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Like a human thunderbolt: why Sylvia Plath’s art transcends her tragic story

Sylvia Plath’s extraordinary poetic gifts have been overshadowed by her death. A new biography sets that right

Last things first. As the poet Ruth Fainlight put it, “Everyone / knows the story’s ending.” On the morning of 11th February, 1963, aged 30, Sylvia Plath taped herself into the kitchen of her London flat, switched on the gas and rested her head on the drop-down oven door. Her preparations for death were measured and solicitous. She left her two small children in their bedroom with the door sealed and window open, with some bread and butter and milk. A scrap of paper in their pram contained a polite request, in capital letters, to phone the doctor who had prescribed her antidepressants. By the time Dr Horder arrived, she had been dead for several hours. Although he had been trying to admit Plath to a psychiatric ward shortly before her suicide, Horder pronounced himself…

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