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The Life of Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plathıs life, like her manic depression, constantly jumped between Heaven and Hell. Her seemingly perfect exterior hid a turbulent and deeply troubled spirit. A closer look at her childhood and personal experiences removes some element of mystery from her writings.
One central character to Sylvia Plathıs poems is her father, Professor Otto Emile Plath. Otto Plath was diabetic and refused to stay away from foods restricted by his doctor. As a result , he developed a sore on his left foot. Professor Plath ignored the sore, and eventually the foot was overcome with gangrene. The foot and then the entire left leg were amputated in an effort to save his life, but he died in November of 1940, when Sylvia was just eight years old.
The fact that her father could have prevented his death left Sylvia Plath with a feeling of deliberate betrayal. Instead of reaching out to other people for comfort, she isolated herself with writing as her only expressive outlet, and remarkably had a poem published when she was only eight.
Plath continued prolific writing through high school and won a scholarship to Smith College in 1950 where she met her friend Anne Sexton. Sexton often joined Plath for martinis at the Ritz where they shared poetry and intellectualized discussions about death. Although they were friends, there was also an element of competition between Sexton and Plath. Sylvia Plathıs poem ³Daddy² was possibly a response to Anne Sextonıs ³My Friend, My Friend.² It was as if Plath was commenting that her writing skills were just a bit better than Sextonıs. Sexton frequently would express to Robert Lowell in his poetry class her dissatisfaction with Plathıs writing. She said that Plath ³dodges the point in her poetry and hadnıt yet found the form that belonged to her.² The competitive nature of their relationship continued to the very end.
To all appearences, Plath appeared normal, her social life similar to other middle class coeds.Many were attracted to Plathıs brilliant mind, but few were aware of the inner torment that drove her to write, alienating her from the rest of society.
Madamoiselle magazine awarded Plath a position as guest editor the summer following her junior year at Smith. Friends and family were stunned at her suicide attempt when she returned to college, most believing she had suffered a nervous breakdown due to the stress at the magazine. Her treatment was considered the best the medical world could offer and included electro-shock and psychotherapies. Plath tells her side of the story in the poem Lady Lazarus where she likens her experience to a victim of the Holocaust. But her apparent recovery enabled her to return to graduate summa cum laude the following year.
Ted Hughes met and fell in love with the writer while she continued her studies at Cambridge on a Fulbright grant. Hughes was also a student at Cambridge, and a fellow poet. The couple married four years later, and after a short stay in the States, returned to England. After returning to London, Plathıs first book of poetry, Colossus, was published in 1960. Plathıs best known work, The Bell Jar was published following the birth of their second child.( Ted Hughes, 52-66) The novel is semi-autobiographical, describing a young womanıs tragic coming of age. The central character, a schoolgirl prodigy, Esther Greenwood, makes her way to adulthood in spite of periodic mental breakdowns. The Bell Jar is particularly poignant when Esther desrcibes her madness as ³ ...a bell jar, stifling and airless that descends without warning...²
Not long after the publication of The Bell Jar in1963, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath split up. Plath was left caring for two children in a low-income area of London during one of the coldest Novembers in centuries. She worked between four and eight in the morning. Apparently being inspired by hardship, Plath sometimes finished a poem every day. In her last poems, death is given a cruel and physical allure and pain becomes tangiible. Leaving some food and milk at the kitchen table for her children, she gassed herself to death. Ironically, the woman Ted Hughes left Sylvia Plath for another woman that would commit suicide by gas.
Posthumous Publications include : Ariel, published in 1965, inspired a cult following. The poems were
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Sylvia Plath, Ariel, Sylvia, Otto Plath, Ted Hughes, Winter Trees, The Bell Jar, Crossing the Water, Daddy, Lady Lazarus, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, Anne Sexton
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