24 August 2014

The Search for Sylvia Plath Continues...

In the past, this blog has featured posts on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt: her disappearance, the search and recovery, and the articles that appeared in the newspapers about the event. It was also the subject of a long paper titled "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath" published in 2010, the focus of which was a bibliography of articles found. However, like most bibliographies it was out of date almost immediately. Sadly, too, for obvious reasons it (the bibliography) will never be either 100% accurate or 100% complete.  Such is the nature of that discipline. Well, this post continues those as recently I found another source presenting digital access to historic newspapers.

The Fulton History of Fulton County (New York) offers searching of more than 26 million historic newspaper pages. And, yes, I searched again for Sylvia Plath. The articles that were new to me were:

"Missing Wellesley Student is Found, Put in Hospital." Niagara Falls Gazette. August 26, 1953: 1.
"Smith College Senior Missing." The Times Record (Troy, N.Y.). August 26, 1953: 21.
"Girl Found Moaning in Cellar." Buffalo Courier Express. August 27, 1953: 1.
"Coed Recovering from Overdose." The Leader-Republican (Gloversville and Johnstown, N.Y.). August 27, 1953: 21.
"Missing Co-ed Found Alive Under Porch." Schenectady Gazette. August 27, 1953: 13.
"Home All Along." The Morning Herald (Gloversville and Johnstown, N.Y.). August 28, 1953: 1.
"Co-ed Recovers from Overdose." Utica Daily Press. August 28, 1953: 1.

I first found this site in March 2014; and re-searched the site in May. On the second visit, there were 276 articles where the exact phrase "Sylvia Plath" was found. These articles include book reviews, name-drops, etc. as well as articles from August 1953.

Strangely, a rogue result was mixed in, too, from Pennsylvania (which the last time I checked was not part of New York though it shares a long state border!) which was also new to me:

"Hunted by Posse, Girl Lies in Coma." Philadelphia Inquirer. August 27, 1953: 6.

This lead me to request via Interlibrary Loan the microfilm for this newspaper. A search of this did not find any additional newspaper articles other than the one that appeared on 27 August, but it was worth the effort to confirm.

While I was working on this post in June, I found quite by accident another article on Plath's disappearance from August 1953. Somewhat quietly in the summer of 2012, Olwyn Hughes donated to Pembroke College, Cambridge, a collection of items related to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Several items from this collection were displayed in February 2013. Largely composed of clippings of news paper articles and reviews, among them are some clippings that had to have belonged to Sylvia Plath as several date from before Plath and Hughes met. In Series 2, Life, Subseries 2.3 Sylvia Plath, there were four articles related to Plath's first suicide attempt. In reviewing the articles, I noticed one that was not familiar to me, based on the research I did for my paper "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath". I include the link, but please accept my apologies if it one day does not work... the journal in which it appeared annoyingly keeps changing its url).

The three that were familiar to me were: "Top-ranking Student at Smith Missing from Wellesley Home" from the Boston Herald; "Beautiful Smith Girl Missing at Wellesley" from Boston Globe; and "Day-Long Search Fails to Find Smith Student" also from the Boston Globe.

The article that was not familiar to me has three headline-ish titles: The first presumably appears above the masthead of the front page next to the word "EXTRA! Wellesley Student Found Alive". If it follows the other articles from that day, the first page featured "Search Ends / Find Girl in Cellar". Above the conclusion of the article on page 17, it reads: "100 Hunt Wellesley Girl Missing 2 Days". The article appeared in the lurid Boston Traveler on August 26, 1953: 1, 17. I believe the "Extra!" is the name of the edition of the newspaper. The most brilliant thing about this clipping was the inclusion of a previously unseen (by me) photograph on page 17. The photograph shows a search party in a natural scene somewhere in Wellesley with the caption: "PART OF WELLESLEY SEARCH PARTY—Wellesley police officers are shown with a woman volunteer, Elaine Pipes, as they searched today for missing 20-year-old Sylvia Plath, Smith College student who disappeared Monday. Left to right, Victor H. Maccini, Donald H. Murphy, Jerry Monaghan, Leroy Weaver, Francis Kiduff, Richard Parker, Tom Furdon and John Tracey." The photograph was taken by a famous Boston news photographer, Anthony Cabral, two time winner of the Edwin T. Ramsdell Memorial Trophy.

This is truly fascinating. Plath's Esther Greenwood describes three clippings and four photographs in The Bell Jar. The first two are spot on in their descriptions of actual photographs that ran of Plath that summer. In the article "Beautiful Smith Girl Missing at Wellesley" from Boston Globe, there is a photograph of Plath "showed a big, blown-up picture of a girl with black-shadowed eyes and black lips spread in a grin" (1963, 210). And in "Day-Long Search Fails to Find Smith Student", also from the Boston Globe, the photograph accompanying the article "showed a picture of my mother and brother and me grouped together in our backyard amd smiling" (1963, 210). The third photograph was of "A dark, midnight picture of about a dozen moon-faced people in a wood. I thought the people at the end of the row looked queer and unusually short until I realized they were not people, but dogs"; and the fourth "The last picture showed policemen lifting a long, limp blanket roll with a featureless cabbage head into the back of an ambulance" (1963, 211).

This photograph of the search party does not include bloodhounds and is not taken at night as Esther Greenwood describes in the novel, but it gives me some kind of Plathetic hope that perhaps there were at the time. It is evident there were more newspaper articles that ran than we will likely ever fully know, so it is not totally unreasonable to think that the other clippings Esther described actually were printed.

The other interesting aspect to these clippings is the fact that they are original, and that Olwyn Hughes had them. How did she acquire them? One possibility is that she obtained them from among Plath's papers that she left behind in England after her death. If this were the case, then it means that Plath had them on hand at the time she wrote The Bell Jar.

This brings the total number of articles on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt to 192. The large majority of these are AP news stories cut up from their original Boston appearances and sent out over the wire. I still find it fascinating to see how far and wide this story traveled. If you live in a city with access to microfilm from 24-31 August 1953, please consider going to look at it to see if any articles ran. If so, I (we, I dare to speak for this blogs' readers!!!) would love copies/scans of them to further extend the search for Sylvia Plath.

My thanks and deepest gratitude to Patricia Aske, Librarian, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge.

All links accessed 14 May 2014, 20 June 2014, and 15 August 2014.

10 August 2014

Sylvia Plath & The Mystery of the Ad in the Paper

3 Chalcot Square, London
In August 1961, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were preparing to move from their tiny 3 Chalcot Square flat in London to the spacious Court Green in North Tawton, Devonshire. When they took the flat in February 1960, they had signed a three-year lease which included the option to sublet should the need arise. The flat was so small that for much of the time one or the other would go elsewhere to write. Ted Hughes first used the flat of W.S. and Dido Merwin nearby at 11 St. George's Terrace; Plath used this space too when she was not writing in their living room. In addition, Hughes also used the small attic flat above theirs rented by "Mrs. Morton" (Mary K. Morton), a character in her own right who became the subject of Plath's September 1960 poem "Leaving Early".

On 13 August 1961, Plath wrote to her mother: "We put an ad in the paper for our flat (with a $280 fee for 'fixtures and fittings' to cover the cost of our decorating, lino, shelves, and solicitor's fees, and to deter an avalanche of people---the custom here) and had eight responses and two couples who arrived and decided they wanted it at the same time" (Letters Home 423).

As you know, I enjoy a good mystery. Particularly when it involves the use and reuse of archives; searching in boxes and folders not regularly cited, explored, or examined; as well as some good old-fashioned searching through microfilm; hoping that simply casting the line into a pond of blind faith will return a respectable catch. In my mind I liked to call this clue from Plath "The Mystery of the Ad in the Paper". This was one such instance where all these challenges combined and led to a glorious outcome.

The advertisement Plath mentions is something I have wanted to find for a long time. I visited the Microtext Department at the Boston Public Library and used their holdings for both The Times and the Manchester Guardian. But, to no avail. I knew that Plath's use of $280 for the fixtures and fittings would not appear in the advert as it was in an English newspaper, and based on other letters she wrote during this period, she generally said that £1 was equal to $2.80. Even I can do this math: $280 = £100.

Mortimer Rare Book Room
Smith College
On a visit to Smith College late last year, I had the opportunity to look through the Financial Materials series, which is largely composed of checkbook stubs. These documents are fascinating; there is the chilling stub for the purchase of her gas stove in December 1962; and there are more mundane, everyday use things such as writing a check to self for cash, or paying for clothing and food among other necessities. When I was perusing the August 1961 stubs, I was excited to find that on 18 August, Plath paid by check the sum of £1.17.6 (if I am reading the stub right, there are many computations occurring on this particular stub) to the Evening Standard for the advert. The check number is 198089 and is contained in the book covering the dates 24 June 1961 – 1 September 1961. O.K., so part of the mystery was solved.

Armed with this knowledge, I had to set about trying to find a microfilm copy of this newspaper. I knew the British Library has it, but it is roughly 3,269 miles away from me. So… not that easy to get to in a flash. I put in a request through the Boston Public Library for an inter-library loan of the microfilm of newspaper from August 1961. Luckily, a copy was located here in the States, and about two months later -- in early 2014 -- the box of microfilm arrived from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. I had prepared to spend my lunch hour going over every single day looking for an advert that included the only few details that I knew: fixtures and fittings, £100, and I also figured something about the location of the flat would be present: either NW1 or Chalcot Square or even Primrose Hill.

I started at 1 August even though I held little hope it would have appeared that early, mostly to familiarize myself with the layout of the newspaper, the general location therein of the classified ads, the language and abbreviations generally used, and the like. I felt too that this is something Plath and Hughes might have done -- both at this time from house-hunting but also from their earlier massive search for a flat in December 1959 and January 1960 which landed them 3 Chalcot Square in the first place -- as they constructed the language: something akin to what she did in studying the short fiction and poetry published in magazines in order to write something that stood a better chance of being accepted as it fit the right formula and was aimed at the right market. I also knew that the advert would likely not appear after the date of the letter (13 August) as Plath used the past tense "We put an ad in the paper … and had eight responses". So there was really just a short window of time in which I needed to look.

Working through each day, I grew a bit anxious. Would I find it? Recognize it? Skip over it by accident in the blur and smudge of questionable quality microfilm or in my own lunch hour restricted haste? Would I then have wasted a month of lunches searching in vain? Would I run out of time before the microfilm was due to return to its home in Washington, D.C.?

Nothing on the 1st of August. The 2nd of August turned into the 3rd, 4th, the 5th, the 6th, the 7th, the 8th, the 9th… Nothing!

Until the 10th. 10 August 1961*. The one and only day on which the ad ran!

The full page of the 10 August 1961
Evening Standard

So much hinges on that chance day: 10 August 1961. On that day, David and Assia Wevill probably sat in their flat located at 10 Addison Gardens** located in the Shepherd's Bush/Hammersmith (W14) neighborhood of London. Who spotted the advert? Who responded? Why were they looking to move? Was it David Wevill or Assia Wevill who picked up the phone to call? In A Lover of Unreason, Koren and Negev say it was Assia Wevill who called but it is not known whether it was Plath or Hughes who answered the phone to set up the appointment? Koren and Negev also publish that it was in the Evening Standard that the Wevill's saw the advert, so clearly either I should read some of these books more carefully or remember what I read a little better...

The column in which the ad appeared
The Evening Standard. 10 August 1961. On page 17. In the fifth of six columns, in the top third of the listings, there it is: "PRIMROSE HILL". The first thing that attracted me to the listing was not the bold font PRIMROSE HILL. No, it was something small and more recognizable to me: the telephone number: "PRI 9132".

The full ad:



And, transcribed, it reads:

PRIMROSE HILL Unfurn. 2 rms. k. & b
6 gns. p.w. F. & F £100. 17 mth lse.,
renewable. PRI 9132 after 6 p.m.

Plath and Hughes would have used abbreviation to cut down on cost. And, it is possible my transcription is inaccurate as regards punctuation; neither the film with which I worked nor the printout were the greatest. However, spelled out the ad says the flat consists of two unfurnished rooms with kitchen and bathroom at six guineas per week on a renewable 17 month lease, plus a fee for fixtures and fittings (improvements) at £100.

As silly as it might seem, I felt and still feel an immense relief at finding this advert. It puts a piece of the puzzle together. Fills in a gap that I had always felt existed during this period of Plath's biography.

* 10 August 1961 was also the 20th anniversary of Plath's first appearance in print when her short poem "Poem" was published in the Boston Herald. Hard to fathom: 20 years!

Former residence of the Wevill's
10 Addison Gardens, London W14
(now 10 Lower Addison Gardens)
**The Wevill's address is from Sylvia Plath's address book, held by Smith College. Plath and Hughes had dinner at this house, pictured left, a few days after they met the Wevill's, and it was also likely where Hughes went to collect a dining room table the Wevill's gave them to help fill out Court Green. At the present time there is no longer an address of 10 Addison Gardens. There is, however, a 10 Upper Addison Gardens and a 10 Lower Addison Gardens. According to this map of the neighborhood from 1940, it appears that the present-day Lower Addison Gardens formerly did not have the prefix "Lower" and in 1940 there was a clearly marked "Upper Addison Gardens".  Furthermore, with thanks to Gail Crowther we can confirm that through at least 1965, there was no "Lower Addison Gardens" according to the official Electoral Registers. So at some point after 1965, while the house numbers appear to be the same, the section of Addison Gardens between Holland Road and Holland Villas Road was renamed to Lower Addison Gardens.

All links accessed 5 August 2014.

27 July 2014

Sylvia Plath, 60 Years Ago Today

60 years ago today, on 27 July 1954, Sylvia Plath was featured in a photograph in the Boston Globe pointing at … wait for it … a globe! In the brief article "More Girls Than Ever at Harvard Summer School", Plath was photographed in the Widener Library with Everetta Rutherford of Columbia, South Carolina. It is difficult to determine at which country or continent Plath is pointing, but it might be India? That is neither here nor there... Also neither here nor there, it was just 11 months after the news broke that she had been found hiding in her family's basement in Boston and other U.S. newspapers after and all-out regional woman-hunt.

Sylvia Plath pointing at a globe in The Boston Globe, 27 July 1954.

According to Plath's calendar, held at Indiana University's Lilly Library, she was photographed for the Globe on 26 July 1954. This was a fairly innocuous event on what turned out to be a major day. She had German at 8 am and also at 11, and then English at 12 noon. From 1-2 she had lunch with someone called Lissy Snyder and at 3 pm she met with her psychiatrist, Dr. Ruth Beuscher. Another note in the corner for that day in the calendar has that she was going to the Library at 8:15. Plath also wrote "Edwin's", as in Edwin Akutowicz. Plath has drawn an arrow pointing from Edwin's name on the 26th into the next day --the 27th-- that was directed toward another name: Dr. Heels at Mt Auburn [Hospital].

117 Lakeview Avenue,
Cambridge, Mass.
A relatively obscure figure until recently, Akutowicz now is the subject of a recent article by Jeffrey Meyers in the London Magazine entitled "Plath's Rapist" (June-July 2014, pp. 127-144). This is not Meyers' first foray into exploring the disappeared men in Plath's life; he published "Sylvia Plath's Mysterious Lover" in the Yale Review in October 2010 (pp. 88-102) on Richard Sassoon. According to Plath's address list in her 1954-1955 pocket calendar, Akutowicz lived at the time at 117 Lakeview Avenue, Cambridge (map). The driving distance between Akutowicz's residence and Mount Auburn Hospital is .6 miles; from the hospital it is .9 miles driving distance to Plath's summer rented apartment at 1572 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge (map; image); and to round things out, from Plath's apartment to Akutowicz's house it is 1.3 miles.

Reading Meyers' article got under my skin somewhat as this blog post shows. The premise of the article stems from a comment Plath is reported to have said to her then roommate Nancy Hunter: "He raped me" and quoted in Hunter-Steiner's memoir, A Closer Look at Ariel (64). Meyers seems to accept this as gospel but does not seem to take into account that if Plath actually said these words, that she might have been "saving face", as it were, given that Nancy Hunter had previously rejected Akutowicz's advances and appeared somewhat of an innocent. While Plath may have seemed outwardly fine around this time, roughly a year after her after her first suicide attempt and subsequent recovery, it is possible that after her encounter with Akutowicz that she was confused, frightened, and in something like shock at the result of this intimacy. Meyers does not consider that Plath's hemorrhage might equally have happened during the normal course of things, as it were, as in consensual relations and not necessarily as a result of rape.

Plath's words might have been expressed as she did not want to be judged or to get any kind of reputation. The truth is we do not know and we will never know. Meyers unfairly accuses, or rather convicts, Akutowicz of being a rapist when Akutowicz cannot defend himself. As well, this is unjust for the presumed victim, Plath, as she cannot either explain herself or the words she apparently uttered in a moment of frightening distress. Furthermore, if Edwin is innocent of rape this claim devalues genuine rape victims. It is a very dangerous article, a disappointing one for sure for other reasons, and feels like couch-research: done using the internet and books-at-hand with very little effort otherwise. As well, it is fairly cowardly to write that someone is a "rapist" and a "sexual predator" who had a "violent and sadistic brand of sex" when the defendant is no longer alive (139, 143). Had Meyers traveled to Indiana University he might have seen Plath's calendars which record numerous "dates" with Edwin preceding the incident. As a result, Meyers account fails to give any understanding or context on the nature of the relationship between Plath and Edwin. Some perspective would have been relevant.

The true nature of their acquaintance and the substance of their meetings is unknowable. As such, we rely on Plath's calendars, what she wrote down, and what she did not cross out. These calendars capture both intended activities as well as serves in some cases as a record of actual lived experiences. Sometimes, it must be stated, it is difficult to interpret between the two.

Cover of Plath's
1954-1955 Calendar
Plath arrived in Cambridge for summer school on Monday 5 July. Among other things on the 6th, she explored Cambridge, shopped, registered for classes, and saw the film Counselor at Law (imdb) at the Brattle Theatre. Classes commenced on the Wednesday the 7th, and later on that day she spent time at the Oxford Grille (then located at 32 Church Street (map) now the Border CafĂ©) drinking beer with Nancy Hunter and Edwin. So, she met Edwin on 7 July or just before.

Plath's calendar records that she spent time with Edwin on the evening 13 July; the evening of 14 July; the evening of 19 July; and the afternoon of 22 July before the "events" of 26 and 27 July. Plath's documented activities were largely centered on studying at Edwin's, as well as their having long talks, and taking meals together. None of this is to suggest that rape did not or could not have happened; but rather that the nature of the relationship was deeper than Meyers is capable of concluding based off of his research and as is present in his article, which again, appears to have been done at home and using online and biographical resources such as Carl Rollyson's American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath and Andrew Wilson's Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted. Fine sources in and of themselves, but far too secondhand in nature for what Meyers is attempting to do.

Back to the calendar… On Tuesday, 27 July, Plath's calendar shows that she again had German and English at 8, 11 and 12 noon; in the afternoon she was to study German from 2-5 and 7-11. But we cannot be sure if she did all these things given what appears to have happened between the night before. These plans were not crossed out which is often how cancelled plans often appear.

On Wednesday, 28 July, Plath's calendar again indicates she had classes at 8, 11, and 12 noon; also she had a big midterm exam that afternoon, and planned to be in Lamont Library at 3 pm. Plath also noted that she recuperated and cleaned the apartment. In the next couple of days, Plath spoke on the phone with Dr. Beuscher once and had two meetings with her at 3 pm both on Thursday 29 July and on Friday 30 July. On Friday 6 August Plath had a checkup with Dr. Heels and slept for 15 hours that night back home in Wellesley!

On Wednesday 11 August, just over two weeks later, Plath notes that "E" called and he fails to make another appearance in the calendar until Sunday 31 October, when he visited Smith College. On that occasion, he and Plath spent the afternoon talking and drinking beer at Rahar's. Plath mentioned Edwin's Northampton visit in a letter to her mother dated 2 November. Plath was very much over him by this point and was quite dismissive of him in this letter. There are likely many things to conclude from the long duration between Edwin's appearances in her calendar in addition to the possibility that something untoward might have taken place in addition to the fact that not every activity was captured by Plath. For example, Akutowicz might have been out of town during some of that time or deeply involved with his research and/or teaching. Judging from Plath's schedule, she was inundated with studies and other boys: from Gordon Lameyer to Ira Scott Jr.; and spent a lot of time away from Cambridge herself in the duration of the summer. Other Edwinian occurrences are the 11 February 1955 letter mentioned in Meyers article; a note that he called on 6 April 1955 and they spent time together the evening of 9 April 1955; Edwin visited Plath again at Smith on 17 April 1955 and they went to Look Park, Rahar's and Wiggin's for dinner; and lastly Plath visited Edwin in Cambridge on 11 June 1955 for supper just after she graduated from Smith College.

An accusation of rape notwithstanding, there is much that is wrong with Meyers' London Magazine piece and contributes to my assessment that his research was somewhat lazy. There are a number of inaccuracies which deserve correction and clarification.

For starters, there the vaguest of interest shown in what Akutowicz was doing at the time in terms of his profession. Meyers writes, "In the late forties or early fifties he taught math at the prestigious MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts." This nonchalance is embarrassing. I contacted the archives at M.I.T. to inquire about when he was there, and was informed that he was listed in staff directors published between October 1951 and December 1958. In October 1951, January 1952, and December, 1952, he is listed as working in the Division of Industrial Cooperation. From December 1953 to December 1955, he was in the Division of Defense Laboratories, with an office at Lincoln Laboratories (located in Lexington, Massachusetts) starting in fall 1954. From December 1956 to December 1958, he is listed as a staff member of the Lincoln Laboratories. December 1958 appears to be the last time he appeared in the directory (the one for Spring 1959 is absent).

Meyers claims that the day after the incident with Akutowicz, they went to Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts. One thing that is frustrating about this essay is there is very little citing of references and sources. There is no evidence for this in Plath's calendar (which I realize is not the end-all-be-all of accurate resources); the first mention of a visit to Crane Beach that summer is with Dr. Ira O. Scott, who first appears in SP's calendar on Wednesday 18 August. It is suggestive that Plath met him around this time as his appearance in the calendar is formal: "Dr. Ira Scott". Her first visit to Crane Beach with Scott appears to have been the following week on 25 August.

While discussing events of the summer of 1954, Meyers states that Plath "lost her virginity the previous year during her unhappy affair with Richard Sassoon..." (138). However, "the previous year" is incorrect as Plath met Sassoon on 18 April 1954 (as in the same year she met Akutowicz; Sassoon is first mentioned in a letter to her mother the following day, 19 April 1954). Biographically these are incidents that might have relevance but it feels awfully awkward to discuss Plath's private life. There seems to be no consideration or sympathy for how the relatives and descendants of both Plath's and Akutowicz's families might feel. And it is not lost on me that this blog post might not be helping! However, there are private experiences and there are private experiences…

Sadly Meyers writes that "The entries for the summer of 1954 are missing from Plath's Letters Home (1975) and Unabridged Journals (2000)" (138). Meyers should know that Plath did not keep a journal at this time. So, if something never existed can it be considered "missing"? Also, there would be no letters home this summer as Plath was within phone distance of communicating with her mother (where the phone rates were more reasonable and therefore cheaper than from Northampton).

In The Bell Jar it was not Esther's "roommate" (138) who drove her to the hospital, but Joan Gilling, her schoolmate from college and fellow asylum-resident who had been released and was living with a hospital nurse. Meyers should know better.

1944 Ivy yearbook, edited/composited
Meyers describes a photograph of Akutowicz from Ivy, the yearbook of Trinity College (possibly the one pictured left) in Hartford. He writes of his "thick peasant features and a low Slavic forehead, with no glasses and a full head of dark hair". He really has it out for him! In the space of eight short pages, Meyers describes Akutowicz as being "physically unattractive"; having "peasant features"; of being a "rapist" and a "sexual predator"; and being a practitioner of a "violent and sadistic brand of sex". It is possible he aged a bit in the decade that passed between this 1944 photograph (you should know it is the same photograph that appears in the 1943 yearbook, too) and when Plath met him; but it is possible that Plath invented some unflattering characteristics to juxtapose Irwin in the novel against the all-American features of Buddy Willard and the Yalies that the magazine rounded up for some of the events during her guest editorship. Any corroboration with descriptions by Hunter in her memoir A Closer Look at Ariel might be coincidental or unconsciously done based on what Plath wrote in The Bell Jar.

Regarding Meyers' analysis of the poems that Plath sent to Akutowicz: The poem titles in Meyers' essay appear out of the blue! There is no mention that the poems were listed in a letter from Donald Hall to Fran McCullough dated 11 January 1975, in which Hall quotes a letter that he had received from Akutowicz. Probably because it was confusing to do so! According to Hall, who was quoting Akutowicz, the poems Plath sent to Akutowicz in her letter dated 11 February 1955 were: "Temper of Time", "Dirge", "Dance [sic] Macabre", "Winter Words", and "Prologue to Spring". Meyers assumes, wrongly, that "Dirge" is Plath's sonnet "Dirge for a Joker" and therefore over-reads and over reacts to the poem to make it fit his theory. A common thing for "academics" to do. However, Plath's calendar informs that it is just "Dirge", a poem she wrote on 5 February 1955 with a parenthetical reference to the poems first line: "The sting of bees took away my father". This poem, later renamed to "Lament", was a villanelle. It also fits in, time wise, to the other poems Plath sent to Akutowicz as "Danse macabre" was written on 30 January 1955 (though listed in her calendar under as "down among strict roots & rocks" which is the first line of the poem); "Temper of Time" and "Winter Words" were written on 1 February 1955; again "Dirge" on 5 February 1955; and "Prologue to Spring" on 9 February 1955. We do not necessarily know when Plath's "Dirge for a Joker" was written, and in reviewing the calendars I could not find it listed.

Meyers writes: "Plath's reckless accidents in skiing, diving and horseback riding on 'Ariel' proved that she 'enjoyed' … dangerous situations…" (143). Diving? Plath's "reckless" experience "horseback riding" was with "Sam" in December 1955, not "Ariel" in 1962 who was considered, lore has it, to be a docile, older horse. And it was not necessarily that case that Plath was the instigator of these "reckless accidents"; in the situation with the horse "Sam" it was the horse that got spooked and unexpectedly took off into a gallop. Likewise with the skiing accident in December 1952: Plath was inexperienced, received poor instruction, and fell. Word choice, man! Reckless? Maybe it is a question of semantics. Please explain the claim of a "reckless" diving accident. Declaring that Plath's behavior was "reckless" is, I feel, discourteous and too judgmental.

Lastly, Meyers missed a golden opportunity to draw a unique coincidence between Plath and Akutowicz. He is careful to note the date of the one letter we know Plath sent: 11 February 1955. However, even more coincidental (for lack of a better word), both Plath and Akutowicz passed away on 11 February. She obviously in 1963; he in 2007. If Meyers is writing now an article on Dr. Richard Norton, please do not fail to remark that Norton got married exactly one week before Plath did in June 1956. Jeffrey Meyers "Plath's Rapist" from the London Magazine is very disappointing and on the whole represents sloppy research.

All links accessed 15 June and 27 July 2014. Minor revisions to the text, 4 August 2014.

20 July 2014

Sylvia Plath's Writing Dates

This is a second post on the metadata of Sylvia Plath's letters, the first of which can be read here on "Sylvia Plath's Writing Days". At the same time as I was working on that post, I thought it might be interesting to plot all of Plath's letters on a generic calendar to see, over the course of the calendar year, on how many dates Plath never wrote a letter. And, also to see on which date Plath wrote the most letters. This is nerding out to the nth degree, but I see no reason to feel shamed by it.

My initial hope was that in going through all the letters it would be determined that Plath wrote a letter one every single day of the year. I cheated though and searched to see if she ever wrote a letter on a 29 February, or Leap Year day. She did not, so I knew there was at least one day on which Plath did not write anyone. Again, these results are only considering those letters we (I) know about and with which I have worked.

Based on all the available letters and current information, Sylvia Plath never wrote a letter on these 19 dates:

17 and 29 February;
30 March;
17 and 25 May;
2 and 4 June;
27 July;
14, 26, and 29 August;
6, 14, 17, 19, and 22 September;
27 November; and
22 and 31 December.

Ergo, Plath wrote and dated a letter for every day in January, April, and October. It is entirely possible Plath wrote letters -- and many of them -- on some or all of these 19 dates. After all, not every one of Plath's letters were saved by the recipients. As well, we have little or no correspondence for major figures such as Richard Norton, Richard Sassoon, Eddie Cohen, and many other boyfriends, friends, and girl friends, acquaintances, etc., and possibly letters to her family, as well.

Here is a breakdown by month:

January: 106;
February: 113;
March: 100;
April: 119;
May: 95;
June: 92;
July: 185;
August: 74;
September: 81;
October: 163;
November: 114; and
December: 110.

If you do the math and add all these up, you get 1,358. Elsewhere on this blog I have posted that we know of (i.e. have) 1,320 letters by Plath. Did we find 38 letters? No, unfortunately not. The difference is that Plath wrote letters, sometimes, over the course of two or more days and so in some instances one letter was counted two time as it was written over two dates.

In this extracurricular activity, I have endeavored to be as accurate as possible in my mathematics: in counting, adding, subtracting, etc. This includes trying to be consistent in how I captured these figures. I think I was, but as some of the letters are undated or circa dated, some of the figured might eventually changed.

And, based on the same criteria as above of reviewing the letters we know about, Sylvia Plath wrote the most letters (13) on 6 July. Busy, busy!

All links accessed 13 July 2014.

14 July 2014

Sylvia Plath's Writing Days

Sylvia Plath was a prolific letter writer. As of today, we know of approximately 1320 extant letters. But of course there were many more. This is the first of two blog posts on Sylvia Plath's letters. These posts will not be revealing any of the content of the letters, but will highlight some of the metadata about them.

As I was working on the letters (that is, transcribing, editing, proofing, and annotating roughly 1200 of them), I began to wonder on which day of the week Plath tended to write most often? And, for letters that spanned more than one day, on which day was she most likely to have needed extra time to complete it or to get around to posting it off?

So, here is a breakdown of the days of the week and the number of letters written. Beneath each day are those letters written over two or more days with a separate count of letters.

Sunday - 154 letters
(Sunday-Monday - 4 letters)

Monday - 207 letters
(Monday - Wednesday - 1 letter)
(Monday - Saturday - 1 letter)

Tuesday - 193 letters
(Tuesday - Wednesday - 3 letters)
(Tuesday - Thursday - 2 letters)
(Tuesday - Friday - 2 letters)
(Tuesday - Saturday - 1 letters)

Wednesday - 180 letters
(Wednesday - Thursday - 3 letters)
(Wednesday - Friday - 1 letter)
(Wednesday - Saturday - 1 letter)

Thursday - 187 letters
(Thursday - Friday - 8 letters)
(Thursday - Saturday - 1 letter)
(Thursday - Monday - 1 letter)

Friday - 166 letters
(Friday - Saturday - 1 letter)
(Friday - Monday - 1 letter)
(Friday - Tuesday - 1 letter)

Saturday - 162 letters
(Saturday - Sunday - 4 letters)
(Saturday - Monday - 2 letters)

Of the known letters, 33 at the moment are either not dated or not datable, but I am hoping to whittle that down to as few as possible as work continues on an edition of Plath's letters.

So, Sylvia Plath most often wrote letters on Monday. And she was more likely to take more than one day to write a letter if she started it on a Thursday. These numbers are subject to change based on further work/research on the letters, but this is where things stand as of now (14 June 2014).

Somewhat related, and if you missed it shame on you, but please go and read David Trinidad's recent blog "More is More: Sylvia Plath's Letter".

All links accessed 6 June 2014.

07 July 2014

More Sylvia Plath College Articles Found

This is a third blog post on articles authored by (or possibly/probably authored by) Sylvia Plath. The first blog post was posted on 20 May 2014. The second was posted on 8 June 2014. This post discusses articles published or referenced to in letters from events Plath covered for Press Board in March, April, and May 1952.

In her sophomore year, Plath was active on the Smith College Press Board. Her letters home refer repeatedly to events she was covering. This presents us with tantalizing possibilities to either uncover original Press Board typescripts in the Smith College Archives, or anonymous articles as they appeared in newspapers in Northampton and Springfield, Massachusetts. In addition to her letters, Plath's calendars at the Lilly Library are perhaps the richest sources for biographical information of her college years. The calendars record particularly her activities with regard to campus events, classes, dates for tests and papers, dates with boys, social engagements, and meals, among other data. Her calendars featured the words "Press Board" or "cover" on so many occasions one could go blind and/or crazy trying to find articles she possibly authored.

In the absence of original, attributed typescripts, we are therefore relegated to searching for only those events Plath covered that she wrote about in letters or detailed in her calendars. In conjunction with the letters and calendars, there is further need for cross-referencing to gain information on her activities and to narrow down the events Plath attended by looking through copies of the Smith College newspapers, the Smith College Associated News and The Sophian, as well as the Smith College Weekly Bulletin. Massive thanks are due to Nanci Young, the College Archivist at Smith, and Diane Wieland, the College Archives Intern for their help to my remote queries.

On Thursday 6 March, Plath wrote to her mother that she the M.I.T. professor/communist Struik (Dirk Jan Struik) speak on 3 March (a Monday) and that she found him to be a compelling Marxist; and that the Press Board accepted her review nearly word for word. The letter was published, heavily edited and with these details cut out, under the wrong date --the postmark date-- in Letters Home. An article was published anonymously in the Springfield Union on Tuesday 4 March 1952, page 2, under the title "'Heresy Hunts' Menace Liberty: Struik Claims". Based on Plath's letter to her mother and the tone of the article I do believe this was the piece Plath authored.

On Wednesday 30 April, Plath wrote to her mother that she was covering five lectures in four days. Like the above, the letter was included in Letters Home and heavily edited, though was published under the correct day. The lectures Plath covered were Ogden Nash that night, 3 European student conference lectures on 1 & 2 May; and a "Friends" (probably Friends of the Library) meeting on Saturday 3 May 1952, which involved Smith alumnae who have great book collections.

Of all these events covered over those four days, there was only one article I found in searching the three newspapers for whom Plath regularly wrote while on Press Board (Springfield Daily News, Springfield Union, and the Daily Hampshire Gazette). There was an anonymous article reviewing the Ogden Nash reading printed on 1 May 1952 in the Springfield Union, page 30, with the title "Ogden Nash's Rhyming Knack Makes Up for His Talent Lack".


All links accessed on 30 May 2014 and 14 June 2014.

01 July 2014

Review of Collecting, Curating, and Researching Writers' Libraries: A Handbook

The new book Collecting, Curating, and Researching Writers' Libraries: A Handbook, edited by Richard W. Oram and Joseph Nicholson (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014; also available on Amazon) contains well-written and valuable essays on this understudied but worthy subject.

Oram and Nicholson both contribute excellent and introductory pieces that provide an historical overview and curatorial considerations (Oram) and information on the process of cataloging writer's private libraries (Nicholson), replete with jargon that for many will be like a foreign language. Both, however, are easy to read and expert, and complement the other pieces contributed by booksellers, academics, librarians, and writers. A library and/or archive can house myriad items. For the purposes of this book, Oram states that a writer's library is "a set of books or other printed works owed by the author at a particular moment in time" (1-2).

The use of books in a writer's library is expertly illustrated in Amanda Golden's chapter "Anne Sexton's Modern Library." In fact, it made me wish the volume contained more essays in this vein. Golden's scholarship is sound and well-presented. It shows how fascinating working with these books can be, and how illuminating it is to see the annotations and untraditional conversations Sexton had with author's and to consider their influence on her creative writing. Golden shows Sexton's reading reflects "a broader range of texts than critics may have previously assumed she had encountered" (66) and in consuming this chapter, I grew more eager for her forthcoming tome Annotating Modernism: Marginalia and Pedagogy from Virginia Woolf to the Confessional Poets to be published next year by Ashgate. It is bound to be a cornerstone work in this field.

The next essay, by the Curator and Rare Books Librarian at Emory University David Faulds, "A Poet's Library Times Two: The Library of Ted Hughes at Emory University" was a letdown in some ways. It is a fascinating topic, but the absence of a bibliography and very weak notes were a curious and disappointing oversight. As well, there was a fairly heinous error made in discussing books Plath's received for Christmas in 1954 on pages 79-80. In discussing the importance of a book Aurelia Plath gave to her daughter in Christmas 1954, Grimm's Fairy Tales in German, Faulds writes "In August 1954 Plath had attempted suicide by taking a large overdose of sleeping pills and in October was moved from Massachusetts General Hospital to McLean Hospital … This is where she was residing when her mother gave her this book as a Christmas present" (80). Faulds, who works at Emory and should have access to the correct information, gets the year Plath attempted suicide wrong. It was in August 1953. Aurelia Plath did give SP the book in Christmas 1954, which of course makes sense as in the summer of 1954 for this was after her daughter took German in Harvard Summer School and was enrolled in an Intermediate German course at Smith (as well as auditing a second German course) in the Fall of 1954. The gift of a German edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales makes much more sense contextually than to be so careless as to give her daughter a book in the midst of her recovery when, as part of the symptoms of her breakdown, it is reported that she lost some of her reading and writing capabilities.

Even if you have never worked with a writer's library, this book will resonate and take hold of you. It makes you want to seek out and find where the books that belonged to your favorite (dead) writer are now held. Or, if you are on the fence about it, consider what Oram writers in the first chapter: "the sense of direct, even mystical, communion with a deceased creative individual through an item which once belonged to him or her" (13). This is exactly what it is like, in my experience, when I have worked with the books and other archival materials formerly belonging to Sylvia Plath.

Collecting, Curating, and Researching Writers' Libraries: A Handbook includes a series of interviews with living writers with large libraries. About half the book is dedicated to a list of writers and the locations which hold their books. It is an indispensable resource guide to writers throughout many centuries.

Overall, Collecting, Curating, and Researching Writers' Libraries: A Handbook, edited by Richard W. Oram and Joseph Nicholson, marks a significant publication on a largely ignored but hugely important aspect to archives and special collections. So often the focus of an archive is on the manuscripts, photographs, and other evidences of life. This may be right, but while we take much from written correspondence, it is sometimes the case that a person's library contains hidden conversations with a published author. There is value in this line of study, as this book makes unequivocally clear.

All links accessed 1 July 2014.

16 June 2014

A Ted Hughes Study Week (with Sylvia Plath relevance)

I received the following information from Terry Gifford of Bath Spa University:

At AlmĂ ssera Vella:




'A Ted Hughes Study Week' 

a residential poetry course with Professor Terry Gifford with Lorraine Kerslake
4-11 October 2014

"Spain
Where I felt at home. The blood-raw light,
The oiled anchovy faces, the African
Black edges to everything"

FIVE OF THE POEMS in Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes last collection, were based on his experience of Benidorm whilst on honeymoon there in 1956. During this week we will be visiting the house which he and Sylvia Plath shared in 1956 and the quay at Alicante where he described his new wife as:

"… in moonlight,
Walking the empty wharf at Alicante
Like a soul waiting for the ferry,"

IN THIS RESIDENTIAL STUDY WEEK we will be, discussing aspects of Ted Hughes work including his poetry, prose essays and letters, and his work for children (much of How the Whale Became was written in Benidorm). The course is designed to suit interested readers of Hughes, postgraduate students, teachers and poets at all levels.

TERRY GIFFORD is the author of Ted Hughes (2009), Reconnecting With John Muir: Essays in Post-Pastoral Practice (2006), Pastoral (1999) and Green Voices: Understanding Contemporary Nature Poetry (1995; 2nd edn. 2011), together with six chapters in books on Ted Hughes. He recently edited The Cambridge Companion to Ted Hughes (2011). His seventh collection of poems (with Christopher North) is Al Otro Lado del Aguilar (Oversteps Books, 2011). Terry Gifford is Visiting Scholar at Bath Spa University's Centre for Writing and Environment, UK, and Senior Research Fellow and Profesor Honorifico at the University of Alicante, Spain.

LORRAINE KERSLAKE holds a BA in English and French studies and an MA in Translation and Interpreting from Alicante University, Spain, where she teaches English Language and Literature. She has worked as a translator of literary criticism, poetry and art and published articles and reviews on children's literature and ecocriticism. Her current research interests include children’s literature, the representation of animals and nature in literature and art, ecocriticism and ecofeminism.

ALMASSERA VELLA is Relleu's original olive press opened in 2002 by Christopher and Marisa North as a Literature and Arts Centre. Comfortable bedrooms, private bathrooms, day-room, loggia, 3000 book library, Free wi/fi, a refectory and a meeting place with log fire. Extensive rear terrace, pool and almond orchard and nearby olive and citrus groves. Relleu is an ancient mountain village with modern pharmacy, general store and bars. Alicante airport is 50 minutes away.

Cost of the week ₤750 all inclusive (7 nights) save Flight/travel and insurance.

FURTHER DETAILS APPLY: Christopher and Marisa North (email | web)

08 June 2014

Sylvia Plath: Covering the Crisis

This is a second post on recently found articles authored by (or in some instances possibly/probably authored by) Sylvia Plath. The first article was posted on 20 May 2014. This post presents two new, additional newly found articles authored by Sylvia Plath.

On 4 and 5 February 1952, Sylvia Plath attended two lectures on the campus of Smith College for Press Board. The lectures were conducted American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who was at the time professor of Christian ethics at Yale University. She wrote about covering the lecture in letters to her mother dated on 4 February and 6 February. The 6 February letter was included in Letters Home (page 83), but was printed—like many—under the postmark date of 7 February.

Plath's calendar for 1952, held by Lilly Library, confirms that she attended the lecture, held in the Browsing Room of the Neilson Library, at 8:00 pm on 4 February; and that she had an "early writeup" due to the Springfield Union by 11 pm. A note on the 5th indicates that the Niebuhr article was due at 8:30. (I think this would be 8:30 am).

In a bit edited out of the 6 February 1952 letter, Plath writes that she felt professional having to call in the news story to the newspaper "last night" (i.e. the 5th). So, while some of these dates and times are hard to match up or really make sense of, what we know is that Plath attended the lectures for Press Board, wrote up article(s) on them, and telephoned the article at least one of them in to the Springfield Union. But, did the article(s) run?

If you look for anything dated 5 or 6 February 1952 in Stephen Tabor's Sylvia Plath: An Analytical Bibliography you will not find anything. However, if you look at the microfilm for the Springfield Union, you will. This post, therefore, presents two new additional newly found articles authored by Sylvia Plath (see this post on another recently located article by Plath).

"Universal Faith Has the Answer, Dr. Niebuhr Says" ran in the Springfield Union on 5 February 1952, on page 21. The article is unattributed, but there should be confidence based on Plath's letters and calendar that she did in fact author this piece. The article is a review of Niebuhr's lecture "The Cultural Crisis" which opened the Religious Association forum at Smith College on the theme of "The shaping of the foundation".

"'Crisis' Is Topic of Dr. Niebuhr In Northampton" ran in the Springfield Union on 6 February 1952, on page 21. This article is a review of Niebuhr's second lecture, "The Personal Crisis", and this is the one that Plath telephoned in late on the 5th.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that there must exist some doubt in Plath's authorship because a) she does not get a byline and b) there does not to my knowledge exist any documentary evidence of an article (typescript) authored by her. However, we do have her letters and her calendar to lend some support in favor of the claim of Plath authoring these articles.

When we think of Sylvia Plath, we think first of her poetry and novel The Bell Jar, as well as her short stories, her letters, and journals. The "journalistic" Plath might be the lesser known of all her writerly selves, but it is no less important. She dedicated two full academic years to this kind of writing, and published full-length articles, often illustrated, for the Christian Science Monitor off and on in college, but then also periodically between 1956 and 1959. There are varying degrees in these writing, some are impersonal, such as her write-ups for press board, which merely recap the event(s) covered. On the contrary, the articles that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, and even is Isis and Punch are closer to her creative writing in that there is something "personal" about them, something to do with an experience, her experience.

All links accessed on 30 May 2014.

01 June 2014

10 Year Anniversary of Sylvia Plath (Great Writers)

This is not naturally something I would expect anyone to know, remember, or commemorate, but ten years ago this month my biography of Sylvia Plath (Chelsea House Publishers, Great Writers series) was published. (Amazon's page claims that it was published in April, but copies were not available until June. It also has a capsule review, still, for the wrong book. #OhWell.) To those who have read it: Thank you! To those who have not, it is available in both hardback and Kindle editions, and also available in many libraries around the world, and through some used book shops.

Sylvia Plath formed one sixth of an original series that also includes biographies of Barbara Kingsolver by Linda Wagner-Martin, Kurt Vonnegut by John Tomedi, J.R.R. Tolkien by Neil Heims, Charles Bukowski by Michael Gray Baughan, and Jack Kerouac by Jenn McKee. The series expanded the following year to include books on five gay and lesbian writers: Adrienne Rich by Amy Sickels, Allen Ginsberg by Neil Heims, James Baldwin by Randall Kenan and Amy Sickels, Oscar Wilde by Jeff Nunokawa and Amy Sickels, Walt Whitman by Arnie Kantrowitz, and Sappho by Jane McIntosh Snyder and Camille-Yvette Welsch. I have not yet read the other books in the series, but as I think about this, maybe I should. Has anyone out there read any of the others?

At the time it was published, it was the first new biography of Plath to appear since 1991, when Paul Alexander's Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath and Ronald Hayman's The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath were published. The book was written for a specific audience in mind: junior high and high school aged children and college students, to serve as an introductory text that might inspire its readers to both become interested in Plath's writings and life, and lead them to potentially investigate full-length biographies as well as works of criticism. Notwithstanding, it presented snippets of new information never previously known or mentioned in other biographies.

One of the aims of my book was to present a bias-free version of Plath's life for that younger audience. I think I largely succeeded in doing this, keeping it straightforward, hopefully easy to read, interesting and informative. I had intended the book to include illustrative photographs and sidebars, written to the guidelines stipulated in the contract. Neither of these added-value materials were used, sadly. I posted the unused sidebars on this blog in 2007, and hope that they can be read in conjunction with the text, to highlight certain things in the work, or on occasion to at least discuss topics intentionally not expounded upon in the text.

Overall I am still thrilled to have had the opportunity to write the book. It gave me a chance to share some of the information I had acquired on Plath to that point. How I wish I could revise it with some of the things I have learned since! And, too, how I wish I had more than 10 weeks in which to write it!

All links accessed 16 May 2014.
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Interviews