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Sylvia Plath is a writer whose life has generated much interest. This

may be because of her tragic, untimely death and her highly personal

writings. Studying Sylvia^s life lets her readers understand her works

better. Many of the imagery and attitudes in her poetry are based on

her life experiences. Throughout her short life, Sylvia Plath loved

the sea. She spent her childhood years on the Atlantic coast just north

of Boston. This setting provides a source for a lot of her poetic

ideas. Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 27,

1932. Her parents were Aurelia Schober and Otto Emil Plath. Her father

was a professor of biology and German at Boston University. He was of

German descent and had emigrated from Grabow when he was fifteen. Her

mother was a first generation American, she was born in Boston of

Austrian parents. Both of them being German indirectly lead to their

meeting in 1929. Aurelia Schober took a German class taught by Otto

Plath. She was working on a master's degree in English and German at

Boston University at the time. Otto Plath was guided by discipline. As

his young family grew, Otto Plath's career flourished. He published the

book Bumblebees and Their Ways not long after Sylvia's birth. During

this time, his writing occupied most of his time. This excluded any

chance for a social life. In 1936, the Plath's moved to Winthrop,

Massachusetts. Otto's health had began to fail. He diagnosed his own

illness as lung cancer and refused to see a doctor. Sylvia spent much

of her time by the ocean. She would go exploring by herself or she

would play with her younger brother, Warren because her father needed

quite. She would also visit her grandparents who lived nearby on the

ocean at Point Shirley. Four years later Otto Plath died of diabetes

mellitus. In 1942, the family moved away from the sea. Aurelia Plath

decided she must return to work in order to support her family. Despite

her own health problems, she began teaching nearby. In the summer of

1942, Aurelia was offered the job of designing and teaching a course at

Boston University. She accepeted and the whole family moved. Sylvia

Plath's eight years in Wellesley helped her grow and develop her

writing skills. Sensitive, intelligent, compelled toward perfection in

everything she attempted, she was, on the surface, a model daughter,

popular in school, earning straight A's, winning the best prizes. Yet

her success only bred problems. When she moved to Wellesley, she was

initially placed in the sixth grade, two years ahead of students her

age. Later, her mother moved her back to fifth grade. Just before

leaving for college, Sylvia published her first story. Plath's "And

Summer Will Not Come Again" was printed in the August issue of

Seventeen in 1950. The following November her poem "Ode on a Bitten

Plum," was published in the same magazine. Another problem bred by her

success was the impossibly high goals she set for herself. Plath had a

perfectionist attitude which drove her to succeed at the same time that

it insured failure. This caused a kind of destructive energy, which

showed itself in her later writings. In September of 1950, Plath

entered Smith College. She was the recipient of financial aid from the

Nelson scholarship, the Smith Club of Wellesley, and the Olive Higgins

Prouty Fund. Plath continued to thrive both socially and academically.

However she continued to have trouble blending the two. She kept

writing poems and stories and sending them to various publishers. Her

mother became her part-time agent and typist, just like she was for her

husband. Plath continued to excel in her schoolwork and in her

writing. She became an honor student and she had increasing success

with publications. In the summer of 1953, Plath was awarded the guest

editorship for Mademoiselle. She was assigned to be managing editor.

The social activities planned for her group and New York itself,

offered Plath a new, exciting experience. However, at the end of June,

she left for Boston exhausted and depressed. Plath's unfavorable

experience in New York are evident in her autobiographical novel, The

Bell Jar. When she returned home, she learned that she was rejected

from a fiction-writing class at Harvard summer school. Her depression

and sense of failure increased. Finally, in August, Sylvia left a note

saying that she went for a walk, when really she crawled under her

house and swallowed a large number of sleeping pills. Three days later

she was discovered and rushed to the hospital. Unable to deal with the

pressures to succeed, she attempted suicide. She recovered in a

private hospital, and by December, she returned to Smith for the second

semester. Plath's academic and writing success continued similar to

her first three years at Smith. Finally, in June of 1955, Sylvia Plath

graduated from Smith College.

Plath continued the same academic achievement and success made in

her previous school years. In March, 1956, Sylvia met the British poet

Ted Hughes. The following June, they were married. During that summer,

they traveled to Spain. Plath returned to Cambridge in the fall,

continueing to study at Newnham. Ted got a job teaching at a boys'

school. Then, like her mother, Sylvia became typist and agent for Ted,

devoting much of her own time and energy for the one she loved.

Nonetheless, Plath found time for her own work as well. She established

a daily routine to allow her enough time to write. In June of 1957 she

accepted a job teaching freshman English at Smith College. However

Sylvia experienced left little time for her writing. When the school

year ended, the Hughes^s moved to Boston. To help their incomes,

Sylvia held several part-time jobs; she worked in a hospital and in a

psychiatrist's office. In the summer of 1959, one year after being in

Boston, the Hughes^s planned to return to England. They spent the

winter writing, reading and developing new friendships. Early in 1960,

Sylvia signed a contract with William Heinemann for her first poetry

volume, The Colossus and Other Poems. On April 1, 1960, Frieda Rebecca

Hughes was born. Although her first child was wonderful, Plath found

the following year increasingly difficult. Again, her new duties left

little time for her writing. In the spring, Plath had a sense of

renewal. She established her own study and resumed writing. She began

working on, among other things, her novel The Bell Jar. She signed a

long-term contract for her poems with the New Yorker in March. In May,

Alfred A. Knopf planned to publish The Colossus in America. Sylvia

became pregnant again, and she and her husband decided to move. While

in Devon, the Hughes^s established a writing schedule, enabling Sylvia

to write in the morning while Ted wrote in the afternoon. Nicholas

Farrar Hughes was born in January, 1962. In May, The Colossus was

published in America. The next month Plath's voice play, "Three

Women," was accepted for the BBC Third Programme. But by the end of

the summer, the Hughes^s marriage began to fall apart. By the end of

the summer Ted had moved to London. Sylvia had arranged for an

contract of legal separation followed by a divorce. Alone in Devon

with her two children, Plath was depressed but hopeful. She learned to

ride (on her horse named Ariel), and she looked forward to her new

freedom. Her novel, The Bell Jar, was about to be published. She began

working on a second novel and anticipated writing a third. Plath was

working on her ^Ariel^ poems in London. She was also gaining

professional recognition, making several BBC broadcasts and planning

several poetry readings. Things seemed to being going well for Plath.

However, the odds against her must have seemed too great. On the

morning of February 11, 1963, she ended her own life .


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