Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) wrote several collections of poetry and a novel The Bell Jar (1963). She is noted for her intense coupling of violent or disturbed imagery with the playful use of alliteration and rhyme in her work. Plath remains one of the most admired poets of the 20th century. By the time she took her life at 30-years old, Plath already had a following in the literary community. After her death, her work attracted the attention all sorts of readers, drawn to her attempt to catalog despair, violent emotion, and an obsession with death.
Intensely autobiographical, Plath’s poems explore her mental anguish, her troubled marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes, her unresolved conflicts with her parents, and her own vision of herself. She hungrily took on the subject of social restrictions on individuals. Plath laid bare the contradictions that tore apart appearance and hinted at the tensions hovering just beneath the surface of the American way of life.
Plath’s life and work showed a compassion and empathy for the trials and persecution of her gay friends and colleagues, and she likened what gays and lesbians endured to the Salem Witch-Hunts. This was the Cold War era, when the government and academia sought to remove those from society whom they deemed undesirable.
On March 7, in honor of International Women’s Day, The NY Times dedicated an entire feature to something long neglected: Obituaries for women. As the newspaper noted:
”The NY Times published thousands of obits since the paper’s founding in 1851 and the vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones.”
To even the scales ever so slightly, the NY Times editors crafted obituaries for fifteen historically significant women that have been overlooked, including photographer Diane Arbus, LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson, and Plath.