15 April 2014

Dating Sylvia Plath's Journals

On pages 56-57 of the Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (2000), there is an undated entry. Right now reading it, one can only roughly date it to late March/early April 1951. Plath unfortunately (and frustratingly) did not date many of her early journal entries as freshman at Smith College. In this particular entry, Plath has taken "Notes on an experimental film" which was, as Karen V. Kukil points out in her extensive notes to the edition, Un Chien Andalou directed by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí

Un Chien Andalou (1929) (Vimeo, YouTube) is a sixteen minute silent surrealist short film produced in France by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí.

That semester in the spring of 1951, Plath was taking Art 13. The prior entry to her "Notes on an experimental film" can be dated to late March; and the subsequent entry is her poem "April 18" (untitled in the journal, but it appears under that title in her Collected Poems). Hard to know when Plath saw the film, but, her notes are interesting in light of the fact that we can now readily watch the film for ourselves through mediums like YouTube and Vimeo* and consider it through the perspective of the notes she took.

Sometimes looking into trying to date Plath's undated journal entries and letters leads to frustrations and false starts. Initially, I thought that perhaps her calendar for this year, held at the Lilly Library, might reveal something. In that calendar, which I reviewed in October 2012 while at IU for the Plath Symposium, Plath has marked that on 22 March she was going to the movies with someone called Tony Stout. Plath would have been back in Wellesley at this time, as her Spring Recess that year was from 21 March to 5 April. However, after searching the Boston and Wellesley newspapers, it was determined that Un Chien Andalou was not listed as a film playing at any of the local cinemas that day. The closest possibility was a South Station cinema which was playing "Shorts." But, there was no identification of what was included in these, though mentioned were cartoons and news stories. So, it seems unlikely. Plath spent some time during the Spring Recess in New Jersey and New York. Is it possible she saw it there? Or, is it possible that film was something she had seen in a class either before or after Spring Recess?

I wonder if this film was perhaps a requirement listed on the course syllabus? But it might also be that her interest in film and the visual arts lead her to see the films as an extracurricular activity. In a letter held by the Lilly Library, which was not part of Letters Home, Plath writes that she saw a "shock film" by Dalí and that seeing it was an act of free will. The letter is dated "Tuesday night" and was postmarked 11 April. 11 April that year was a Wednesday, making the date her letter was written 10 April 1951.

The Smith College Archivist, Nanci Young, provided some information about her Art 13 course. Art 13 "Basic Design" was taught by Mervin Jules (info; obituary). The course description was: "The visual properties of color, light, volume, space, shape, line, texture through study of simple problems dealing with the nature of these elements, the use of materials and their creative application. For Freshmen, Sophomores, and Junior transfer students. M 9; eight studio hours of which four must be T W 2-4, Th F 10-12 noon, 2-4."

Karen Kukil checked the Smith College Bulletin, looking at the calendar for the Week Beginning 8 April 1951. And sure enough, shown on Monday, 9 April 1951 were "Three experimental films presented by Studio Club." The three experimental films were: "Ballet Mécanique, Cinema Anémique, Le Chien Andalou (scenario by Salvador Dali)." They were shown in on campus at Graham Hall at 7:15 P.M.

Ballet Mécanique is a 1924 art film by Fernand Légerdates in 1924.

Cinema Anémique (actually Anémique Cinema) is a 1926 film by Marcel Duchamp.

So, though the pieces are scattered between different archives in different states it is possible with a little work and querying to fill in some gaps. Anyway, part of the the point of this blog post is that we now know that Plath's journal entry 64 was made on 9 April 1951.

*All links accessed 1 March 2012, 7 May 2013, 6 June 2013, and 9 April 2014. I have been working on this post off and on for quite some time --since March 2012-- and in that time, several online versions of the film have gone up and been removed … So please keep that in mind if you are greeted with bad links in this post.

P.S.: If you are interested in Un Chien Andalou, you may also be interested in another Buñuel/Dalí film, L'Age d'Or (1930) (YouTube) ,which Plath saw while on Fulbright to Cambridge on Wednesday 1 February 1956 through her membership with the Cambridge Film Society.

07 April 2014

Sylvia Plath's Passport: Part Three

This is the third post on Plath's passport. Read the first one here and the second posting here.

Sylvia Plath received a new passport issued by the Department of State Passport Agency in Boston in 1959. The date of issue was 8 September 1959. This passport is held by Emory University in the subseries of Plath papers in the larger Hughes papers (collection number 644). Plath's occupation on the document is "Writer".

There are far fewer stamps in this passport than in her first one, which I posted about on 22 March 2014.

14 December 1959: Arrival stamp: Southampton, England
28 June 1961: Departure stamp: Dover, England
28 June 1961: Arrival stamp: Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
14 July 1961: Departure stamp: Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
14 July 1961: Arrival stamp: Dover

That's it! No stamps for either her July 1962 trip to Wales or her September 1962 trip to Ireland. Domestic responsibilities including the care of her baby/babies precluded other trips, such as their intention to spend three months abroad on the Maugham Award that Ted Hughes won. In fact, the 17-day trip to France was largely made possible as Plath's mother was in England at the time, taking care of their 15-month-old daughter Frieda.

Plath renewed her passport on 11 October 1961 at the Consulate of the United States in Southampton, England. This was done just over a month after she and Hughes moved from London to North Tawton; in-between writing "Finisterre" and "The Surgeon at 2 a.m." on 29 September and "Last Words" on 21 October. The renewal was good for four years.

The journey from North Tawton to Southampton, by car, according to Google Maps is roughly 3 hours and back in 1961, it might have taken a good while longer. No matter though it would have been a full days' effort to get there and back. Plath wrote letters to her month on 6 October and 13 October, but made no mention of this excursion in either. It is possible that she mailed her passport, too, rather than driving to have it renewed.

The last dated stamp in the passport is 1 March 1963 when Sylvia Plath's passport was canceled/annulled at the American Embassy in London following her death. Someone at the consulate wrote "HOLDER DIED IN LONDON ENGLAND FEB. 11. 1963."

All links accessed 16 February 2013 (!), 18 March and 2 April 2014.

01 April 2014

Sylvia Plath: American Muse

The Estate of Sylvia Plath, HarperCollins, and Hormel Foods, the makers of SPAM, have joined together for National Poetry Month and released a special, limited edition SPAM with lines from Plath's poetry branded on the product. A special chemical added to the product will commit that poem to the memory of the consumer in five languages: English, French, German, American, and XML.



The precooked meat has also been re-packaged with SPAM serving as an acronym for Sylvia Plath American Muse. These can be found in grocery and convenience stores across the United States.

While this may seem random, but Plath was familiar with SPAM. Plath wrote a letter to her mother on 15 August 1952 about a lunch that her then kind-of-still boyfriend Richard Norton made for her down in Cape Cod. She writes that he was adorable and was very insistent that he made a lunch salad which consisted of cantaloupe, melon, cheese and spam. She described it as artistic. The letter is unpublished.

The other reason, is to commemorate a significant anniversary: It is exactly the 32 years, 4 months, and 5 days anniversary of the publication of Plath's Collected Poems, which was first published in the US in November 1981 by Harper & Row.


Beginning today, also, bookstores around the country will be selling, special limited edition Collected Poems printed on compressed, treated, and thinly sliced SPAM. The type is a mixture of pepper and black sesame seeds. Comparable to "onion-skin", SPAM-skin is cheap and lightweight; it is also biodegradable and eco-friendly paper. The book weighs approximately .5 ounces, will ship anywhere in the world reasonably, and can be eaten should you be too hungry.

23 March 2014

Sylvia Plath's Passport, Part Two

A while back (13 December 2009), I did a post that involved looking at statements or assertions made in Paul Alexander's biography of Sylvia Plath Rough Magic regarding a supposed abortion had by Plath circa September 1955. Since then I have looked some more at Plath's passports, trying to figure out her travel routes and the cities through which she passed - even if only fleetingly in the carriage of train. I started this post in February 2012 and feel like it is time to post it!

There are two passports of Plath's. The first she used from 1955 through 1957 is now held by Indiana University; the second was in use from 1959 until 1963 (though the last stamp is from 1961 -- when Plath visited Wales and Ireland in 1962 she did not receive stamps). The second passport is now held by Emory University.

As such, I have broken this post up into two parts: the first part (which is part two if you consider the post from 2009 to be part one) will examine Plath's first passport (1955-1957); and the third part, which I will post in April, will look at the second passport. The first passport in particular was difficult to figure out as Plath was quite active once she got to Europe on her Fulbright. Several items below are questionable and I have tried to both list when I am a unsure and also tried to determine a most likely solution.

1955
20 September: Arrival stamp at Southampton, England
5 October: Registration stamp at Cambridge, England
20 December: Departure stamp at Folkestone, England
20(?) December: Arrival stamp Boulogne(?) [France] (stamp smudged, poorly inked)

1956
5 January: 3 stamps: Arrival and departure stamp from France to Italy at Pont Saint-Louis (http://www.oldstratforduponavon.com/images/mentonfrontiere.jpg) and;
Arrival stamp in Italy; the location is unknown as the stamp was poorly inked. Plath was on the way to Ventemiglia
9 January: Departure stamp at Dieppe, France
9 January: Arrival stamp at Newhaven, England
24 March: Departure stamp at Dover, England
24 March: Arrival stamp at Calais, France and then Paris
24 March - 6 April Paris, France (See Plath's Journals, Appendix 7 (pages 552-568) for information about her time in Paris.
6 April: Arrival stamp at Kehl Bahnhof, Germany (11 months later, Plath wrote in her journal on 4 March 1957, "I am angry now because, except for snow, I forget what the trip from France to Munich was like" (273).
7 April: Arrival stamp at Kufstein Bahnhof, Austria
7 April: Arrival stamp at Brennaro Ferrovia, Italy on her way to Venice with Gordon Lameyer
9 April: Travel from Venice to Rome
13 April: Departure stamp at Rome, Italy
13 April: Arrival stamp at London Airport
22 June: Departure stamp at London Airport
22 June: Arrival stamp at Le Bourget airport, France
6 July: Departure stamp at Hendaye, France
6 July: Arrival stamp at (?), Spain (Irun, Spain is the most likely entry point given it is just across the border from Hendaye, France).
22 August: Departure stamp at Barcelona, Spain
22 August: Arrival stamp at Cerbere, France
29 August: Departure stamp at Dieppe, France
29 August: Arrival stamp at Newhaven, England
29 October: Registration stamp at Cambridge, England

1957
20 June: Departure stamp at Southampton, England

In this passport, issued on 29 June 1955 at Washington, D.C., there are five "Permitted to land stamps" done by British Immigration. Four of them give Plath permission to be in the country until 20 September 1956 and one until 20 September 1957. The last one, which changes the language from "permitted to land" to "grant of leave to land" appears to have been dated by the Immigration officer as 10 October 1956.

Plath left Paris and traveled to Munich, entering Germany by train at Kehl, just east of Strasbourg. The date stamp on the passport is quite difficult to determine as the stamp did not hit the page evenly, or possibly it was not evenly inked. Plath planned to be in Paris through Easter, which in 1956 fell on 1 April. In Rough Magic, Paul Alexander states that Lameyer arrived in Paris on 4 April and that he and Plath left Paris on 6 April. They stayed just the one night in Munich.

From Munich, it appears Plath traveled through Kufstein, Austria. She has a stamp in her passport for 7 April 1956. She has another stamp on her passport for that date from Brennero, on the Italian/Austrian border. The "B" in Brennero is on the fold-line between two pages, so it is missing, but a look at a map confirms that Brennero is likely where she crossed countries. So, Plath and Lameyer traveled from Munich to Kufstein through Innsbruck to Brennero to Venice. Between 7 and 13 April she was in Italy in Venice and then Rome, she left Rome on 13 April, her father's birthday.

The Lameyer photograph collection at the Lilly Library has some amazing images of Plath from this time in Venice, on a gondola, etc. Some of these have recently been published in Andrew Wilson's book Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted.

All links accessed 25 February 2012 (!!) and 18 March 2014.

15 March 2014

Sightseeing Sylvia Plath's England

Over four days in February, from the 8th to the 11th, I conducted a tour to three Americans of Sylvia Plath sites in England. While I have given dozens of tours of Massachusetts Plath-sites to people from the US, Canada, England, Wales, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, and France, this was a first. It was an opportunity that seemed too good to be true: an expenses paid trip to England! To make a long story short, I thought about it for a few days after it was offered and decided I had to do it. As I have no idea if this could turn into something I might more regularly do (please inquire if you are interested for terms), many of the details below will remain vague.

The group consisted of Jeff, Suzanne, and Diane, and featured two guest appearances by Gail Crowther. I was put at ease by Jeff's comment that I had "already forgotten more about Sylvia Plath than they will ever know". While that might not necessarily be true, the chance to bring people to Plath sites and present them in a way that was meaningful to me made this the opportunity of a lifetime. I have long found that by seeing the places where Plath lived and about which she wrote has a profound and deep impact on my understanding her of life, journals and letters, and creative works. Throughout the tour we were able to read selected Plath poems which were about a specific place. Overall the aim was to bring Plath's England to life through the words she wrote in poetry, prose, letters, and her journals. Was it successful? They did not ask for a refund so I hope so!

Rainbow over London
On Saturday the 8th we "did" Plath's London. Now, London is massive and Plath's travelings around it from 1955-1957 and 1959-1963 was rather far reaching, so I spent several months reading primary sources, her creative works, and biographies to come up with a nice, tight and cohesive walking tour.

The first day of the tour lasted from about 11:30 to 5:30 and included lunch and a pint at The Lamb, a pub near 18 Rubgy Street, and a pint at the French House (formerly the York Minster Pub) on Dean Street, where we were able to both drink to The Colossus and escape a downpour of rain. During that downpour, my wife captured the rainbow above, spanning London and the River Thames.

Gail, the tour guide, Diane &
Suzanne outside of The Lamb
photograph by Jeff
Gail joined us for the first hour or so of the tour, which was wonderful as she and I were able to field questions together. Two minds are better than one, especially when one of those minds is as limited as mine. Of course we saw the "big" sites like 18 Rugby Street, the Church of St. George the Martyr (whose doors were open so we went in and then were promptly, politely, kicked out), 3 Chalcot Square, Primrose Hill, and 23 Fitzroy Road). But we saw oh so much more of Plath's London in and around Bloomsbury, Soho, Marylebone and Regent's Park.

Jeff and Gail inside St. George-the-Martyr
Queen Square, London
photograph by Peter K Steinberg
Enjoying drinks at the French House,
forrmerly the York Minster Pub, Dean Street
photograph by Jeff
23 Fitzroy Road, London
photograph by Peter K Steinberg

On Sunday the 9th, we took a taxi to Heathrow and picked up a rental car (driving in Central London was not an appealing option, even on a quiet, winter's Sunday morning). We drove from there to North Tawton through some of the most horrendous weather, particularly near Bristol. The bright side to this was the number of rainbows we saw as the sun and precipitation were in constant battle. However, by the time we approached the A30 at Exeter, the skies were bright and the sun out.

The tour guide, aka Baldilocks,
eating a glove outside Nancy Axworthy's
house Fore Street, North Tawton
photograph by Jeff
Upon arriving in North Tawton, we went and had lunch at the White Hart on Fore Street, who whilst only serving Sunday roast accommodated my vegetarianism and presented me a colossal plate of delicious chips. The White Hart was a pub Plath would have known, especially as she likely knew the people that ran it. In her story "Mothers", the main character Esther attends the mothers union meeting with "Mrs. Nolan, the wife of the pub-keeper at the White Hart" (Johnny Panic 2008, 11). After lunch, the weather got bad for a few minutes before turning fair again, we went down to the River Taw and then back up into the town centre to see the church, Court Green, and a lot more.

Plath vividly captures the people she inhabited North Tawton with in her journals and it is like stepping back in time in some ways, having Plath's words, knowing where she went, and seeing that much is unchanged. In a letter to her brother, Plath described their life in the early days at Court Green as "primitive", and throughout the spring she discusses the weeding and planting that she and Hughes were doing. The property now is so lovely, and while she had only such a short amount of time there, I like to think she paved the way for its current appearance. We stayed the night at the ancient Oxenham Arms in nearby South Zeal in Dartmoor, which is a very fine inn with comfortable rooms, excellent food, drink and staff, and in a stunning Devon setting.

Jeff, Suzanne, and Diane in Devon
photograph by Peter K Steinberg
Headstones underneath the Yew Tree
photograph by Peter K Steinberg

The Yew Tree with the moon rising
(look just above the power lines)
photograph by Peter K Steinberg
Perhaps the most wonderful things happened in North Tawton. While I was disappointed the church was locked up (I have heard a rumor that "inside the saints will all be blue"), when we were leaving the churchyard through the Lych Gate, we happened to look toward Court Green and saw that the moon had risen and was quite visible above the Yew tree. I thought of Plath's "The eyes lift after it and find the moon." Of course the context of us standing on Market Street looking east was all wrong. Plath's study windows look west towards the Yew tree and south towards Dartmoor (she could probably see the elm trees in the southeasterly), so in the poem she sees the moon setting, rather than rising as it was when we saw it; but it was still terrific to see the moon and the yew tree together. There was also a rainbow over Court Green during the afternoon, too, but none of us were able to get cameras out to capture it.

Jeff in South Zeal, before driving to Heptonstall
photograph by Peter K Steinberg
Monday the 10th, we left South Devon after a filling breakfast and drove to Heptonstall in Yorkshire, though first we stopped at our lodgings in Hebden Bridge to drop our bags and collect Gail Crowther. The dichotomy of scenery between Devon and Yorkshire is sharp; an ocular culture shock. The weather was again fine and sunny, so we went up to Heptonstall immediately as the forecast for the 11th was less friendly. The group was completely flexible to my whims and decisions based on things we could not control such as the weather, traffic, and the like. It was a good thing we went up when we did as the forecast held true.

We walked through the old church of St. Thomas à Becket, saw Plath's grave and stayed there for a while, and then passed through the village to see The Beacon, and then retired to the Cross Inn for pints and to soak up the heat from their warm fire.
Diane, Gail, the tour guide, and Suzanne
at the foot of Sylvia Plath's grave
photograph by Jeff
Jeff, Gail, Diane and Suzanne
in the ruins of Heptonstall's old church
photograph by Peter K Steinberg
Gail in Heptonstall
photograph by Jeff

Sylvia Plath's grave
11 February 2014
photograph by Peter K Steinberg
On Tuesday the 11th of February the weather was pretty foul. We went up to the grave in the cold, miserable rain to pay our respects. Afterwards, we drove to Haworth, a town which Plath visited a few times on visit to the area. The moor top drive was quite dramatic, as we rose and rose in elevation the temperature collapsed and rain turned to snow, which made for stunning scenery. The Brontë Parsonage and gift shop were both close for renovations, which was poor timing -- on their part! However, we were able to walk around the St. Michael & All Angels Church and visited several local shops. We read Plath's "November Graveyard" as this was the churchyard she writes about in that poem (early typescripts called the poem "November Graveyard, Haworth"). After this, we drove Gail back to Hebden Bridge, had lunch, and then began the long drive back to return the rental car. A fantastic dinner that night at Manna on Erskine Road in Primrose Hill concluded a successful tour.

Gail and the tour guide in the rain
photograph by Jeff
The cemetery that inspired Plath's poem
"November Graveyard" in Haworth
photograph by Peter K Steinberg

St. Michael & All Angels Church, Haworth
photo by Peter K Steinberg
This was an aggressive tour and sadly did not include Cambridge, which may be the only other place with a really deep Plathian connection other than satellite places she visited for an afternoon or a day such as Oxford, Stonehenge, Hartland, Cheltenham, Whitby, and Bangor, Wales, among others.

All photographs are copyrighted by the photographer and may not be used without their permission.

08 March 2014

How Rare is Sylvia Plath's The Colossus (1960)?

A couple of years ago, I learned and reported that the first edition print run for a Victoria Lucas Bell Jar (Heinemann, 1963, pictured right) was 2,000. This is an interesting number to know because it helps us recognize the scarcity of Plath's novel. The number was described in Stephen Tabor's incomparable Sylvia Plath: An Annotated Bibliography as a "token quantity".

Recently I learned from a bookseller in England, Giles Bird O.B.E. of BAS Ltd. in London, that the first printing of Plath's 1960 volume of poetry The Colossus was a number far less than that of The Bell Jar. (He in turn, it should be said, was provided with the figure by the amazing Jean Rose, an archivist at Random House Group UK which holds Heinemann's archives.) Anyone want to take a guess as to the number?

My first reaction was shock. However, shock might have been a premature evaluation. After all, Heinemann was not normally a publisher of poetry. And in light of the fact that they were more known for their fiction -- Heinemann were publishers, according to Plath, of "Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, DH Lawrence, Erskine Caldwell" (letter to Aurelia and Warren Plath, 11 February 1960) -- perhaps the qualification for the size of the print of The Bell Jar as a "token quantity" of 2,000 is not too low after all? That is, perhaps it was a "token quantity" compared to the normal print runs of those well-known novelists. Regarding Plath's assertion that Waugh was a Heinemann author, Bird wrote me that "Sylvia got it wrong about Evelyn Waugh having Heinemann as his publisher. He didn't. His UK publisher was pretty consistently Chapman & Hall. Heinemann only brought out a few Waugh reprints in the late 70s - which Sylvia never saw. However, in addition to the other great writers she listed, Heinemann were Graham Greene's publisher from 1929 up until 1961."

Oh, I still have not mentioned how many copies were in the first print run of The Colossus, have I? Frankly, I cannot get over it. Plath was disappointed that her book, which although it had almost all of the poems in it published individually, won no prizes and was hardly promoted in England. Just after publication in October 1960, Plath wrote resignedly to her mother and brother, on 19 November 1960 to be exact, that perhaps The Colossus would make "a nice gift book". Indeed. Anyone lucky enough to own the book now is quite lucky!

Still waiting for the number of Colossi? Read on, please. Because I love Plath's books and enjoy seeing them, reading them, drooling over excellent quality first and limited editions at book fairs and in rare book libraries, it seems appropriate to list five current titles for sale from BAS Ltd., which all seem accurately described, affordably & competitively priced, and in fine condition.

***Please note the images provided in each description are from Giles Bird of BAS Ltd. There are more from where these came! Each book is available as of today's date, please contact BAS Ltd. for availability and information.***
1. Ariel, Faber, 1965:

London; Faber; octavo; first impression of first edition of author's celebrated and influential second collection of poetry, published posthumously, collated and edited by Ted Hughes, in a small printing of 3100 copies preceding the American edition by a year.

Very crisp and clean in original pink-red cloth boards, with gilt lettering bright to spine; unfaded and unworn appearance, binding very tight and square, with corners and edges sharp, unrubbed; gentle bump to foot of spine; internally also very fresh and unmarked with no inscriptions, no signs of previous usage or flaws to the paper; slightest of shadowing from inflaps to endpapers. Dustwrapper is very good and not price-clipped; it has light edgewear and handling marks, and very minor losses to extremes. Very good indeed. £440
2. Crossing the Water, Faber, 1971:

London; Faber; octavo; first impression of this first edition of a newly issued collection of poetry; very crisp in original blue cloth boards, with gilt lettering to spine, which is lightly spotted; tight and square, with corners sharp and unrubbed, and edges not bumped; a tiny flaw to cloth on rear cover; internally completely unmarked with no signs of usage or any faults to the paper; the unclipped dustwrapper is bright and in excellent condition; complete and undamaged with no handling signs to inflaps, no fraying to extremes or folds; only very minor vertical shelf-wear marks towards spine on rear white panel. Very good indeed. £80
3. The Bell Jar, Faber, 1966:

London; Faber; octavo; first printing – only 3000 copies in the run – of the first Faber sub-edition (the first with the author explicitly identified in titles) of Sylvia Plath's only novel.

Very crisp in original black cloth boards, with gilt lettering to spine; very tight and square, with corners sharp and unrubbed, and edges not bumped or shelf-worn at all; a remarkably fresh copy, totally denying nearly a half-century of age; internally completely unmarked with no signs of usage – apparently untouched; the unclipped dustwrapper is bright and totally unfaded; undamaged with absolutely no handling marks to white of panels or inflaps; only the tiniest of wear at the foot of spine at the rear fold. The black vortex design has never looked stronger than this. Fine. £390
4. Winter Trees, Faber, 1971:

London; Faber; octavo; first impression of first edition (5000 copies) of a newly issued collection of poetry which was Poetry Book Society's Choice for 1971. Very firm and fresh in original blue cloth boards, with silver lettering to spine; very tight and square, with corners sharp and unrubbed; edges not bumped, and only tiniest of wear evident at one edge at side of foot of spine; internally completely unmarked with no signs of usage or deterioration of paper quality; the unclipped dustwrapper is bright in its rich blue and white, complete and undamaged with no handling marks on rear white panel or either inflap. Fine. £90
5. The Colossus, Heinemann, 1960:

London; Heinemann; octavo; a first impression of the very scarce first edition of Sylvia Plath's first published collection of poetry: the only book published under her name in her lifetime, and then at the age of just 28. Published on 31st October 1960 [at 15/-] in an edition of ONLY 500 COPIES. (viz. Heinemann Archive/Random House Librarian's confirmation).

In Letters Home [26 October 1960], Sylvia Plath confided to her mother how excited she was with Heinemann's production of her poems:

"I am touched that my publisher got them out in my birthday week after I told him how superstitious I was. I hope the two printing errors towards the end don't upset you as much as they did me! I've marked the corrections in your books and am appalled that after several proofreadings I was guilty of letting them get through, but Ted has reassured me about them and you do, too. I am delighted with the color of the cover – the rich, green oblong, white jacket and black-and-white lettering – and the way the green cover inside matches with the gold letters. It is a nice fat book which takes up ¾ inch on the shelf, and I think they did a handsome job of it…"

This copy has clear provenance, and was purchased in March 1963 (the month after Sylvia Plath's untimely death at the age of 30) by Giles Gordon, whose dated ownership name is found on the ffep., and neat bookplate is set on the front pastedown. (Giles Gordon was an innovative and very influential literary agent who represented Peter Ackroyd and John Fowles among many others.)

In original green cloth boards with gilt lettering bright to spine; no noticeable wear, nor rubbing nor bumping of corners; square and tight; internally very fresh and firm; absolutely no handling marks or paper deterioration. An excellent copy in a very good dustwrapper, lightly nicked at head of spine and upper inflap fold, slightly sunned to spine and folds, as one might well expect for a frail, white and scarce wrapper - but still remarkably well preserved, and with no restoration. Now housed in a custom-made complementary dropback box, this is a highly desirable and rare copy of the very significant and influential first published collection of poetry by Sylvia Plath. £2500


500 copies! My my my.

All links accessed on 1 March 2014.

01 March 2014

Sylvia Plath and the SS United States

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes sailed from New York City to Southampton, England on the SS United States, which called itself, rightly, the "world's fastest ship". They set sail on 9 December 1959 and arrived in Southampton, England, on 14 December after a brief stop in Le Harve, France. Plath booked their passage from the United States Lines offices then located in Copley Square at 563 Boylston Street, Boston. The location is now a beer and wine shop filled with Boston's finest drunks (pictured right).

Plath began working on arrangements before Yaddo as her 1959-issued passport (held by Emory University) is dated 8 September 1959; and by 28 October 1959 was writing to her mother to enquire about getting withdrawal slips and or checks for the remainder of their ship-fare payment settled. There is an entry for the United States Lines Boston office in her address book, which is held at Smith College, with a notation (an appointment, possibly) that suggests she went there at 12 noon on Monday 30 November 1959.

Here are a couple of advertisements for the ship that were published on 27 October 1959 (left) and 5 November 1959 (right); two very Plathian dates:


In addition to being photographed at least once while on board at a meal (below right, this image was published in Letters of Ted Hughes, 2008, as illustration 2b), Plath wrote two letters while on board. One, as you might imagine, to her mother and the other to her Aunt Dorothy Benotti's family. Both letters are dated 13 December and both held by the Lilly Library. In addition, Ted Hughes penned a letter that same day to Aurelia Plath, which is also held by the Lilly Library.

The letter to the Benotti's was a handwritten note in a Christmas card. Plath writes that they were doing much eating and sleeping and that while the seas look calm, the ship rocks and rolls all the same. They take some walks on the deck and experiences just one clear-skied night.

The letter to her mother is three pages, handwritten, and on SS United States stationery. They were at desks in alcoves set aside for writing and Plath mentioned she had just finished reading Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, which disappointed her. Their luggage was just under the allowance for cubic feet. While she left Wellesley with a cold it had passed; as most of the decks were closed they walked around when and where they could. Plath comments on their cabin, mentions it is conveniently close to the dining room but that there are a bunch of girls who drink until very early in the morning and are loud, but that they sleep after meals to parcel it out. The letter asks questions about forwarding mail and other practical matters.

The letter from Ted Hughes is four, handwritten pages and also on SS United States stationery and begins with a description of the sea and says their cabin is on the water line, so they hear it constantly. Hughes is highly critical of the service and food, calling the process for afternoon Tea "military", saying that he and Plath preferred the Queen Elizabeth which they took in June 1957. However, he compliments the ship itself as "pleasant enough", saying that their deck walks are enjoyable. There is some overlap of content with Plath's letter. Hughes offers his own opinions about Aurelia Plath's work situation which are interesting to read and gives a decent insight into the nature of their relationship. Hughes asks to be updated on Sappho, their cat, requesting the occasional stamped paw-print on letters! In closing, Hughes mentions the Danish farmers and how he and SP had their photograph taken the night before (12 December) and that they were pleased that it came out "for once", and in wishing she take good care of herself, Hughes quotes from the last line of Robert Frost's poem "Good-by and Keep Cold": "Something has to be left for God".

The night before they left, on 8 December, Aurelia Plath sent a telegram to Ted Hughes regarding his poem "Dick Straightup", saying that the "arrangement" was "magnificent". The poem appeared in the December 1959 issue of The Atlantic. Thanks to this telegram, though, we know that Plath and Hughes were in Cabin A31 (which was in the Tourist Class deck) and that the ship left from Pier 86 (map). Below is a cropped image from a 1959 Deck Plan showing the location of Plath and Hughes' cabin.


The SS United States Now
Over Christmas, I happened to be driving through Philadelphia and noticed from the highway some distinguishable funnels on the Delaware River. Whilst traveling at an undisclosed speed, I recollected a television program I had seen earlier in the year about the SS United States. The wonderful CBS Sunday Morning profiled the ship on 17 February 2013. At the time I tweeted about it.

You can get wonderfully close-ish to the ship from the street. It being Christmas Day, traffic and activity on Pier 82 on South Christopher Columbus Boulevard (an excellent satellite image) was quite quiet and I snapped these pictures…





The Ship as Archive
Since October 2013, I have highlighted many archives that hold Sylvia Plath documents. In a grand sense, the SS United States is an archive, too. The SS United States, like 26 Elmwood Road, 23 Fitzroy Road, Haven House, and many other places in which Plath lived, stayed, or visited, plays host to a living archive -- an essence of herself that Plath left indelibly in places in which she ventured. This concept of a living archive is something Gail Crowther and I introduced and explored in "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England" and in "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past". While the notion of haunting Plath (and Plath haunting us) has been mentioned in our previous papers and initially in Gail's Ph.D thesis, having an awareness of and gaining access to these historical sites opens up the experience of reading Plath into new dimensions. The ship holds traces of her past occupants.

I have made two attempts to get a tour of the ship, however, in both instances they were unfortunately cancelled. If you Google Image the ship's name you can see old and current photos of her, which is now gutted on the inside as the building materials included asbestos. Are you interested in the SS United States? Here is more information.

The SS United States Conservancy
The SS United States Conservancy has a website, and they are on Facebook and Twitter, too. Please spend some time on all three mediums. While I would welcome donations for my work in Plath(!), if you have any money to spare and have ever benefited from something I have posted on this blog or on my website for Sylvia Plath, please, please, please consider donating to this very worthy initiative. In addition to all this, from 7 March to 14 September, at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, a special exhibit "SS United States: Charting a Course for America's Flagship" will be on display.

In researching more and more about the ship, I found it has a rather large, interesting, and significant internet presence. Recently in November 2013, it was the feature of a Daily Mail article, "Don't let her rust in peace: SS United States undergoing massive renovation to save the world's fastest ocean liner from being sold for scrap". And early this year, David Gambacorta asks "Will the SS United States find new life in 2014?" on philly.com.

And, here are more links to pictures and text about the SS United States (it seems that people feel about the SS United States the way we do about Sylvia Plath):
The SS United States has also been the subject of some books. These include:
  • The Superliner United States: World's Fastest Liner (New York: Rand McNally, 1953) (WorldCat)
  • Picture History of the SS United States by William H. Miller Jr. (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2003) (WorldCat)
  • A Man and His Ship: America's Greatest Naval Architect and His Quest to Build the SS United States by Steven Ujifiusa (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012) (WorldCat).
  • SS United States: Speed Queen of the Seas by William Miller (Stroud: Amberley, 2012) (WorldCat)
  • SS United States by Andrew Britton (Stroud, The History Press, 2012) (WorldCat)
Plath wrote the poem "On Deck" -- published in The New Yorker on 22 July 1961 -- in the year after her passage on the SS United States. In a draft of "On Deck" held by the Lilly Library, Plath first wrote about the shuffleboard players before changing the the image to "bingo" players. This was done at the New Yorker's suggestion, reasoning that shuffleboard connotes a daytime activity, and that while the poem is set at night, would not people be more apt to congregate at a bingo table… An image of the shuffleboard area on the first class open promenade can be seen in this article.

All links access 2, 8, and 14 January, and 23 February 2014.

20 February 2014

Sylvia Plath Collections: University of Tulsa

Since October 2013, for American Archives Month, Sylvia Plath Info Blog has been highlighting various archives that hold Sylvia Plath archival materials. At the time twelve or so posts were planned, but that number has been far exceeded. It was certainly never imagined it would take this long to work through all the various collections, but in the process of looking, a number of additional places that hold documents were located that warranted inclusion. You can find all of them and more by searching the label "Sylvia Plath Collections". But despite finding still more additional caches of archival holdings --a man must be allow his little secrets for a rainy day -- this is the final post in the series. Knowledge of all these archival collections does benefit all of Plath's readers, and with rare exception, copies can be obtained of these materials for a small fee. Some of these places and the documents they hold discussed over the last five months I had been hoarding for potential inclusion in papers with the inimitable Gail Crowther, but decided to let it all hang out here on the blog as that series of papers for now has concluded.


You might not expect it, but the University of Tulsa has amazing Sylvia Plath materials in the Special Collections of their McFarlin Library. A search of their catalog, limiting results to Special Collections finds an impressive 64 titles. A few highlights of books/publications includes:

Pursuit (1973, one of 100 copies)
The Bell Jar (1963, Heinemann edition)
The Colossus (1960, Heinemann edition)
Sculptor (offprint, 1959)
"Dialogue en Route" (In: The Smith Review. Northampton, Mass. Exam blues issue, January 1955 p. 12-13.)

In addition to holding of number of very rare and limited editions and first editions, the Special Collections department of the University of Tulsa holds manuscripts of Plath's and a typescript as well. There are three separate collections that warrant our attention: the Stevie Smith papers; the Richard Murphy papers; and "Ocean 1212-W".

Stevie Smith
The Stevie Smith papers hold one letter from Plath written from Court Green and dated 19 November 1962. The letter was printed on page 6 of Stevie Smith's Me Again: Uncollected Writings (London: Virago, 1981 & New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982). The original letter is contained in Series I: Correspondence, Box 7, Folder 2.

In the letter, Plath writes that she had been listening to Smith's interview with Peter Orr, who gave Plath her address (this interview, along with Plath's, is included in the book Orr edited in 1966 The Poet Speaks (Routlege and Kegan). Plath admits that she is an "addict" of Smith's poetry, and for emphasis proclaims herself "a desperate Smith-addict." She says she really wants to get a hold of Smith's A Novel on Yellow Paper, writing that she just finished writing her own on pink (a reference to The Bell Jar which was largely drafts on pink Smith College Memorandum paper. Plath mentions her beekeeping and apple growing activities in Devon and that booksellers in that region are nil. She closes by saying she is hoping to relocate to London by New Year and invites Smith to tea or coffee and that she had wanted to meet her for a long time.

The Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College holds Stevie Smith's prompt 4-page, handwritten reply, written on 22 November 1962, thanking her for her letter and hoping they meet after she moves to London. The letter shows a great amount of humor and personality. Stevie Smith also writes that she hope Plath's move goes well, as well as the novel, too. I get the impression from the letter that Smith had heard of Plath, which if that is the case, must have been heart-warming to her.

Other Plath related item in this folder is a handwritten excerpt from Plath's London Magazine piece "Context". The bit noted down is where Plath talks about the poets she delights in such as Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, and, you might have guessed, Stevie Smith.

Richard Murphy
The Richard Murphy papers, which includes five letters from Plath to Murphy, and one letter from Plath to Mary Coyne. The letters to Murphy and Coyne are all dated from 1962 and were sent from Court Green. Letters to Murphy are dated 21 July, 17 August, 8 September, 21 September, and 7 October. The letter to Mary Coyne is dated 15 December, just after Plath moved to 23 Fitzroy Road, London. (Read more on Plath and Ireland in "The Irish Sojourn of Sylvia Plath" by Emily Houricane and in "'The wild beauty I found there': Plath's Connemara" by Gail Crowther.)

The letters to Richard Murphy offer a good look at Plath's reaching out to a fellow poet in the immediate aftermath of the revelation that Ted Hughes was having an affair. In her 21 July 1962 letter, Plath writes to let Murphy know that "Years Later", the epilogue to his poem "The Cleggan Disaster", had been judged the winner of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival (Plath's poem "Insomniac" was a winner the previous year). Plath also inquires about the possibility of herself and Hughes traveling to Ireland for some time on Murphy's boat, to be near the sea and away from screaming babies. Plath was looking at late August or early September (they eventually visited Murphy and Ireland from 11th September to roughly the 19th). Plath mentions her hopes of seeing Jack & Maire Sweeney in Dublin, too, impressing the point that boats and the sea were a central part of her early life.

On 17 August 1962 , Plath wrote saying she thought they could leave North Tawton on 10 September for the visit to Ireland and asking for advice on how to get to him. She added her classic Plathian humor by asking whether he had life preservers, saying that she did not want to be the subject of another of his sea-disaster poems and mentioned the sea boiling their eyes. She expressed distaste with the British seaside and caravans and wrappers floating on the tide lines (this is also how she described the coast north of Boston in Lynn in The Bell Jar).

On 8 September 1962, three days before they were to leave, Plath sent a brief letter detailing up-to-date plans: they had a nanny to mind the babies; were going to cross the Irish Sea from Holyhead to Dublin on that Tuesday night (11 September); see the Sweeney's in Dublin; travel by train to Galway on Wednesday evening; and that they were looking forward to seeing him and staying in his cottage (The Old Forge) (for more on The Old Forge, see Gail Crowther's excellent "Sylvia Plath: The Playfulness of Time").

In her 21 September 1962 letter, the tone is different. Plath thanks Murphy for hosting them, and sent him an unused Galway-to-Dublin train ticket, the intention being maybe that someone from the Cleggan area might be able to use it. She then gets down to business: she states that getting to Ireland and away from England for the winter will mean a lot to her health and hopes that he will not be averse to her wintering so close to him, encroaching, if you will, on what he considered to be his turf (poetically and otherwise). Her desire is to be alone and independent; to recover her health and sense of self; to write; to be a mother. Murphy seems to have been sensitive to Plath and Hughes thinking about writing poems about Connemara, but Plath says they were kidding and that she cannot write poems when she is writing prose -- in this instance a novel set in Devon (a tantalizing thought: this would have been the once titled "The Interminable Loaf", and later titled "Doubletake" and "Double Exposure"). Plath ultimately rescinds her offer to show Murphy Court Green, as Hughes would not be around, and also based on the snub she felt he did to her.

The last letter from Plath to Murphy is from 7 October 1962. She mentions a review he had written, and something to do with jackdaws and black birds and rooks. Plath's plans at this point were to travel to Moyard, Ireland with Ted Hughes' aunt as a companion until she can get an Irish girl to help. She was interested in a Catholic who might save her damned soul. She mentions that she has resolved to get a divorce and that she is finally writing for what feels like the first time in years -- since her last letter to Murphy, Plath had written eight poems: "For a Fatherless Son", "A Birthday Present", "The Detective", "The Courage of Shutting-Up", "The Bee Meeting", "The Arrival of the Bee Box", "Stings", and "The Swarm" -- and that her real self is finally opening and breathing from being suppressed. She was not kidding!

The review Plath mentions is "The Empty Tower at Ballylee", in which Murphy discusses several books published in 1962 including W. B. Yeats: Explorations; J. M. Synge: Collected Works, Vol. I: Poems, ed. Robin Skelton; The Dublin Diary of Stanislaus Joyce, ed. George Harris Healey. The review was published in the 7 October issue of The Observer on page 29. (Source.)

In the 15 December 1962 letter from Plath to Mary Coyne, Plath informs Coyne that she has moved to London for the winter rather than Ireland, in part because Nicholas needed his eye seen to by a specialist. She asks that Coyne send on some clothing (sweaters) for Frieda and herself. She then asks Coyne to inform Richard Murphy that she is living in Yeats' house, with a blue plaque and everything.

These are wonderful letters that fill in important biographical information in a turbulent time. The power of the archive is that it does this time and time again. When we think we know all there is to know, caches of letters become available that helps to round out our knowledge of a subject.

Copies of Richard Murphy's letters are held in the Frances McCullough papers at the University of Maryland, College Park (more here).

"Ocean 1212-W", or "Landscape of Childhood"
As if the above was not enough, The McFarlin Library also holds a supremely rare BBC typescript of Sylvia Plath's "Ocean 1212-W", though under its original name, "Landscape of Childhood."

The full catalog title reads: "Ocean 1212-W / by Sylvia Plath ; producer Leonie Cohn ; read by June Tobin ; Recording: 23rd July 1963, Transmission: 19th August 1963 ; tape no. RO 16556 broadcast script."

More important information to consider is:

"Description: 9 leaves : 20.5 x 33 cm.

"Summary: "Broadcast script from the BBC series Writers on Themselves which was later published in 1964 under that same title with an introduction by Herbert Read. This script of Sylvia Plath's chapter includes material that does not appear in the published version."

Gail Crowther and I discuss the origins, title changes, history, and a host of other archival researches that we encountered with this title, including visits to Smith College, the BBC Written Archives Centre, and the British Library in "These Ghostly Archives", "These Ghostly Archives, Redux", and "These Ghostly Archives 3". Getting a copy of the BBC typescript from the British Library is not an easy process; however, Tulsa was happy to supply a high resolution PDF of the document. And they did so quite quickly which was much appreciated.

This particular typescript I believe is an exact copy of that which Gail worked with at the British Library (see "These Ghostly Archives 3" linked just above), and I note that in comparing this typescript to the first printings of the prose piece (The Listener in August 1963 and in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams in 1977) that the major textual differences aside from cut text are in the punctuation marks: commas for semi-colons, semi-colons for dashes and the like. I believe, however, that this typescript represents -- as near as is possible to determine -- the closest facsimile that we know of to what Plath's original typescript looked like.

A big thank you to Milissa Burkhart and Kristina Johnson for their assistance with these collections.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links and information accessed 24 September, 18 November 2013, and 15 February 2014.

11 February 2014

Sylvia Plath Collections: William Heinemann Ltd. Archives

The William Heinemann Ltd archives, which are a part of Random House Group UK, hold materials by and relating to Sylvia Plath. Included among the documents are letters to, from, and about Plath, her book contracts (The Colossus, 1960, and The Bell Jar, 1963). This post looks at the Heinemann archive materials both in the Random House Group UK archive and documents that are held in the Sylvia Plath Collection at Smith College.

The bar at the York Minster Pub (now
The French House), in March 2013
Plath signed her Heinemann contract for The Colossus on 10 February 1960 at the York Minster Pub (now The French House) at 49 Dean Street, Soho, London (map). She wrote proudly about the experience in a letter jointly addressed to her mother and brother the following day, 11 February: "picture (yesterday) your daughter/sister ... of enormous & impressive size, sailing into the notorious York Minster pub on Dean Street in Soho, just off Shaftesbury Avenue, about 12:15 & up to the bar to meet a pleasant half-American, half-Scots young editor for the wellknown British publishers, William Heinemann (publishers of Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, D H Lawrence, Erskine Caldwell etc. etc.) & taking out a pen thereupon & signing on the counter the contract for her first book of poems, namely THE COLOSSUS". Oh, I dislike ellipses but... And if you are checking the above quote against Letters Home please just stop as I used the original letter.

Some of the material in the Heinemann archive is closed (as in copies will not be made) because the documents contain sensitive information including financial and contractual information. Gail Crowther and I wrote about this and how frustrating it is to be denied access to Plath archival material in "These Ghostly Archives 3", published in 2011. However, for my work contributing to an edition of Plath's letters I was given permission to read the five letters by Plath that are held in the archive. As a result, I can share the below summaries of the letters, in date order, with you:

21 February 1960, to W. Roger Smith: A lengthy letter having to do with letting Heinemann know which poems were previously published, where, and when for copyright purposes and the Acknowledgements page of Plath's poetry collection The Colossus which had been accepted earlier that month.

11 March 1960, to W. Roger Smith: Writes back to his letter dated 8 March regarding copyright statements for her forthcoming book The Colossus, published later that year. She says she is an American citizen but that she plans to stay in England.

11 October 1961, to W. Roger Smith: Responding to a letter from Smith dated 10 October, in which he informed Plath that her poem "Medallion" was to be included in an anthology: The London Bridge Book of Verse (WorldCat). She lets Smith know her birthday and says that after her next one, the 30th, she will cease to acknowledge her age. It is a very funny letter, very warm, but chilling in some ways, too.

31 January 1962, to James Michie: Regarding a request from Meridian Books to reprint her poem "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" in an anthology. This was probably New Poets of England and America: Second Selection, which was edited by Donald Hall and published in 1962. Other poems of Plath were included in the anthology including "The Colossus", "Snakecharmer",  "Mushrooms","Blue Moles", and "The Ghost's Leavetaking". All these were also in The Colossus but for some reason the letter from Heinemann only asks about "Black Rook in Rainy Weather".

19 November 1962, to W. Roger Smith: Replying to a letter from Smith dated 5 November regarding a request to use a recording of Plath reading "Mushrooms" on an LP record. Plath grants permission but asks questions about the fee for the use, suggesting the possibility of getting more than the offered 2 guineas. In a Woolfian maneuver, she asks for 5 (a difference of three guineas). She wittily expresses concern about coming off as typically American and Capitalist!

There are additional letters to and from Plath and her Heinemann editors at Smith College. The Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith holds:

James Michie's 1 October 1959 letter asking Plath to consider Heinemann as a publisher for a collection of poetry;

James Michie's 5 February 1960 handwritten letter to Plath accepting The Colossus;

Elizabeth Alexander's 7 December 1962 letter informing Plath that Knopf will not be publishing The Bell Jar in America;

Elizabeth Alexander's 10 December 1962 letter saying that she has send The Bell Jar to Harper & Row for consideration; (the contact at Harper & Row, Elizabeth Lawrence, wrote to Plath directly on 16 January 1963 informing her that they would not be taking the novel and why, Smith College holds this letter, too)

David Machin's 12 December 1962 letter sending an advance copy of The Bell Jar and hoping that they can meet before too long;

David Machin's 30 January 1963 letter congratulating Plath on receiving excellent reviews and asking her for her telephone number so that they can set up an appointment to meet; and

David Machin's 12 February 1963 letter -- the most haunting, chilling, and emotional letter I have ever worked with -- asking if he messed something up about their scheduled lunch meeting the previous day, 11 February 1963.

David Machin's 15 March 1963 letter to Ted Hughes asking about a reprint of The Bell Jar and the 1964 Contemporary Fiction Book Club edition, which was printed in an edition of 4,000. The letter also discusses royalty matters.

The letter Smith holds from Plath to Michie is a carbon copy dated 14 November 1961 and deals with libel issues relating to The Bell Jar. The letter is fascinating and illustrates how much "real life" went into the novel, and the lengths to which Plath went to "control and manipulate" those personal experiences that informed the story she told. This two-page, typed letter is among the most fascinating Plath wrote. There is additional content in Smith's archives related to Plath and Heinemann in the Jane V. Anderson papers as concerns Anderson's defamation law suit against Ted Hughes and the film production company for the 1979 film version of The Bell Jar.

I was not able to consult the original contracts for The Colossus and The Bell Jar, but was informed of valuable information about them based on some of my very specific questions. My questions were:

Was Plath's pseudonym on the contract?  Answer: No; and

What was the date on the contract? Plath's own signature was not dated, but the contract itself was dated Saturday, 21 October 1961, by someone at Heinemann. Which is quite valuable information.

Also, it was stated on the contract that the novel was finished and submitted. One thing that we do not know is: Was 21 October 1961 the date on which Heinemann sent it to Plath; or, was it the date they received it back from Plath?

You can read more about the history of William Heinemann Ltd here.

Thanks to Jean Rose at Random House Group UK for her assistance.

Like many other posts on Plath and her archives, this post illustrates very clearly how the split archive requires one to piece together documents to acquire a fuller story by consulting two or more repositories. In doing so, a real sense for how things took place can help to contextual those events and yield an deeper understanding and appreciation for Plath's efforts at publishing. A universal Plath archive would be nice. What I mean by this is that each of the archives could potentially make available their holdings electronically in-house, or at a minimum, perhaps a database could be created that lists in full each repositories holdings. This way a full understanding of Plath's productivity --which was as impressive as it was voluminous-- might be possible and it would certainly help scholars access the location of manuscripts, typescripts, drafts and the like for targeted research, to access textual differences, and the like. An idea at the least but funding or volunteer crowd-sourcing and quality control would have to be obtained for sure.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 19 November 2013 and 5 February 2014.

01 February 2014

Sylvia Plath Collections: Letters to Philip Booth at Dartmouth

The Rauner Special Collections at Dartmouth College holds the Papers of Philip Booth, (Collection MS-426).

Philip Booth was an American poet (obit) and nephew of Plath's Smith College physician/psychiatrist Dr. Marion Frances Booth. In her journals, Plath first mentions meeting Booth in April 1958 during her teaching year at Smith College (see page 368). Booth was somewhat instrumental in Plath and Hughes being offered spots at Yaddo being somehow involved with the admissions process (see this post about the Yaddo Records at the New York Public Library). On 10 June 1959, Plath mentions trying to feel comfort from and learn from Booth's piles of rejection slips before the winning of a prize (page 493). In all, according to the index in Plath Unabridged Journals According to the Index, excluding the Notes, Booth is mentioned six times; his wife once; and his aunt Dr. Booth, twice.

The Papers of Philip Booth holds, in Box 12, Folder 1, letters from Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath from 1960-1961. There are five letters from 31 May 1960; 25 June 1960 (postmark date); 24 November 1960 (postmark date); December 1960 (holiday card); and 29 March 1961. One gets the sense from the letters that Plath, Hughes, and Booth were all comfortable and familiar with each other. Here is a brief summary of each letter:

31 May 1960: Typed letter with one handwritten line from Sylvia Plath: Booth had apparently found out about the birth of Frieda Hughes from Plath's mother, as Plath launches into a loving description of her first born child and the wonder that she was in her first two months. It is an endearing first paragraph, in which she chides herself and Hughes for expressing interest in only having a boy. Plath asks about Booth's poem "Spit", which was later published in the October 1961 issue of Poetry (Volume 99, Number 1). Plath describes their January 1960 frustrations looking for a flat, the energetic help provided by the Merwin's in getting them set up, Lupercal's publication, dinner with the Elitot's and the Spender's, and her becoming an Anglophile because of the crazy political things taking place recently in the United States, among other things.

25 June 1960 (postmark):Typed letter from Ted Hughes. This letter discusses Booth's thoughts about leaving academia and Hughes' feeling about the teacher and the writer. He sent Booth a copy of Lupercal and ask for his opinions, good and bad, on the poems. They are enjoying London, going occasionally to the theatre; they were attending the Auden party at Faber that day; and he writes about his daughter, too. Hughes talks about leaving Harper & Row in favor of Farrar, Strauss, saying that he was not happy with Harper's. But mentions the conflict of interest being a distant relation of Farrar, and closes discussing animals in poems, mentioning specifically a poem by John Holmes about animals in Harpers magazine (This might be "On a Cage of Mice Brought Home for the Week of School Vacation" from Harpers (May 1959)).

24 November 1960: Handwritten letter from Ted Hughes. Hughes waxes on astrology a bit as he sees it playing a role in peoples fortunes and fates; Booth had been having a bad run of things. He discusses opportunities for Booth in England, or lack thereof, based on Booth's enquiring about it, recommending he talk to Donald Hall. Booth had reviewed Lupercal ("The Instinct to Survive", New York Times Book Review, 14 August 1960: BR10), but Hughes had not read it, however he does say Plath read it and found it generous. He closes with a soliloquy on how sickness and flu affects him. I think, his handwriting leaves much to be desired.

December 1960: Handwritten letter (holiday card) from Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Sent from The Beacon in Heptonstall (her last Christmas there), they were recuperating from the busyness and life in London, enjoying the cold Yorkshire air. She gives an update on her daughter who was thriving and starting to stand, and is angelic. Hughes contributes a description of the card, making up a story about the image depicted on the front, which are two shepherds and three rows of sheep in a country/field/mountain setting with trees, and the sun.

29 March 1961: Letter from Sylvia Plath (typed) and Ted Hughes (handwritten). Plath's portion of the letter catches Philip and Margaret Booth up on their goings-on including her appendectomy, financial issues, other illness and the London winter. Philip had sent Plath some poems which Plath said she liked. Which poems those are is not known. One of them may have been on the subject of Insomnia (Plath would write her poem "Insomniac" within two months, on 23 May 1961). Booth had sent Plath some advice on American publishers, but at the time of writing Plath was in good talks with the eventual publisher of The Colossus in America, Knopf. She mentions hearing news of American poets and their successes such as Adrienne Rich's third book and winning an Amy Lowell Grant to go with her Guggenheim; Maxine Kumin; Anne Sexton and George Starbuck; and that Robert Lowell was back in McLean. Plath asks Booth if he'd be a reference for a Guggenheim, just as she would ask Theodore Roethke the next month.

Hughes' portion of the letter is most interesting when he discusses Plath's break-through in writing new poems post-appendectomy. While it is a bit out there, he argues that her illnesses (miscarriage and appendectomy and flu) disrupted her old self and forced a shift into a new state of mind, and that this shift has refocused her/changed her perspective and given her a fresh source of energy for creativity.
As is usual, a paraphrase may be a poor reflection of the original; I strongly recommend writing to the Rauner to request copies for yourself!

The Booth papers include correspondence with many other notable writers and artists, including Anne Sexton, Theodore Roethke, May Sarton, Robert Lowell, and Ben Shahn among others.

The Rauner Special Collections has a fantastic collection of Plath items: 62 of them at the time this blog post was written. Among those items are are most especial are uncorrected proofs of The Bell Jar (Heinemann 1962) and Ariel (Faber 1965); a first edition of The Colossus (Heinemann 1960); as well as many limited editions and periodicals in which Plath's works appeared. An altogether impressive collection of materials tucked away in New Hampshire.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 10 January 2014.
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