Plath, Sylvia

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Plath, Sylvia

Sylvia Plath, 1932–63, American poet, b. Boston. Educated at Smith College and Cambridge, Plath published poems even as a child and won many academic and literary awards. Her first volume of poetry, The Colossus (1960), is at once highly disciplined, well crafted, and intensely personal; these qualities are present in all her work. Ariel (1968), considered her finest book of poetry, was written in the last months of her life and published posthumously, as were Crossing the Water (1971) and Winter Trees (1972). Her late poems reveal an objective detachment from life and a growing fascination with death. They are rendered with ruthless art, describing the most extreme reaches of Plath's consciousness and passions. Her one novel, The Bell Jar (1971), originally published in England under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in 1962, is autobiographical, a fictionalized account of a nervous breakdown she suffered when in college. Plath was married (1956–63) to the British poet Ted Hughes. She committed suicide in London in Feb., 1963. Her brief life, troubled marriage, and fiercely luminous poetry have provided the raw materials for interpretation by a small army of biographers, feminists, memoirists, novelists, playwrights, scholars, and others.

Bibliography

See her collected poems (1981); occasional prose, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (1979); journals, ed. by T. Hughes and F. McCullough (1983); The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950–1962 (2000), ed. by K. V. Kulil; biographies by E. Butscher (1979), A. Stevenson (1989), P. Alexander (1991), R. Hayman (1991), J. Rose (1991), L. Wagner-Martin (1987 and 1999, rev. ed. 2003), and C. Rollyson (2013); J. Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (1994); T. Hughes, Birthday Letters (1998); D. Middlebrook, Her Husband: Hughes and Plath–A Marriage (2003); J. Becker, Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath: A Memoir (2004); A. Wilson, Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life before Ted (2013); studies by M. Broe (1980), J. Rosenblatt (1982), L. Wagner-Martin, ed. (1988, repr. 1997; 1992), and L. Niland, ed. (2013); A. Alvarez also wrote extensively about her in his study of suicide, The Savage God (1971).

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