Sylvia Plath, usually regarded as the grande dame of depression, did in fact live a very pleasant life before her demise. Even though this period of relative contentment was mostly confined to the early ‘50s — specifically 1953 — it was very much a part of Plath's character before she became known as the queen of melancholia.
What made Plath her most ecstatic in 1953 was winning a guest editorship at Mademoiselle in New York City. In Elizabeth Winder's Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953, Plath's ambition to be a writer stands in sharp contrast to the common perception of her as a wilting flower. "Sylvia was in the middle of her waitressing shift when she received a telegram — she had won Mademoiselle's fiction contest — which meant a cash prize of $500 dollars and publication in the August college issue,” writes Winder. “For the first time, the possibility of supporting herself as a writer seemed real." The excitement of fulfilling her wish to go to New York City trumped every other disappointment Plath was feeling at the time, most of which related to the dating scene.
Arriving in New York, the young writer was swept away by the intensity and the glamor of the city, though this dissipated by the end of her guest editorship, a descent depicted in The Bell Jar. But before this steady decline, Plath was concerned with all the things someone working as a fashion editor should be: "Sylvia prized beauty and form. She was addicted to beauty, devoted to beauty — she worshipped Beauty,” writes Winder in Pain, Parties, Work. “She cut away at her life until it fit the gorgeous blueprint she made for it." However, the tedious responsibilities Plath was given at Mademoiselle tended to crumble her spirit, contradicting the vision she had of interviewing writers like Truman Capote and Dylan Thomas. (Mademoiselle was actually quite literary during this part of the 20th century).
Another part of Plath's persona during this time — one which also contrasts the stereotype of her in popular imagination — was the cavalier way she viewed men. While readers assume Plath was liable to be crushed by men, before her grand oppressor/husband Ted Hughes arrived, "Sylvia was one of those particularly confident women who always seem to date attractive, driven men. Instead of the perennial 'Does he like me?' Sylvia asked herself, 'Do I like him?'"
As the month-long editorship wore on, Plath continued to enjoy the trappings of Mademoiselle. Despite her current presentation as a feminist bent against the gendered norms of her day, shopping in New York was one of her great pleasures. Like most of her peers, Plath relished consumerism; on her weekends off in New York, “she went straight to Bloomingdale's in search of another pair of black pumps."
The day after her editorship ended, June 27, Plath returned home to Wellesley, Massachusetts. One month later, on August 26, 1953, after a summer that seemed to reach for the peaks of her aspiration, Plath was found after an attempted suicide, overdosing on sleeping pills. But for that brief blip of time in June, she was happy.
Genna Rivieccio graduated with a degree in screenwriting and closely identifies with Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard. She has written for pop culture blogs, including Culled Culture, The Toast and Behind the Hype, as well as satire for Missing a Dick and The Burning Bush.
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