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Sylvia Plath Is Literature’s Most Famous Madwoman

Illustration of Sylvia Plath by Shannon Levin
Illustration of Sylvia Plath by Shannon Levin

Sylvia Plath (1932–1963)

A poet and novelist, Sylvia Plath’s career was plagued by depression and mania. Her semi-autobiographical novel “The Bell Jar” is based on her experience as an intern for Mademoiselle magazine, her subsequent descent into depression, and a suicide attempt. After Plath’s recovery, she completed her degree at Smith College and married the English poet Ted Hughes. Hughes allegedly abused Plath, and the couple’s relationship dissolved after Hughes had an affair and Plath was left alone in a London flat with two small children. She barely had time to write, often working in the early morning hours. Her despair drove her to commit suicide in 1963 by carbon monoxide poisoning—she was discovered with her head in the gas oven.


Shannon Levin is an illustrator and designer living in St. Louis. She illustrates for projects that elevate the representation of individuals who don’t often get the credit they deserve, with the hope that they help educate and inspire her viewers. She loves to draw funky people doing funky things as well as bright colors and amorphous shapes. @great_sneeze

This feature originally appeared in the Madness issue. Read also about Pan American Feminist Bertha Lutz.