19 May 2015

For Sylvia Plath, 1963 – An elegy by Gilbert Foster

The following guest blog post was written by Dr Gail Crowther, co-author with Elizabeth Sigmund of Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning (2014).

Gilbert Foster (1920-2000) was an academic and a poet. He was born in Dublin, Ireland and throughout his life lived in England, Australia and Canada.

However, in 1961 when Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes moved to Court Green in North Tawton, Devon, Gilbert and his wife Marian along with their three (soon to be four) children lived in a bungalow across the road near to Dr Hugh Webb's surgery.

The Fosters feature frequently on Plath's Letts wall calendar from 1962. They all had tea together on Sunday 30 September, Sunday 25 November, and Sunday 2 December. On Monday 10 December when Plath finally left Court Green to return to London for the winter, she trusted the Fosters to look after her two kittens, Tiger-Pieker and Skunky- Bunks. Gilbert would walk across to Court Green, in the snow, every day, often with his eldest son, to feed the cats and he continued to do this for months.

Like most people outside of London in 1963, the Fosters read about Plath's death in a piece written by Al Alvarez called 'A Poet's Epitaph' published in The Observer on 17 February. The article simply stated that Plath had 'died suddenly' and like many others, it was at a later date that the Fosters discovered that Plath's death was due to suicide. The article included a photograph of Plath with her daughter Frieda and four poems, all written in the last months of Plath's life; 'Edge', 'The Fearful', 'Kindness', and 'Contusion'.

During Plath's time in Devon, she told very few people that she was a poet. The Fosters did not know that she wrote her own poetry, but were aware of Hughes' increasing profile as a literary figure. In the months of September and October when Plath was writing the bulk of her Ariel poems, she would meet her Devon friends and neighbours for afternoon tea or dinner, and many had no idea what she was doing in those early, blue hours. For example, on 30 September when Plath invited the Fosters for tea at 3.30 pm, she had that morning written and completed 'A Birthday Present'. On 2 December, when they met for tea again at 3.30 pm, she had started the first draft of 'Sheep in Fog' (although this would not be completed until 28 January, 1963 in London).

Soon after learning of Plath's death in 1963, Gilbert Foster, while at Court Green, wrote his own elegy to Plath. Short, but beautifully haunting and melancholic, I find this one of the most moving pieces written in remembrance. Capturing the emptiness of her once-full house and the green now standing vacant, the echoes of the childrens' play seems quite spectral and poignant. A house which awaited reopening in spring, now stands without purpose. The overwhelming mood of this poem is silence – the empty house, the shabby green, the abandoned motte, and the curious door bell of Court Green that 'giggled' and jangled, now standing quiet. The Big Freeze of 1962-63 brought many parts of Devon to a halt and reflecting back on Plath's death, Foster opens his poem with the stark words, 'this is a season for dying.' It was, and as Alvarez ended his epitaph, the loss to literature was inestimable.

For Sylvia Plath, 1963

this is a season for dying:
now your one-eyed house regards no more children
Valletort's motte, just, and the shabby Green
No point in waiting here for summer's Court
Silence: the bell-pull and the giggling bell

Gilbert Foster (1920-2000)

Acknowledgements: with kind thanks to Marian Foster for permission to reproduce this poem and the image of Gilbert Foster taken in Galway, Ireland in 1956.

Click here for more information about Gilbert Foster's life and poetry.

All links accessed 1 May 2015

08 May 2015

From Smith to Indiana: Continuing My Journey with Sylvia Plath

The following is a guest blog post by the bright, talented, young Sylvia Plath scholar Amanda Ferrara, who has been fortunate enough to attend both Smith College and Indiana University and work closely with the two richest Sylvia Plath archives in the world.

My path to becoming a Plath scholar has been one of twists and turns. I've been lucky to work with Sylvia Plath's materials in both proprietary repositories, Smith College's Mortimer Rare Book Room and Indiana University's Lilly Library. A native of Western Massachusetts, I aspired to being a "Smithie" from a young age, frequently heading to Northampton with friends as a reprieve from our less exciting towns in the Valley. I was accepted to, and began attending, the all women's college in 2009, and quickly picked up on the legacy of famous graduates discussed by other students. I already knew of Julia Child, but of the other popular alumnae, it took some time for me to learn their stories. Sylvia Plath was just another name in the bucket, a poet and a writer, yes, but at that stage in my life, she was another amorphous representation of the College's tangle in history. My age attributed to this, but struggling with my academic direction was also the cause; my major and future were unclear to me and left me in an uneasy state. I liked reading, organizing, and libraries, but what jobs could be tailored to this? Where would a degree get me with these skills? Little did I know, the archives would soon be my answer.

Judith Glazer-Raymo (Smith ’53)
 and Amanda Ferrara (Smith ’13)
 17 January 2012 at The Grolier Club
I got to know Smith's Plath collection in an archives based class I took with Karen Kukil my sophomore year. The College offered a concentration in the archives and on a whim one January I decided to enroll. Learning about the field and having hands on experience in the Five College repositories gave me a great feeling of relief and satisfaction. Though my job would involve instruction and "medical" intervention of materials, it wasn't a professor or doctor I aspired to be, it was an archivist. Karen tasked us students with transcribing a letter for an upcoming project, however in my excitement of finding the place I loved to be, I asked, instead, for three. Sylvia Plath's story, mostly her work and contributions, impressed me. During the next few years I immersed myself in special collections and archives, securing myself a position at the Mortimer Rare Book Room assisting the professional staff in anyway I could. My enthusiasm paid off: I was recommended to alumna, Judith Glazer-Raymo ('53), to present Plath's poetry at The Grolier Club's annual poetry event. I returned to Plath's work and history on many occasions throughout the rest of my time at Smith College, individually, as well as with other scholars in the Northeast in various presentations and exhibitions.

The Lilly Library (source)
As my time at Smith came to a close in 2013, I knew I wanted to continue my studies in the archives. I was accepted to the Master of Library Science graduate program at Indiana University, Bloomington to earn my MLS with a specialization in Archives and Records Management. Being accepted to a graduate school was a thrilling in and of itself, but it came with it's own promising situation: more Plath. While Smith has much of her later works (poems, correspondence, photographs), IU possesses materials from the duration of her life, the bulk of which are from 1932-1955. Before arriving on the IU campus, I made a point to get in touch with Lilly Library Director, Joel Silver, and Manuscripts Curator, Cherry Williams. Admittedly, I was more excited about the prospect of my coming than they were! But thankfully after my first (second, and third) trips to the Lilly, they got to know me beyond the typical researcher.

Being from Massachusetts originally, the distance between the two states has not been lost on me. I recognize the privilege I have by being so close to the Lilly's Plath manuscripts, and have made myself available as a proxy researcher to contacts like Judith Glazer-Raymo and Amanda Golden. Paralleling my time at Smith, I took archives/special collections classes at the Lilly, Manuscripts and Processing Manuscript Collections, which lead me to find a position as a Manuscripts Assistant for the Manuscripts Archivist, Craig Simpson. Craig asked me my interests when I was hired, and the work he had planned worked out perfectly with my interests. Many Indiana University repositories follow Greene and Meissner's "More Product, Less Process" (MPLP) (2005) in order to make collections available to researchers in a more timely manner. Though this practice is based in accessibility, the downside is that small details of collections are absent until an archivist can return to them at a later date (well, let's be real: interns and students are typically the ones returning!). This is the case with collections of materials in all repositories that employ MPLP, the Plath manuscript (mss) included. Some of my first projects at the Lilly involved me updating Plath descriptions and inventories for mss III, IV, V, IX, X, and XI (reference Guide to the Plath Materials for more information).

"The Bell Jar Revisited",
curated by Amanda Ferrara, 2013, 
Smith College
Plath mss III allows researchers privy access to the artistic side of the poet we so frequently hear about. Her watercolors, and pastels remind me of the color focused juvenilia "Midsummer Mobile" in hue and style: "With orange scallops tangled in wet hair, / Fresh from the mellow palette of Matisse," while her drawings are more serious. Snapshots of her younger years are in Plath mss 5 and Plath mss 10. Her illustrated manuscripts and contributions to the Alice L. Phillips Junior High School's literary supplement, The Phillipian, show her talent, or maybe determination?, at a young age. Mrs. Aurelia Plath is not forgotten of course, she being the reason the Plath collection is at the Lilly altogether. Plath mss 9 features correspondence between Mrs. Plath and Olive Clifford Eaton (a neighbor in Winthrop, MA), Mary Alice Ericson (Olive Eaton's daughter), and Margery DeLerno (Olive Eaton's daughter), an interesting look into where Plath came from.

There are many more gems for researchers to search for and find, in the now unhidden Plath manuscript collections at the Lilly Library. Personally, I have enjoyed the process of returning to these manuscripts due to my original curiosity of Plath related topics. I think many archivists fear that our work in processing collections will go unnoticed and unused by the public, but my experience with the Plath mss at the Lilly has given me hope that this is not the case. The collections are appreciated at both institutions, and I am thankful my work is a part of that collective. There is still much work to be done, not only with the Plath collections, but with all archival materials, and I hope I can be a part of that in whatever small or large way I am afforded in the future.

If you would like to contact Amanda regarding Plath research at Indiana University's Lilly Library, please contact her via email.

All links accessed 28 April 2015.

01 May 2015

Guest Post: An Interview with Andrew Wilson

The following is a guest post, the second in a series of three, by Annette Stevens.

Mad Girl's Love Song by Andrew Wilson is a good book about Sylvia Plath, one that I would recommend. My name is Annette Stevens, and I blog over at Mademoisellewomen.wordpress.com. As part of a blog series for this website, I'll be sharing some interviews with Plath-biographers with you. Here, we spoke to Andrew Wilson:

Hello Andrew, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

When growing up, did you ever think you would want to be a writer?

Yes I always wanted to write, since a child. I wrote stories and made little newspapers full of local news.

Do you have any other experience-such as in journalism?

After an English degree at King's, London, I did a year MA in journalism at City University in London. Then I got a job in magazines and then worked on staff for a few years before I went freelance, writing for everything from the Face to the Sunday Times to the Independent to the Mail. My first book was Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith – and since then I've written biographies of Harold Robbins, the survivors of the Titanic, Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted and a novel, The Lying Tongue.

Could you please take us through your average working day?

It depends what kind of day it is – whether it's writing, interviewing, researching or reading. All this depends on which stage I am at and what I am writing. I also still write journalism so I could be interviewing a writer or an actor. If I am writing I like to do about 1,000 words a day – all depending on the deadline.

Did anything specifically give you the idea to write a book about Sylvia Plath, prior to life with Ted Hughes?

Basically very little had been done on this. Most books rushed the early life to get to the meeting of Sylvia and Ted. And I also came across a huge amount of new, unpublished material and tracked down friends and lovers who had never spoken before.

How did you begin to research the fundamental basis of the manuscript?

I spent a couple of months in America at the two big Plath archives – one at Smith College and the other in Bloomington, Indiana. At the same time I started to track down people who had known Plath.

Out of all her poetry, do you have a favourite poem?

"Mad Girl's Love Song" – after which I named the book.

Did you come across any surprising material about her?

A great deal. I like to think I banished the myth of Sylvia as a victim. She was much more knowing and intelligent and, at times, manipulative than that. Also her mental illness started at a young she but went undiagnosed.

At any time, did your impression/initial judgment of Sylvia change?

It changed a lot – often several times during the course of one day. That is the difficult aspect of biography – you have to try and represent a person in all their complexity, with often contradictory impulses and desires.

This week you have a new book out, about Alexander McQueen. Congratulations! What was the inspiration behind the book?

I started work on a year before the announcement of the V&A's show Savage Beauty which opens in March. I had always been intrigued by him as a designer and stager of shows that became art installations. I suspected his story would be a complex one which many layers and secrets, hopefully which I've teased out. Again I hope to have represented him in all his complexity.

Have you ever worn any of his designs?

Only the odd T-shirt – some of his clothes are out of my price range! But that is not to say I don't admire them.

Like Sylvia Plath, would you subscribe to the view that he was possibly a tortured artist?

Definitely. He was driven by a dark vision.

How would describe McQueen in five words?

Vulnerable, insecure, gifted, visionary, honest.

How long did the book take to write?

Two years and this was almost solid work. So I didn't do much other work during this time.

Are there any other books you have planned, to do with designers -such as Chanel?

Not at the moment.

For anyone wishing to follow in your footsteps, do you have any tips?

Follow your instincts, ask questions, work hard. Don't be put off.

And one random question: do you like pizza?


25 April 2015

Guest Post: An Interview with Elizabeth Winder

The following is the first of three guest posts by Annette Stevens.

Author Elizabeth Winder
My name is Annette Stevens, and I blog over at Mademoisellewomen.wordpress.com. (Yes, named after Sylvia Plath's internship!) Sylvia Plath has been a source of fascination to me for a while now; with all her biographers, there seems to be no limit on the amount of Sylvia-esque books. I have been lucky enough to speak to some of them-and as a blog series (thanks to Peter for re-printing all of these!), we'll be posting some interviews. This post is an interview with Elizabeth Winder, author of Pain, Parties, Work:

Hello Elizabeth, thank you for agreeing to this interview. At what age did your 'Kinship' with Sylvia Plath begin?

I was fourteen. One day a girl who sat behind me in geometry was reading Sylvia Plath's Collected Poems before class started. I was struck by the way the book looked—it was the 1981 edition with that interesting brush-stroke font. And the name "Sylvia Plath" sort of bewitched me—I loved the way the letters looked together. Later that year a friend leant me her copy of The Bell Jar—the version with the very gothic cover—the velvet gloved hand holding an upside down rose. I'd never seen words used in such a vivid, visceral way. It was like reading in Technicolor.

Out of all her poetry, do you have a favourite poem?

"Fever 103". The "weak hothouse baby" the hot metal beads flying out—it's a poem you can feel on your skin.

In five words, what is The Bell Jar to you?

Cigarettes, aldehydes, Doreen, nylon, sticky

How did you come to the idea to write a book about Sylvia Plath?

My Sylvia Plath—the one you'll find in the Unabridged Journals—is full of bright red energy and joy takes a real sensual delight in life. You can see that in the poems too. I was sick of seeing her flattened out into the grey image of a depressed woman. Yes, she experienced spells of depression—but those spells made up such a small fraction of her life. People feel some sick compulsion to reduce women to their worst moments. Hemingway suffered from depression and committed suicide. But in our mind's eye he's banging on a typewriter in Paris or buying shots for an entire fishing village in Cuba. We remember him not just for his talent, but for his zest for life. We should do the same for Sylvia Plath.

The Magazine
Why did you focus specifically on Plath's time at Mademoiselle Magazine?

Those four weeks were so dramatic, dazzling, and densely packed. It always surprised me that other biographers seemed to kind of gloss over them. Sylvia loved fashion, she loved New York. And I've always love mid-century fashion and material culture, so it was fun to immerse myself in that.

In writing Pain, Parties, Work, you interviewed guest editors who had an editorship at the same time as Plath. How did you go about doing so?

That was the best part of the process—I was so lucky. The Guest Editors I reached out to were so generous and witty. I loved hearing all their stories—gossip in the hallways, scenes in the elevator, borrowed clothes and very, very late nights!

Whilst writing the book, did you compile any research?

Yes—I went through the Plath archives of the Lily Library. I practically buried myself fin research but it was all such great stuff—shopping lists, clothing budgets, diaries from junior high and stacks and stacks of letters from her numerous boyfriends.

The Book
How long did Pain, Parties, Work, take to write?

Maybe about a year and a half. It was total immersion.

Would you ever consider writing a follow-up to Pain, Parties, Work?

That's interesting—I hadn't thought of that! Actually, in a subtle sort of way I think the book I'm writing now is a follow up, even though it isn't about Sylvia Plath.

Overall, do you think that Plath was a victim of her time-"being an ambitious girl" in 1950's America?

Absolutely. We don't give the women of Plath's generation enough credit. Girls like Sylvia—and all the Guest Editors—were under tremendous pressure. "Get into the best school, keep your scholarship, win prizes and make sure you're invited to the Yale Spring Dance…" But women are always bombarded with mixed messages. That's why Sylvia's struggles are just as relevant today.

Previously, have you worked in the publishing industry?

Oh, not at all. It was completely new to me.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes—I think I was about five when I realized that and I haven't wavered since.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Words and images! Reading Anna Karenina for the 20th time, Anne Carson's amazing poetry, the scent of the shampoo I used when I was twelve, the name of a nail polish shade in the Ulta catalog, a 17th century French cookbook. Anything and everything.

Are there any more Sylvia Plath-inspired projects in the works?

Not at the moment, but I wouldn't rule it out.

For anyone wishing to follow in your footsteps, do you have any tips?

Read! Seek out the writers that resonate with you, and then seek out more. Read and re-read and re-read again and copy the sentences and phrases you like best in notebooks. Study the syntax your favourite writers use, the way they stick words together. Pay attention to what you like and why you like it.

And finally one random question, just in case you're bored of always being asked about Sylvia Plath:
What is your favourite black and white film, prior to the 1960's?

Great question! The Rules of the Game by Jean Renoir (1939.) There's a hunting party in this French chateau, lots of banter and flirtation and sly looks. At night everyone is darting in and out of their rooms, running around in these silky ruffled robes, sneaking around with their lovers. There's an adorable pouty little French maid named Lisette who will make you want to wear white and black for the rest of your life. There's a count dressed up as a teddy bear, tons of drinking, lots of slinking around in wine cellars and china closets to kiss someone or make a crazed love confession. There's a real darkness there—sad marriages, broken hearts, death—but at the same time there's this dizzy pajama party vibe that always makes me smile.

18 April 2015

The Cradle Sylvia Plath Painted

By mid-October 1961, Sylvia Plath was already thinking about Christmas as she and Ted Hughes were hard at work making Court Green in North Tawton not just their own, but also livable. She mentioned in letter dated 13 October that year of her desire to make her daughter Frieda Hughes a doll's wood cradle. Christmas likely sprung into her mind as she had recently received a from her mother mentioning that she would be sending her granddaughter a doll for Christmas. The subject of the cradle was mentioned in general in subsequent letters to Aurelia and Warren Plath on 18 December 1961 and to her Aunt Dorothy Benotti on 31 January 1962.

In "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England", Plath scholar Gail Crowther discusses this very doll's cradle (see pages 44-47; an image of the cradle appears on page 45). Working with the documents Plath and Hughes created is one thing: particularly those which bear evidence of both the poets such as poetry or fiction manuscripts or their address book. But this cradle is also something to which both Plath and Hughes contributed. Hughes made the cradle and Plath enameled and painted it. In Birthday Letters, Hughes called these items a "Totem", writing: "You painted little hearts on everything . . . Sometimes, off to the side, an eight-year-old's bluebird . . And on the cradle I made for a doll you painted,/Hearts" (163). As Gail stated in our paper, "Such items, we feel, belong in an archive because they are able to bring Plath alive in a unique, multi-dimensional manner. In many ways they do not feel 'of the past,' but rather very much of the present" (46-47).

In a second installment to a letter Plath wrote on 29 December 1961, she discusses a little more about the cradle, and from where the design and inspiration came. The part where Plath writes about the cradle was was edited out of Letters Home and so therefore cannot be quoted. But, the original letter is held by the Lilly Library for anyone who visits to read.

In this 29 December 1961 letter, Plath mentions that Marion Freeman sent her some copies of Woman's Day magazine which left her with a nostalgia for American-market women's magazines. Marion Freeman, sometimes called "Aunt Marion", was the mother of David and Ruth Freeman. Ruth, fondly called Ruthie in Plath's letters and diaries, was Plath's best childhood friend from Winthrop. In one of those issues of Woman's Day, Plath found the ideal design and pattern for a cradle made of wood.

In a letter to Marion Freeman dated 31 January 1962, Plath thanks her for the Woman's Day magazines and mentions how a design in one of the issues was just right for a doll's cradle they made for Frieda for Christmas. She mentioned too that that she got inspiration for the imagery she painted on the cradle -- hearts and flowers (and birds) -- from the quilting section.

This got me thinking: which issue of Woman's Day was it? I found via a search on eBay that the November 1961 issue had a big Christmas section in it, and so started there. By chance (or luck), I had to look no further as the seller of the item confirmed to me that the November 1961 issue had the instructions for building a cradle.

The quilting section Plath referred to was on page 39; a photograph of a cradle on page 44; and the instructions on cutting the wood and assembly on page 105. As you will see in the images below, Plath made her own of the flowers and used the colors and general shapes to inspire the hearts, sun, and decorative flourishes, but the bluebird is just about spot-on.

Page 39, note blue bird and flowers at right
Page 44, see cradle at left-center
Page 105, instructions

Plath also painted hearts and flowers on a chair, a wastebasket, and table. These four household items are held by Smith College; and a color image of them was recently reproduced in Elizabeth Sigmund and Gail Crowther's Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning (2014).

Seeing the cradle in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College and holding it is truly a wonderful experience. For me it ranks up there with seeing a poetry manuscript, her journals, a typescript of The Bell Jar: really anything Plath created. "Realia", can be classified perhaps as a more fetishistic object than a manuscript would be: certainly this kind of thing falls out of the traditional purview of academics. But it is an important product and relic regardless. It is something, like a sketch or drawing Plath made, to which she temporarily devoted all of her mind, creativity, and energy towards completing. Plath said as much in a letter to her husband Ted Hughes on 7 October 1956. On drawing teapots, shoes and chestnuts, she said, "it gives me such a sense of peace to draw; more than prayer, walks, anything. I can close myself completely in the line, lose myself in it" (Sylvia Plath: Drawings, 3). And seeing the original issue of Woman's Day that gave Plath her idea's is also fascinating. It felt surprisingly unreal, if you catch my meaning. And stepping back like that into November 1961 was quite interesting for the advertisements and articles. Those are long gone days. You can see how Plath took something she studied and transformed it into a veritable timeless work of art: much the same way you can find nuggets real people and experiences metamorphosed in her poetry and prose.

All links accessed 6 March 2015.

08 April 2015

Sylvia Plath Collections: Sylvia Plath collection, 1952-1989

Emory University recently put a finding aid online for the Sylvia Plath collection, 1952-1989. A small collection, but one certainly with significant materials for the Plath scholar.

The items were purchased in 2014 and include:

Folder 1: Compass, Southeastern Massachusetts University, Summer 1987
Folder 2: Mademoiselle, January 1959
Folder 3: The New Yorker, August 3, 1963 [2 copies, one annotated by Aurelia Plath]
Folder 4: Smith Review, Fall 1952
Folder 5: Smith Review, Spring 1953 [annotated by Aurelia Plath]
Folder 6: Thomas, Trevor, Sylvia Plath: Last Encounters, 1989 [inscribed from the author to Richard Larschan and includes a letter from Thomas to Larschan and several clippings about the work]

The material in folder 1, Compass is the the magazine of Southern Massachusetts University (now University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth), and features an article by Maeve Hickock titled "Aurelia Plath and Richard Larschan". The article is about the video production of the Plath program in the Voices and Visions series from 1986. A second article, "A Case of Mistaken Identity" by Charles White, is on the then recent Jane Anderson lawsuit against Ted Hughes and the makers of the 1979 film version of The Bell Jar.

The materials in folders 2 through 5 are original periodicals featuring Plath's work ("The Times are Tidy" in Mademoiselle, January 1959; seven poems ("Two Campers in Cloud Country", "The Elm Speaks" ["Elm"], "Mystic", "Amnesiac", "Mirror", "Among the Narcissi", and "The Moon and the Yew Tree" -- essentially everything the magazine had purchased from Plath since 1960 yet to be printed) in The New Yorker, 3 August 1963; "Sunday at the Mintons'" from Smith Review, Fall 1952; and "Mad Girl's Love Song", "To Eva Descending the Stair"; and "Doomsday" from Smith Review, Spring 1953. Each of these contains annotations in Aurelia Plath's hand. Particularly moving is Aurelia Plath's commenting that she relates to every word in stanza 10 from "Elm": "I am inhabited by a cry. / Nightly it flaps out, / Looking, with its hooks, for something to love."

The Trevor Thomas materials in Folder 6 include a copy of Thomas' limited edition memoir Sylvia Plath: Last Encounters; a letter from Thomas to Larschan dated 30 November 1989; and a photocopy of a newspaper clipping "Poet Laureate Serves Writ on Professor" from Bedfordshire on Sunday 21 January 1990, page 9. The letter concerns Aurelia Plath, Anne Stevenson & Bitter Fame; Clarissa Roche; mentions Elizabeth Sigmund; and the lawsuit against Thomas by Ted Hughes.

Thanks to Amanda Golden for alerting us to the availability of the small collection.

All links accessed 23 & 27 January 2015.  Post modified 3 May 2015.

01 April 2015

An Apology and a Promise from Sylvia Plath Info Blog

The following is a transcription of the public statement offered by Peter K. Steinberg of the Sylvia Plath Info Blog, which aired on Seattle's WC8H10N4O2 (the Starbucks Network) this morning at 4:01 A.M. local time.

For the last eight years, Sylvia Plath Info Blog has been providing posts on Sylvia Plath covering a range of topics including archival materials, to newsworthy events, books and book reviews, and quasi-live blogging from conferences.

Unfortunately, much the content and information presented has been done so under the influence of performance enhancing drugs. Admitting this at this point in time (I was going to hand write it in the attempt to have it come off as more sincere) is a big step for me in conquering the problem.

Continually I had intended to try to break free of the grip these drugs have had on me. But to no avail. I want to apologize deeply and sincerely if I have let any of you down as a result of this admission.

Kindness--in the form of comments, followers, and emails--served only to egg me on in a way I am sure none of the blog's readers intended. But naturally, defensiveness and over-sensitivity has led me to privately blame each of you in the attempt to not accept accountability for my actions.

Youth was passing me by, and I felt desperate to keep up both with the more seasoned and recognized Sylvia Plath scholars, as well as trying not to lag too behind the newer, smarter, and more talented ones.

Only one option seemed right: the cheating option.

Under no circumstances did I ever think I would be caught, but caught I was. Which has led to this statement. Recent history of politicians and professional athletes also being caught doing various nefarious deeds has led me to believe that a full acceptance of responsibility --no matter how disingenuous-- followed by a period of laying low, will provide the opportunity for the masses of us with short-term memory issues (developed from being over-stimulated on media in all its various formats and functions) will allow me to make a full and triumphant comeback.

Just about twenty-four hours from now, I will be entering a program to ween myself off of these drugs in an attempt to get my life back. It is a very rigorous program and will test my strength and will.

Unless this turns out to be a failed recovery, I hope to return to blogging on Sylvia Plath -- and doing so cleanly -- by the end of the month or maybe sometime in May. I hope you understand and forgive any silence from this blog in the meantime. It is imperative that I go through with this.

Let it not go unsaid that I feel as though I have let you all down. Which is weird considering, obviously, you are all in some ways responsible...  I will do everything in my power to crush this demon. To rise from the ashes like "Lady Lazarus" herself.

I make a promise to you to that should I succeed in shocking my system clean and clear of this performance enhancing drug, I will return better, bigger, and stronger. More terrible than ever I was. More ferocious a Plath scholar than can be fathomed, with a heart dedicated to being a clean scholar.

Only time will tell, I suppose, if I can defeat this. My only hope is that you, dear readers, can give me a second chance.

Thank you for reading and for being so understanding.

--Sylvia Plath Info (aka Peter K. Steinberg)

24 March 2015

Four Days at the Lilly Library with Sylvia Plath Archives

The Lilly Library
From 16-19 March, I was at the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington, working with the Sylvia Plath archives there doing reference leg work and inquiry for the Letters of Sylvia Plath project. In the past, I have made nightly updates on the materials with which I worked, but I found this too time consuming for the kind of work I was doing this time around. In the process of being there, I was able to look through the majority of all the boxes and folders in Plath mss II; as well as dabbling a little in other, smaller collections  such as the Lameyer mss; Plath mss IV; Plath mss VI; and one book from her library, Christopher Fry's 1950 play The Lady's Not for Burning.

The trip was very successful and rewarding, and the staff, from the Curator of Manuscripts Cherry Williams to Reference Librarian David K. Frasier and Public Services Assistant Zach Downey, and all the additional library staff who paged materials, brought them to me, took them away, and let me stay until the exact closing time, did everything they could do to make me feel welcome. This was IU's Spring Break, and so the campus was quiet and the library open one hour less each day. I missed those hours, but was happy to trade that loss for the benefit of a ghost-town like feel to the campus.
Cambridge & the Charles River

Leaving snowy Boston was bittersweet, but I was greeted by unusual things such above freezing temperatures, grass and sidewalks.

Research commenced at 9 am sharp on Monday and I worked with the correspondence first, looking at the originals of letters I had copies of to see if any unclear bits were discernible. Then I worked with Plath's earliest diaries from 1944 and 1945 as well as the small envelopes of loose materials removed from the diaries.  From there, I worked with Plath's "Publications Scrapbook" in Box 15. It is truly an honor to work with these materials and to see and hold diaries, documents, photographs, menus, matchbooks, ticket stubs, theater programs, etc. that Plath used to own. The Publication scrapbooks hold letters of acceptance for her work, telegrams, and other memorabilia of her life as a professional writer. It shows the concentrated focus that he had for this profession from a very early age.

Moving along to Boxes 11 and 12 which hold "Smith College Memorabilia", I found some fascinating materials. Again, all of which was proving useful to be able to write good contextual reference notes and annotations to Plath's letters. I am gaining a far greater understanding and education on Plath's early life. This is vital, I think, as so much attention is given to her post 1956 doings when she was a professional teacher, writer, wife, and mother. In the process of this day, I made an exciting discovery. But then it was closing time.

Still life at 5:47 a.m.with bananas, pears, 
laptop, photocopies, and coffee
On Tuesday I picked up where I left off in Boxes 11 and 12 and right off the bat found a letter I previously did not have listed in my files. This was an excellent way to start the day, which ended having found several more letters in a variety of places! This makes for more work, but it is work happily done. After I wrapped up with these boxes, I moved to two of my favorite Plath documents out there: her high school and Smith College Scrapbooks, housed respectively in Oversize 3 and Oversize 8, and spent the bulk of the day playing with these.

The scrapbooks are glorious documents of Plath's life, colored with creative and fun captions, illustrated with the stuff of her life. Some of those things mentioned above like programs, menus, matchbook cases, photographs galore and other wonderful things. Having no idea how many times I have visited the Lilly, I do know that each visit I look at these scrapbooks and I gain more and more information with each time. This is something the archive does. Your own knowledge and perspective shifts and expands, so re-visiting a collection or a document can yield wonderful insight. On a project like the letters, which I have read through three times completely so far, documents like the scrapbook practically scream with newly relevant information.

Continuing with the oversize materials, I looked at the Clippings in Oversize 10 and ended the day in Box 13, which holds materials relating to Cambridge University and Plath's teaching year at Smith College. Also on this day, a former Smith College student and current student at IU's Library school, Amanda Ferrara, found me and so it was wonderful to see her and to chat. You will remember Amanda from her excellently curated The Bell Jar exhibit that was on at both Roger Williams University and Smith College in 2013.

On Wednesday I worked with Boxes 7a and 8 which hold Plath's poems and prose among other materials which include an early scrapbook of poems, the typescript for "Circus in Three Rings", a manuscript she put together in her last semester at Smith College; the typescript of The Colossus she submitted to the Yale Series of Younger Poets, In looking at this and in particular at the very massive list of Acknowledgements, a thought occurred to me that perhaps Plath did not win because she was too accomplished a younger poet. Also looked at Oversize 1 ("Awards"), 2 (The Bradford), 10 (those clippings again), and Oversize 11 ("Clippings Miscellaneous"). In 10 I particularly enjoyed seeing clippings that Plath sent, signed with  a note, to Olive Higgins Prouty, as well as that famous one of "Sylvia Plath Tours the Stores and Forecasts May Fashions Week" where she typed on a clipping of her in swimsuit "with love, from Betty Grable".

Thursday was wide open as I had largely worked through everything I had wanted to by the end of the day on Wednesday. So, I started the day looking at Plath's other early diaries from summer camp 1945 through 1949 (with an entry or two from 1951). I looked more through boxes 8 (Poems and Fiction Prose), 9 (Non-fiction prose & Letters Home), and 10 (High school memorabilia) as follow-ups to things I worked with the other days and based on things I had researched on in my hotel in the evenings and in the mornings, too, before the library opened. Looked also at Plath mss VI a small collection of materials related to Sylvia Plath, which had to my surprise some fascinating information. About 90 minutes was dedicated solely to examining intimately (what?) a 1962 letter by Plath to her mother with lights and magnifying glasses; standing up, sitting down, on my knees, trying to read some redacted text. This was the day that I was cramming information in right up until quarter to five when the staff (respectfully) boots you out.

By far this was the most intense four day research trip I have ever undertaken. Not that it will do me any good now, but I even learned the combination to Plath's high school locker! Too stimulated to fall asleep, mind racing too fasts to stay asleep, and abandoning sleep altogether I was up generally by 4:30 am going through everything from the day before and mapping out a plan of attack for the day ahead. Does this happen to others?  In all, I found eight or nine new letters and one or two other simply fascinating discoveries which I will write about later. When not in the library, I was enjoying to quiet of downtown Bloomington. Though, it being spring break it never occurred to me that places would be shut down, so finding food was made a little more challenging. I found excellent beer and vegetarian/vegan food at the Owlery (and conversation there Thursday for dinner with the aforementioned Amanda). As well, delicious ice cream for dessert most nights at Hartzell's on Dunn Street.

The Lilly Library, at this present moment, as 9 Plath mss collections. You can see them all listed nicely here in a general run of alphabetical P collections. I have noticed recently some new information in them, so make sure that you check back regularly for added value information, or even new collections. If that list is too long, I recommend (and prefer) this view.

All links accessed 22 March 2015.

22 March 2015

Sylvia Plath Event: Gail Crowther at Tony Cockayne at Blackburn

As I work on a blog post discussing my recent four-days visit to work with the Sylvia Plath materials at the Lilly Library, here is an announcement about an upcoming Sylvia Plath related event.

Author Gail Crowther and artist Tony Cockayne will be presenting on Gail and Elizabeth Sigmund's recent Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning this Thursday, 26 March 2015 at 1:30 p.m.at Blackburn University Centre, The John Thomas Lecture Theatre (map).

The author's will discuss the story of the book, show slides, answer questions, and sign books. Further talks are in the works in locations like Falmouth. More information and details will be forthcoming.

16 March 2015

Sylvia Plath's Ariel Anomaly

To be sung to the tune of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back":

I like rare books and I cannot lie!
The mass market paperback can just die...

Rare books can sometimes be like watching sports. In sports, on any given day you may see something that has never been done before. In the case of books, you might suddenly see a copy of something that you did not know existed. In December, while browsing around ABEbooks.com, this very thing happened.

One of the more memorable and famous books from the 20th century, which is celebrating 50 years of publication this coming March, was Sylvia Plath's Ariel. A copy of Plath's Ariel, a Faber first edition, second impression, recently came across my view. But it was unusual. The dust wrapper was different. The first editions that I have seen and held have three bands of color on the face and spine. Blue at the top taking up the majority of the space with the words ARIEL in yellow, as if cut out; then that yellow in the middle with "Poems by / Sylvia Plath" in black, and then a beautiful solid red color band along the bottom, hinting that the the poems inside are a "blood-flush"; "blood hot and personal".

However, the jacket presented for sale by the bookseller had as the image the book with only two colors: blue and yellow. Missing is that red band at the bottom. I did a quick search for other examples for sale of the second impression, but all copies with bookseller supplied photos had present the red band. At its price was most affordable, even to a poor archivist like me, so I snatched it up. This particular copy has the stain of a previous owners name "d f gough" on the ffep (front free end paper), but otherwise is virtually clear of other markings throughout the book. It does have one other peculiarity which is present in at least one other first edition, second impression of Ariel that I have seen: the type did not strike fully on the copyright page leaving a gap in the copyright year.

Ariel (Faber, 1965). First edition, second impression.
Lacking red color band at bottom.
Ariel (Faber, 1965). First edition, second impression & sadly price-clipped.
With red color band but sadly price-clipped.
I have reached out to the archives of Faber to see if they can tell me anything about the book.  In some ways the book and wrapper feels like a proof. An email recently from Faber archivist Robert Brown was not able to shed any additional light on the dust wrapper, and it was his suspicion that it was most likely a printing error. I have been unable also to find other examples of this particular impression with this particular two-colored wrapper. Naturally I do not think that does not mean they do not exist, but it is nice feeling that I have something unique.

All links accessed 9 January 2015.
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Publications & Acknowledgements