Many artists and poets are widely remembered and recognized by the masses not until after their death. Sylvia Plath had been known to be a writer while she was alive, though she gained more recognition and acclaim after her suicide. She is considered to be one of the most well-known female American poet and novelist and is ultimately famous for her confessional poetries. In this paper, to be able to achieve a detailed research about the life of Sylvia Plath, it is rather important to take into account her works and the criticisms that she received in her lifetime and even posthumously.
Brief Biography of Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath was born to Aurelia Schober Plath and Otto Emile Plath who was a zoology professor and bee specialist at Boston University. She was born in Massachusetts on October 27, 1932. She had a younger brother named Warren who was born in 1935. Her parents raised her as a Unitarian Christian, a theology who believed in the oneness of God and not in the Trinity which claims the three persona of God as the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
However, Plath was believed to have had mixed feelings about her religion. In October of 1940, her father was amputated due to diabetes and on November of the same year, he died. His death had a major effect in Plath’s life and works all throughout her life. Upon learning of her father’s death, she declared that she would never speak to God again (Neurotic Poets).
She was eight years old when she had published her first poem in the children’s section of the Boston Herald. Due to the Great Depression, Sylvia’s mother was forced to work in Boston University and her maternal grandparents lived with them in Wellesley, Massachusetts from Winthrop. Plath was extremely good in school. She was active in publishing articles with other students in The Atlantic Monthly. She graduated first in her high school class in 1950. Plath attended Smith College in 1950 which was located in Northhampton, Massachusetts. Magazines such as Seventeen, Harper’s, and The Christian Science Monitor published her works and so she build her career in this widely circulated publications. She dated several boys in this timeframe of her life and also developed her shares of depression, insomnia, and suicidal attempts (Neurotic Poets).
She was an avid fan of Dylan Thomas’ works so when she discovered that she missed the chance on meeting him on a dinner with her editing manager, she started becoming obsessed in arranging an encounter with him. She was often witnessed to be waiting in the hallway of his hotel and stay for long hours in his favorite bars in New York. When she returned to Wellesley, she found out that her application was not accepted in Harvard Summer School. She began to feel depressed and thought that she was becoming a disappointment to her family and friends. She started losing focus on her works and had trouble sleeping for consecutive days. Her mother also noticed scars on her legs which she admitted to be an attempt to end her life. She was sent to a psychiatrist where she received the electroshock therapy and became immune to sleeping pills. One of her other attempts on suicide was on August 24, 1953 where she broke open the family lockbox that contained the sleeping pills. She left the house, gulped almost 40 pills and later disappeared in the neighborhood. After two days, she was discovered, “covered in her own vomit and, dazed but alive, was rushed to the hospital in a semi-comatose state” (Neurotic Poets).
In 1954, Plath started writing poetry again. She began achieving numerous awards again with her works. She was also finally accepted in Harvard Summer School. She went to England to study in Cambridge after graduating summa cum laude in June. She studied literature in Cambridge and started dating older men. She entered in a serious relationship with one older man who was against her concept of commitment. The broken relationship soon took her back into the arms of depression and pain (Neurotic Poets).
In 1956, she met Ted Hughes in a party and immediately the two fell in love. After a couple of months, they married in secret to avoid risking Plath’s education and scholarship grants. They were married in June 16, 1956 in the Church of Saint George the Martyr in London. She became Hughes’ literary agent and worked on submitting his works to American and British publishers. Ted Hughes soon became a widely known English poet in America (Neurotic Poets).
In February 1960, Plath gave birth to Frieda Rebecca Hughes. Plath book, The Colossus was published in October of the same year. Later on, Hughes and Plath decided to search for a house in Devon. They finally met Assia Gutmann Wevill and her third husband David Wevill who were the previous renter of the lat that they wish to lease. In 1962, Plath gave birth to a baby boy, Nicholas. However, she started having suspicions of Hughes’ affair with Assia Wevill as she once caught her disguising her voice on the phone looking for Hughes who tumbled down the stairs trying to reach the phone first. She and Hughes later separated and Plath lived with her children in London in a place which was formerly occupied by one of her most admired poets, W.B. Yeats. In January 1963, Plath novel, The Bell Jar was finally published in England under the Plath’s pseudonym Victoria Lucas. It was well received by the critics where one critic even stated that, “There are criticisms of American society that the neurotic can make as well as anyone, perhaps better, and Miss Lucas makes them triumphantly…. This is a brilliant and moving book” (qtd. in Neurotic Poets). It was in February 11, 1963 when Plath took her life by means of placing her head in a gas oven.
Critics on Sylvia Plath
In Connie Ann Kirk’s book Sylvia Plath, she claims that, “Sylvia Plath’s status as a serious poet remains threatened by her status as a cult icon, a cloud that has surrounded her reputation since she committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30” (1). Her infamous suicide has actually made her more well known in the public than when she was alive writing poems. Her status as a cult icon is said to be jeopardizing her reputation as a serious poet because of her early death and problematic lifestyle.
In Plath’s biography, it is quite understandable why her works were deemed to be confessional poetries. This is because most of her published poetries served as a “confessions” of her dramatic life. Her depression and suicidal thoughts were evident in her works such as her poem “Daddy”, “Poppies in October” and “Ariel”. These are three of her most famous works which greatly identified her feelings and thoughts.
Erica Jong also wrote a review of Sylvia Plath describing her poetry, “meant an enormous amount to a whole generation of readers and poets, not only because it was the first poetry by a woman so fully explore female rage—but because it did so with exquisite artistry” (Jong 204). This illuminates Plath’s contribution to the development of modern feminism by revealing her fury in an artistic manner. This indicates that Plath was one of the first female poets to ever engage into confessional poetries which depict the negative effects of a fully patriarchal society.
Jong also points out in her review that after Sylvia Plath’s death:
Everybody wanted a piece of Sylvia. The feminist movement wanted a martyr. The suicide-theorists wanted someone to theorize about. The estranged husband (also a poet) wanted a relief from his guilt, a chance to somehow continue his own creative work. The poet’s mother also wanted self-justification, a respite from grief and the best possible future for her grandchildren. And all the literary jackals wanted something to write about, a subject, a cause, a potential best-seller (Jong 204-205).
Jong’s statement indicates how Plath’s family tried to make something out of her works and death to survive their own lives. The article was quite derogatory of Sylvia Plath’s survivors but as of the controversies surrounding Ted Hughes, his extra-marital affairs did play a huge role in Plath’s depression which led her to her death.
In Sylvia Plath’s Mirror, the author made use of personification to imply her message about fearing old age. The mirror is referred to with the pronoun “I” to indicate its personified character in the poem. The second line, “Whatever I see I swallow immediately” (line 2) showed the nature of the mirror to show exactly the reflection of something or someone without any pretentions or coverings. “I am not cruel, only truthful–” (4) highlights the idea of an honest reflection.
The tenth line of the poem, “Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me.” (10) indicates another reflection seen by a woman in the clarity of the lake’s water. The last line, “She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.” (14) reveals that the woman is not satisfied with what she sees and is scared of old age as described by the word “agitation of hands”.
Sylvia Plath is indeed one of the most intriguing female poets in the history of the world. Her confessional writings share how difficult her life had been trying to cope with mental problems, family problems and her writings. It is quite sad to know that she gained more achievement in her work after her death. It might probably be much easier for her if she was given national acclaim when she was still living. Either way, she would probably remain as one of the most complex and intriguing writers in her generation.
Jong, Erica. “Erica Jong, ‘Letters Focus Exquisite Rage of Sylvia Plath,’ Los Angeles Times Book Review.” Sylvia Plath, the Critical Heritage: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Linda, Wagner-Martin & Linda Welshimer Wagner. New York: Taylor & Francis, 1988. 204-205.
Kirk, Connie Ann. Sylvia Plath: A Biography. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.
Plath, Sylvia. “Mirror.” Sylvia Plath, the Critical Heritage: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Linda, Wagner-Martin & Linda Welshimer Wagner.. New York: Taylor & Francis, 1988. 259-260
“Sylvia Plath.” Neurotic Poets. 9 December 2008. <http://www.neuroticpoets.com/plath/>
Cite this Sylvia Plath: Career and Life
Sylvia Plath: Career and Life. (2016, Nov 26). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/sylvia-plath-2/