Sylvia Plath is one of the most iconic writers of the 20th century. For decades, her confessional style of writing has captivated readers with its raw emotion and prolific language. This October, Plath would have turned 86 years old. We thought there was no better way to start Plath’s birthday month than with a look back at the trials and triumphs of her brief life.
Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts. Her writing career began at the early age of eight after her father died from a long battle with diabetes. This event inspired Plath to use writing as an outlet for her grief. The earliest evidence of Plath’s published works are found around 1950 when she won several newspaper contests and published her first story, “And The Summer Will Not Come Again,” in Seventeen magazine. Plath went on to attend Smith College where she continued to pursue writing and became a student editor of Mademoiselle magazine. Despite her early success as a writer, Plath battled severe depression, making constant suicide attempts from the time she was twenty years old.
Adulthood & Published Poetry
Upon graduating, Plath moved to Cambridge, England, on a Fulbright Fellowship. While there, she met and married the English poet Ted Hughes. The couple briefly moved back to Massachusetts where Plath continued her studies with poet Robert Lowell. Plath’s first collection of poems titled, The Colossus and Other Poems was published in 1960. Plath and Hughes eventually moved back to England, where Plath gave birth to two children.
After six years of marriage, Plath’s husband left her for another woman. Many of the poems Plath wrote during this time are compiled in her book Ariel. In 1963, Plath published an autobiographical novel titled The Bell Jar under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. In the novel, Plath disguises her family and friends as fictional characters, which gave them no indication of the depression she was constantly experiencing.
On the morning of February 11, 1963, Plath died by suicide in the kitchen of her London home. Her ex-husband, Ted Hughes, became her literary executor. He published several of her works annually, including Ariel in 1965. Hughes also went on to publish The Collected Poems, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1982.
The greatest impact of Sylvia Plath’s life work comes with her legacy. She is a pioneer of her craft and has inspired countless artists to showcase vulnerability through their work. In many ways, Plath was ahead of her time. She recognized the societal expectations of a 1950’s female but was not afraid to speak out against issues of patriarchy and domesticity.
Plath was a voice not only for females but for individuals suffering from mental illness. She validated unacknowledged emotions that came from the ideologies indoctrinated into her generation. She transformed her own life experiences into universal ones that continue to resonate with readers to this day. Many individuals agree that The Bell Jar feels so timely decades after it was written, with Catherine LaSota from electricliterature.com explaining,
“The disassembly of the patriarchy is a painfully slow process. I believe that the time in your life in which you read a book will affect your take on the book, and I can certainly say that I read The Bell Jar very aware of the current Trumpian political climate. Parts of the book read like a rallying cry for women to take charge, and in this way I found The Bell Jar to be quite empowering.”
It’s difficult to say what Sylvia Plath could have accomplished beyond thirty. The themes Plath explores throughout her writing are the same topics in contemporary conversations, demonstrating the relevance and immortality of her work. I think we can only hope that Sylvia Plath would have found a sense of peace with her life and would have continued to share her words with the world.
If you like Plath, check out these free texts on Owl Eyes:
- Dead Love by Elizabeth Siddal warns an innocent audience about the inevitable loss of love.
- Orchard by Hilda (H.D) Doolittle juxtaposes vibrant imagery with allusions to Puritan ideology.
- The Garden by Hilda (H.D) Doolittle is a vivid metaphor illustrating the oppressive forces of power.
- Worn Out by Elizabeth Siddal features a speaker battling the complexities of giving and receiving love.
- The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is written as a woman’s secret diary as she’s locked in a room, forced into a “rest cure.”