"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)
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
.Her life was made
into a 2003 movie starring Gwenyth Paltrow as Sylvia and Daniel Craig
as her husband, Ted Hughes.Works by Sylvia Plath:
Her work features 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.
- Bilingual Bonus: At least a minor one in "Daddy", for all the German speakers out there.
- 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.)
- Oedipus Complex: On BBC Radio, Plath described "Daddy" as "a girl with an Electra complex. Her father died while she thought he was God."
- Pen Name: The Bell Jar was originally published under the name Victoria Lucas.
- 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.