Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College, Cambridge, before receiving acclaim as a professional poet and writer. Plath’s father was an entomologist and was a professor of biology and German at Boston University; he also authored a book about bumblebees.
Plath’s mother was approximately twenty-one years younger than her husband. Raised as a Unitarian Christian, Plath experienced a loss of faith after her father’s death and remained ambivalent about religion throughout her life. Her father’s grave prompted Plath to write the poem Electra on Azalea Path. After his death, her mother moved her children and her parents to 26 Elmwood Road, Wellesley, Massachusetts in 1942. In one of her last prose pieces, Plath commented that her first nine years “sealed themselves off like a ship in a bottle–beautiful inaccessible, obsolete, a fine, white flying myth”.
She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956 and they lived together first in the United States and then England. Plath suffered from depression for much of her adult life, and in 1963 she committed suicide. Controversy continues to surround the events of her life and death, as well as her writing and legacy. Plath was awarded a coveted position as guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine. Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for her two published collections, The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. In 1982, she won a Pulitzer Prize posthumously, for The Collected Poems. She also wrote The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death. She was furious at not being at a meeting the editor had arranged with Welsh poet Dylan Thomas—a writer whom she loved, said one of her boyfriends, “more than life itself”. Many of the events that took place with her were later used as inspiration for her novel The Bell Jar. Following electroconvulsive therapy for depression, Plath made her first medically documented suicide attempt in late August I953 by crawling under her house and taking her mother’s sleeping pills. She survived this first suicide attempt after lying unfound in a crawl space for three days, later writing that she “blissfully succumbed to the whirling blackness that I honestly believed was eternal oblivion. Plath seemed to make a good recovery and returned to college. In January 1955, she submitted her thesis The Magic Mirror: A Study of the Double in No of Dastoyevsky’s Novels and in June graduated from Smith with the highest honors.
She won the Glascock Prize for Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea. Heinmann published her first collection, The Colossus and other poems in the UK in late 1960. Plath had been short-listed several times in the Yale Younger Poets book competition and had had work printed in Harper ‘s, The Spectator and the Times Literary Supplement. All the poems in The colossus had already been printed in major US and British journals and she had a contract with The New Yorker. It was however her 1965 collection Ariel, published posthumously, on which Plath’s reputation essentially rests. Plath was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the first poet to win the prize posthumously.