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I want to do one of those "one like equals one fact about me" tweets except it would be "one like equals one fact about Sylvia Plath"
1. Plath was 8 when her father Otto died. This was a seminal event in her life (as it would be in anyone's) and deeply influenced her work
2. Otto Plath had been ill for years, but refused to see a doctor because he was convinced he had lung cancer and nothing could be done
3. It wasn't until he collapsed and became bedridden that it was discovered that in fact he had a very treatable form of diabetes
4. Or at least it would have been treatable if he'd seen a doctor in time. By the time he collapsed his foot was in early stages of gangrene
5. Otto Plath was a professor & considered to be a genius. Re: his diabetes, his doctor said "How could such a brilliant man be so stupid?"
6. Otto's leg had to be amputated because of the gangrene. He died soon after. His wife waited until morning to tell Sylvia & her brother.
7. 1st thing Sylvia said on learning of her father's death was "I'LL NEVER SPEAK TO GOD AGAIN." She insisted on going to school that day.
8. That night she came home from school and handed her mother a piece of paper that said I PROMISE NEVER TO MARRY AGAIN, Signed: _________
9. Sylvia had been very close with her father, even dressing up in a cut-down nurse's uniform to help care for him in his last days
10. Otto Plath was an entomologist specializing in bees. He was the author of a book called Bumblebees and Their Ways
11. Sylvia found it ironic that her father was obsessed w/honeybees & died of diabetes mellitus (root word for mellitus being mel - honey)
12. Later, when she was living in Devon with Hughes, Sylvia began to keep bees. Hughes felt she was trying to raise her father from the dead
13. Speaking of Hughes, the first time Plath ever met him he stole her hairband and she bit his cheek hard enough to draw blood
14. Her idea of foreplay was yelling his own poems at him over the din of the party. Apparently it worked.
15. Plath didn't know her father's family at all. They'd disowned him after he became an entomologist instead of a Lutheran minister.
16. Growing up, Plath's family struggled to make ends meet. Her mother taught short-hand. Her grandfather was a waiter at a country club.
17. Oh I almost forgot to add that Plath's mother didn't let her go to her father's funeral, which further fucked her up!
17. Sylvia's first "serious" poem was called "I Thought That I Could Not Be Hurt." It was incredibly tragic and dramatic.
19. With lines like "A dull and aching void was left/where careless hands had reached out to destroy."
20. .... the inspiration for the poem was her grandmother accidentally smudging one of her drawings. DRAMA.
21. Sylvia struggled in high school with wanting to be popular, and when she wasn't she channeled all her energy into schoolwork
22. She was offered a scholarship at Smith College, through a benefactress named Olive Higgins Prouty
23. Sylvia loved Smith but was consumed by the knowledge that her being there was conditional on having the grades to keep her scholarship
24. She threw herself into not just her schoolwork but also writing essays and short stories for various publications
25. She was a deeply competitive person, but most of all she competed with herself, always trying to best her own work
26. She wanted to write, yes, but she also wanted a lifeline out of New England, out of poverty, out of ever turning into her mother
27. Partway through her time at Smith, Plath was awarded the infamous guest editorship at Mademoiselle that preceded her 1st suicide attempt
28. In New York, seeing how the literary world REALLY worked, Plath realized she didn't have a chance in hell.
29. She'd thought New York was going to be thrilling, like opening a door onto an incredible new chapter of her life.
30. Instead, Plath found herself paralyzed by the fear of her own inadequacy. Her petty little teenage publishing triumphs were nothing.
31. (Also while in NYC Plath haunted the White Horse Tavern & slept in the hallway of the Chelsea hotel, desperate to meet Dylan Thomas)
32. At this point, Sylvia's own manic energy and schedule were all that were keeping her going. She kept herself working just to keep going.
33. When she found out that she hadn't gotten into he short story course that was supposed to occupy the rest of her summer, she collapsed
34. Her mother took her to a hack psychiatrist, who improperly administered shock therapy to Sylvia. It was like being electrocuted.
35. Afterwards, Plath told her mother she was never going back. Her mother, relieved, thought her daughter had "decided" to get better.
36. In reality, Sylvia was convinced that there was no cure or treatment for her mental illness. She couldn't write. She couldn't sleep.
37. She couldn't read with any comprehension. She obviously couldn't return to school. She had no goals. No future. No nothing.
38. Her mother noticed some partially healed gashes on her legs. Sylvia said "I just wanted to see if I had the guts!"
39. Grabbing her mother's hand, Sylvia said "The world is so rotten! I want to die! Let's die together!"
39. On August 24th Plath's mother went to see a film showing Queen Elizabeth's coronation. That was when Plath made her suicide attempt.
40. Plath stole the bottle of sleeping pills her mother had locked up and wrote a note saying she was going for a long walk
41. She then went into a crawl space in their basement to take the pills, making sure to replace the logs at the mouth of the crawl space
42. The town spent three days hunting for her, bringing out police dogs and combing through woods, when she was in her own house all along
43. On the third day after her disappearance (how christ-like), Sylvia's brother heard her moaning from the basement and she was found
44. Sylvia's first words when she realized she'd survived were "oh, no!" Then, to her mother: "It was my last act of love."
45. She was initially hospitalized in a state hospital (even though her family couldn't afford it). Then came Olive Higgins Prouty!
46. Prouty, Plath's scholarship benefactress, had also suffered a nervous breakdown. She paid for Plath to be admitted to a private hospital
47. Other famous alumni from McLean hospital: John Nash, James Taylor, Ray Charles, Robert Lowell, Susanna Kaysen & David Foster Wallace
48. If Smith had shown Plath what economic inequality looked like academically, McLean demonstrated it in terms of healthcare
49. For the rest of her life, Plath remained keenly aware that she could not afford the healthcare she needed in the country of her birth
50. Anywayyyyyy after some properly administered shock treatments Plath recovered and was able to go back to Smith for the winter semester
51. Her hospital psych also taught her the wonders of birth control and told her to go fuck a lot of dudes (obviously I'm paraphrasing)
52. After graduating from Smith, Plath was offered a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Cambridge, where she would do graduate work
53. (And fuck a lot of English dudes, thanks Dr. Beuscher!!!)
54. Plath read Hughes' poems before ever meeting him. She seethed with something between desire for him & envy that his poems were better
55. Hughes had graduated by then and was fucking around in London with a girlfriend and a shitty job and a shitty flat without plumbing
56. But he was involved in what was basically a poetry zine called St Botolph's review with a bunch of other Cambridge dudes
56. Plath was, naturally, desperate for an invite to one of their parties, while also somewhat disdaining their boys club
57. Then one night when she already quite drunk @stallfamily2 's father Bert brought her to a St. Botolph's party
58. "Then the worst happened, that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me ... came over ... and it was Ted Hughes."
59. (she then describes @stallfamily2 's father as having a dear face that looked as if it had delivered at least nine or ten babies)
60. Sylvia reports that during her first conversation with Ted the words "sleep with the editor" "occurred with startling frequency"
61. "then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth & ripped my hairband off, my lovely red hairband scarf whose like I shall never find again"
62. "[he tore off] my favorite silver earrings: hah, I shall keep, he barked. And when he kissed my neck I bit him long & hard on the cheek"
63. "Such violence, I can see how women lie down for artists... I screamed in myself, thinking: oh to give myself crashing, fighting to you"
64. "He said my name, Sylvia, and banged a black grinning look into my eyes, and I would like to try just this once, my force against his."
65. Plath and Hughes married less than four months later. The violence of their first meeting would continue throughout their marriage
66. Plath did some of her own work, but also basically became Hughes' secretary. She typed up drafts for him. Edited them & cleaned them up
67. She submitted his work for publications & awards. She was convinced he was a genius & in some way liked being subservient to his genius
68. Plath &Hughes initially kept their marriage a secret in case it interfered w/her scholarship. So he had a secret wife doing all his work
69. Eventually they moved to America & both took positions teaching at Smith college. Sylvia hated it; Ted loved it.
70. It's hard to know when Ted's serial cheating began. Certainly Plath first suspected it when he was teaching at Smith.
71. One of Hughes' friends described him as being incapable of monogamy. By the time Plath died he was already cheating on his mistress
72. So it seems reasonable to believe that Plath was correct and believable when she said that he cheated on her throughout their marriage
73. Plath describes Ted breaking down her optimism during their marriage, turning her into a "malicious misanthrope" who "saw the real world
74. Sylvia's recently unearthed letters describe Ted as not only emotionally & verbally abusive, but also physically abusive
75. In one letter she alleges that he beat her while she was pregnant and days later she miscarried (the miscarriage is verifiable fact)
76. As Hughes' alleged abuse grew worse, he began to turn his family against Sylvia. Complained how American and demanding she was.
77. Meanwhile, while still in America, Sylvia basically funded his life. She borrowed money from her mother so Ted could write full time.
78. From her journal: "I have served a purpose, spent money, mother's money, which hurts most, to buy him clothes, to buy him half a year...
79. "... eight months of writing, typed hundreds of times his poems. Well, so much have I done for modern British & American poetry."
69 b) this should say they both took teaching positions, Plath at Smith college and Ted at the University of Massachusetts
80. Re: Ted's abuse, Sylvia wrote: "I got hit and saw stars - for the first time - blinding red & white stars exploding in the black void."
81. Things got worse after they moved to England & had children. Plath was now isolated from her family & immersed in Ted's community
82. Plath became even more isolated when they moved from London to the small town of North Tawton in Devon
83. To be clear, both Plath & Hughes wanted this move. They had this idea of this bucolic creative existence growing gardens & writing poems
84. In January of 1962 Plath gave birth to her son Nicholas. By the summer of that year Hughes was openly cheating on her with Assia Wevill
85. His excuse? Plath had accused him of cheating so many times that he finally had to give in and cheat on her
86. In June of that year Sylvia drove her car off the road, and when questioned by the police she said she was trying to kill herself
87. A little over a month later, Ted moved out (to London, where Assia was), leaving an incredibly vulnerable Sylvia with a baby and toddler
88. Sylvia struggled to find her footing both as a suddenly single parent and a writer in a foreign country
89. It's hard to know much about this period in her life because Ted destroyed her last journal after her death.
90. We have to rely on Plath's poems, her letters to her mother, and the accounts of her mother, Ted and Ted's sister Olwyn
91. And the things that Ted and Olwyn said about Sylvia range from deeply unsympathetic to downright cruel and untrue
92. I wrote a bit about the struggles of Plath's last months for the London Review (sorry, shameless self-plug) lrb.co.uk/blog/2017/08/0…
93. We know Sylvia worked right up until her death, writing what she described as "the best poems of my life; they will make my name"
94. We know it was the coldest, snowiest London winter in over a century. Plath's water supply froze & her pipes burst.
95. Writer Al Alvarez said of that winter: ‘The lights failed ... Nerves failed and marriages crumbled. Finally, the heart failed."
96. Sylvia was trying so so so hard to survive. Taking meds. Seeing her doctor, who was trying to get her a bed in the hospital. Working.
97. This account of Plath's last days - which she spent at her friend's house - is gut-wrenching bbc.com/news/magazine-…
98. We know Plath saw Ted right before she killed herself. We know Assia was pregnant. We don't know if Ted told Plath this when they met.
99. Ted didn't let Sylvia's family know about her death until the day after. And he didn't even contact her mother, he contacted her AUNT.
100. The cablegram he sent said only "Sylvia died yesterday" then added details about her funeral
101. Plath's grave is often defaced. It officially reads "Sylvia Plath Hughes" but people chip off the Hughes.
102. Ok so now that I'm done my apparent choice to narrate Sylvia Plath's entire life (why), here are some random facts about her:
103. She had an irrational physical disgust of used hairpins. She found them greasy and metallic and disgusting and hated touching them.
104. She had a poster of the Egyptian goddess Isis above her desk for inspiration
105. Plath talked about the moon 111 times in her published journals
106. Plath's mother's name, Aurelia, is a genus of jellyfish and Plath would sometimes use jellyfish & their tentacles to symbolize her
107. Plath once wondered in her journals if Hughes would dedicate his next book to his penis
108. Plath struggled with infertility (specifically, her body wasn't ovulating) before conceiving her daughter Freida
109. Plath once wrote a short story where a man bearing striking similarities to Ted Hughes was eaten by a bear
110. Plath left a housecoat behind at Hughes' parents house & his mother took it apart to make a pattern of it to sew Olwyn a new housecoat
111. So next time Sylvia was visiting she just took the new housecoat and was like "oh lol look my old housecoat has been reborn"
112. After living in England for a while Sylvia developed a sort of mid-Atlantic accent that you can hear here:
113. I hate hearing how awkward she is in this interview, She wants to sound so smart but also be likeable. A difficult combination
114. Smith-era Plath was terrified of losing her virginity because she always felt as if she had a baby hanging overhead like a sword
115, Plath spent time doing PR for Hughes, not just in general but to the people who were closest to her. She made it seem like he save her.
116. Plath was a gifted visual artist. This proto-picasso-style self-portrait is something else
117. There's actually an amazing exhibit at the Smithsonian about her art right now
118. Almost forgot the link. Who's gonna take me? npg.si.edu/exhibition/one…
119. When Hughes posthumously published Plath's last book Ariel, he rearranged the poems to make what was tantamount to a suicide note
120. Sylvia had arranged them in quite a different order, ending with the line "The bees are flying, they can taste spring"
121. Some scholars theorize that Plath suffered serious PMDD, from comparing journaled depressive episodes with menstrual records from Smith
122. Because of course Smith's infirmary kept track of girls' periods because heaven forbid they get pregnant
123. The last flat where Sylvia Plath lived had once been occupied by Yeats. She felt he'd "blessed" her flat.
124. While at Smith, Plath wrote herself a list of how to interact with boys and some "back to school commandments"
125. Plath was deeply ambivalent about her relationship w/her mother. On the surface, they appeared very close - writing, talking constantly
126. But Plath had a lot of resentment towards her mother, starting w/the fact that she had felt her mother reacted coldly to Otto's death
127. Aurelia Plath remembered being traumatized by seeing her parents cry, so determined never to cry in front of her own children
128. So Plath never saw her mother cry over her father's death
129. There were other issues with their relationship. In some ways. Aurelia wanted to live the life she's wanted through Sylvia
130. As a teen Sylvia wrote in her journals that she worried there was too much of her mother in her. Where did one end & the other begin?
131. But any negative thoughts towards her mother caused Sylvia intense guilt. Wasn't this the woman who has sacrificed everything for her?
132. Sylvia struggled with desperately wanting her mother's approval and chafing to get away from her mother's intense closeness
133. Medusa (whose jellyfish imagery is a play on Aurelia's name) is Plath's attempt to parse their relationship allpoetry.com/poem/8498465-M…
134. In notes from a therapy session with Dr Beuscher, Sylvia writes that her mother is a "walking vampire"
135. Beuscher told Plath "I give you permission to hate your mother," which Plath said hit her where she lived and made her feel alive
136. "In a smarmy matriarchy of togetherness it is hard to get a sanction to hate one's mother," wrote Plath
137. "I felt cheated," Plath wrote about her mother. "I wasn't loved but all the signs said I was loved: the world said I was loved."
138. And yet in spite of this Plath and her mother appeared to remain very close. Aurelia was Plath's confidant in many things.
139. Plath felt that her mother was envious of her relationship with Hughes and disapproved of the choices Hughes and Plath made
140. Ironically, Plath's mother happened to be visiting her and Hughes the month that their marriage completely dissolved
141. The last time Aurelia Plath saw her daughter was as she and Hughes and the children watched sadly as her train left North Tawton
142. It was just days after that when Hughes left Sylvia for good and moved to London
Ok only 75 Sylvia Plath facts to go
143. Plath published The Bell Jar under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. Many of the real people portrayed in it were horrified.
144. I was surprised to learn from @elizawinder's Pain, Parties, Work that the woman who inspired Doreen was offended by The Bell Jar
145. Doreen is my FUCKING JAM. She swans around in clingy nightgowns & smells sweaty & interesting & encourages Esther to do what she wants
146. If I were OG Doreen I would be delighted by the Bell Jar. SHE HAD A POCKET BOOK COVER TO MATCH EVERY DRESS SHE OWNED.
147. But also: Doreen, let's hang out. Call me. It's gonna be a jam.
148. Aurelia didn't exactly know about the Bell Jar. Sylvia had told her brother she was writing a "potboiler" and that no one must know
149. So the Bell Jar - and its criticisms of Aurelia and her parenting - were largely unknown to Aurelia until after Sylvia's death
150. Because Sylvia was writing anonymously w/the Bell Jar she adopted a no holds barred attitude. Everything and everyone was fair game
151. In the wake of her suicide, many people who had considered themselves her friends and allies felt betrayed by how she'd portrayed them
152. There is/was a manuscript that was meant to be a sort of sequel to the Bell Jar. It has since disappeared and/or been destroyed
153. Some people theorize that Smith College has a secret copy of this manuscript somewhere
154. Which doesn't feel SO unreasonable considering that a whole trove of Sylvia Plath's letters & ephemera were unearthed this year
155. What IS it about her? What draws people to her? How is she different from Anne Sexton or Adrienne Rich? Was it her age when she died?
156. I wonder this frequently. And then I read her journals and it's uncanny and unholy how fucking talented she was from such a young age.
157. Like, fuck off you 26 year old. How dare you have such insight and brilliance four years before thirty?
158. I think often about how she was a literal genius who was constrained not just by the age she was born in but by her desire to conform
159. I also often think about how her death was a tragedy on every level, including the fact that we lost decades of her future work
160. What would we have now if Syvlia hadn't died at 30? How many poems? How many novels? Is this selfish?
161. Plath was influenced by book/movie The Snake Pit. She felt its success meant that her own story of institutionalization would do well
162. Although The Bell Jar is largely biographical, Plath borrowed elements from The Snake Pit to embellish her story
163. For example, the titular Snake Pit is the ward in the hospital where the worst, most hopeless cases end up
164. In the private hospital described in The Belle Jar, Wymark is the ward where the most hopeless cases are kept
165. Wymark is a direct reference to the Snake Pit (although Esther Greenwood is never relegated to Wymark)
166. But whether or not Plath borrowed stylistic elements from The Snake Pit, its existence emboldened her to talk about mental illness
167. Which is still a thing we struggle to talk about. Especially in the wake of every mass shooting.
168. Mental illness is an umbrella term that encompasses a LARGE variety of illnesses
169. And people like Sylvia and I - the relatively "well" mentally ill people - end up being the spokespeople for it
170. Which is problematic because again it's a broad term and my (admittedly terrible) experience with mental illness is not representative
170. I often think of this article. By often, I mean "every fucking day" theguardian.com/commentisfree/…
171. It discusses the fact that recovery rates for severe physical illnesses have improved hugely since WWII, but for mental illness ...
171. Well, those "recovery" rates have barely shifted at all
172. I would like to think that there have been huge advances made in mental health since Sylvia Plath died & I was born, and yet.
173. Medications can only do so much. Xanax wasn't the miracle it promised to be. Neither was Prozac. Or anything else, really.
174. Psychiatric medication ABSOLUTELY HAS ITS PLACE (hi I survive because of benzodiazepines) but medication isn't a cure-all for everyone
175. Which is maybe why I still feel so close to someone who died over 50 years ago. Because our treatment regimens don't differ much.
177. But if I can't trust medical professionals to get it (and I really do WANT to), at least I can trust a dead genius poet lady
178. Plath referred to her anxiety & writer's block as her Panic Bird
179. "Free me from the panic bird on my heart and my typewriter," she wrote in her journal during a particularly dry spell
180. The funny thing was that Plath's "dry spells" were what most of us would consider hugely creative periods, but she was a perfectionist
181. When she was doing well with her poetry, she was upset that her short stories weren't as good as she thought they should be
182. When her short stories improved, she fretted over the fact that she had yet to write a novel
183. She was frequently distressed over the fact that she had a hard time bringing to life any character that wasn't based on her
184. Her journals from the period she and Hughes lived in America are nothing but reams of self-incriminatory pages
185. She often used her journal to encourage herself, or else to excoriate herself for not living up to the standards she set for herself
186. This was the woman who attended Smith & Cambridge on scholarships, did a guest editorship at Mlle, 1st published when she was 8
187. And during the "fallow" time that she complains of, she was undergoing intense psychoanalysis with her psychiatrist from McLean
188. As well as keeping house for Ted, reading, editing & typing his manuscripts, and applying for grants for both of them
189. Heartbreakingly, during this period she talks about how impossible it would be to live w/out Ted, how he's the only man she could love
190. This seems like a good time to note that her best poems were written after Ted had left her
191. Plath is often thought of as a confessional, apolitical writer, and yet she was deeply political
192. The very first outing to which she took her weeks-old baby Frieda was a ban the bomb march in London
193. And it's impossible not to look at this 1960 collage Plath did without getting an idea of her politics
194. Just a few years after Plath gassed herself in her oven, Britain converted its ovens from coal gas to natural gas
195. Coal gas contains lots of carbon monoxide. Natural gas contains almost none. It's pretty much impossible to kill yourself w/natural gas
196. When Britain made this change, its suicide rate dropped by roughly THIRTY PERCENT.
197. Britain's suicide rate has stayed at that much lower number. America's rate, by contrast, is the same as it was in 1965.
198. Britain had switched to natural gas because it's better for the environment (coal gas caused the Great London Smog of 1952)
199. With that switch they accidentally made a huge psychological discovery: access to an easy means of suicide means increase in suicide
200. Suicide is often impulsive. If you give ppl space to think about it by taking away easy means to it, they often won't kill themselves
201. This is why suicide barriers on bridges work. People won't just go find another way to die. Deterrents ACTUALLY DETER.
202. 201. If you want to read more about this, here is a long and super fascinating article about it: nytimes.com/2008/07/06/mag…
203. In 1963, the year that Sylvia Plath died, almost half of Britain's suicides were done with gas ovens
204. Less than a decade later she wouldn't have had access to a gas oven &, based on what we know about how suicide works, might have lived
205. We tend to be extremely reductive when talking about Sylvia Plath. It's so easy to dismiss her as a depressed suicidal poet lady
206. The truth is that, as with many people who kill themselves, there were hundreds of tiny ways in which she could have been saved
207. Reading about the end of her life is like watching an incredibly slow train wreck that could have been halted at any given second
208. Hindsight is 20/20. And I'm prone to wishing she could have been saved. But still. It wasn't fated the way the media makes it out to be
209. Like all people who die by suicide, Sylvia Plath deserves to be remembered as the person she was, not the way she died
210. She was so fucking smart and so fucking funny and so honest and vulnerable and good at words
211. What gets lost so often in discussions about Sylvia Plath is that she was a really real person with real feelings and a real life
212. She loved being a mother. She loved growing things, making things, any act of creation at all
213. This is my favourite thing Ted Hughes ever said about Sylvia Plath
214. If she'd lived, she would have been 84 this month - younger than one of my grandmothers, but older than the other (both still living)
215. I had a dream once that she was haunting me, this awful ghost hovering in the corner of my bedroom, waiting to suck me dry
216. I wish I could have another dream about her, a real one. I wish we could have known each other.
217. I can't articulate it, but there's something otherworldly when writing from a different era speaks to you like it's your very own self
218. And thus concludes Sylvia Plath Facts. Some of them weren't really facts. Thank you for sticking with me.
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