Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: As both poet and novelist, Plath adopted a self-analytical style that helped to inspire the “confessional” school of literature in the decade following her death.
When Sylvia Plath was eight years old, her father died after a long illness. This early loss of a loved one affected Plath’s poetry in a way that would be unparalleled by any other event in her life. Otto Emil Plath had been fifteen years old when he came to the United States from Grabow, a town near the Polish-German border. When Sylvia was an infant, he taught biology at Boston University and came to be nationally recognized as an authority on bees. After her father’s death in 1940, Sylvia moved with her mother, the former Aurelia Shrober, and her younger brother, Warren (born April 27, 1935), to the Boston suburb of Wellesley, Massachusetts. There Sylvia’s mother found work as a teacher, her grandmother took care of their home, and her grandfather helped to support the family by working as a maître d’hôtel at the Brookline Country Club.
At about the time of her father’s death, Plath began writing poetry and short fiction. Her works won several newspaper contests and, in August of 1950, she sold her first story (“And Summer Will Not Come Again”) to Seventeen magazine. A year later, another short story (“Sunday at the Mintons”) won a fiction contest sponsored by Mademoiselle magazine.
In September of 1950, Plath began attending Smith College on a fellowship endowed by Olive Higgins Prouty, the author of Stella Dallas (1922). In 1952, Plath was one of two fiction authors to win a contest sponsored by Mademoiselle magazine. She spent the next summer as the student editor of Mademoiselle’s annual college issue. Harper’s magazine also began to display an interest in Plath’s work, paying $100 for three of her poems.
Despite this appearance of initial success, however, Plath fell into a deep depression. Hiding herself in an isolated part of the cellar, Plath took an overdose of sleeping pills. She was rescued in time and began to receive psychiatric treatment, including electroshock therapy.
Plath’s initial suicide attempt and the incidents surrounding it were to become the basis for her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar (1963). Some of Plath’s medical expenses following her attempted suicide were paid by Olive Higgins Prouty. Prouty had taken an interest in Plath as one of the recipients of the scholarship that she had endowed at Smith College. The older novelist’s generosity toward Plath was to be repaid uncharitably when Plath caricatured Prouty as the novelist Philomena Guinea in The Bell Jar.
Appearing to be cured, Sylvia Plath returned to Smith College and was graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1955. The following year, she received a Fulbright Fellowship enabling her to go to England, where she attended Newnham College of Cambridge University. There Plath met the poet Ted Hughes; after a brief romance, they married in London on June 16, 1956. To Plath, Hughes—who was self-assured, decisive, and authoritarian—seemed to possess the qualities that she had both admired and feared in her father. In her later poetry, she described her initial attraction to Hughes as an attempt to bring her dead father back into her life.
In 1957, Plath received her master’s degree from Cambridge and, with Hughes, returned to the United States. Later that same year, she took a teaching position at Smith College, her alma mater. Soon, however, Plath began to find that teaching did not satisfy her creative desires, and she decided to devote her full attention to writing. She attempted to find a publisher for the book of poems that would eventually become The Colossus and Other Poems and was disappointed to have it rejected a number of times. She continued to revise these poems and, in December of 1959, returned to England with Hughes. The following April, their daughter, Frieda Rebecca, was born.
In 1960, The Colossus, and Other Poems was finally published by William Heinemann. With one major work already accepted for publication and with ideas for several others, Plath, in May of 1961, applied for a Eugene F. Saxton Fellowship with the intention of writing a novel. On November 6, 1961, Plath received a grant of $2,080 that would enable her to work on The Bell Jar. The year 1962 was a period of incredible activity for Plath. On January 17, she gave birth to her son, Nicholas Farrar, and less than a month later reported to the Saxton committee that the first eight chapters of her novel were in their final form. Despite a number of illnesses, Plath continued to work on The Bell Jar steadily throughout the year. She also accepted several assignments for the British Broadcasting...
(The entire section is 2022 words.)
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Plath’s art is a desperate dance between order and chaos, control and abandon. In its emphasis on death and rebirth, pollution and purification, it touches strings common to many readers. Her images are memorable for their violence and eerie appropriateness. Her exact, verb-dominated descriptions of the natural world and her use of the formal devices of poetry to communicate personal pain mark her work as unique. None of her many followers in the so-called confessional school of poetry achieved her intensity.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Sylvia Plath was born October 27, 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father Otto, a professor of biology and renowned entomologist, died when she was a young child, leaving Plath in the care of her mother Aurelia (née Schober). A number of instances in her writings acknowledge this event as one of the most traumatic in her life, creating in her a sense of abandonment that fueled the dark, introspective character that is prominent in her work. A distinguished academic, Plath graduated summa cum laude from Smith College in 1955. She attended Newnham College, Cambridge, on a Fulbright scholarship, receiving her M.A. in 1957. She married renowned English poet Ted Hughes in 1956.
After completing her graduate work at...
(The entire section is 282 words.)
Sylvia Plath’s father died shortly after she turned eight years old. He was her idol, a Boston professor of entomology, and critics agree that Sylvia’s difficulties with men and obsession with death directly reflect her love for her father, which, in many ways, was unrequited. Sylvia impressed her teachers as a brilliant student with quiet charm, reserved wit, and sophisticated writing skills. At Smith College, she received accolades and awards for her writing and scholastic abilities. Even with this praise, she suffered acute bouts of depression. She was admitted to hospitals repeatedly and attempted suicide upon her return from New York as summer guest editor at Mademoiselle in 1953. Recovering, she returned to...
(The entire section is 360 words.)
Biography (Women's Issues (Ready Reference series))
Sylvia Plath’s father, who died when she was eight, had a lifelong influence on her: She alternately yearned for and rejected male approval. Plath did well at Smith College but also suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. She married the brilliant English poet Ted Hughes in 1956 and gained praise for her collection The Colossus (1960). Abandoned by Hughes for another woman and in poor health, Plath committed suicide in 1963. Her mystique was accentuated by the posthumous publication of Ariel (1965) and the autobiographical novel The Bell Jar (1963).
(The entire section is 785 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Few poets demand that we know as much about their lives as Sylvia Plath does. Her intensely personal poetry was often rooted in everyday experiences, the knowledge of which can often open obscure references or cryptic images to fuller meaning for the reader.
Plath’s father, Otto, was reared in the German town of Grabow and emigrated to the United States at the age of fifteen. He spoke German, Polish, and French, and later majored in classical languages at Northwestern University. In 1928, he received his doctor of science degree in applied biology from Harvard University. He taught at Boston University, where he met Aurelia Schober, whom he married in January, 1932. In 1934, his doctoral thesis was published by...
(The entire section is 1012 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Before her death in 1963, Sylvia Plath, through the eloquence of her autobiographical poetry, fiction, and prose, had established herself as one of the most promising writers of her generation and as one of the foremost modern interpreters of the female experience. Born in Boston on October 27, 1932, to Otto Emil Plath, a member of the Boston University faculty, and Aurelia Schober Plath, Sylvia was raised near the ocean in Winthrop, Massachusetts. Her stern father, whose presence haunts much of Plath’s writing, died in 1940. Two years later, Aurelia Plath moved herself, her two children, and her parents to Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she taught medical secretarial courses. There, Sylvia Plath established a brilliant academic...
(The entire section is 932 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Otto and Aurelia Plath on October 27, 1932. Her father, whose distorted and terrifying image dominates so much of her work, was a Polish German who taught at Boston University and whose beekeeping provided another central symbol for his daughter’s poetry. Her mother, of Austrian descent, was an educated woman who later taught at the college level. Warren Plath, Sylvia’s only sibling, was born on April 27, 1935.
For most of Plath’s early childhood her family lived in Winthrop, a seaside town near Boston, and as a child Plath spent much of her time exploring,...
(The entire section is 873 words.)