15 January 2011

Additional News Articles on Sylvia Plath's First Suicide Attempt

As I do, I recently checked for more articles on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt in August 1953. The timing was right and there were a few additional articles. To quote Blur, "Woohoo!"

The first is from the Miami Daily News from August 26, 1953. The article title is "Student Missing." It appeared on page one and included Plath's photograph.

The second and third articles appeared in the Meriden Record (Connecticut). On the August 26, 1953 edition, on page 10, readers read about how a "Brilliant College Girl Disappears." Very dramatic.

The following day, the Meriden Record ran "Missing Senior Found Under Porch" on the front page. This article is not yet linked. I'm ahead of Google! However, let this not deter you from finding and reading the article for yourself. If you click "Browse this newspaper," then "View All" under 1953, then scroll to August 27, click it and then mouse down to the bottom right of the first page. You'll have it!

These represent articles 174 and 175 that I have found on Plath's first suicide attempt. What is frustrating is that the bibliography section of my article "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath" is now out of date. I suppose it is a happy frustration because this is the nature of bibliography; and finding new articles only goes to further illustrate the pull of this story. There is nothing new in these articles when compared to the others, however at this point in my research of this topic it is most interesting to see how far the news spread. I will continue to post newly found articles when I find them. If any of your are in towns or cities not covered in the aforementioned bibliography and have some spare time to visit your public or college library to investigate whether it has newspapers on microfilm from August 1953 and want to check August 25-28th for articles please let me/us know if you find something. Please. And please send me photocopies/scans. I'd be most curious about New Orleans, Dallas, St. Louis, Detroit, Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Portland (Oregon), Seattle, Cleveland, Raleigh, Juneau, to name a few.

You can see a bibliography of articles on Plath's first suicide attempt, and read PDF's of them, over at A celebration, this is.


Anonymous said...

but why then it's written like this in Lady Lazarus poem? "And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade."

why she says NUMBER THREE?

im confused...
i knew that her very first suicide attempt was that of drowning herself.. or was it only fictional (in The Bell Jar)and never really happened?
please enlighten me.


marie augustine. said...

I really wish you blog in spanish.

panther said...

Anonymous, I think Lady Lazarus draws on Sylvia Plath's biographical details but has her own, too. As far as we know, SP herself didn't come close to death when she was 10, through drowning or by any other way.

In The Bell Jar, Esther does indeed go swimming in the hope of drowning herself, but pulls back. Perhaps SP did the same but, having pulled back, never saw that incident as a suicide attempt in its own right.

Hope this helps.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Marie Augstine! I do too, but I only know American and English.

Alessandra! Someone else better at interpreting poetry may be better able to explain to you what Plath was doing in "Lady Lazarus". I read Plath biographically much of the time; but reading Plath literally is something quite different and I think this may be what you have done? I think Plath was mythologizing herself here, as well as taking a bit of poetic liberty with the number of suicide attempts. She had to do this for the poem/for the poetry & for the her story of being "Lady Lazarus". Three is the crucial number here: the number of days before Lazarus was dead and so on. There is no known evidence that Plath attempted suicide at age 10. But, for the way the poem works she had to write it this way. 1st attempt at 10; 2nd attempt at 20; and 3rd attempt at 30.

I have always looked at the line "The first time it happened I was ten" to be a metaphorical death (not necessarily based an actual suicide attempt). At around the age of ten, her family left Winthrop and moved inland to Wellesley. If we bring in other texts, we can consider this in looking at what Plath says in "Ocean 1212-W". In "Ocean 1212-W," Plath writes "Whereon those nine first years of my life sealed themselves off like a ship in a bottle—beautiful, inaccessible, obsolete, a fine, white flying myth." So, if you will the imagery of her life being sealed off is like being enclosed in a coffin.

The scenes in The Bell Jar where Plath tries to either drown herself or hang herself may or may not have happened. That is, I can't recall if it did. I think in actuality, Plath was more active that summer than her character Esther Greenwood was in the novel. So many real events necessarily had to be condensed as she re-created them in the novel.

I see that in the time it took me to write this Panther wrote in too. I agree!


Anonymous said...

thank u @Panther,,it helps and doesnt at the same time..but maybe because i dont know english well.
i still cant understand why Sylvia then writes "This is Number Three", when she -according to u- tried 2 suicides.

Alessandra (am not anonymous, i sign always my name)

Anonymous said...

Peter, thank u very much for your effort and taking time for me to explain so deeply and clear and detailed. now it's all very clear to me. i understood.
it's so nice and enjoyable to know someone who has such deep knowledge in the topic and who has so much and well to teach and explain.
i promise to myself,in spare time,i will better learn english and Sylvia's poetry. the first one to can better then be able to communicate with u,the second to get to know better the inner self of her,her genius.

again,thank u.


magiciansgirl said...

Outside Plath, the Miami paper is is tremendously interesting for the variety of articles. Rhodes Scholar found Stabbed, a jilted stenographer murdering the sister of her former boyfriend, Charlie Chaplin names his son Eugene, a headless body washes up in Chicago, a mounted bathroom johnny ashtray for 77 cents, newlyweds found shot to death, 2 child hostages freed and treated by bandit, victims eaten in massacre, Anita O'Day arrested on drug possession charges, sister makes wedding gown, single men leading a lonely, monotonous existence which leads to prim and fussy behavior........

Melanie Smith said...

Alessandra, as an English teacher I would be happy to discuss a metaphorical, interpretive reading of Lady Lazarus, or any of Plath's work with you that moves away (not completely) from the literal and biographical. This is an area my students struggle with.
Feel free to contact/email Peter for my contact details if you would like to talk further.

Anonymous said...

@Melanie,thank you, in case i will.
42 years are a nice age to come back to school ;)
never too late! ;)

im not having enough free time at the moment(im a teacher myself too) but in case i would like to discuss Sylvia's poetry with you i'll contact you.

thank you very much for your helpfulness.


panther said...

Alessandra, I feel it's always (nearly always) a mistake to read a poem purely in terms of biography. Plath drew on her own life very extensively in many of her poems, all of us here know this, but a poet is still capable of fictions. Or combining biography with fiction to make a poem.

Lady Lazarus is like Sylvia Plath in some ways and not in others. I'm not sure that Plath herself was unconscious for 3 whole days, but we know that Lazarus in the Bible was (or, rather, dead. At least, believed to be dead.) So that is why 3 becomes important in a poem that has a Lazarus figure at its centre. Lady Lazarus is a fictional woman, a mythological woman (mythology created by Plath herself), and there are lots of magical and mysterious 3s in a lot of mythology.

As a poet myself, may I say I aim to be EMOTIONALLY true in what I write, whether it is partly about me or about another person, someone I know personally, someone historical, etc. Emotionally true is not the same as factually true. Facts are useful,but a poet (or short story writer, or novelist) plays with facts, too. On many occasions.

Another way of looking at this is : Lady Lazarus is one aspect of Sylvia Plath. The part of her that had an attraction to death and which felt that she had been "brought back" by people ("Herr Doktor") whose motives were not benevolent.The part of her that had been dead and then resurrected (to make someone else look good ?).

Anonymous said...

Meriden, not Meridian

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you for the correction.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.