Sylvia Plath (27 October 193211 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 (Plath)
- Winter Trees
- The Bell Jar
- Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams
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.
- In The Bell Jar, Esther begins writing an autobiographical novel. Her heroine's name has six letters, like Esther.
- Bilingual Bonus: At least a minor one in "Daddy", for all the German speakers out there.
- 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.
- Executive Meddling:
- 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.)
- Likewise some assume Ariel is a reference to The Tempest when it was in fact the name of Plath's horse. The central poem of the collection is about her sense of freedom while riding.
- 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: She wrote numerous poems and short stories, but only one novel, The Bell Jar.
- 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". A preoccupation with Sylvia Plath in cinema has become cultural shorthand for tough, feminist young women who may be hard to be around, as with Kat Stratford in 10 Things I Hate About You and Lisa from The Simpsons.
- What Could Have Been: Her death at thirty prevented any poetry she might have yet created from coming into existence. 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.