Sylvia Plath; Her Life In Art
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He was particularly dedicated to the study of bees, an interest his daughter would later share and images of which would surface prominently in poems collected in Ariel. Aurelia had great ambitions for herself as an educator, but set them aside to play the dutiful wife and to raise her children. Otto, who suffered from diabetes, reviled doctors so thoroughly that he refused treatment until he banged his toe on a dresser and his leg became infected; although the leg was amputated, it was too late.
Plath was distraught over his death. Caught between an exacting mother and a feeling of abandonment by a father she adored, she set out on a consuming quest for perfection—as daughter, student, lover and wife.
And as a writer. The impossibility of her mission may have contributed to her first suicide attempt. Amodel student at SmithCollege, she was selected as a guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine in New York City, where she worked during the summer after her junior year, in She was elated, having been obsessed with writing since her first published verse about crickets and fireflies appeared in the Boston Herald when she was 8 years old.
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Even while in high school, she had gotten small pieces into such prominent publications as Seventeen and the Christian Science Monitor. But rather than being exhilarated by Manhattan, she claimed to have been enervated. Shortly after Plath returned home, she collapsed from depression. She was briefly institutionalized and given electroshock therapy.
She recovered sufficiently to graduate with honors in English and win a Fulbright scholarship to Cambridge to study literature. When she set out in the fall of for England, she hoped not only to polish her writing and perhaps begin work on a PhD, but also to find a man. The man. A few weeks later, she bought a just-printed copy of St.
In that slim volume, she discovered some particularly potent poems by a writer named Ted Hughes:. Hughes, she thought, might be worthy—or so he seemed on paper. When she saw him at the party, she felt she had found her mate. With his manly brow, angular jaw and unruly hair, Hughes cut a handsome figure—as he well understood. He had that dark, handsome, Jack Palance gunfighter air about him. After the party, Hughes returned to London for a job as a script reader for a film company. Plath was disappointed, wishing he would visit her before she set off on a spring break trip to Paris.
When she found out what happened, Plath was horrified— sort of. From the outset, her emotions ran high—perhaps impossibly high. With friends, Plath shared her concerns that Hughes was a womanizer. And, of course, he recognized a first-class intelligence, even genius. On June 16, , they were wed.
Inspiration for Readers and Writers from Classic Women Authors
He was 25; she Their marriage would prove in time to be deeply flawed, but when it was healthy it was also remarkably productive. He suggested subjects for her poems; she edited his prose and acted as literary agent for the two of them. His works—which she placed in Poetry , the Nation , the Atlantic Monthly and other magazines—met with increasing success. The couple entertained modestly and cultivated friends—most especially poet W. Merwin and his wife, Dido, who would become godparents to their first child, Frieda—in notable academic and literary circles in London and New England.
But they also spent a great deal of time alone together. Chronic and serious money problems dogged them, and they spent hour upon hour cleaning, painting and decorating to make their often tiny and shoddy accommodations homey. But it was as early as their honeymoon in Spain that Plath first voiced second thoughts. For the first time, Plath confronted what it meant to be a wife in the s.
But as much as she coveted the societal norm, she also sought perfection in her writing. It was a tension that would define most of her married life; there was simply not often time for both. It was with some relief that Plath, who quietly longed for a steady source of income and a tidy, stylish home, received an offer in April to return to Smith the following fall to teach freshman English. She had often considered teaching and, given their educational backgrounds, Plath and Hughes could easily have fashioned stable, well-paying careers to fund their writing. That summer they sailed for America, where Aurelia greeted the young couple with a welcome home party and the gift of a rented cottage on Cape Cod for their summer break.
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Teaching, perhaps predictably, was a disaster. She barely managed to complete the first year of her two-year commitment when she resigned. Wanting to celebrate, she asked Hughes to join her on campus on her last day.
He was late. Plath was blind with rage, and no explanation could calm her. Late that same year, , the couple moved to Boston and, at his urging, attempted to live solely off their writing. But she could not muffle the inner voice that insisted they needed a steady paycheck and so finally took a part-time job as a receptionist in the psychiatric clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital—the same clinic where she had been a patient in By the end of , she had resumed therapy, wrestling mostly with unresolved issues about her parents. The next year marked a turning point for Plath the writer as well as for Plath the mature woman.
Later in the year, on a cross-country vacation, Plath became pregnant. This time she felt ready. Weary of America, the couple returned to London, arriving in January Shortly afterward, she submitted a collection of poetry to British publisher William Heinemann Ltd. She was elated.
And having endured a pregnancy that had thoroughly drained her strength and spirits, a fact she hid from even her closest friends, Plath gave birth April 1 to her first child, Frieda. To her many roles, she now added the part of the perfect mother. Hughes helped with cleaning, shopping and child care, but most of the domestic chores still fell to Plath, who weathered cycles of exhaustion, illness and depression. In early , strained by the demands of motherhood and chronic money woes, Plath once again revealed a streak of scorching jealousy. Plath had spoken to the woman on the phone and mistakenly assumed that she was quite young.
When Hughes returned to the flat, he found that Plath had burned drafts of his latest work. For a writer, it was the ultimate violation—as Plath surely knew. Shortly afterward, she miscarried what would have been her second child. Yet in the midst of these personal crises, Plath began to produce poems of greater emotional depth. She also made real progress on The Bell Jar. Writing the longer prose work gave her a comforting sense of continuity.
Sylvia Plath - Wikipedia
She and Hughes took turns using a small study lent them by W. Merwin, Plath taking the morning hours and Hughes the afternoon. As cooperative an arrangement as it was, it was hardly ideal, and in the summer of , wanting more privacy, Hughes and Plath sublet their apartment to David Wevill, a young Canadian poet, and his wife, Assia, and bought their first home, what might generously be called a fixer-upper, in Devon, about miles from London. But the pastoral peace was soon broken.
A new movie rekindles curiosity about the poet’s life, love and suicide at age 30
After the birth of their son, Nicholas, on January 17, , Plath was felled by postpartum depression. And the worst was yet to come. Clouds quickly gathered. Plath thought she saw something in the way Hughes spoke to Assia that betrayed his interest. The next several months were a mix of success and tension. In actuality, Plath was feeling that she must have been somehow flawed for Hughes to make off with another woman. She also resented that her hard work to help him gain fame had made him only that much more alluring. The split finally came October 11—he moved out.
Plath was disconsolate. Her role as ideal wife had been shattered. Increasingly desperate, she turned to her source of greatest solace: her writing. In the early fall, she began a new novel, one that she would later tell Alvarez would far surpass The Bell Jar. She began to churn out poems—sharpedged, brutally honest, fiery works—some of which were published in the New Yorker and the Observer newspaper. It was as if, creatively at least, she had emerged from the chrysalis of her anguish and found purpose, hope and her truest voice.
So she may have needed a huge emotional shakedown to get to another level artistically. And the shakedown was the end of her marriage.
But at the same time, there are signs that Plath is fully prepared to battle the fates. I am writing the best poems of my life. To be nearer her friends and the literary sources she hoped would buoy her, Plath returned to London and rented a flat oddly, around the corner from Assia just in time for the worst English winter in well over a century. It is hard to believe that if Sylvia Plath had not taken her own life — in , at the age of 30 — she would quite possibly still be alive today. Her rival Adrienne Rich, three years her elder, died just last year.
But how could Plath live to comb gray hair? Her suicide does not seem like something that just happened to happen. Plath imbued her life with the kind of interpretability that usually belongs only to art. With Plath, biography is a kind of criticism, and vice versa. But as a statement about the kind of work the two figures perform in our culture, there may be something to it.
Both were in a real sense victims of patriarchy, and both became important symbols for thinking about how women could and could not live and achieve.
As the author of a biography of Monroe, he is able to point out some coincidences — Monroe married Arthur Miller the same month Plath married the English poet Ted Hughes; Plath once had a dream about Monroe — but these generally feel arbitrary.