20 September 2016

Guest Post: Visit to Heptonstall

The following is a guest blog post by Annika J. Lindskog from Sweden on her recent visit to Sylvia Plath's grave in Heptontsall. Thank you, Annika!

In June this year, I finally had the opportunity to visit a place I had long wished to see: Sylvia Plath's grave at Heptonstall in Yorkshire. Like many other Plathians, I hold a strange fascination for places associated with Plath and have previously visited many of the 'sites', both in the UK and the US (including a lovely and much appreciated tour around the Boston area with Peter in 2008). For someone who doesn't live in the UK, Heptonstall is a bit 'off', though, which is probably why it's taken me so long to get there.

Referring to Plath's grave as a 'site' feels a bit disrespectful to me, because it is a grave. I couldn't help but feel that visiting this grave felt a little like trespassing on somebody else's tragedy. Death is personal, after all. At the same, though, I wanted to visit Plath's grave because her writing has meant so much to me – more, perhaps, than any other writer. I wanted to pay my respects. (And, I should confess, I'm an avid literary tourist – my Yorkshire holiday also included two visits to Haworth, one to the house in Manchester where Charlotte Brontë began Jane Eyre, and one to Elizabeth Gaskell's home, also in Manchester. I love literary tourism – this was my dream vacation!)

Once in Yorkshire, getting to Heptonstall was easy. We were staying in Leeds for a couple of days – where I was supposed to be attending a conference about Virginia Woolf but mostly played hooky, because, well, Plath! Brontë! – and from there, we took the train to Hebden Bridge where we changed to a small bus, which drove us up the hill. On a poster, Hebden Bridge described itself as a place where you could 'soak up the cosmopolitan atmosphere and be part of [a] trendy café society'. Tempting as that sounded – especially for someone as obsessed with coffee as I am – we didn't look around except what we saw from the bus. It was very picturesque and the train station looked like it belonged in a costume drama set in the early twentieth century (the current station house was apparently built in the 1890s). The village itself felt exclusive, with lots of jewelry shops and other expensive-looking locations (my husband thought it had more of a new-age vibe – maybe we were looking out on opposite sides of the bus).

Heptonstall was very close to Hebden Bridge – about ten minutes on the small bus. It was situated on a hill and some of its streets were quite steep. Heptonstall, too, was very picturesque but not as touristy. There was no problem finding the churches – there are two, but one is in ruins. The 'new' one is from the middle of the nineteenth century. Plath's grave, likewise, is in the 'new' graveyard: an extension to the earlier graveyard, which, I suppose, filled up at some point.

Finding the actual grave took some time and resulted in two pairs of wet shoes – the grass was high and the whole cemetery somewhat overgrown. The grave itself was beautiful, though, and I kind of liked that we really had to look for it. It had more flowers growing on it than the other graves - mostly blue and pink flowers. The blue flowers, especially, caught my eye. They were intensely blue – the picture doesn't do them justice – and somehow fit so perfectly with the epitaph that Hughes chose for the stone: 'Even midst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted'.

I'm not quite sure what I expected from this visit. Standing at Plath's grave, I didn't feel much, except perhaps a sense of sadness and waste that she died so young. It felt a bit odd that a young American woman would end up in a churchyard on a hill in the middle of Yorkshire. At the same time, Heptonstall and the surrounding landscape – the moors – were striking in their raw beauty – an extreme kind of beauty that felt very fitting to Plath.

After returning with the mini-bus to Hebden Bridge, we took another bus that drove over the moors towards Haworth and that way we got to see more of the stunning landscape, which is what I'll remember most from this visit. 'The horizons ring me like faggots,/ Tilted and disparate, and always unstable'. Yes, indeed.

10 September 2016

Some Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Books

The ABAA accredited Appledore Books of New York recently list a slew of mighty appealing Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes books on their website.

Enamored as I am with first editions, rare books and the like, I wanted to write about them as it has been a while since Plath books for sale have been mentioned on the blog. I wrote to Appledore asking if there was any significant provenance to these books as they all seemed to be in similar condition. Bryan wrote back saying that they were acquired via auction. This being the case, it is very difficult to determine from where they came. However, given the condition they all appear to have been well cared for and intentionally collected.

Ladies first... The Plath books are:

Ariel (London: Faber and Faber, 1965)

The Bell Jar (London: William Heinemann (Contemporary Fiction), 1964)

The Bell Jar (New York: Harper & Row, 1971)

The Colossus (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962)

Crossing the Water (Uncollected Proof) (London: Faber and Faber, 1971)

Crossing the Water (London: Faber and Faber, 1971)

Uncollected Poems (London: Turret Books, 1965 (1966))

Here are some images of these lovely Plath books:

The Hughes books are:

The Earth-Owl and Other Moon-People (Uncorrected Proof Copy) (London: Faber and Faber, 1963)

The Earth-Owl and Other Moon-People (London: Faber and Faber, 1963)

How the Whale Became and Other Stories (London: Faber and Faber, 1963)

Lupercal (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960)

Meet My Folks! (London: Faber and Faber, 1961)

Nessie the Mannerless Monster (London: Faber and Faber, 1964)

Here are some images of the fine looking Hughes books:

Appledore has two books, one by Plath and Hughes each, that may be older holdings? They do not have images, but are: Crossing the Water (London: Faber & Faber, 1971) and Seneca's Oedipus(London: Faber & Faber, 1969)

If you have ever thought about starting a book collection (and remember, the holiday's are coming), these book would an excellent place to start. Appledore is an ABAA bookseller which means they are professional, legit, and you should frankly want to give your money to them. Collecting books is an absolute joy, and Appledore books can help to make you happy.

All links accessed 1 September 2016.

01 September 2016

A Sylvia Plath Tour

On 18 August, I was fortunate to give a tour of some Sylvia Plath sites to four women involved in the current The Bell Jar film adaptation: Kirsten Dunst (director), Dakota Fanning (lead actress), Lizzie Friedman (Producer, Priority Pictures), and Brittany Kahan (Producer, Echo Lake Entertainment). To my surprise, I was not nearly as nervous as I thought I would be. In part because I know the sites like the back of my hand, and also because all four were very relaxed and engaging and put me instantly at ease.

We started in Winthrop where we saw Plath's house at 92 Johnson Avenue before carrying on to Deer Island and Point Shirley were we experienced Plath's writings in living color. Armed with the Journals of Sylvia Plath, her Collected Poems, and of course a copy of The Bell Jar, I read selected passages in situ which helped contextualize the real places Plath wrote about in her works. This exercise illustrated how she may have made creative changes after recording them in her journal as she re-wrote them in poetry and prose.

Water Tower Hill and Yirrel Beach from Deer Island,Winthrop
After this, we shuttled over to the grave of Otto Plath in Winthrop Cemetery and had an amble through the three separate yards before pausing for a good while at Plath's father's grave. This is always my favorite part of the tour because of how Plath reworked the experience of visiting the cemetery in her journals into other creative forms. I also find that everyone who visits these places reacts in quite similar ways but at the same time with complete uniqueness. Like Plath wrote: "It is good to have the place in mind."

"They always knew it was you."
Dunst, Mr Sylvia Plath Info, and Fanning at Otto Plath's grave.
The day was quite hot and so we left the open, bright expanse of Winthrop for the "motherly breath of the suburbs" in Wellesley. It was here where we had perhaps the highlight of the day: a in-house tour of 26 Elmwood Road. This was quite a moving and privileged experience. It was my second time in the house and I was able to observe more and gain a greater appreciation for its layout. Being there, too, on a hot summer day was actually informative as it kind of gave an indication why Plath may have so enjoyed summer camps and other experiences away from the house once she was in college.

Ladies and the tramp:
Kahan, Fanning, Steinberg, Friedman, and Dunst.
Following lunch, we drove to the tour's last stop: McLean Hospital. We drove around the "campus" and as we did this I pointed out which buildings where which as they appeared in The Bell Jar and what they are called in actuality: Belsize was Belknap; Caplan was Codman; and Wymark was Wyman.

Then, sadly, I had to drop them back off at their hotel. It was an amazing day. The time went by quickly - a little too quickly as good times often do. But, also, I feel things were paced in such a way that it was not overwhelming. I was really happy that I did not make a complete fool out of myself, and also that I neither cut myself shaving that morning nor drooled or dripped salad dressing down my shirt. Phew! It is the little things... We had lots of great conversations and they asked fantastic questions - but please do not ask about that!

At their hotel, I admit I became a cheesy-fan and asked Kirsten and Dakota to sign the copy of The Bell Jar that I used for this tour.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Faber, 1967.

24 August 2016

New Sylvia Plath Info Content

As you know, or should know, I post on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt every year on 24 August. Or, I try to. In the past, such blog posts have detailed newly found articles from cities and towns across the United States. This got me thinking: It is fine and dandy to write about them, but how about sharing visuals with you all? Well, I have seen to that.

Over on my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is, visitors can now see and download PDFs or JPGs of all the articles that I have found on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt in August 1953. It is my eternal hope that by seeing the list of articles and now the articles themselves, that the sensation this story was, and the concern and chaos and confusion, can be truly grasped.

So, please head over to the "Bibliography of Newspaper Articles on Sylvia Plath's First Suicide Attempt in August 1953" and click around and save some files. Most of the articles come from microfilm either held by the Boston Public Library or obtained through their Interlibrary Loan service, several come from either databases or archives such as Smith College or Cambridge University. Additionally, a few articles were found on the rich and incomparable Old Fulton Postcards website.

The quality of some of these is admittedly wanting improvement. As I can, I will rescan and re-upload better, brighter, and clearer versions. New articles will be posted as they are found, if they are found. If you live in or near a town or a city not on this list, please do consider visiting the local or college/university library and looking at microfilm for 25-28 August 1953 for additional articles. If you find something, your contribution(s) to this bibliography will certainly be acknowledged and will as well be very much appreciated.

All links accessed 18 and 22 July 2016.

10 August 2016

Sylvia Plath in Benidorm

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes traveled to the end of Spain for their honeymoon in the summer of 1956. After getting married, they went from London to Cambridge to London to Paris to Madrid, where they rested before moving on to Alicante and, ultimately, Benidorm. They left Spain via Barcelona on 22 August 1956, stayed in Paris for about a week, and returned to England on 29 August 1956. In all she had been one the continent for more than two months.

This post is about Plath's time in Benidorm and was inspired by Gail Crowther's finding and sending me the following two videos in April: Benidorm in Color, 1950s and Antique photographs of Benidorm. These, in congruence with a long paper on Plath's time Benidorm "De quan Sylvia Plath va vindre a Benidorm" by Pasqual Almiñana Orozco, were positively revelatory in my understanding more clearly than ever Plath's time there.

Of course, one cannot consider Plath's time in Benidorm, also, without use of the rich record of documents from her time there: her letters, journals, personal pocket calendars, artwork, poetry, and fiction. As well, one should consider what Ted Hughes wrote in his own letters and in poems such as "You Hated Spain", "Moonwalk", "Drawing" and others. It is possible to read and observe output in each of these mediums and gain much insight into her time there. Benidorm itself has changed so dramatically since 1956 that some might say it would be impossible to trace Plath. However, the videos linked above, which I hope still work, capture the Spanish fishing town as a very undeveloped and sleepy village, seemingly sparsely populated, and very much as Plath herself saw it, lived in in, and documented it.

In viewing the videos in April, I took screenshots of various scenes that, either from my memory or via research conducted in the interim, evoked Plath's works. I will try to give accurate information to each screenshot to help to contextualize it. Plath's journals were the starting point for placing the scenes in the films, in particular, journal entries from 15 July and 18 August 1956 (Appendix 10).

15 July 1956
"Widow Mangada's house: pale, peach-brown stucco on the main Avenida running along shore, facing the beach of reddish yellow sand with all the gaily painted cabanas making a maze of bright blue wooden stilts and small square patches of shadow."
Plath's 15 July 1956 journal entry is so close to her short story "That Widow Mangada" that it seems like the entry might have been notes or a draft of the story. Plath herself knew that the widow's name wasn't "Mangada", for on two letters held by the Lilly Library she lists her return address as being in care of "Enriqueta Luhoz Ortiz". However, according to Plath's pocket calendar, the idea for the story did not come to her until 3 August 1956, well after they had left this abode facing the ocean for another house just up from the center of the town. Perhaps Mangada was a nickname she, Ortiz, gave to herself? It does not appear to be a Spanish word, though "Manga" means "sleeves" and "da" means "gives". Perhaps it's "That Widow Gives Sleeves"?

In the images below, I've drawn arrows to the the house that I believe was Widow Mangada's based on Plath's descriptions and information contained in the paper by Orozco linked above. By the way, if anyone is brave enough to try to translate document into English I will send them something in gratitude.

"Out in the middle of the bay juts a rock island, slanting up from the horizon line to form a sloped triangle of orange rock..." Not much else to say about the blow image: Plath nailed it.

18 August 1956
"The houses of Benidorm cluster along the top of a rocky headland jutting out into the bay." By the time Plath wrote this on 18 August 1956, she and Hughes were living at 59 Tomas Ortunio. They enjoyed their time there as they had an entire house to themselves and were very self-sufficient.  The subsequent quotes say pretty much all there is to say about the images captured in the films.

"The blurred words "Hotel Planesia" are printed in faded black letters on the long windowless side of the building."

"Below the buildings of the hotel, a staircase cut in rock zigzags down to the beach..."

"...the fluted blue dome of the Castillo..."

Sylvia Plath: Drawings features the houses clustered on the rocky headland (p. 37) and Carrero del Gats (p. 38), both of which appear in the film. Plath also drew the sardine boats and their very distinctive lights (p. 35; published first in the Christian Science Monitor). Seeing the boats and lights in the film and then looking at Plath's drawing was a very awesome experience and I hope that you feel the same way.

Carrero del Gats (these images include some map and other views, as well as those taken from the videos):

Sardine Boats:

How do you feel about seeing these long, gone places and scenes captured contemporaneously, in color, to Plath's time in Benidorm? It fairly blew my mind. Thanks thanks thanks to Gail for finding these on YouTube and for sending them to me (us).

All linked accessed 29 April and 8 August 2016
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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.