Friday, February 11, 2011

Pop History Moment: Sylvia Plath Committed Suicide

While to many casual observers of Sylvia Plath and her work, her suicide on this day in 1963 may have seemed inevitable from the outset, the legion of fans she's been growing ever since seem to prefer blaming Plath's actions on her husband, Ted Hughes; for his part Hughes' behaviour as her widower and executor hasn't often been in his own best defense, especially following the 1969 suicide of his mistress Assia Wevill, but to be fair her mental state after their marriage wasn't much better than it had been before they'd met. The central tension still faced by Plath scholars today is whose perspective - Plath's or Hughes' - one favours.

PhotobucketYet Plath's novel The Bell Jar - published under the pseudonym 'Victoria Lucas' just a month before she made her first successful suicide attempt - itself reads like an extended suicide note, a roman à clef containing thinly veiled references to her own life and its travails, including previous suicide attempts. In fact, it's more or less a 'How-To' guide to the Sylvia Plath Effect.

Since the majority of the work Plath published before her death was poetry (as well as that single novel) her reputation today rests as much on the drastic actions of her last day as it does on the posthumous publication of her diaries and the poetry collection Ariel (1965) by her literary executor, Ted Hughes. In fact, Plath went so far as to become the first dead poet to win a Pulitzer Prize, which she did for her volume The Collected Poems, published in 1982. Not bad for a Holocaust-obsessed hysteric who gassed herself to death in her oven while her children were still at home...

Plath was, of course, played by Gwyneth Paltrow in the 2003 film Sylvia, in which Ted Hughes was played by Daniel Craig; the couple's daughter Frieda Hughes has publicly expressed her distaste for the film and its makers.
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