I have just read a brilliant article that has informed me today is the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death. Considering I’ve read nothing but Nineteenth-century literature for the past five months, fifty years seems like a very small amount of time to me.
I first came across Sylvia Plath in secondary school. Her poem Mirror was printed in one of our GCSE anthology books. I can’t articulate why the poem stayed in my memory so clearly, the anthology had at least 50 poems in it; but it remains one of my favourite poems to this day.
I truly discovered Plath’s genius when I read her novel, The Bell Jar. I bought it with some of the money my Nan had set aside for me in her will; I had made a solid investment. Plath’s fiction seemed so real; it was like reading my own thoughts on the pages of my diary. I was initially scared that I could relate to a woman who suffered from depression throughout her life and ultimately ended her suffering through suicide. Then I began to study her a little, not through set text books or courses, just through sheer interest and admiration. I invested in her poetry, her journals and even a biography. I was fascinated by everything I read about her, and my fears of being similar to her have evolved in to pure fascination.
I felt this fascination today when I read this article. The following quote is an extract from it:
“The early 60s was a terrible time for women. Worse for clever ambitious women. Valium had been on the market for two years in 1963 and by this time was being advertised aggressively at healthy women who felt trapped and desperate and whose distress had to be medicated away. This is the world of The Bell Jar.”
Jeanette Winterson’s words have punched their way in to my conscience. I forget how lucky I am to live in a world where feminism has begun to prevail, and mental health is something we can begin to treat, and understand much more effectively.
It seems futile of me to say ‘If Plath lived today…’ because through reading her poetry, I get the impression that despite her zest and intricate understanding of life, there was a part of her that she could not, and possibly would not want to control. This part of her caused her to put her head in an oven whilst her children were sleeping in their beds one February morning. There were so many factors in her life that lead to this (Her Father’s death, her difficult relationship with her Mother and her adulterous husband Ted Hughes). Perhaps I will override this futility by saying ‘I wish Plath had lived longer…’ because I wish there was more of her work to read. She is one of my favourite writers and I’ve never encountered anyone quite like her.