12 Fascinating Facts About Sylvia Plath

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Though she's considered a pioneer of the confessional poetry style, Sylvia Plath was not widely famous when she died by suicide in 1963 at age 30. But her legacy has long outgrown her untimely death: Her collections of poetry and one novel, most published posthumously, are still read, debated, and quoted reverently.

1. Sylvia Plath published her first poem at 8 years old.

Entitled "Poem," Plath's first foray into poetry was featured in the Boston Herald's children's section in 1941.

"Hear the crickets chirping
In the dewy grass.
Bright little fireflies
Twinkle as they pass."

Plath, of course, would later have poems published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Harper's Bazaar.

2. Sylvia Plath's father was a prestigious bee expert, inspiring her "Bee Poems."

Sylvia's father, Otto Plath, emigrated to the United States from Germany as a teenager, and he grew up to become a professor of entomology at Boston University and an authority on bumble bees—his 1934 book Bumblebees and Their Ways analyzed bee colonies and the power of the queen in them. Otto was a huge influence on Sylvia's work—one of her most famous poems is entitled "Daddy," and it and others suggest she fell into the marry-your-father type of trope as well.

Otto died unexpectedly of complications from late-diagnosed diabetes when Sylvia was 8, and she would grapple with that loss for the rest of her life. At the height of her creative output, the fall of 1962, she wrote a sequence of five poems, "the bee poems," in less than a week. They are hopeful and life-affirming works that were originally intended to end her collection Ariel, but were instead posthumously displaced with the darker, more depressive poems like "Edge" and "Words" that she wrote in her final days. The Bee Poems, which were unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the published version of Ariel, are so different from what Plath is known for—self-destruction, casual violence—that they have often been overlooked as part of her creative canon.

3. Sylvia Plath also wrote children's books.

Illustration by Rotraut Susanne Berner, for Sylvia Plath's The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit. Amazon

All published posthumously, Plath had a small collection of children's stories that were found amongst her journals and papers. One, The It-Doesn't-Matter-Suit, tells a sweet story about Max Nix and his mustard yellow suit. In the story, 7-year-old Max is the youngest of seven brothers. Two of those brothers were Otto and Emil—her father's names.

4. Sylvia Plath's early life has been described as "accomplished."

Although Plath is most often referred to as a tragic figure, she is described as a driven high achiever in adolescence and young adulthood. She had straight As, a full ride to Smith College, and was a Fulbright scholar studying in Cambridge, England. She also won various writing prizes while in college.

5. Sylvia Plath was an intern at Mademoiselle Magazine.

A mural of Sylvia Plath, created by Jane Brewster, in Portland, Oregon.Photo © 2009 by Todd Mecklem via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

While at Smith College, Plath won a contest to become one of a few "guest editors" at Mademoiselle magazine during the summer of 1953. The experience marked a turning point in Plath's work and life; her novel, The Bell Jar, is a thinly veiled fictionalization of her time in New York City. She described the experience as "pain, parties, work," and one of the book's scenes detailed an attempted rape—an event Plath's personal journals from that summer seem to corroborate. After returning home to Boston, Plath spiraled into depression and survived an attempted suicide; she was briefly institutionalized, but returned to school and graduated with honors.

6. Colossus is the only larger work published in Sylvia Plath's name while she was alive.

In 1960, Plath published this collection of poems first in England, where she lived with her husband, to positive critical reviews (if not massive sales). Technically The Bell Jar was published in England just a month before her death, but it was under the pen name Victoria Lucas, due to publisher concerns of getting sued for libel. The Bell Jar, with Plath rightfully named as author, didn't arrive in the U.S. until 1971—but when it did, it became a surprise bestseller.

7. Sylvia Plath's husband was a famous poet, too.

summonedbyfells, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Plath met English poet Ted Hughes—who is considered one of the greatest poets of his generation and was Poet Laureate of the U.K. for the last 14 years of his life—while she was at Cambridge on scholarship in 1956, and the two married within four months. They chose the date June 16 in honor of Bloomsday, the annual celebration of the life and work of James Joyce. The two were young—she was 23, he 25—and they read, critiqued, and supported each other's work. "I am writing poetry as I never have before," Plath wrote to her brother in 1956, "and it is the best, because I am strong in myself and in love with the only man in the world who is my match."

Their relationship was charged but unstable—by the 1960s, Plath wrote her therapist saying Hughes beat her before she suffered a miscarriage; he cheated on her, and many scholars say his mistress was pregnant at the time of Plath's suicide (the mistress was said to have gotten an abortion soon after). For the last five months of Plath's life, they were separated, and she was living and writing in London with their two young children. Because they were not yet divorced at the time of her death, Hughes inherited Plath's estate—including her unpublished works. Hughes made plans to publish Ariel, but he removed some of her chosen poems, added in new poems, and reordered the rest differently from Plath's original manuscript, some say to maximize the narrative of an increasingly depressed woman doomed to take her own life.

8. Sylvia Plath wrote the poems that would make her an icon just before she died.

Plath died by suicide on the morning of February 11, 1963, the culmination of months of turmoil, severe depression, and an astonishing output of writing. Plath and her husband had recently separated, and she had two young children at home, so she would feverishly write between the hours of 4 and 8 a.m. during a notoriously cold London winter. The resulting poems became the collection Ariel, featuring her most famous poems, including "Lady Lazarus" and "Daddy."

9. Sylvia Plath was the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously.

Like_the_Grand_Canyon, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

In 1982, Plath became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously. She won for The Collected Poems—edited by Ted Hughes. "Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like," Hughes wrote in the introduction to the collection. "If she couldn't get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity."

10. A psychologist named a phenomenon after Sylvia Plath—then regretted it.

The "depressed poet" has long been a creative stereotype—so much so that psychologist James C. Kaufman named the idea the "Sylvia Plath effect" in 2001, leading to its more mainstream use. Kaufman recently reframed his point of view, calling himself "young and stupid" at the time he introduced the term. He's now studying the impact of creativity on social justice.

11. Sylvia Plath's headstone has been repeatedly vandalized.

Plath's grave, in the West Yorkshire hills of England, has been tampered with multiple times—first, her married name was expunged (some think by "feminist activists" looking to remove Ted Hughes from Plath's narrative), leading to a long period where there was no marker at all. "When I first had the lettering set into the stone … the only question in my mind was how to get the name Plath on to it," Hughes wrote in 1989, when the stone was replaced. "If I had followed custom, the stone would be inscribed Sylvia Hughes, which was her legal name … I was already well aware, in 1963, of what she had achieved under that name, and I wished to honor it."

12. Sylvia Plath continues to impact culture today.

Sylvia Plath has been influencing culture for the nearly six decades since her death. From Twitter feeds to famous movie quotes and cameos, a Sylvia Plath mention is often shorthand for "tortured female writer." She's also an influence on modern writers of all kinds—Lena Dunham wrote a college essay comparing Plath and Alanis Morissette, and Joyce Carol Oates has written about her extensively.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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13 Things You Might Not Know About H.P. Lovecraft

Crabitha, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Crabitha, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Though it’s been more than a century since H.P. Lovecraft was born, the writer’s weird fiction and cosmic horror remain both influential and problematic. Lovecraft’s ghastly tales of alien gods, bloodguilty families, and collapsing civilizations have influenced authors like Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell. The new HBO horror series Lovecraft Country—which was created by Misha Green and executive produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out) and J.J. Abrams (Star Wars)—explores 1950s racism via dramatic encounters with Lovecraftian monsters. Check out some facts about this twisted soul from Providence, Rhode Island. (Warning: Some of the sources linked within contain offensive and racist language.)

1. H.P. Lovecraft had a tough childhood.

Born on August 20, 1890, Howard Phillips Lovecraft grew up under tragic, bizarre circumstances. His father, suffering from what was likely syphilis-induced psychosis, entered Providence’s Butler Hospital in 1893 and died there in 1898. (His mother went into the same mental hospital after World War I.) Lovecraft’s grandfather told him horror stories, and Lovecraft honed his lurid imagination by devouring Edgar Allan Poe and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. After his grandfather’s death, his family fell into poverty, and he had a nervous breakdown before graduating high school.

2. H.P. Lovecraft’s iconic monsters have murky origins.

When Lovecraft, at age 5, lost his grandmother, his mother and aunts wore eerie black mourning dresses. His subsequent nightmares may have inspired his black-winged, demonic Night-Gaunts. Another of his monsters, Dagon, is a water denizen with a “hideous head” and “scaly arms,” and the name, which Lovecraft first used in a 1919 short story, matches that of the Biblical god of the Philistines. And the infamous Cthulhu, a gigantic octopus-dragon hybrid, may reflect Lovecraft’s hatred of seafood.

3. H.P. Lovecraft co-wrote a short story about Egypt with Harry Houdini.

In 1924, the editor of Weird Tales paid Lovecraft $100 to write “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs,” based on Houdini’s claim that he’d once been kidnapped and trapped underground near the Great Pyramid of Giza. Lovecraft figured this was bogus, but did extensive Egyptological research. The legendary magician offered Lovecraft more projects, but died in 1926 before they could collaborate further.

4. H.P. Lovecraft struggled to support himself.

Reclusive and socially inept, Lovecraft scraped by financially, sometimes by living with his family, sometimes being supported by his wife Sonia Greene. He wrote more than 60 short stories, plus some novels and novellas, but also penned an estimated 100,000 letters to friends and fans. Sometimes he skipped meals to pay for postage.

5. Metal bands are obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft.

Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” and “The Thing That Should Not Be” invoke Lovecraft’s greatest monster, as does Cradle of Filth’s “Cthulhu Dawn.” Black Sabbath’s “Behind The Wall of Sleep” is inspired by a 1919 Lovecraft story. Morbid Angel guitarist Trey Azagthoth derived his stage name from Azathoth, one of Lovecraft’s gods. The list goes on.

6. H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness influenced the movie Alien.

Alien writer Dan O’Bannon was influenced by Lovecraft’s 1936 novella about an ill-fated Antarctica expedition. Both stories involve explorers getting attacked by mysterious creatures in an unfamiliar environment, and the Alien somewhat physically resembles Cthulhu. Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who designed the facehuggers and chestbursters in Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic, released a surreal art book entitled Necronomicon, named after Lovecraft’s oft-cited spellbook.

7. Providence, Rhode Island, abounds with H.P. Lovecraft-related tourist attractions.

The city features the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences store and Lovecraft’s grave, among other highlights. Plus, Brown University houses the world’s largest collection of Lovecraft papers.

8. H.P. Lovecraft had a love-hate relationship with New York.

While residing in Brooklyn, Lovecraft enjoyed roaming around the Big Apple in search of ideas and hobnobbing with other literary types in the Kalem Club. However, 1927’s “Horror at Red Hook,” a story set in the neighborhood and involving occult sacrifices, displayed his xenophobia.

9. H.P. Lovecraft loved cats.

In a pompous essay entitled “Cats and Dogs,” he wrote: “The cat is such a perfect symbol of beauty and superiority that it seems scarcely possible for any true aesthete and civilised cynic to do other than worship it.” Horror stories like “The Cats of Ulthar” and “The Rats in the Walls” also reflect his penchant for felines. As a boy, Lovecraft owned a black cat whose name was a racial slur.

10. H.P. Lovecraft was extremely racist.

There’s no avoiding it: Lovecraft’s fiction, poetry, and correspondence include bigoted statements about Black, Jewish, and Irish people—among many other backgrounds. He admired Hitler and supported white supremacy. Recently, his troubling legacy has come under the microscope.

11. The World Fantasy Awards stopped using H.P. Lovecraft statuettes after the 2015 awards.

These awards, which have taken place annually since 1975, honor the best fantasy fiction published the year before. Winners used to receive a small bust of Lovecraft. That tradition ended due to his racist history. YA author Daniel José Older (Shadowshaper) petitioned to replace it with an Octavia Butler statuette. However, in 2017, the organizers unveiled a new design with a tree in front of a full moon.

12. A Wisconsin publishing house pumped up H.P. Lovecraft’s fame after his death.

If August Derleth and Donald Wandrei hadn’t co-founded Arkham House in Sauk City, Wisconsin, Lovecraft’s work might have languished in obscurity. After Lovecraft died of cancer at age 46 in 1937, Derleth and Wandrei wanted to put out a hardcover anthology of his fiction. When no established publisher bit, they published The Outsider and Others themselves in 1939. More omnibuses followed, and over the decades, Lovecraft became a household name.

13. H.P. Lovecraft continues to influence popular culture.

Besides Lovecraft Country, there are lots of recent reimaginings to choose from. South Park spoofed Cthulhu in 2010. Lovecraft’s influence on the 2016-launched Netflix series Stranger Things is well-documented. Between 2016 and 2018, Mark Hamill and Christopher Plummer lent their voices to the animated Howard Lovecraft film trilogy by Arcana Studio. Also, Nicolas Cage stars in the 2019 movie Color Out of Space, based on the Lovecraft story of that name.