Sylvia Plath Biography
biography of award winning author, Sylvia Plath.
Sylvia Plath was born to middle-class parents in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on October 27, 1932. Sylvia's father, Otto, a College Professor and self-described bee expert, became ill during Sylvia's first years. Convinced he was dying of cancer, Otto refused to see a doctor and spent increasingly large amounts of time at home, resting. When Otto did finally visit his physician, he would learn that he had been suffering the effects of diabetes, and that his condition was far too advanced to treat successfully. After much suffering, including the amputation of a leg, Sylvia's father would die just days after her 8th birthday.
By all accounts, Sylvia was a model child; sensitive, popular with other children, intelligent and well behaved. She earned straight A's throughout her early schooling, and her first poem was published before she reached the age of nine. There was an underlying driving force however, that even her friends and family picked up on during Sylvia's youth. Sylvia had a constant drive for perfection; a drive that would earn her the nickname "The High Priestess of Suffering" and dominate the rest of her life, ultimately, causing her untimely death.
Accepted into Smith College on scholarship in 1950, Sylvia held on to her position in the top of the class. In 1952, she won first prize ($500) from Mademoiselle magazine for her short story entitled, "Sunday at the Mintons." The following June, Sylvia served as guest editor at Mademoiselle's New York offices, an account she would document thoroughly in The Bell Jar, published years later.
On August 24, 1952, Sylvia attempted suicide for the first time, downing handfuls of sleeping pills. Institutionalized at Maclean Hospital, Sylvia was treated with insulin shock treatments, psychotherapy and electroshock. Sylvia continued to write during treatment, spawning the birth of her second award winning short story, "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams."
Back at school and newly re-energized by her writing, Sylvia graduated summa cum laude in 1955, and won the Fulbright scholarship to study in Cambridge, England. It was here that Sylvia would meet her future husband, Ted Hughes, an English poet. After a brief courtship, twenty-eight year old Sylvia married Ted in June of 1956.
After finishing her studies at Cambridge the following year, Sylvia was offered a teaching position at Smith College, where she had taken her undergraduate studies. She jumped at the chance to share her love of the English language with bright, young students. Though the college was more than satisfied with Sylvia's performance, Sylvia was struck down by self doubt, marriage woes and her constant fears of inadequacy. When the college offered to renew her contract, Sylvia refused, citing doubts about her ability to teach. Sylvia took a less draining position as a receptionist with a psychiatric clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston that year. She would work days, secretly visit a therapist during the afternoon, and spend her evenings, notebook in hand, writing diligently.
Sylvia and Ted returned to England in December of 1959. Sylvia, pregnant with her first child, signed a contract with William Heinemann Ltd. to publish "The Colossus." For the first time in her life, Sylvia seemed happy with herself and content in the knowledge that her life was moving forward.
Sylvia gave birth to her first child, a daughter, on April 1, 1960. That February, Sylvia would miscarry, an event that spawned the world renowned poem, "Parliament Hill Fields" and send her on an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Ted and Sylvia had a second child Nicholas in 1962 and the family relocated to the isolated Devon family farm. Feeling removed from the rest of the world, Sylvia wrote and cared for her children. In July of that same year, Sylvia discovered her husband was having an affair. They would separate in September and later divorce.
Not at all eager to begin a life on her own, Sylvia reluctantly packed her bags and moved with her two children to an apartment in London. She was low on money and food and became ill that winter with what doctors would refer to as an "extended flu." The difficulty in her life allowed Sylvia to put pen to paper, and she would wake at four o'clock in the morning and write until the children woke. The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas in January, 1963, though it would never receive critical praise until after Sylvia's death. Depressed over the breakup of her marriage and lack of success, Sylvia felt she could no longer go on. Penning her last works, Sylvia made a plate of bread and butter for her sleeping children, placed it on the kitchen table with glasses of milk, and put her head in a gas oven. Sylvia Plath died on February 11, 1963.
The Bell Jar would be published in the United States in 1971 using Sylvia's real name. It would become wildly popular and earn her a place in literary history. Sylvia Plath was honored posthumously with a Pulitzer Prize in 1981.