John Kennedy Toole (1917 –1963)
Died aged 31
"It will all end very badly, Gus"
— John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces)
John Kennedy Toole was an American novelist, best known for his novel 'A Confederacy of Dunces' . Toole’s novels remained unpublished during his lifetime. In 1981 Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 11 years after his suicide.
How he did it?
After suffering from paranoia and depression over critcism of his unpublished work, Toole committed suicide on March 26, 1969, after disappearing from New Orleans, by putting one end of a garden hose into the exhaust pipe of his car and the other into the window of the car in which he was sitting. The suicide note he left was destroyed by his mother.
Sylvia Plath (1932 –1963)
Died aged 30
"Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace."
— Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar)
Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. Her best-known works are replete with themes of alienation, death, and self-destruction. Plath published her first poem at age eight. She entered and won many literary contests and entered Smith College on a scholarship in 1951. She was a cowinner of the Mademoiselle magazine fiction contest in 1952. Despite her remarkable artistic, academic, and social success at Smith, Plath suffered from severe depression and underwent a period of psychiatric hospitalization.
In 1982, she became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously, for The Collected Poems. She also wrote The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death.
Plath's fellow confessional poet and friend Anne Sexton commented: "Sylvia and I would talk at length about our first suicide, in detail and in depth—between the free potato chips. Suicide is, after all, the opposite of the poem. Sylvia and I often talked opposites. We talked death with burned-up intensity, both of us drawn to it like moths to an electric lightbulb, sucking on it. She told the story of her first suicide in sweet and loving detail, and her description in The Bell Jar is just that same story."
(Anne Sexton committed suicide in 1974)
"The Sylvia Plath effect" is a term coined by psychologist James C. Kaufman in 2001 to refer to the phenomenon that poets are more susceptible to mental illness than other creative writers.
How she did it?
In 1963, five months after seperation from husband, Plath placed her head in the oven, with the gas turned on. Her nurse found her dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in the kitchen, with her head in the oven, having sealed the rooms between herself and her two sleeping children with wet towels and cloths.
Her second child, Nicholas Hughes hanged himself at the age of 47.
ANNE SEXTON (1928-1974)
Died aged 45
"Any writer, any artist, I'm sure is obsessed with death, a prerequisite for life."
- Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton was a prolofic American writer. Her poetry dealth with themes selcusion, suicide and depression. She won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Live or Die in 1967.
Sexton suffered from severe mental illness for much of her life. She asserted that speaking of death stimulated her and made her real, but she admitted that such a fascination with death sounded strange and sick, and that many people would never understand it. Another event which reignited a longing for death in Anne Sexton's case was the news of Sylvia Plath's suicide. This event led to Anne's poem "Wanting to Die"
How she did it?
On October 4, 1974, Sexton had lunch with poet Maxine Kumin to revise galleys for Sexton's manuscript of The Awful Rowing Toward God, scheduled for publication next year. On returning home she put on her mother's old fur coat, removed all her rings, poured herself a glass of vodka, locked herself in her garage, and started the engine of her car, committing suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Her eldest daughter, Linda Gray Sexton attempted suicide thrice but survived.
Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941)
Died Aged 51
"To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face, and to know it for what it is...at last, to love it for what it is, and then to put it away."
— Virginia Woolf
Woolf was an English author, essayist, publisher, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century.
Born in London and raised there by eminent parents, Woolf had to deal with depression throughout her life.
However, Woolf’s mental illness did not prevent her from becoming successful. She enjoyed a long and fulfilling marriage with her husband, Her most famous works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928).
How she did it?
On March 28, she slipped on an overcoat weighed down with rocks and drowned herself in the River Ouse. Her body wasn’t found for three weeks.
Her suicide note:
“I feel certain that I am going mad again… and I can’t recover this time.I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do...” – so read the suicide note she left for Leonard, her husband of almost thirty years.
And perhaps the most famous of them all:
Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)
"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another."
Hemingway is best known for writing several novels which are now considered classics of American literature, such as For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940) and The Old Man And The Sea (1952). His contributions to literature won him both the Pulitzer Prize (1953) and the Nobel Prize (1954).
Hemingway’s love of the bottle developed into alcoholism later in life, leading to high blood pressure and liver problems.
How he did it?
Hemingway loaded both barrels of his favorite twelve-gauge shotgun, put the weapon in his mouth, and blew his brains out the back of his head.
Four other members of Hemingway’s immediate family also committed suicide – his father, two of his siblings, and his granddaughter – leading some to the conclusion that a hereditary disease was at work behind the scenes.
It makes me wonder, are most creative masterminds susceptible to suicide? This maybe due to the very nature of work displayed by writers in particular. Writing is a sensitive art that requires one to not only explore the inner workings of their mind but also put them on paper for the world to scrutinize. Sometimes, failure to do so (and as is often the case) may overwhelm the writer with the weight of his own thoughts and ideas leading to the ultimate escape.