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.
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 Cambridge, Plath returned to the United States, where she taught for a year at Smith. Shortly thereafter, she returned with Hughes to England, where she spent the last years of her life raising two children and writing. She committed suicide in early 1963.
Plath was briefly institutionalized after a breakdown and suicide attempt in 1953 that delayed the completion of her undergraduate work at Smith. She recounts this experience in the autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, which appeared shortly before her death in 1963. Plath’s literary reputation is based primarily on the confessional, metaphorically dense poems she wrote during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. However, she also wrote a number of short fiction works during this period that appeared in publications as diverse as Sewanee Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Madamoiselle, and Granta. In the decades following her death, much of this work has been rediscovered, mostly due to the 1977 appearance of Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, a collection of Plath’s more significant short prose writings.
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).
Alexander, Paul. Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath. New York: Viking, 1991. For a review of this work see Magill’s Literary Annual review.
Alvarez, A. The Savage God: A Study of Suicide. New York: Random House, 1972. Probes the connections between Plath’s thematic preoccupation with suicide and the inner traumas that led her to take her own life. Uses the life and work of Plath as a focal point for a broadly based discussion of the theme of self-destruction and annihilation present in the work of many artists.
Axelrod, Steven Gould. Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990. Calling his book a “biography of the imagination,” Axelrod makes sophisticated use of psychoanalysis, feminist and other recent critical theory, and biographies of the poet to interpret her life and work, including her major poems, letters, and journals. Includes bibliography.
Bassnett, Susan. Sylvia Plath: An Introduction to the Poetry. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. This second edition of an important work in Plath scholarship makes use of recent scholarship. Provides intriguing and controversial analysis of...
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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...
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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 930 words.)
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, collecting shells, and examining marine life. In her thinly veiled autobiographical novel, The Bell...
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