Sotheby’s Offers a Glimpse Into Poet Sylvia Plath’s Personal Life

Shreeya Maskey
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In the 20th century, Sylvia Plath was known as one of the most celebrated voices in American literature. She published her first collection of poetry, The Colossus and Other Poems, in 1960, which led the young writer to fame. This marked the beginning of her short yet successful career. Her writings often explored the grief that surrounded her life and heavily relied on personal experience. Through her words, Plath offered an exploration of death, womanhood, and depression. On February 11th, 1963, Plath’s unfortunate death by suicide stunned the literary world.

Sotheby’s upcoming auction provides a look into Plath’s life story, her commitment to writing, and her aspirations in life. The timed Your Own Sylvia Auction will bring Sylvia Plath’s never-before-seen personal items to the market, including the Plath family Bible, various photographs, and intimate letters. According to Sotheby’s, the offered lots come directly from Plath’s family.

Sylvia Plath’s typed letter to Ted Hughes, October 10, 1956. Image from Sotheby’s.
Sylvia Plath’s typed letter to Ted Hughes, October 10, 1956. Image from Sotheby’s.

“I can’t believe anybody ever loved like this; nobody will again,” Sylvia Plath wrote to her beloved husband, Ted Hughes, in the fall of 1956. “We will burn love to death all our long lives…” The letter documents the start of their relationship. Plath optimistically expresses her hopes for their union and the future. This letter comes to auction with an estimate of GBP 8,000 to £12,000 (USD 11,032 – $16,549).

Another letter written by Plath is among the leading lots (estimate: GBP 15,000 – £20,000 / USD 20,686 – $27,582). Plath wrote this letter to Hughes while studying for a fellowship at Cambridge. In the signed paper, the poet’s enthusiasm for their future together appears once more: “Darling, be scrupulous and date your letters,” Plath writes. “When we are old and spent, they will come asking for our letters; and we will have them dove-tail-able…” These letters are among the only known surviving correspondence between Plath and Hughes.

Sylvia Plath’s family photograph album, 1957-1962. Image from Sotheby’s.
Sylvia Plath’s family photograph album, 1957-1962. Image from Sotheby’s.

The sale will also include a family photo album with 192 photographs arranged on 48 pages (estimate: GBP 30,000 – £50,000 / USD 41,373 – $68,955). It begins with pictures captured during Plath’s first visit to the Hughes family home in Yorkshire in September of 1956. The pages also document the couple’s road trip through America in 1959. These snapshots provide a visual record of Plath’s memories, which she explored more thoroughly in her poems. The album ends on a jovial note with colored photographs of the Hughes family posing in a patch of daffodils in 1962, a year before Plath’s death.

Other featured lots include the couple’s wedding rings (estimate: GBP 6,000 – £8,000 / USD 8,274 to $11,022), Plath’s pen-and-ink portrait of Ted Hughes (estimate: GBP 10,000 – £15,000 / USD 13,791 to $20,686), and a selection of Plath’s family recipes (estimate: GBP 800 – £1,200 / USD 1,103 to $1,654).

Sylvia Plath’s collection of family recipes and a rolling pin. Image from Sotheby’s.
Sylvia Plath’s collection of family recipes and a rolling pin. Image from Sotheby’s.

Plath’s contributions to American literature remain significant today. Collectors now have the opportunity to engage with Plath’s legacy on a more personal level. Bidding for Sylvia Plath’s letters and memorabilia concludes on July 21st, 2021, at 10:00 AM EDT. Register to bid and view each of the lots by visiting Sotheby’s.

Want to learn more about items from celebrated personalities? Auction Daily recently covered David Bowie’s legacy as an artist.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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