Sylvia Plath was an American poet and author. Born in 1932 in Massachusetts, she did very well in school, achieving top marks and winning awards. She was sensitive and studious even as a child, and published her first poem when she was eight years old, the same year her father died. By the time she earned a scholarship to Smith College in 1950, she had already published a substantial number of pieces, and wrote hundreds more during her time at Smith.
Whether the death of her father at such a young age contributed isn't certain, but Plath was troubled early on, very hard on herself and striving for perfection in all areas of her life. While at Smith and away from her family, Plath became increasingly remote, isolated and depressed. She took a summer internship with Mademoiselle Magazine as a guest editor, and during the course of the position, attempted suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. She was nearly successful, and her experiences during that time were the basis for her only novel, The Bell Jar, written under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.
The Bell Jar, published in 1963, is widely accepted as autobiographical. It tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who suffers a nervous breakdown and hospitalization during a summer internship at a well-known magazine. The novel details "Esther's" feelings of distance from her peers and popular culture of the time, and the inability to fit in that leads to her downward spiral.
While the young woman in the novel recovers, Plath herself found little relief from her struggle with depression, and eventually committed suicide by gas oven in 1963 after the dissolution of her marriage to poet Ted Hughes. She was 30.
While her best-known work is The Bell Jar, Plath was a poet first and foremost, and many collections of her poetry were eventually published - most posthumously.