Born to a zoology professor and teacher in 1932, Sylvia Plath was a beautiful and talented young woman who struggled to conform to the demands of growing up female in the 1950’s. During her junior year of college, Plath suffered suffered a severe breakdown and was treated with electroconvulsive shock treatment in the summer of 1953. After overcoming her illness, Plath graduated summa cum laude from Smith college two years later and went to Cambridge on a Fulbright scholarship to study English. In 1956, Plath met and married poet Ted Hughes, who would become Poet Laureate of England.
Plath soon entered the consuming cycle of caring for her husband and children while struggling to pursue what would become a brilliant literary career. Her first book of poetry, The Colossus, was published in 1960, and her much-admired novel The Bell Jar came in 1963. But Plath’s marriage crumbled shortly after she discovered Hughes was having an affair, and she moved into a London flat with her two children Frieda and Nicholas, aged three and one.
| Selected Bibliography of Sylvia Plath
Soon after the separation from her husband, Plath’s depression returned. Despite her writing, which was better than ever, and the exultation she expressed over her children, Plath committed suicide on Feb.11, 1963.
Plath’s journals were sealed after her suicide. With the death of Ted Hughes, the executor of her estate, the journals have been released. Here are a few excerpts:
February 26, 1956, Cambridge
Then the worst thing happened, that big, dark, hunky boy the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching around over women, and whose name I had asked the minute I had come into the room, but no one had told me, came over and was looking hard into my eyes and it was Ted Hughes…
July 20, 1957, Cape Cod
Ted is wonderful: how to get it down? All of a piece, smelling lovely as a baby, a hay field, strawberries under leaves, and smooth white, browning to tan, with his great lion head of hair erupting. …
Monday May 19, 1956
As I came striding out of the cold shadow of the library, my bare arms chilled, I had one of those intuitive visions. I knew what I would see. …Ted was coming up the road from Paradise Pond, where girls take their boys to neck on weekends. He was walking with a broad, intense smile, eyes into the uplifted doe eyes of a strange girl with brownish hair, a large lipsticked grin. …I made the most amusing, ironic and fatal step in trusting Ted was unlike other vain and obfuscating and self-indulgent men. I have served a purpose, spent money, Mother’s money, which hurts most, to buy him clothes, to buy him half a year, eight months of writing, typed hundreds of times his poems. Well, so much have I done for modern British and American poetry.
This article appeared in the August 2000 issue of Personal Journaling.