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Sylvia Plath 1932-1963

Biography

Sylvia Plath's dramatic life story - including her eventful marriage to the poet Ted Hughes and her suicide in 1963 - has always threatened to over-shadow her poetry. However, the clarity and intensity of her writing means her poems are equally hard to forget.

Born in Boston, USA in 1932, Plath published her first poem at the age of eight - the year her father died from gangrene. An emigrant from Germany, Otto Plath was a university professor and bee expert and with her mother Aurelia, provided a cultured upbringing in which Plath excelled. A star student, she received a scholarship to Smith College, in 1950 and in 1953 won a competition to guest-edit Mademoiselle magazine in New York. A highly-charged summer in the city - which later fuelled her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar - ended with a suicide attempt and psychiatric treatment. Subsequently she travelled to England on a Fulbright Scholarship, where she met Ted Hughes at a Cambridge University party - a meeting, according to her journal, where she bit Hughes on the cheek, drawing blood. They were married within months.

After a brief stint teaching in America the couple decided to commit to writing full-time. In 1960 Plath had her first child, Frieda, and published her first book of poetry, The Colossus. In 1962, following a traumatic appendix operation and the birth of their son Nicholas, Plath's writing became more frantic. The majority of the exhilarating, disturbing poems for which she is best remembered were written in the last few months before she took her own life by gas in her cold London flat, aged 30. This last collection, Ariel, captured the darkness of loss, fear and rage with steely precision, and secured her reputation.

In 2003, the biographical film Sylvia told the story of Plath and Hughes' relationship, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Plath.

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