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Biography of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963)

Sylvia started her life in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on October 27, 1932. During her early childhood, Sylvia's father Otto suffered from a lengthy illness. Otto, certain he had cancer, did not seek treatment initially. When he finally did see a doctor, a case of diabetes was diagnosed but by that time his illness was advanced. His end was fraught with suffering which included the amputation of a leg. Reference to the leg is made in "Daddy" Otto died just days past Sylvia's 8th birthday.

Sylvia was an excellent student and in 1950 she was accepted into Smith College on a scholarship. She was at the top of her class and should logically have been very happy. That was not the case. She lived in fear that it would be found out that she wasn't the perfectly happy person she tried to project. In 1952 she won the first prize of $500 from Mademoiselle magazine for her short story "Sunday at the Minton’s". The following June 1953, Sylvia was a guest editor at the Mademoiselle New York offices, which she later wrote about in The Bell Jar. She came home from New York in a state of exhaustion and depression. She was counting on being accepted into Frank O'Connor's creative writing course at Harvard and when she wasn't, she went into a state of withdrawal. She was distraught, scared inside, unable to sleep or function, but still determined to show the world a brave face. On August 24th, unable to carry on any longer, she attempted suicide. For the next months she was institutionalised at Maclean Hospital and was treated with insulin therapy and shock treatments. During this period of hospitalisation, Sylvia unknowingly was collecting material for her novel The Bell Jar and short story "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams".

In October 1955, Sylvia attended Newnham College at Cambridge University on a Fulbright scholarship. After a series of go nowhere relationships and numerous blind dates, Sylvia met Ted Hughes at a St. Botolph's party on February 25, 1956. They were married on a rainy day in London on June 16th of the same year and honeymooned in Benidorm, Spain. Ted Hughes describes the details of their wedding beautifully in his poem "A Pink Wool Knitted Dress" in Birthday Letters.

After the conclusion of her studies at Cambridge in the spring of 1957, Sylvia was asked to teach English at Smith College, where she had taken her undergraduate studies. Sylvia returned to America, bringing her husband with her. Her mother, Aurelia Plath, made them a present of a vacation on Cape Cod. Sylvia was excited at the prospect of teaching English, an obvious favorite subject area. She wasn't long on the faculty when she felt overwhelmed. She chastised herself for presuming that she could teach. The preparatory work was exhausting and she perceived the faculty's coldness to her. She had dreamed of giving marvellous lectures and leisurely writing her book. As was her lot, she must be brilliant and make it look as "easy as pie". She was sick frequently and most unhappy. When the year was over, she did not return. The College was very satisfied with Sylvia's performance, but Sylvia felt she had failed and she wouldn't go back for another year. Already Sylvia was beginning to have doubts about Ted's love for her. She needed constantly to be reassured. Sylvia took a less taxing clerical position as a receptionist in the psychiatric clinic of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and continued with her writing. In early December of 1958 she began to secretly see Ruth Boucher, her therapist from McLean, where she had been hospitalized after her earlier suicide attempt in the summer of 1953. She also attended an evening poetry class, which was given by Robert Lowell, whose confessional style influenced Sylvia’s poetry.

In December 1959 Sylvia and Ted returned to England. Sylvia was pregnant and due to give birth in the spring of 1960. On April 1st, Frieda Rebecca was born. During her pregnancy, on February 10th, Sylvia signed a contract with William Heinemann Ltd. to publish The Colossus, which was to come out in October 1960. Outwardly Sylvia showed amazing energy. She scoured and scrubbed their London flat, wanting a pretty home for herself, her husband and their yet to be born baby. Inwardly she felt exhausted and barely able to carry on, but unwilling to let the world know and her circumstances pressed in on her. She wanted everything, and the writing was her outlet and her curse. It was both her salvation and her undoing.

The following February 1961 a miscarriage left Sylvia feeling depressed. She wrote of it in a poem "Parliament Hill Fields".

In August 1961 the Hughes family moved to a Devon farm and Sylvia was isolated. Ted had become more removed from her. A son Nicholas Farrar was born on January 17th, 1962. In July, Sylvia discovered Ted's affair with Assia Wevill. Sylvia and Ted separated in September. In the following month Sylvia wrote at least 26 of the Ariel poems.

In December 1962, Sylvia took the children with her to London and moved into an apartment at 23 Fitzroy Road, which was the former home of poet William Butler Yeats. The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas in January 1963. On February 11, 1963 Sylvia gave up her life.

Concluding remarks
Although Sylvia Plath's life was brief in conventional terms, her life was rich in experiences. She received accolades in the form of prizes, awards, and scholarships. She had literary successes, although none so great as those that were endowed on her post-humously. In 1982 she received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her Collected Poems.

Sylvia Plath was many things to many people; she was daughter, sister, student and teacher, wife and mother, and finally a writer. In death, she continues to influence people for more than her literary excellence.

She was a bright, intelligent, and determined young woman with a need to succeed and a burning desire to write. Sylvia had other needs that clashed with her literary ambitions. She dreamed of the comfort of a home of her own where she could belong and be loved for herself. She wanted a good husband and children. In school and outside of it, she was a high achiever never being able to quite reach the very high expectations she set for herself. No one was able to drive Sylvia more than herself. She knew self-doubt and depression. Yet to the world she presented a carefree, it's so easy attitude. In reality she worked, pushing herself relentlessly, whether in her studies, her teaching, in her relationships or her writing. Only those nearest to her knew how troubled Sylvia's life was.


Biography by: This biography was written by Joan Welz of the University of Alberta, as part of a Master's Degree in Library and Information Studies.


121 Poems written by Sylvia Plath

The poems are by default sorted according to volume, but you can also choose to sort them alphabetically or by page views.

Volume | Alphabetically | [Page Views] | Comments | First Lines


Page ViewsPoemComments
57390 Edge Comments and analysis of Edge by Sylvia Plath 51 Comments
40204 Two Sisters Of Persephone Comments and analysis of Two Sisters Of Persephone by Sylvia Plath 534 Comments
32580 Kindness Comments and analysis of Kindness by Sylvia Plath 388 Comments
32103 Jilted Comments and analysis of Jilted by Sylvia Plath 38 Comments
31720 Never Try To Trick Me With A Kiss Comments and analysis of Never Try To Trick Me With A Kiss by Sylvia Plath 573 Comments
22241 Nick And The Candlestick Comments and analysis of Nick And The Candlestick by Sylvia Plath 57 Comments
19784 An Appearance
19784 An Appearance Comments and analysis of An Appearance by Sylvia Plath 272 Comments
16953 Southern Sunrise Comments and analysis of Southern Sunrise by Sylvia Plath 12 Comments
16622 By Candlelight
16188 Conversation Among The Ruins Comments and analysis of Conversation Among The Ruins by Sylvia Plath 4 Comments
14788 Virgin In A Tree Comments and analysis of Virgin In A Tree by Sylvia Plath 30 Comments
11959 The Times Are Tidy Comments and analysis of The Times Are Tidy by Sylvia Plath 26 Comments
11775 The Other Two Comments and analysis of The Other Two by Sylvia Plath 19 Comments
11562 Polly's Tree Comments and analysis of Polly's Tree by Sylvia Plath 19 Comments
10874 Winter Landscape, With Rooks Comments and analysis of Winter Landscape, With Rooks by Sylvia Plath 10 Comments
10693 The Sleepers Comments and analysis of The Sleepers by Sylvia Plath 31 Comments
10060 Gigolo
10009 Lyonnesse Comments and analysis of Lyonnesse by Sylvia Plath 23 Comments
9705 The Swarm
9516 Totem
9387 Fiesta Melons Comments and analysis of Fiesta Melons by Sylvia Plath 2 Comments
8376 Words Comments and analysis of Words by Sylvia Plath 46 Comments
7841 Berck-Plage
7675 Bucolics Comments and analysis of Bucolics by Sylvia Plath 13 Comments
7459 Years Comments and analysis of Years by Sylvia Plath 5 Comments
7047 Letter In November Comments and analysis of Letter In November by Sylvia Plath 58 Comments
6985 Medusa Comments and analysis of Medusa by Sylvia Plath 87 Comments
6840 Mystic Comments and analysis of Mystic by Sylvia Plath 14 Comments
6727 Landowners Comments and analysis of Landowners by Sylvia Plath 3 Comments
6700 Prospect Comments and analysis of Prospect by Sylvia Plath 20 Comments
6025 Sheep In Fog Comments and analysis of Sheep In Fog by Sylvia Plath 27 Comments
5988 Insomniac Comments and analysis of Insomniac by Sylvia Plath 19 Comments
5849 The Bull Of Bendylaw
5331 Poppies In October Comments and analysis of Poppies In October by Sylvia Plath 15 Comments
5326 A Better Resurrection Comments and analysis of A Better Resurrection by Sylvia Plath 604 Comments
4884 Blackberrying Comments and analysis of Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath 30 Comments
4806 Love Letter Comments and analysis of Love Letter by Sylvia Plath 137 Comments
4801 The Applicant Comments and analysis of The Applicant by Sylvia Plath 28 Comments
3915 Frog Autumn Comments and analysis of Frog Autumn by Sylvia Plath 49 Comments
3707 Mad Girl's Love Song Comments and analysis of Mad Girl's Love Song by Sylvia Plath 225 Comments
3654 Last Words Comments and analysis of Last Words by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
3478 The Arrival Of The Bee Box Comments and analysis of The Arrival Of The Bee Box by Sylvia Plath 136 Comments
3388 Apprehensions Comments and analysis of Apprehensions by Sylvia Plath 8 Comments
3274 Resolve Comments and analysis of Resolve by Sylvia Plath 36 Comments
3266 Morning Song Comments and analysis of Morning Song by Sylvia Plath 166 Comments
3193 The Couriers
3053 Daddy Comments and analysis of Daddy by Sylvia Plath 348 Comments
3042 Tulips Comments and analysis of Tulips by Sylvia Plath 82 Comments
2864 Dialogue Between Ghost And Priest Comments and analysis of Dialogue Between Ghost And Priest by Sylvia Plath 299 Comments
2789 Goatsucker Comments and analysis of Goatsucker by Sylvia Plath 2 Comments
2761 A Birthday Present Comments and analysis of A Birthday Present by Sylvia Plath 87 Comments
2671 April 18 Comments and analysis of April 18 by Sylvia Plath 483 Comments
2641 Contusion Comments and analysis of Contusion by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
2474 Lesbos Comments and analysis of Lesbos by Sylvia Plath 50 Comments
2466 Full Fathom Five Comments and analysis of Full Fathom Five by Sylvia Plath 15 Comments
2238 Mushrooms Comments and analysis of Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath 474 Comments
2209 Two Views Of A Cadaver Room Comments and analysis of Two Views Of A Cadaver Room by Sylvia Plath 63 Comments
2186 Paralytic Comments and analysis of Paralytic by Sylvia Plath 31 Comments
2141 Pursuit Comments and analysis of Pursuit by Sylvia Plath 35 Comments
2088 Vanity Fair Comments and analysis of Vanity Fair by Sylvia Plath 2 Comments
2064 Electra On Azalea Path Comments and analysis of Electra On Azalea Path by Sylvia Plath 17 Comments
1965 Balloons Comments and analysis of Balloons by Sylvia Plath 36 Comments
1860 The Queen's Complaint Comments and analysis of The Queen's Complaint by Sylvia Plath 6 Comments
1792 The Night Dances Comments and analysis of The Night Dances by Sylvia Plath 286 Comments
1767 The Colossus Comments and analysis of The Colossus by Sylvia Plath 529 Comments
1760 The Disquieting Muses Comments and analysis of The Disquieting Muses by Sylvia Plath 347 Comments
1717 Sleep In The Mojave Desert Comments and analysis of Sleep In The Mojave Desert by Sylvia Plath 26 Comments
1652 Faun Comments and analysis of Faun by Sylvia Plath 26 Comments
1533 Child Comments and analysis of Child by Sylvia Plath 112 Comments
1504 Perseus
1401 Poems, Potatoes Comments and analysis of Poems, Potatoes by Sylvia Plath 14 Comments
1365 The Dead Comments and analysis of The Dead by Sylvia Plath 316 Comments
1330 Aftermath Comments and analysis of Aftermath by Sylvia Plath 15 Comments
1212 Mirror Comments and analysis of Mirror by Sylvia Plath 452 Comments
1209 Spinster Comments and analysis of Spinster by Sylvia Plath 72 Comments
1116 Metaphors Comments and analysis of Metaphors by Sylvia Plath 503 Comments
1109 Sow Comments and analysis of Sow by Sylvia Plath 39 Comments
978 Among The Narcissi Comments and analysis of Among The Narcissi by Sylvia Plath 2 Comments
962 Poppies In July Comments and analysis of Poppies In July by Sylvia Plath 17 Comments
850 Fever 103° Comments and analysis of Fever 103° by Sylvia Plath 112 Comments
839 Purdah Comments and analysis of Purdah by Sylvia Plath 30 Comments
739 The Rival Comments and analysis of The Rival by Sylvia Plath 39 Comments
732 Tale Of A Tub Comments and analysis of Tale Of A Tub by Sylvia Plath 82 Comments
711 The Other Comments and analysis of The Other by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
692 On Looking Into The Eyes Of A Demon Lover Comments and analysis of On Looking Into The Eyes Of A Demon Lover by Sylvia Plath 65 Comments
683 Sculptor Comments and analysis of Sculptor by Sylvia Plath 15 Comments
670 In Plaster Comments and analysis of In Plaster by Sylvia Plath 537 Comments
660 Wintering Comments and analysis of Wintering by Sylvia Plath 12 Comments
659 Snakecharmer Comments and analysis of Snakecharmer by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
637 I Am Vertical Comments and analysis of I Am Vertical by Sylvia Plath 130 Comments
637 A Life Comments and analysis of A Life by Sylvia Plath 532 Comments
614 Night Shift Comments and analysis of Night Shift by Sylvia Plath 29 Comments
612 The Bee Meeting Comments and analysis of The Bee Meeting by Sylvia Plath 50 Comments
590 Ariel Comments and analysis of Ariel by Sylvia Plath 148 Comments
481 Strumpet Song
475 Cut Comments and analysis of Cut by Sylvia Plath 170 Comments
455 Crossing The Water Comments and analysis of Crossing The Water by Sylvia Plath 37 Comments
414 The Moon And The Yew Tree Comments and analysis of The Moon And The Yew Tree by Sylvia Plath 75 Comments
414 The Munich Mannequins Comments and analysis of The Munich Mannequins by Sylvia Plath 22 Comments
400 Lady Lazarus Comments and analysis of Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath 374 Comments
380 A Lesson In Vengeance Comments and analysis of A Lesson In Vengeance by Sylvia Plath 26 Comments
352 Winter Trees Comments and analysis of Winter Trees by Sylvia Plath 269 Comments
350 Mary's Song Comments and analysis of Mary's Song by Sylvia Plath 35 Comments
326 Elm Comments and analysis of Elm by Sylvia Plath 313 Comments
316 Three Women Comments and analysis of Three Women by Sylvia Plath 77 Comments
279 Black Rook In Rainy Weather Comments and analysis of Black Rook In Rainy Weather by Sylvia Plath 507 Comments
269 Death & Co. Comments and analysis of Death & Co. by Sylvia Plath 6 Comments
266 The Thin People Comments and analysis of The Thin People by Sylvia Plath 546 Comments
259 Wuthering Heights Comments and analysis of Wuthering Heights by Sylvia Plath 22 Comments
243 The Eye-Mote Comments and analysis of The Eye-Mote by Sylvia Plath 52 Comments
217 Stillborn Comments and analysis of Stillborn by Sylvia Plath 69 Comments
217 Two Campers In Cloud Country Comments and analysis of Two Campers In Cloud Country by Sylvia Plath 32 Comments
217 Leaving Early Comments and analysis of Leaving Early by Sylvia Plath 21 Comments
182 Stings Comments and analysis of Stings by Sylvia Plath 252 Comments
180 Lorelei Comments and analysis of Lorelei by Sylvia Plath 50 Comments
178 Getting There Comments and analysis of Getting There by Sylvia Plath 35 Comments
166 Face Lift Comments and analysis of Face Lift by Sylvia Plath 98 Comments
163 Pheasant Comments and analysis of Pheasant by Sylvia Plath 21 Comments
142 You're Comments and analysis of You're by Sylvia Plath 125 Comments
68 Love Is A Parallax Comments and analysis of Love Is A Parallax by Sylvia Plath 23 Comments
36 Monologue At 3 AM Comments and analysis of Monologue At 3 AM by Sylvia Plath 259 Comments


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