Sylvia Plath was born three weeks prematurely, on October 27, 1932. At the age of four, she started elementary school, and learned to swim by necessity, after accidentally wading too far into the ocean. When she was eight, her poem, “Poem,” was published in the children’s section of the Boston Herald. Her father died the same year. “I’ll never speak to God again,” she said.
In 1953, Russell Lynes, then managing editor of Harper’s Magazine, bought three poems by Plath, who was a junior at Smith College, for $100. The same year, Plath was appointed editor of the Smith Review; received a guest editorship at Mademoiselle; attempted suicide for the first time; and underwent electroconvulsive therapy. She recalled the period in 1957 while reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries: “I felt I was reduplicating [Woolf’s suicide] in that black summer of 1953,” she wrote. “Only I couldn’t drown.” Of Woolf, Plath also noted that “she works off her depression over rejections from Harper’s (no less!—and I can hardly believe that the Big Ones get rejected, too!) by cleaning out the kitchen.”
Plath’s poems were published in two subsequent issues of Harper’s Magazine before she graduated college. In 1956, while on a Fulbright scholarship at Cambridge University, she met Ted Hughes, and married him the same year. She submitted forty of his poems to a Harper’s contest in 1957; Hughes was awarded the prize, and his first collection was published soon after. “We will publish a bookshelf of books between us before we perish!” Plath wrote in her diary. “And a batch of brilliant healthy children.”
Plath’s first poetry collection, The Colossus and Other Poems, was published in 1960. Her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, shortly before her death on February 11, 1963. The Collected Poems (1981) won the Pulitzer Prize, making Plath the first to receive that award posthumously. Since Plath’s death, vandals have scratched Hughes’s name off her tombstone in West Yorkshire several times; each time, the tombstone has been re-engraved.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”