Sylvia Plath was a brilliant poetess, overcoming great tragedy to give way to major depression.
Born October 27, 1939, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Her parents were Aurelia and Otto Plath. Her mother was a teacher and her father a Professor of Biology and German at the Boston University. She had an older brother, Warren.
Plath’s father died in November, 1940, of diabetes, only days after her 8th birthday. His death effected Plath significantly; her writing would reflect personal experiences and life. She started writing and was first published in the Boston Herald soon after his death.
After graduating high school, Plath attended Smith College. During her third year she became visiting editor for Mademoiselle magazine for a summer. She returned home exhausted. Losing her grip on reality, Plath downed sleeping pills and crept into a crawl space under the home. Three days later her family found her almost dead. She spent some time at a mental institution where electroconvulsive therapy was used.
By 1955 Plath appeared to be on the mend. Because she also had suffered from and overcame mental problems, Olive Higgins Prouty paid for Plath’s medical needs and her years at Smith College. Plath returned to school and graduated with honors. Upon receiving a Fulbright scholarship, Plath chose to attend Newnham College in Cambridge, where she met poet Ted Hughes. They were married June 16, 1956.
Early in their marriage the couple relocated to the United States, where Plath taught at Smith College. Teaching took up a great deal of her time, leaving very little for writing. Ted was described as a dashing, young playboy. Rumors started that Ted was having affairs. By late 1959 the couple moved back to the United Kingdom.
Plath gave birth to a girl named Frieda on April 1, 1960. The Colossus a book of poetry was published in October of that year. In early 1962 Plath miscarried during her second pregnancy. Several months later she completed writing The Bell Jar, loosely based on her life. The following January Nicholas came along.
The marriage began to fall apart after an affair Plath’s husband had with her very close friend, Assia Wevill. Plath again tried to end her life, this time by deliberately smashing her car. She and her husband separated in September.
Even though her life was in shambles Plath’s writing increased. In December, 1962, the single mother and her children moved to 23 Fitzroy Road. The winter was very cold and, in fact, was reported to be one of the coldest seasons on record. Though Plath slipped back into depression with her children sick, and being totally alone, she continued writing, completing her last set of poems. The Bell Jar was published in January, 1963.
A neighboring doctor had written a prescription for antidepressant medication just days before Plath’s death. He had hoped to have her committed, but could not. He arranged for a nurse to stay with the family. Plath’s body was found the day the nurse was scheduled to arrive. She had lined the doors of the children’s rooms with wet towels, placed her head into an oven, dying from carbon monoxide poisoning. She was thirty years old.
Some debated whether Plath really intended to kill herself or if it was a cry for help. Some blame the doctor for not getting her medical help sooner. The headstone at her burial site reads “Sylvia Plath Hughes.” It has on many occasions been defaced by persons trying to take off the Hughes name.
Assia Wevill killed herself and her young daughter in 1969. Some speculated that because of his abusive behavior, Hughes was the cause of both suicides. Nicholas Plath’s son also ended his life in 2009. He, too, had suffered from depression.