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Sylvia Plath


Sylvia Plath is a writer whose life has generated much interest. This
may be because of her tragic, untimely death and her highly personal
writings. Studying Sylvia^s life lets her readers understand her works
better. Many of the imagery and attitudes in her poetry are based on
her life experiences. Throughout her short life, Sylvia Plath loved
the sea. She spent her childhood years on the Atlantic coast just north
of Boston. This setting provides a source for a lot of her poetic
ideas. Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 27,
1932. Her parents were Aurelia Schober and Otto Emil Plath. Her father
was a professor of biology and German at Boston University. He was of
German descent and had emigrated from Grabow when he was fifteen. Her
mother was a first generation American, she was born in Boston of
Austrian parents. Both of them being German indirectly lead to their
meeting in 1929. Aurelia Schober took a German class taught by Otto
Plath. She was working on a master's degree in English and German at
Boston University at the time. Otto Plath was guided by discipline. As
his young family grew, Otto Plath's career flourished. He published the
book Bumblebees and Their Ways not long after Sylvia's birth. During
this time, his writing occupied most of his time. This excluded any
chance for a social life. In 1936, the Plath's moved to Winthrop,
Massachusetts. Otto's health had began to fail. He diagnosed his own
illness as lung cancer and refused to see a doctor. Sylvia spent much
of her time by the ocean. She would go exploring by herself or she
would play with her younger brother, Warren because her father needed
quite. She would also visit her grandparents who lived nearby on the
ocean at Point Shirley. Four years later Otto Plath died of diabetes
mellitus. In 1942, the family moved away from the sea. Aurelia Plath
decided she must return to work in order to support her family. Despite
her own health problems, she began teaching nearby. In the summer of
1942, Aurelia was offered the job of designing and teaching a course at
Boston University. She accepeted and the whole family moved. Sylvia
Plath's eight years in Wellesley helped her grow and develop her
writing skills. Sensitive, intelligent, compelled toward perfection in
everything she attempted, she was, on the surface, a model daughter,
popular in school, earning straight A's, winning the best prizes. Yet
her success only bred problems. When she moved to Wellesley, she was
initially placed in the sixth grade, two years ahead of students her
age. Later, her mother moved her back to fifth grade. Just before
leaving for college, Sylvia published her first story. Plath's "And
Summer Will Not Come Again" was printed in the August issue of
Seventeen in 1950. The following November her poem "Ode on a Bitten
Plum," was published in the same magazine. Another problem bred by her
success was the impossibly high goals she set for herself. Plath had a
perfectionist attitude which drove her to succeed at the same time that
it insured failure. This caused a kind of destructive energy, which
showed itself in her later writings. In September of 1950, Plath
entered Smith College. She was the recipient of financial aid from the
Nelson scholarship, the Smith Club of Wellesley, and the Olive Higgins
Prouty Fund. Plath continued to thrive both socially and academically.
However she continued to have trouble blending the two. She kept
writing poems and stories and sending them to various publishers. Her
mother became her part-time agent and typist, just like she was for her
husband. Plath continued to excel in her schoolwork and in her
writing. She became an honor student and she had increasing success
with publications. In the summer of 1953, Plath was awarded the guest
editorship for Mademoiselle. She was assigned to be managing editor.
The social activities planned for her group and New York itself,
offered Plath a new, exciting experience. However, at the end of June,
she left for Boston exhausted and depressed. Plath's unfavorable
experience in New York are evident in her autobiographical novel, The
Bell Jar. When she returned home, she learned that she was rejected
from a fiction-writing class at Harvard summer school. Her depression
and sense of failure increased. Finally, in August, Sylvia left a note
saying that she went for a walk, when really she crawled under her
house and swallowed a large number of sleeping pills. Three days later
she was discovered and rushed to the hospital. Unable to deal with the
pressures to succeed, she attempted suicide. She recovered in a
private hospital, and by December, she returned to Smith for the second
semester. Plath's academic and writing success continued similar to
her first three years at Smith. Finally, in June of 1955, 
Sylvia Plath

graduated from Smith College. Plath continued the same academic achievement and success made in her previous school years. In March, 1956, Sylvia met the British poet Ted Hughes. The following June, they were married. During that summer, they traveled to Spain. Plath returned to Cambridge in the fall, continueing to study at Newnham. Ted got a job teaching at a boys' school. Then, like her mother, Sylvia became typist and agent for Ted, devoting much of her own time and energy for the one she loved. Nonetheless, Plath found time for her own work as well. She established a daily routine to allow her enough time to write. In June of 1957 she accepted a job teaching freshman English at Smith College. However Sylvia experienced left little time for her writing. When the school year ended, the Hughes^s moved to Boston. To help their incomes, Sylvia held several part-time jobs; she worked in a hospital and in a psychiatrist's office. In the summer of 1959, one year after being in Boston, the Hughes^s planned to return to England. They spent the winter writing, reading and developing new friendships. Early in 1960, Sylvia signed a contract with William Heinemann for her first poetry volume, The Colossus and Other Poems. On April 1, 1960, Frieda Rebecca Hughes was born. Although her first child was wonderful, Plath found the following year increasingly difficult. Again, her new duties left little time for her writing. In the spring, Plath had a sense of renewal. She established her own study and resumed writing. She began working on, among other things, her novel The Bell Jar. She signed a long-term contract for her poems with the New Yorker in March. In May, Alfred A. Knopf planned to publish The Colossus in America. Sylvia became pregnant again, and she and her husband decided to move. While in Devon, the Hughes^s established a writing schedule, enabling Sylvia to write in the morning while Ted wrote in the afternoon. Nicholas Farrar Hughes was born in January, 1962. In May, The Colossus was published in America. The next month Plath's voice play, "Three Women," was accepted for the BBC Third Programme. But by the end of the summer, the Hughes^s marriage began to fall apart. By the end of the summer Ted had moved to London. Sylvia had arranged for an contract of legal separation followed by a divorce. Alone in Devon with her two children, Plath was depressed but hopeful. She learned to ride (on her horse named Ariel), and she looked forward to her new freedom. Her novel, The Bell Jar, was about to be published. She began working on a second novel and anticipated writing a third. Plath was working on her ^Ariel^ poems in London. She was also gaining professional recognition, making several BBC broadcasts and planning several poetry readings. Things seemed to being going well for Plath. However, the odds against her must have seemed too great. On the morning of February 11, 1963, she ended her own life .


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