By Philip Carter
Today, 11 February 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963). It is an event that has significantly shaped biographies and critical studies of her work — particularly following the publication of Ariel (1965), her posthumous collection edited and prepared by Ted Hughes. Then, as now, many reviewers regarded these poems as foretelling the circumstances of her death. Plath’s biography in the Oxford DNB offers an alternative perspective. As its authors Sally Brown and Clare Taylor write:
‘Such criticism helped to perpetuate the idea that [Plath’s] death was the most famous thing about her, and encouraged further critics to read the poems as solely charting her increasing mental agitation. But even a cursory reading of the poems reveals the many voices of her work—the amused, hopeful, triumphant, as well as the enraged and vitriolic—and Plath herself, when talking about her work, was amusing and charming, her voice controlled, guttural, and powerful. … A writer and a mother, Plath provided a model for a new generation of poets of the consciousness-raising movement, and she remains enormously popular especially with young female readers. Her lasting triumph will be the power and precision of her poetic voice, and her vision of new possibilities for women writers.’
In addition to Plath’s life in the Oxford DNB, an edited audio version of her biography is also available.
Or download the podcast directly.
Philip Carter is Publication Editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Read more about Sylvia Plath on the Oxford DNB website. The Oxford DNB online is freely available via public libraries across the UK. Libraries offer ‘remote access’ allowing members to log-on to the complete dictionary, for free, from home (or any other computer) twenty-four hours a day. In addition to 58,500 life stories, the ODNB offers a free, twice monthly biography podcast with over 175 life stories now available. You can also sign up for Life of the Day, a topical biography delivered to your inbox, or follow @odnb on Twitter for people in the news.