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Greg Nwoko Historic Blog

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963)

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College at the University of Cambridge, before receiving acclaim as a poet and writer.



She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956; they lived together in the United States and then England, and had two children, Frieda and Nicholas. Plath suffered from depression for much of her adult life, and in 1963 she committed suicide. Controversy continues to surround the events of her life and death, as well as her writing and legacy.

Dr. John Horder, a close friend who lived near Plath, prescribed her antidepressants a few days before her suicide. Knowing she was at risk alone with two young children, he says he visited her daily and made strenuous efforts to have her admitted to a hospital; when that failed, he arranged for a live-in nurse. Commentators have argued that because antidepressants may take up to three weeks to take effect, her prescription from Horder would not necessarily have helped.

The nurse was due to arrive at nine o'clock the morning of 11 February 1963 to help Plath with the care of her children. Upon arrival, she could not get into the flat, but eventually gained access with the help of a workman, Charles Langridge. They found Plath dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in the kitchen, with her head in the oven, having sealed the rooms between herself and her sleeping children with wet towels and cloths. At approximately 4:30 am, Plath had placed her head in the oven, with the gas turned on. She was 30 years old.

Some have suggested that Plath had not intended to kill herself. That morning, she asked her downstairs neighbor, a Mr. Thomas, what time he would be leaving. She also left a note reading "Call Dr. Horder," including the doctor's phone number. Therefore, it is argued Plath turned on the gas at a time when Mr. Thomas would have been able to see the note. However, in her biography Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath, Plath's best friend, Jillian Becker wrote, "According to Mr. Goodchild, a police officer attached to the coroner's office ... [Plath] had thrust her head far into the gas oven... [and] had really meant to die." Dr. Horder also believed her intention was clear. He stated that "No one who saw the care with which the kitchen was prepared could have interpreted her action as anything but an irrational compulsion." Plath had described the quality of her despair as "owl's talons clenching my heart." In his 1971 book on suicide, friend and critic Al Alvarez claimed that Plath's suicide was an unanswered cry for help.

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