Aurelia Plath

April 26, 1907 - March, 1994


Mother of Sylvia Plath

In a note to one of her daughter's published journal entries, Aurelia Plath writes,
Much of the material in these pages relating to Sylvia Plath's therapy is of course very painful to me, and coming to the decision to approve its release has been difficult. I have no doubt that many readers will accept whatever negative thoughts she reveals here as the whole and absolute truth, despite their cancellation on other more positive pages.

People focus on the negative more readily than its opposite. The gossip about Aurelia Plath has been unkind despite her efforts to offset the image of the bad mother. It is not easy for the living to deny the dead especially when so much material transcribing the dead is available. It is never easy for the mother of a child who committed suicide to process the personal torment. When that torment is on public display it is an even more harrowing experience.

Aurelia Schober Plath was born April 26, 1907. She was of Austrian descent and has been described as "sensitive, clever, efficient and intelligent." She pursued a career in education until she met Otto Emil Plath, an entomologist, and married him on January 4, 1932. It was Otto's second marriage and he was more than 20 years older than Aurelia. On October 27, 1932 Aurelia gave birth to a daughter, Sylvia. A son, Warren, was born two and half years later on April 27, 1935, a day after Aurelia's 28th birthday.

Otto Plath died on November 5, 1940 and Aurelia, strong and stoical, took on the responsibility of working and raising her two children. She returned to her education career, received a degree from Boston University and spent 29 years teaching medical-secretarial courses at B.U. After retiring from B.U. in 1971 she taught at Cape Cod Community College.

Sylvia Plath's novel, The Bell Jar, was published in England in January 1963. A month later Sylvia stuck her head in a gas oven an killed herself. Aurelia Plath blocked publication of the novel in the United States. In a 1979 interview Aurelia stated that her daughter wrote the novel to make money and never really wanted it published in the U.S.:

Sylvia never wanted it to be published here. She'd had two babies and an appendectomy and needed money. 'I have to write a best- seller,' she told me. 'I want to write a potboiler. What would you suggest for a subject that wouldn't fail?' I suggested a child-parent conflict. I little knew what shape it would take.

The Bell Jar was published in the U.S. in 1971. Aurelia Plath, depicted as Mrs. Greenwood in the novel, is portrayed as an unsympathetic mother-figure to the Sylvia-character, Esther Greenwood. To counteract the perception, Aurelia, in 1975 published Letters Home, representing a selection of the hundreds of letters Sylvia wrote to her mother.

The picture is complicated. Bright women, interlocked blood and brains. Sylvia writes in a journal entry, makes me feel good as hell to express my hostility for my mother, frees me from the Panic Bird on my heart and my typewriter (why?)...[December 12, 1958]

Anne Stevenson, in her biography of Sylvia Plath, Bitter Fame points out that the Freudian psychodrama exacerbated by the type of psychotherapy Sylvia was subjected to in the 1950s,

intensified the presence of her much-loved yet ultimately resented mother, whose double she had to be, for reasons of guilt or ego weakness, and to whom she was tied by a psychic umbilicus too nourishing to sever.

Ultimately the daughter severed all connections and the mother was left holding the detached strings.

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Aurelia Plath- 1999 Cosmic Player Plate
Published: May 9, 1999
Copyright © 1999 by the Cosmic Baseball Association