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Sylvia Plath. 1932-1963 “The blood jet is poetry / there is no stopping it.”. A brief biography: childhood. After discovering poetry, Sylvia said I “had fallen into a new way of being happy.”. Born in Boston on October 27, 1932, to Aurelia Schober and Otto Plath

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Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath


“The blood jet is poetry / there is no stopping it.”

A brief biography: childhood

After discovering poetry, Sylvia said I “had fallen into a new way of being happy.”

  • Born in Boston on October 27, 1932, to Aurelia Schober and Otto Plath

  • Her father was German-Polish; uni professor and bee-keeper

  • A precocious child- knew insect names in Latin!

  • Her mother introduced her to poetry which she loved

  • Idolised her father and longed to please him

  • In 1930s he developed diabetes, but refused treatment. Gangrene of leg led to amputation.

  • In 1940, when Sylvia was 8, her father died and she published her first poem.

“I still do not know myself. Perhaps I never will. I am afraid of getting older. I am afraid of getting married…I want, I think, to be omniscient…I think I would like to call myself the girl who wanted to be God. . . . Never, never, will I reach the perfection I long for with all my soul. . . .” (diary, age 17)

Sylvia Plath as a young woman

  • At school she was a top student, excelling in English

  • 1950 recieves a scholarship to Smith College

  • 1953 won a competition to guest-edit Mademoiselle magazine in New York.

  • Suffers mental & emotional exhaustion

  • Is rejected for a Harvard writing course

  • First suicide attempt –overdose. Receives electric shock treatment.

  • She writes about these experiences in her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar

Sylvia goes to England

  • 1954 Plath went to Harvard summer school, graduates summa cum laude in 1955

  • Wins a Fulbright Scholarship to England

  • 1956 She met Ted Hughes, a poet, at a Cambridge University party

  • According to her journal, at this meeting he kissed her and she bit him on the cheek, drawing blood.

  • It was an intense courtship and they were married within months.

He was “very simply the only man I’ve ever met whom I could never boss.” (Sylvia to friends)

Motherhood & Writing

  • After a 2 year teaching stint in America the couple decided to commit to writing full-time and return to England

  • In 1960 Plath had her first child, Frieda, and published her first book of poetry, ‘The Colossus’.

  • In 1962, following a traumatic appendix operation and the birth of their son Nicholas, Plath's writing became more frantic.

Sylvia & Ted’s relationship was passionate and tumultuous

She was attracted to his physical power, his way with animals esp owls, his reputation as a poet, and appreciated his encouragement of her poetry

She feared losing him

1962 – the beginning of the end

June: 2nd suicide attempt – driving car off the road

July: Discovers Ted’s affair with Assia Weevill.

Sept: They separate

Oct: She writes 26 poems in one month

Dec: She takes her 2 children and moves into a maisonette in London

She prepares Ariel, a collection of 41 poems

Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes

The end: 1963

  • The Bell Jar is published under a pseudonym and receives good reviews

  • She is depressed, isolated and mentally unstable

  • February 1963, in one of the coldest winters in English history, she succeeded in taking her life

  • Her body was discovered the following morning.

  • She was survived by her 2 children.

  • 1965: Ariel was published.

  • 1982 she is posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

In our study of Sylvia Plathwe will consider these questions…

  • What are the distinctive characteristics and strengths of her poetry?

  • How much should the author’s biography be considered when interpreting their work?

  • Was she a great poet, or simply famous because of her tragic life?

  • In what ways was her poetry affected by her relationship with Ted Hughes?

  • To what extent does her work ‘fit’ categories such as ‘confessional’ poet, Feminist poet etc?


Biographical information




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