Did Sylvia Plath have a mimetic death wish?

Many blamed Ted Hughes for his wife’s suicide at age 30. Not only was he unfaithful, but his then-lover went on to commit suicide herself. To his accusers, Hughes was a brute who kissed the girls and made them die. But Plath’s suicide likely had deeper roots.

 

In Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted, Andrew Wilson asserts that she had already tried to cut her throat when she was ten years old. Earlier biographies and the poems themselves suggest that she was traumatized by her father’s death when she was eight. In "Daddy," she wrote:

 

I was ten when they buried you.

At twenty I tried to die

And get back, back, back to you.

 

By saying she was ten rather than eight, Plath deliberately confuses the year of her father’s death and that of her own first suicidal gesture as revealed in Wilson’s book. “Daddy” allows us to see her three attempts to end her own life – at ten, twenty, and thirty – as three efforts to get “back, back, back” to her father.

 

But if the repetition is rooted in imitation – if, as she says in "Daddy," she "made a model" of her father – then she did not just want to go back to him; she wanted to do the same thing he did...

 

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