The last days of poet Sylvia Plath, as seen by a co-editor of the anthology Mothers Who Think (as well as co-founder of Salon.com’s feature of the same name).
Plath’s tragic end has been so horribly romanticized that it has almost overshadowed the life and work that led up to it. A poetic prodigy, Plath (1932–63) won a scholarship to Smith College and began publishing verse while still a student. Her first mental breakdown (vividly described later in her novel The Bell Jar) came during her junior year at Smith, but she quickly made a name for herself as a poet and, in 1955, won a Fulbright scholarship to Cambridge. There, she met and married English poet Ted Hughes, with whom she had two children. Moses concentrates her entire story on the winter of 1962, when Plath was facing the recent collapse of her marriage (Hughes had fallen in love with another woman) along with the first full flowering of her success as a major poet. Having published her first book of verse (The Colossus) in 1960, Plath had now begun writing in a more intensely personal style, composing works that depicted and arose from the failure of her marriage. As Plath moved back and forth between her house in Devon and her London flat, her life became increasingly scattered and disorienting. First-novelist Moses convincingly portrays the stress that finally overcame the poet as she went about her daily routines—recording for the BBC, looking after her children, receiving visits from literary friends and from her mother—haunted by her husband’s rejection of her and by her growing discomfort at the necessity of constructing her poetry from the raw elements of an increasingly unhappy life. We don’t see the suicide, but by story’s end it is clear that Plath has painted herself into an emotional corner leaving no other way out.
Rich and harrowing, told with none of the sensationalism or cheap sentiment that has undermined so many accounts of Plath’s life and end.