The poet and novelist Sylvia Plath died on February 11, 1932 by suicide at the age of thirty. She had suffered from severe depression throughout her life. She had attempted suicide previously and spent time in a mental health facility. She also had several rounds of electro-convulsive shock therapy.
Plath’s only novel, The Bell Jar, was published in the UK a month before her suicide under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas.” It was not issued with her name on it until 1967 and wasn’t published in the United States until 1971.
The novel is a semi-autobiographical account of a young woman beginning a career in magazine publishing in New York while also dealing with clinical depression. (One of Plath’s working titles for the book was Diary of a Suicide.) I first read it in high school and was surprised that despite the overall grim tone the book also has many patches of black comedy.
Plath only published one book of poems during her lifetime, Colossus and Other Poems, in 1960. Ariel was published in 1965, but in a different form than Plath intended, with additions and deletions made by her estranged husband, the poet Ted Hughes, who was her literary executor. Two more collections appeared in 1971 and a restored version of Ariel was published in 2004. Plath won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for her Collected Poems in 1981.
At the time of her death she and Hughes were still married but he had left her to live with another woman. Plath’s doctor knew that her mental state was very depressed and was trying to find a spot for her in a hospital. In the meantime he arranged to have a day nurse come to the apartment she shared with her infant children.
It was the nurse who found Plath’s body in the morning. Plath died overnight from gas poisoning by sticking her head in the oven. The doors to the kitchen were sealed with tape and towels to protect her children.