August 26, newspaper reports became increasingly grim, but by evening Plath was found.
Through Olivia Higgins Prouty, Sylvia Plath was admitted to the McLean Clinic, where she underwent electroconvulsive therapy. The writer, who herself had suffered a psychological breakdown, paid for her protégé”s stay there. The recovery was not easy, but in the spring of 1954, Plath was reinstated at Smith College. It is believed that it was in these days that the formation of her true poetic talent began. That same year Plath met Richard Sassoon, who became a close friend, and also realized a long-held dream: she enrolled in a summer literature course at Harvard, living those days with Nancy Hunter-Steiner on Massachusetts Avenue. Plath also described the events of this period of her life in some detail in her novel Under the Looking Glass.
Moving to England
After successfully graduating from college, Sylvia Plath was awarded a Fulbright grant for her thesis entitled The Magic Mirror: A Study of the Double in Two of Dostoevsky”s Novels, which allowed her to continue her studies in Cambridge. Her first impressions of the city, and of the university, were the most favorable. It turned out that in general the academic program at Newnham College, where she went, was easier than at Smith: for two years she had to study on her own, every week submitting essays on assigned topics and undergoing consultations with a tutor. Already in the fall, Plath allowed herself to become a member of the Amateur Theater Club (ADC) and even played a small role on stage – “the mad poetess. All this time she maintained a relationship with R. Sassoon, who was in Paris, and even spent the winter vacations with him, but soon received a letter stating that he would like to break off relations. Plath became depressed again, aided by the unusually cold British weather, colds and flu that plagued her, and an eye problem (described in the poem The Eye-Mote). At Cambridge, Plath wrote extensively, publishing in the university magazine Varsity. Among her professors was Dorothea Crook, for whom Plath had great respect.
In February 1956, Plath met and became intimate with the young British poet Ted Hughes; in her poem “Pursuit,” comparing her new lover to a panther, Plath prophetically foretold: “One day I”ll have my death of him. Plath and Hughes found many similarities, particularly influences: W. B. Yeats, Dylan Thomas, and D. G. Lawrence. It is generally believed that in many ways Hughes (who had a deep knowledge of the classics, particularly Chaucer and Shakespeare) helped Plath find her own, later famous poetic voice. Married in June 1956, the newlyweds spent the summer in Spain.
Hughes and Plath began to lead the usual literary life: teaching, sometimes living on literary stipends, moonlighting at the BBC. Plath, who admired her husband”s talent, acted as secretary, reprinted poems and sent them to publishers, promising Hughes that with her help he would “become America”s first poet. It is believed that to a large extent thanks to this organizational activity, the poet owed the first prize for The Hawk in the Rain in early 1957 to the New York Poetry Center, a competition in which he learned of his own participation as a laureate. At the same time, Sylvia Plath”s own new poetic style began to take shape, showing a genuine talent that was only marginally evident in her early work. Among the later famous poems she wrote in the winter of 1957 were Sow, The Thin People, and Hardcastle Crags. In March 1957 Plath was offered a teaching position at Smith College as an introductory English teacher, and, having passed her Cambridge exams, she and her husband arrived in New York in June 1957; in August the couple moved to Northampton. Teaching proved to be far more difficult and exhausting for Plath than she had ever imagined. Most depressing of all was her disastrous lack of time for creative work. In the winter of 1958, Plath was ill and practically bedridden, and toward summer she moved with her husband to Boston, where she joined the psychiatric ward of Massachusetts General Hospital part-time. : her experiences formed the basis of Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams and The Daughter”s of Blossom Street, two stories that experts consider the strongest of her prose legacy (the second of which was printed in London Magazine under the earlier title This Earth Our Hospital). In those same days, Plath enrolled in a seminar for aspiring writers, taught by Robert Lowell at Boston University, where she met George Starbuck and Anne Sexton. This is also the time of her acquaintance with the poet W. S. Mervyn, an admirer of her work, with whom the poetess remained on friendly terms for the rest of her life. Freed from the constraints of her regular teaching activities, Plath reentered the field of poetry.
…I think I have written poems that qualify me to be America”s Poetess…Who are my rivals? In the past: Sappho, Elizabeth Browning, Christina Rossetti, Amy Lowell, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay-all dead. Now: Edith Sitwell and Marianne Moore, two aging giants… And then there”s Adrienne Rich… but I”ll soon make her squeeze in…
In 1959, Plath became pregnant. Hughes wanted the child to be born in his native land, and the couple decided to travel to England again. Shortly before sailing they spent some time in Yaddo, a writing town in Colorado Springs: it was here that Plath, under the influence of fresh impressions, created the poems Dark Wood, Dark Water and The Manor Garden, as well as The Colossus, about her father. In December the Hugheses traveled to Great Britain, spending Christmas in Heptonstall. The psychological trials began again for Plath; the story of her uneasy relationship with Olwyn Hughes, her husband”s sister, is detailed in the biography Bitter Fame, written by writer and poet Anne Stevenson.
In early 1960 the Hugheses settled in the London suburb of Primrose Hill (3 Chalcot Square). Plath met the publisher Heinemann in Soho and signed a contract to publish The Colossus & Other Poems, which came out on October 31. The reviews on the book were generally positive. But the troubles associated with the publication and the birth of her daughter (Frida Rebecca (born April 1)) presented Plath with a new problem: she had no time to write. In 1960 she wrote only 12 poems (including the later You”re, Candles, and The Hanging Man). However, she returned to prose: she wrote the stories Day of Success and The Lucky Stone. At the end of 1960, Plath got pregnant again, in February 1961 she miscarried, and then had to remove her appendix – so in hospital she spent most of the winter. Her experiences there were the basis for the poems Tulips and In Plaster, and were also the first impetus to start a novel. In March 1961 Sylvia Plath began work on her novel Under the Glass Cover and wrote non-stop for seventy days.
Not only did the birth of a child not hinder Plath”s creative flowering, but, on the contrary, it was a source of new energy for her. In 1961 the poet completed 22 poems-including Morning Song, Barren Woman, Parliament Hill Fields, and Insomniac: the latter won first prize at the 1962 Cheltenham Festival Poetry Competition. In August, after a vacation in France (marred by quarrels with her husband), the Hugheses settled in North Towton, Devon, in a large house owned by Sir Robert Arundell. Here, in October 1961, Plath completed one of her most famous poems, The Moon and the Yew Tree, in many ways the starting point of her short creative life. In the same month her first short story, The Perfect Place (originally The Lucky Stone), was published in the women”s magazine My Weekly.
In November she received $2,000 in a grant from the Eugene F. Saxton Fellowship for her first novel, which by this time had already been completed. On January 17, 1962, Plath and Hughes had a son, Nicholas. Beginning in April, the poetess felt an unprecedented growth of creativity; from her pen came the poems, which later appeared in the collection “Ariel,” and many consider the best of her legacy (Elm, The Rabbit Catcher, etc.). The rush of inspiration was overshadowed by family problems: Sylvia suspected Ted of infidelity (the May poems Apprehensions and Event reflected these feelings). The problem was compounded by the fact that she had no loved ones in England; much of her time was spent writing letters to American friends.
May 14 in the United States at the Knopf publishing house (at the request of the poetess some poems (those in which the critics saw the influence of Theodore Roethke) were not included in the American edition. Critics” reviews were few and restrained; nevertheless, in a letter to her mother, Sylvia wrote: “This is the most fulfilling and happy time of my life. In these days she began to write a sequel to The Glass Cap: the story of an American girl in England who fell in love and got married here. The poetess hoped to give her husband a rough draft for his birthday in August. But her mother, when she came to visit her daughter, realized that not everything in her life was as unclouded as the letters suggested, and relations between the spouses were strained. Plath had suspected for some time that Hughes was cheating on her; in June she received confirmation of this, and soon burned the manuscript of an unfinished novel-length sequel. Some time later she destroyed thousands of letters, both to him and to her mother, as well as numerous sketches of poems. One of her new July works was called Burning the Letters. In September 1962, hoping to repair their relationship, Ted and Sylvia went on holiday to Ireland, where they stayed in Cleggan, at the Old Forge Estate, owned by the poet Richard Murphy. Suddenly Hughes left the mansion in a hurry, leaving, as it later transpired, for his mistress, Asa Gutmann Weville, wife of the Canadian poet David Weville, a German-born socialite with the looks of a movie star.
Plath returned to Devon alone and filed for divorce in November. This event coincided with a new burst of inspiration: during October the poet created at least 26 poems, including Stings, Wintering, The Jailer, Lesbos, Ariel; almost all of them were included in the posthumously published collection Ariel (1965). Her husband”s infidelity caused the previously prominent self-destructive motifs in her poetry to become almost obsessive. “Dying.
On November 7, 1962, in a letter to her mother, Sylvia writes:
On January 14, 1963, under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas, Sylvia Plath”s novel Under the Glass Hood was published; it received high critical acclaim, but mostly after the death of the author. Subsequently, the book became a revelation for young female readers of different decades; the novel gained a reputation as the female equivalent of “Catcher in the Rye”. However, Plath was disappointed by the immediate reaction of the critics, especially since Knopf Publishing refused to publish the book in the United States at all, considering it too personal. The novel was not published in the United States until 1971. The book sold 90,000 copies in the U.S. at a price of $6.95, and more than a million copies of the book were sold in paperback. The novel”s main character”s name was Esther Greenwood, a derivative of the name of the infamous U.S. Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg, whose trial in 1953 and the execution that followed was revealing and had a great impact on American society. Many Americans, including Plath, believed that Rosenberg was the victim of appalling injustice and political manipulation by the authorities.
Shortly before the novel was published in the United States, in 1970 Sylvia Plath”s mother, Aurelia, protested to Harper & Row about the planned posthumous publication. She claimed that the novel was a potboiler written to make money and that Sylvia herself would never want it published under her real name. According to her mother, the purpose of writing the book was to show what the world looks like through the warping glass of the hood. She also claimed that Sylvia planned to write a sequel that would show the same world, but through the eyes of a healthy person.
The novel is generally considered autobiographical. The novel is set in New York City and partly in the suburbs of Boston. It tells the story of six months in the life of nineteen-year-old Esther Greenwood, who, after graduating from university, begins a career in a magazine. She dreams of becoming a poet and traveling the world. Esther faces disappointment in life, society, and loses confidence in herself and her future. Constantly wondering “what is my place in this world” she becomes depressed. The book talks about the difficult path of finding yourself and your personality, returning to normal life. On this difficult path will be everything: nervous breakdowns, hospital, suicide attempts. The main character constantly has to deal with the prejudices of the fifties of the twentieth century in terms of the place and role of women in society. She is under pressure from both family and society, which inevitably leads to a psychological breakdown, an identity crisis.
It is difficult for readers to perceive the novel separately from the tragic story of the writer, her amazing poetry, the story of her struggle with depression, her difficult divorce, and the suicide that followed just one month after the first publication of the novel.
Both the biography and the enigmatic personality of Sylvia Plath have greatly influenced the perception of the novel, even by critics and scholars. Critics have debated whether the novel should be considered a serious work of literature or whether it should be classified as fiction written by an author whose true vocation was poetry. Under the Looking Glass has attracted less scholarly interest than Sylvia Plath”s poetry, although some of the best-known literary critics have recognized it as an important work of American literature. Feminist literary critics turned the novel into a kind of manifesto, criticizing and denouncing the suppression of women in the 1950s.
The Last Days of Sylvia Plath
In early winter Plath resettled in Primrose Hill (now at 23 Fitzroy Road), the house where W. B. Yates had once lived: she attached particular importance to the latter circumstance and considered it a good sign. Hughes and Plath moved in together at first, as husband and wife, to ensure that the latter could occupy the larger of the two apartments; the rent was paid for several years in advance. Here Sylvia was to spend an extremely cold winter in a house with no telephone and a poorly functioning heating system. She recounted this terrible time with humor and great detail in her story Snow Blitz (included in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams). In those days, Plath continued to send out her new work to publishers and editors, but the response to it changed: “publishers did not seem ready for poems of such power,” wrote biography author Peter C. Steinberg. One of the first to appreciate the new turn in her work was the poet, literary critic, and later editor A. Alvarez (Hughes also appeared to take the children on another walk to the nearby London Zoo. Yet Plath spent most of her time alone.
In January 1963, Plath again experienced a creative spurt, creating 20 new poems (Mystic, Sheep in Fog, Kindness, etc.) within fifteen days, moreover, speaking to the reader in a new voice: “…softer and less aggressive, measured and resolute – as if to convey a sense of impending end,” as Peter K. Steinberg wrote. It is not known whether Plath wrote anything during the last six days of her life; no diary entries from that time have survived. All that is known is that it was very cold in a house with no telephone and frozen radiators, the children were ill, and she herself was in severe depression. Al Alvarez, who visited the poet, said he couldn”t forgive himself for not recognizing signs of depression in Plath. “On that level I let her down. In my thirties, I was stupid. What did I know about chronic depression? She needed someone to take care of her. I was incapable of that,” he said in 2000.
A few days before Sylvia Plath”s death, Dr. Horder, an attending physician and close friend who lived nearby, prescribed her antidepressants. Realizing that the patient was in danger and that there were two small children in the house, he visited her daily for some time, then tried to persuade her to go to the clinic, and when that failed, he invited a nurse to be in the house at all times. Opinions about Horder”s prescriptions differed later on: according to one of them, his medications did not work, according to another, they might even be harmful.
On February 7, Sylvia and her children came to visit friends Gillian and Jerry Becker, who taught literature at Middlesex Polytechnic Institute. They spent two days together, during which Sylvia complained constantly of a headache and, according to Gillian, mumbled incoherent things all the time. One night she wouldn”t let go of Gillian for hours, complaining to her about Ted who had betrayed her, about her family, especially Ted”s sister, who hated her, about her mother, who she said was a monster, about a life that would never be the same again. She also talked about her suicide attempt in 1953. On Friday, February 8, Gillian called Dr. Horder, who decided to put Sylvia in a clinic the very next weekend. However, the first two clinics he called were out of room, and the third clinic seemed inappropriate to him. Sylvia, in his opinion, was a very sensitive and vulnerable person for whom the clinic was not the best place. Even without reading Under the Glass Cover, he knew that Sylvia was afraid of hospitals. Her depressive state was on the verge of pathology, but in a hospital she would be separated from her children, which certainly would not be good for her.
Around 9 a.m. on February 11, a nanny named Myra Norris was unable to get into the house and called for help from a workman named Charles Langridge. They found Sylvia Plath dead in the kitchen, with her head stuck in the stove oven with the gas on. It turned out that early that morning Plath had left a note for her downstairs neighbor, Trevor Thomas, asking him to call a doctor. It was discovered that almost immediately she had carefully closed the doors to the children”s rooms, sealed the cracks with wet towels, taken a large dose of sleeping pills, turned on the gas, and stuck her head in the stove: this occurred at about half past four. Sylvia Plath was buried in Heptonstall, Yorkshire, a week after her death.
Much remains unclear about the circumstances of Sylvia Plath”s death. It has been suggested that the suicide was in fact a kind of mishap: had the neighbor downstairs read the note addressed to him, tragedy would most likely have been averted. The neighbor himself, T. Thomas, who had been unconscious for several hours – under the influence of the same gas that had seeped onto his floor – believed that Plath had turned on the stove as a “distress signal” for him to come to her aid.
However, in Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath, Gillian Becker wrote, referring to Police Officer Goodchild”s statement that Plath, “…judging by the way she pushed her head deep into the oven, was indeed deliberately going to her death. Dr. Horder also believed his ward”s intentions to be unambiguous. “It was enough to see the care with which she prepared the kitchen to know that this action was the result of an irrational compulsion,” he said.
Trevor Thomas recalled seeing Sylvia the night before. She had stopped by to pick up a stamp she was going to use to send a letter to America. She seemed unwell and nervous to Trevor. Plath insisted on reimbursing him for the cost of the stamp. When he suggested that she not worry about it, Sylvia said that “otherwise her conscience before God would not be clear.
1963 – present
Immediately after Sylvia Plath”s death, feminists organized a campaign to criticize Ted Hughes. The poetess Robin Morgan explicitly accused (in a poem The Arraignment, 1972) the poet of murder. When his mistress Asja Weavill also committed suicide (in the same way as Plath, but also by killing her daughter, Shura), there were insinuations that Hughes was a violent man. The vandalization of Plath”s tombstone began: Hughes” name was repeatedly removed from the stone, after which the widower took the tombstone away for restoration, thereby incurring charges of desecrating the grave.
Plath”s friend the poetess Anne Sexton, when asked by The Paris Review in 1971 if the two of them had discussed suicide, said
Often, very often. Sylvia and I talked at length about our first suicide attempts, in detail and depth, between free snacks of potato chips. Suicide, after all, is the flip side of the poem. Sylvia and I often talked about “downsides.” We talked about death with a sizzling intensity, both striving for it like a gnat to an electric light bulb, just sucking on the subject. She talked about her first suicide attempt, lovingly and dotingly going over the details, and her descriptions in “The Glass Cap” fit that story. Surprisingly, we didn”t overwhelm George Starbuck with her self-centeredness. On the contrary,
stimulated all three of us, I think–even George–as if death allowed us to feel more real in our own, concrete moment.
It is worth noting that Ann Sexton also, like Sylvia Plath, carried out plans to end her life. She suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in her own car on October 4, 1974.
In 1975 – partly in response to the lively public reaction to the publication of Under the Glass Hood in America – a collection edited by Aurelia Plath was published as a separate edition entitled Letters Home. Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963″ (Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963). Here her daughter appears to the reader as an energetic young woman, driven by a thirst for success, who has to overcome periods of deep depression.
During the 1960s and 1970s Sylvia Plath”s work is studied and analyzed by literary critics. The popularity of feminist ideas makes specialists consider Plath”s work from this point of view. For example, the literary critic Mary Ellman subjected Plath”s descriptions of the female body to a detailed analysis. In 1970, her book Thinking About Women was published, in which one of its sections was devoted to Plath”s poetry. Interest in the poetess” work grew, and the first major study of Sylvia Plath”s work was published in 1973, in a book by Eileen M. Aird, Sylvia Plath: The Woman and Her Work. Shortly before that, a collection of Sylvia”s poems, edited by Charles Newman, was published. The Barfly Ought to Sing, an essay written by Ann Sexton, was also included.
However, the greatest interest in Plath”s poetry came in 1981, when Collected Poems, compiled by Ted Hughes, was published. In 1982 Sylvia Plath was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for it. Also in 1982 Plath”s diaries were published, again edited by Hughes. Feminists accused Hughes of removing the writings in order to present himself in a better light, but when Karen W. Kukil released an unedited version of Plath”s diaries in 2000, many questioned the need to expose grammatical errors and typos.
Since then, Sylvia Plath”s personal life and work have repeatedly inspired biographers to write books about the poetess. Many have blamed Hughes for the tragedy and based their books only on the testimony of Plath”s friends and feminist attacks on him. Others believed that Sylvia Plath was the jealous, ambitious, and authoritarian wife of a talented poet and had driven herself into a dead end. With access to all kinds of papers and documents, biographers have been able to draw more informed conclusions about the causes of what happened. They unanimously conclude that the cause of the poetess”s suicide was mental illness and deep depression, for which one should not and cannot blame anyone else, regardless of the events that were the catalyst for the tragedy. In her book Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, the American writer and biographer Diana Middlebrook has thoroughly dissected the couple”s relationship. Describing all the events preceding Sylvia”s death, she concluded, “It was the depression that killed Sylvia Plath.
Thanks to a lot of work done by researchers, not only was Plath the Suicide Girl revealed to the public, but it also became known that she was a keen scout as a child, a talented student, loved her children touchingly, admired the ocean, was extreme and loved to drive fast in her red car, she played the viola and piano well, loved to draw; her diaries and notebooks were always full of colorful and amusing caricatures. She painted floral designs on furniture, was a beekeeper and confectioner, and spoke fluent German.
Sylvia”s home name was Sivvie, and her friends called her Syv. She was quite tall for a woman – 175 cm (5 feet 9 inches) and wore size 9 shoes (about size 41), which she was embarrassed about all her life. She had brown hair and brown eyes. She was never considered beautiful, although her height and slender figure made her look cute. In keeping with the fashion of those years, Sylvia lightened her hair with perhydrole in the summer. By the end of the 1950s, some enthusiasts began to call her the “Marilyn Monroe of literature. Sylvia Plath had a deep, beautiful voice. When she read her poetry on BBC radio, her voice shook and was very sensual.
If we believe certain episodes of the novel Under the Glass Cover, Sylvia Plath (who is commonly identified with Esther Greenwood, the lyrical heroine) felt a serious psychological barrier to communication with men, in some aspects causing physiological difficulties as well. In reality, at least outwardly, this was not felt: the poetess had met several men before leaving for Cambridge; biographer C. Steinberg mentions in this context Richard Sassoon, Gordon Lameyer and publisher Peter Davison, among others. According to Wagner-Martin”s biography, she flirted readily and quickly had affairs; moreover, she shared the view (later adopted by feminists) that a woman should not yield to a man the right to have multiple affairs.
On February 23, 1956, Plath bought the St. Botolph”s Review and read there a poem by the young British poet Ted Hughes that she liked very much. When she learned of a party held at Falcon Yard to celebrate the publication of this issue, she immediately went there, found Hughes and read several of his poems, which she already knew by heart. If legend is to be believed, during the dance Sylvia bit him on the cheek until he bled; such a beginning of acquaintance is considered symbolic of their tumultuous relationship. “…A big and swarthy boy, the only one there, big enough for me,” was how Plath wrote of her chosen one. Hughes, for his part, left a poetic recollection of his first impressions of his wife-to-be: “American legs – up and up like that.
“I graduated from Cambridge in 1954, but I still had friends there, and I often returned there for visits. One of those friends published a poetry magazine, and he published only one issue. I had some poems there, though, and we had a party on the day it came out,” Hughes said. Plath picked up, “That”s where I came in. I was just in Cambridge … I read his poems, and they made a strong impression on me, and I wanted to meet him. I went to this little party and that”s where we met. Then I think we met in London on Friday the 13th, then we began to see each other often, and a few months later we were married.” “I had saved
They had two children during their marriage: a daughter, Frida (born April 1, 1960), and a son, Nicholas (January 17, 1962 – hanged himself March 16, 2009).
After the breakup with Ted, Sylvia suffered from loneliness. Among the few acquaintances who visited Sylvia during this period was Al Alvarez. As Connie Ann Kirk (English) writes in her biography of Sylvia Plath:
He sensed Plath”s depressed state: the pain of losing her father was still there, the feeling of abandonment after Ted”s departure only aggravated her condition. Alvarez expressed concern about her condition, but at that time he was dating another girl and could not devote himself to taking care of Sylvia, only occasionally visiting her on a friendly basis. On Christmas Eve, 1962, Sylvia tidied up and renovated the apartment. She invited Alvarez to Christmas dinner. By Alvarez”s admission, he guessed that she was counting on more than just friendly company. He had a few drinks with her and then left as soon as he sensed she wanted to continue. Alvarez knew she was desperate, but he himself had not yet recovered from his own depression and was not ready to fight her problems either. His measured and even cold-blooded approach to the issue was perceived by Sylvia as another refusal, and she never saw or called him again.
Sylvia Plath”s status in the United States is high: her name is traditionally mentioned when listing major American poets. Plath is considered one of the leading figures in American “confessional poetry” – along with her teacher Robert Lowell, W. D. Snodgrass, and Ann Sexton, a poet with whom Plath met at the Lowell seminar. The combination of extremely strong, catchy imagery, alliteration, rhythmic patterns, and rhymes is considered unique.
Plath”s unusually intense poetry displayed on the one hand the power of imagination, and on the other the poetess” concentration on her own inner world. She raised extremely acute topics close to taboo: she wrote about suicide, self-loathing, Nazism, shock therapy, abnormal relationships in a disintegrating, dysfunctional family. There is a view that Plath”s poetry was ahead of its time; she might well have fit into the literary scene of the next decade, but fell victim to the “conservatism of the fifties.
Sylvia Plath is described as an “extremely diverse poet” (whose work combined irony, rage, and lyrical motifs) who produced works of extraordinary “power and virtuosity. “Plath catches her every move in her poems; her poetry is essentially diary poetry. This feeling does not disappear for a moment, but the unrestrained associations sometimes lead so far from the immediate everyday facts that the diary-like nature becomes imperceptible”, noted E. Kassel in the preface to the full collection of poems by the poetess, published in Russia in the series “Literary Monuments”. In this case, as O. Rogov noted, “…in a tragic and ruthless way she was doomed to create only in conditions of emotional ”bottom” – the emergence of poems contributed to loneliness and depression, and not at all months of prosperous existence that fell out from time to time.
Central to Plath”s work is the collection Ariel, distinguished from her earlier works by a greater degree of confessionality and the predominance of personal motifs. Published in 1966, it marked a dramatic turn in attitudes toward Plath; critics were particularly impressed by the autobiographical poems related to mental problems: Tulips, Daddy and Lady Lazarus. Researchers do not exclude the possibility that Robert Lowell may have influenced her; among her major influences (in an interview shortly before her death) she herself cited his book Life Studies.
Analyzing the essence of the “confessional” nature of the poetess”s work, one of Britain”s most respected literary critics and poets, Al Alvarez, wrote:
Plath”s case is complicated by the fact that, already in her mature works, she deliberately used the details of her everyday life as raw material for her art. An accidental guest or unexpected phone call, a cut, a bruise, the kitchen sink, a candlestick – everything was used, everything was charged with meaning and transformed. Her poems are filled with references and imagery that, after many years, are incomprehensible, but which could have been explained in direct footnotes by a researcher who had access to all the details of her life.
Alvarez was in close contact with Sylvia Plath while she was living in Great Britain. Like her, Alvarez suffered from depression and attempted suicide. It was Alvarez who accompanied Hughes to the police station and assisted him at the poetess” funeral. In 1963, he dedicated a poetry program to Sylvia on BBC radio. He described her as the greatest poet of the twentieth century. He is considered the most authoritative expert and expert on Sylvia Plath”s work.
Subsequently, some critics began to detect elements of “sentimental melodrama” in Plath”s poetry; in 2010 Theodore Dalrymple argued that Plath was a “guardian angel of
Robert Lowell wrote that Sylvia was “not so much a person, or a woman, and certainly not ”another poetess,” but one of those unreal, hypnotic, great classical heroines. Of all the poets who wrote in the genre of confessional poetry, Lowell had the greatest literary reputation, but it was Sylvia Plath who was destined to become an “icon” of the genre. Her fame came to her after her death, or to be more precise, after the publication in 1965 of the collection Ariel.
The British literary scholar and critic Bernard Bergonzi said of Plath: “Miss Sylvia Plath is a young American poet whose work is an immediate event because of her virtuoso style.
British writer, poet, and literary critic John Wayne praised Plath”s poetry: “Sylvia Plath writes talented, upbeat poems that most intellectuals, people capable of enjoying poetry and not just bowing to it, will enjoy.
Ted Hughes was also very appreciative of Sylvia”s poetic gift. In a letter to her mother he wrote: “She cannot be compared with any other poet, except perhaps Emily Dickinson.
Reveka Frumkina, a famous Soviet and Russian psycholinguist, professor at the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote about Sylvia Plath”s novel: “…she left a strikingly subtle and sober novel-self-analysis, The Colba, in which she described her mental illness.
Analyzing American literature and comparing it with Russian literature, Elena Koreneva, in her biographical book The Idiot, draws a parallel between the creative talent of Marina Tsvetaeva and Sylvia Plath: “Sylvia Plath was remarkably similar to Marina Tsvetaeva – with passion, brevity, imagery and a premonition of the inevitable end. She was doomed, committing suicide in the prime of her life and fame.
It is worth noting that Sylvia Plath has been criticized for “inappropriate metaphors and allusions. In particular, in one of her famous poems, “Daddy,” Plath compares herself to the Jews and her father to the Holocaust. Literary critics and historians have lashed out at Sylvia for “trivializing” such tragic concepts as Nazism and the Holocaust. Among those who thought such comparisons reckless were the writer and critic Leon Wieselter, the poet Seimas Heaney, and the famous American critic Irving Howie called such comparisons “monstrous. The literary critic Marjorie Perlof literally attacked Sylvia Plath, calling her poetry “empty and pompous” and her literary devices “tawdry.
The short life and tragic circumstances of the poetess” death are still of interest to the general public and specialists. They also had a noticeable impact on the lives of many people in Sylvia”s entourage.
Specifically, Sylvia Plath”s son Nicholas Hughes, a 47-year-old Alaskan biologist, committed suicide on March 23, 2009. According to a columnist for The New York Times, Nicholas” fate was undoubtedly influenced by the suicide of his mother and the suicide of his stepmother that followed. Despite the fact that Nicholas was only a year old when the tragedy occurred, he had heard talk of his mother and her death since early childhood. The world press responded with a large number of articles on the subject of Nicholas Hughes” death. The press, however, was not so much moved by the circumstances of his own life, hardships or depression, as by the repetition of history. The newspapers were full of headlines like “The Curse of the Plath!” Some of Nicholas Hughes” colleagues had worked side by side with him for many years and were unaware that he was the son of famous poets.
Princeton University professor Joyce Carol Oates argues that Plath”s suicide had an enormous cultural impact on the entire community because “Plath was a brilliant poetess, and at the time of her death was already a recognized classic of American poetry, with many of her talented contemporaries, Anne Sexton, John Barryman, forgotten.
The name of Sylvia Plath has become synonymous with depression and suicide. Psychologists, authors of scientific and popular scientific literature on the subject, invariably consider and study Plath”s tragic story in a medical-psychological context. In 2001, the American psychiatrist James Kaufman introduced a new term in psychology – The Sylvia Plath Effect. The term refers to the phenomenon of more frequent occurrence of mental deviations
Understanding Sylvia Plath”s place in history is important because it helps us understand what she was saying with her poetry, what her generation was thinking in general, and how the poems she wrote reflected a particular historical moment.
Sylvia Plath”s literary legacy, in addition to her biographical boom, has also been influenced by other poets and writers. Famous poets, the American Carol Rumens and the Irish Evan Boland, were fascinated by Sylvia Plath”s poetry in their youth. As Boland admitted, Plath”s tragic literary and female fate shook her, and for years she could not separate the phenomenon of women”s poetry from the name Sylvia Plath. Rumens, who at the time knew nothing of Plath”s suicide, admired the talent of the poetess, who “was still a mother and a wife. It should be noted that Plath, if not influenced, at least inspired many poets of the 1970s who were associated with the Women”s Equality Movement. These include Judith Kazantzis, Michelle Roberts, Gillian Aulnat, and others.
Sylvia Plath”s personality and talent have inspired many musicians to create songs, playwrights to write plays, and writers and journalists to explore literature.
Books about Sylvia Plath
Many books have been written about Sylvia Plath and her life and work. Sylvia”s family, particularly Ted Hughes, did not like some of the biographies written, and there were even conflicts between the poet”s family and the biographers. He felt that many of them viewed Sylvia”s life through the lens of Hughes” culpability in her death. And Plath took openly critical attacks on her work very painfully. Among the most famous conflicts is the tense correspondence between Jacqueline Rose and Olwyn Hughes, who, by a strange coincidence, headed the Estate of Sylvia Plath, created by Hughes, and administered the rights to Sylvia Plath”s legacy until 1991. Rose detailed the details of the conflict in an article titled “This Is Not Biography.
Editions in Russian