South West Authors & Collections
Sylvia Plath in the South West
The church and graveyard at North Tawton.
(Photograph © Peter K Steinberg)
Sylvia Plath lived in North Tawton, Devon, between September 1961 and December 1962. This brief period proved to be the stimulus for some of her best-known and most powerful poetry. Most of Ariel was written in Devon, and much of it is set there. The local landscapes - even the placing of particular trees to the west or east of her house ('Elm', 'Little Fugue'), or the proximity of the graveyard ('The Moon and the Yew Tree') - inspired and informed her work.
Plath's Letters Home and entries in her Journals indicate that life in a small rural Devonshire town was simultaneously rewarding and perplexing, offering a range of experiences and in turn catalysing a heightened set of responses. In addition to poems which reflect - albeit sometimes obliquely - the local landscape and environment, Plath drew on her experience of Devon culture and rituals to contemplate questions of family, responsibility, community and loss (for example in 'Among the Narcissi', 'Nick and the Candlestick', the magnificent sequence of Bee Poems, and the short stories and sketches 'Mothers', 'Rose and Percy B' and 'Charlie Pollard and the Beekeepers'). This period in the South West of England allowed Plath to acquire a necessary distance on her childhood in America, compellingly evoked in many poems and in the sublime memoir 'Ocean 1212-W'. Most importantly, though, her experience in Devon produced the work for which she is best known - the extraordinary poetry of Ariel.
The Centre for South West Writing's future research plans include collaborative work with scholars at Plath and Hughes archives in the United States (Emory, Smith, Lilly) and the hosting of a range of seminars and conferences in the field.
Tracy Brain, The Other Sylvia Plath (Longman, 2001).
Jo Gill, The Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath (Cambridge University Press 2006).
----- (ed.) The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Tim Kendall, Sylvia Plath: A Critical Study (Faber, 2001).
Robin Peel, Writing Back: Sylvia Plath and Cold War Politics (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002).