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"Playful, touched with wry humor, this unexpected visit demonstrated her sheer delight in accepting a challenge, chasing the unusual in an effort to make life more intense and interesting."
Edward Butscher, Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness (1976), pp. 36-37

Sylvia Plath (27 October 1932–11 February 1963) was an American poet and novelist who's probably most famous for committing suicide at the age of thirty. Although not the first, she helped popularise a then-new genre of poetry—confessional poetry—that emphasises revealing intimate details about the poet's life, often with brutal honesty. Plath is still incredibly popular today, despite her short life and limited bibliography, precisely because of her honesty, coupled with her imagery and diction.

Plath was posthumously honoured, if you will, in 2001 when Dr. James Kaufman conducted research on creativity and mental illness. He found that creative writers, particularly female poets, are at great risk for depression, mental illness, and suicide. Kaufman called this the Sylvia Plath effect.

Works by Sylvia Plath:

  • The Colossus and Other Poems
  • Ariel
  • Winter Trees
  • The Bell Jar
  • Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams

Her work and life feature these tropes:

  • Author Avatar: Esther Greenwood, the main character in The Bell Jar, is based on Plath, and the book recounts her experiences with depression.
  • Author Existence Failure
  • Bilingual Bonus: At least a minor one in "Daddy," for all the German speakers out there.
  • Biopic: Her life was made into a 2003 movie starring Gwenyth Paltrow as Sylvia and Daniel Craig as her husband, Ted Hughes.
  • Creator Breakdown: The poems written in the weeks before her suicide get darker and darker, until you get to Edge, which is a creepy poem about a statue of a woman, and the last poem she ever wrote.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: As soon as she died, the accolades and awards started pouring in.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Most people will agree that Ted Hughes leaving Plath was the last straw because, once you read her journals, you understand that he meant everything to her. Granted, this isn't meant to blame Hughes for her suicide; before their fallout, Hughes cared about her and likely did what he could to help her.
  • Driven to Suicide: This is what happens when the man who meant the world to you leaves you on top of years of mental illness and depression; you stick your head in a gas oven. At the least, she still had the goodwill to lay out breakfast for her children, open their window, and seal the cracks in their door so that they wouldn't have to die with her.
    • On a side note, the woman her husband left her for (Assia Wevill) also committed suicide, in the same manner, but she took her child with her.
    • And the son of Sylvia and Ted ended up killing himself in 2009 due to his own depression.
  • Executive Meddling: By her former husband, Ted Hughes, no less. Hughes rearranged the order of the poems for her last book, Ariel, and even added some poems that Plath hadn't intended to go in the book.
    • Hughes also burned some of her journals, including the one recounting the weeks leading up to her suicide.
      • He said he did it because he never wanted his children to see what she was like in her last days.
    • Another notebook from the last couple years of her life existed, but Hughes claimed in 1982 that it "disappeared" and still has yet to be recovered.
    • Plath never intended for a US publication of The Bell Jar. To quote a letter that her mother, Aurelia Plath, wrote in 1970 to Harper & Row: Practically every character in The Bell Jar represents someone--often in caricature--whom Sylvia loved... as this book stands by itself, it represents the basest ingratitude. That was not the basis of Sylvia's personality; it was the reason she became so frightened when, at the time of the publication, the book was widely read and showed signs of becoming a success. Sylvia wrote her brother that "this must never be published in the United States."
    • "Mary's Song," a poem about the Holocaust, takes on a different meaning after her suicide, considering all the visceral images about sacrificial lambs. Though the lamb was a metaphor for the Jews (as Holocaust victims), the reader can't help but think of someone else who died in an oven...
      • Especially considering how she sees herself as a Jew in "Daddy".
    • Any of her journal entries about how happy she was with Ted Hughes carry somewhat of a tragic undertone to it.
  • Important Haircut: After recovering from her breakdown in 1953, she bleached her hair to a platinum blonde color in celebration of the "new persona" that she fashioned for herself.
  • It Got Worse: The end of The Bell Jar implied that Esther (and, because she's the Author Avatar, Sylvia herself) was going to be okay--not fabulous, but okay. Or so she thought.
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Lady Lazarus" which also doubles for As the Good Book Says.... Lazarus of Bethany is a man revived by Jesus four days after his death. Guess what "Lady Lazarus" is about.
    • Some mistakenly think of "Medusa" as this, believing the title to be referring to the monster from Greek mythology. (It actually refers to a jellyfish.)
  • Magnum Opus: Ariel, and Plath knew it. She wrote in a letter to her mother that "I am a genius of a writer; I have it in me. I am writing the best poems of my life; they will make my name." "Daddy" is frequently chosen as the pick of the litter.
  • Oedipus Complex: On BBC Radio, Plath described "Daddy" as "a girl with an Electra complex. Her father died while she thought he was God."
  • One-Book Author: Sort of. She wrote only one novel, and only one of her poetry books was published during her lifetime.
  • Parental Abandonment: Sylvia Plath's father, Otto Plath, died when she was eight years old.
  • Pen Name: The Bell Jar was originally published under the name Victoria Lucas.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Can't properly emphasise how Plath wanted to marry a man that would see her as a woman and not just a pair of breasts and a vagina.
  • Stock Shout Out: As previously mentioned, Sylvia Plath is really quite popular despite--compared to other writers in the 20th century--her limited literary output. There are shout outs to The Bell Jar, as well as specifically to Plath. They range from a Warehouse 13 episode about her typewriter, a House patient that wrote a poem in the style of Sylvia Plath, a Californication episode, and a song by The Antlers titled Sylvia.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Plath desperately wanted her mother's affection to the point that one reason that she wrote was to win her affection. She struggled with realising that she had to write for herself and not her mother's love. She wrote about it in her journal that doubles as a Tear Jerker: "I felt I couldn't write because she would appropriate it. Is that all? I felt if I didn't write nobody would accept me as a human being. Writing, then was a substitute for myself: if you don't love me, then love my writing and love me for my writing."
  • What Could Have Been: The difference between The Colossus, her first book of poems, and Ariel, her second, in terms of quality, is enormous. We can only imagine how great the next book might have been.
    • Even more apparent once you read her journals; what a treasure trove of raw talent.
    • She also had a second novel in mind that would present the world through the eyes of health as opposed to the eyes of the depressed and suicidal Esther.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not for Kids?: Just as studying Shakespeare might put you off his plays for life, having to analyse Sylvia Plath's poetry in detail was the bane of some UK students' A-Level years. These poems are definitely not for anyone younger than 16, either.
    • Studying Sylvia Plath was mandatory for This Troper's Year 10 GCSE class. You come in expecting some Georgian poet waxing lyrical about the beautiful countrysides and you get that contorted imagery. This Troper was 14.
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