Fifty years ago, a Wellesley resident and artist took her life in a small London flat, and soon after became a feminist icon.
Sylvia Plath, poet and author of "The Bell Jar," died on Feb. 11, 1963. Plath sealed the door to her childrens' room, left a note for her neighbor to call her doctor, placed her head on a towel in the oven, and let gas fill the room.
Before her death, she published the 1960 collection of poems "Colossus and Other Poems," and published 1963's "The Bell Jar" under the pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, in January of that year. Plath's name did not appear on the book until the 1967 edition.
While living in Wellesley in 1953, Plath attempted suicide by taking sleeping pills. Her famous novel is loosely based on the months leading up to that attempt, and her recovery afterward—told through Esther, a young woman who goes to New York City to work for a magazine.
"There ought, I thought, to be a ritual for being born twice — patched, retreaded and approved for the road," Esther notes in chapter 20 of the novel.
Following her death, her estranged husband Ted Hughes, a fellow poet, took the brunt of the blame—in the '60s and '70s, he was ambushed by protesters and received death threats. Some of the blame he also placed on himself:
"I don't want ever to be forgiven," Hughes wrote in a letter to Plath's mother. "I don't mean that I shall become a public shrine of mourning and remorse, I would sooner become the opposite."
2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the book, and is set to see a new edition of "The Bell Jar." The cover of this anniversary edition features a woman checking her lipstick in a pocket mirror--an image which has stirred up mixed reviews over what some call a "chick lit" style which some say trivializes the narrative.
Read more about the chick lit cover on The Guardian's story.
At Wellesley College, the Davis Museum plans an interactive artistic tribute to Plath and her works. Entitled "Glass Heart (bells for Sylvia Plath)," Assistant Professor Jenny Olivia Johnson's installation is inspired by Plath's poetry and by the etchings of artist Sol LeWitt.
The installation opens Feb. 20 and runs until June 9 at the Davis Museum.
[Update: See photos for images of the "Glass Heart" installation. Concert on Feb. 23. 11:30 p.m.]
- Herald Scotland, "The Myth of Sylvia," Rosemary Goring
- The Huffington Post - "What You Don't Know About Sylvia Plath," Carl Rollyson
- Flavorwire - "The Most Interesting Writing About Sylvia Plath on the 50th Anniversary of Her Death," Emily Temple
- NPR - "On The 50th Anniversary Of Sylvia Plath's Death, A Look At Her Beginning," Craig Morgan Teicher