Sylvia Plath was an American novelist, poet, and short-story writer. She is known for her confessional poetry collections The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. Many of her previously unpublished works were published as The Collected Poems after her death in 1981. The collection won Plath the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1982, making her the fourth to receive this honor posthumously.
1. She also wrote children’s books.
Though none of them were published while Plath was alive, a small collection of children’s stories were found among her writings after she died. One, The-It-Doesn’t-Matter-Suit tells the story of 7 year-old Max Nix and his mustard yellow suit. Max was the youngest of seven brothers. Two of the brothers were named Otto and Emil- her father’s names.
2. She originally pursued Studio Art.
When Plath attended Smith College in 1950 she initially wanted to major in Studio Art. However, once her professors realized what a gifted writer she was, they encouraged her to pursue an English degree instead. In 2017, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery mounted a retrospective of her work. It was on display until 2018.
3. The Bell Jar was initially published under a pseudonym.
When it was originally published in 1963, The Bell Jar was published under the name Victoria Lucas. It wasn’t until after Plath’s death that it was published under her real name. The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical novel portraying Plath’s struggles with mental illness. Colossus was the only large work published under Plath’s name while she was alive.
4. Her estranged husband received backlash following her death.
Plath was married to Ted Hughes for 6 years before Plath learned he was having an affair. They separated in July of 1962. Though they were not together, they were still legally married at the time of Plath’s death, meaning Hughes inherited the Plath estate and all of her written work. He has received backlash for burning Plath’s last journal and for losing a different journal and an unfinished novel. It is rumored that those writings contained allegations of abuse that Hughes did not want anyone to see. Some people were also angry that Plath’s tombstone read “Sylvia Plath Hughes” despite the fact that she and Hughes were separated when she died.
TW: Depression & Suicide
5. She struggled with severe mental health problems.
Plath suffered from severe depression all of her life. In 1953, she attempted suicide for the first time. She spent the next six months in psychiatric care, receiving electric and insulin shock treatment. She attempted again in 1962 by driving her car into a river. By 1963, Plath was receiving daily visits from her doctor and had a live-in nurse to take care of both her and her children. On February 11, 1963, Plath’s nurse found her in her apartment dead of intentional carbon monoxide poisoning. She had the room sealed off with towels and cloths to protect her children. She was 30 years old.