Sylvia Plath

[Sylvia Plath] explored her obsessions with death, self and nature in works that expressed her ambivalent attitudes towards the universe.

I read The Bell Jar over Christmas and really enjoyed it, since then I have enjoyed her poetry. My mother thinks that I shouldn’t, she thinks it is selfish for anyone to have children and then take their own life, and on that basis she won’t read any of her work. Although I agree that perhaps it is selfish to leave behind a child, I don’t think it can be summed up that quickly. And what she did with her life does not make her a bad writer.

Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts on the 27th October 1932. She was a wrote many poems over the course of her lifetime but she also wrote “The Bell Jar”, which can be seen as semi-autobiographical.

Sylvia Plath was different. She had a obession with death and discovering everything that I have not seen in any other writer. I would argue that to some extent she is the feminist version on Philip Larkin, they both write in a cynical manner but are also both searching. They have the power to completely strip things back to what they really are. Although I think Larkin takes it one step further and in a way insults what “normal” human beings do and is not content with anything in their lives. That is why I prefer Plath more.

It should definitely be highlighted that Plath was a perfectionist and strived to be perfection. She published her first poem when she was just 8, which is an achievement. She was sensitive meaning she saw the world for what it was which compelled her to write. One of her quotes highlighted this as she said she only write because there was a little voice inside her which would not be silenced. Her personality contributed to the works she created, she was not only a good writer but she was observant and wanted to write it down.

The death of her father when she was 8 had a massive effect on her writing. He died due to complications with his diabetes. Otto Plath had been an authoritarian figure to her and although he was strict his death greatly affected Sylvia. It gave her the need to write it down and shaped her ideas about relationships and death.

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

In 1960 she married Ted Hughes, who is also a poet, although two years after their first child was born their marriage began to fall apart. She had two children with Hughes, Freida and Nicolas, in 1960 and 1962. Hughes left Plath in 1962 for Assia Gutmann Wevill, who was married at the time that they were having an affair. Hughes made no attempt to hide this from Plath and kept Wevill as his mistress and would not leave Wevill when she asked him to, would sooner leave her than Assia. Wevill in March 1969 also killed herself and her child.

Ted Hughes, Assia Wivill and their child Alexandra Tatiana Hughes, although she was nicknamed Shura

She killed her daughter as Hughes’ family looked down upon Wevill and she didn’t want the same for her child and thought she was too old to be adopted and didn’t want her to be an orphan. This begins to sound odd, and Hughes can’t have been completely innocent.

Hughes desertion of Plath forced her, during the winters of 1962-63, to move into a London flat with her two children and take care of them on her own. She would wake up and work from 4 ro 8 in the morning before the children woke up. The hardness of life compelled her to write more. The poems she wrote in her book “Ariel” are about this part of her life.

Ted Hughes had numerous affairs before he left her including a 4 year affair with Jill Barber, although this occurred during his second marriage. Barber describes Hughes as being like Heathcliffe as he is “rough, passionate and forceful”. She said he doesn’t speak, he “growls”. Some people blame Hughes for Plath’s suicide as his next wife also goes on to kill herself. Hughes has spoken out about this and said that he wasn’t to blame at all and it was her own fault. In my opinion I think that there will have been many reasons why she killed herself but in the end he didn’t force her to, just probably didn’t make her want to stay.

At the age of 30, Plath killed herself using cooking gas. This was not the first time that

Sylvia Plath’s headstone

she had tried to commit suicide as she had tried previously in 1953 when she overdosed on sleeping tablets, due to her depression. On the 11th February 1963, during one of the worst English winters, she wrote a note to her neighbour telling them to get a doctor and killed herself using her gas oven. She killed herself while her children slept in their cots and put towels underneath all the doors so stop the fumes from escaping. Two days later Myers came to offer his condolences and found Wevill resting on Plath’s bed. In 1963 they were still using this flat, which strikes me as a bit odd. If you were that bothered about your wife’s suicide surely you would sell it rather than keep it as it would bring back so many bad memories.

I would like to take the chance to point out that Hughes never actually told his children that their mother committed suicide and they grew up not knowing that she had. I know it must be hard to tell them but they needed to know. Everyone else did.

Nicholas Hughes

On March 16th, 2009, Nicholas Hughes killed himself in his home in Alaska by hanging at the age of 47. According to reports he was very depressed, but in his lifetime had

Freida Hughes

become an expert in fishing and fisheries. Freida is still alive and is an artist, although she is the only one left as in 1998, Hughes died of colon Cancer.

Was Sylvia Plath being completely selfish by taking her own life, was she fully to blame. Yes, suicide is selfish but she did it because she needed to escape, I would argue that she was heading that way as she was obsessed with death and had tried before. But I also think she tried anti-depressants and it didn’t work so no I don’t think she was fully to blame, she didn’t want to take her own life but by the end it was the only thing which made sense to her. I personally feel sorry that she died as she took a lot of talent with her, but after reading her poetry and book and reading about her life, I am not surprised.

4 thoughts on “Sylvia Plath

  1. I’m sorry to say that you have the wrong timeline on Hughes affar with Jill Barber. He did not have an affair with her during his marriage to Plath. He met Barber in the 1970s. His affair with her occured during his marriage to his 2nd wife, Carol. Get your facts straight.

    1. Hi, I wrote this when I was just starting to get interested in Sylvia Plath and could not even remember writing about Jill Barber until you mentioned this. Thanks for pointing out, though I think you could have perhaps been a little more friendly. I did not mean to make the error.

      1. Hi Hayley its ok. I didn’t mean to sound so harsh. If so I’m sorry. I have been fascinated with Sylvia and Ted for a while and have read numerous biographies about them. It is a heartbreaking story but not as black and white as some people see it. Sylvia was not a complete saint and Ted was not a complete monster. I recommend a book called “Her Husband” by Diane Middlebrook its excellent Hayley and it really delves into their complex, passionate and tragic relationship. Thanks again Hayley for replying.

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