29 April 2016

Call for Chapter Proposals: Sylvia Plath in Context

Call for Chapter Proposals

Sylvia Plath in Context to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Edited by Tracy Brain.

Sylvia Plath in Context will be part of Cambridge University Press’s highly regarded Literature in Context series. You can learn more about the series, and link to some of the volumes that have already appeared, from here: http://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/literature/english-literature-general-interest/series/literature-context

Each chapter of Sylvia Plath in Context will focus on a key context out of which Plath’s work emerged, rather than being directly about her texts. The series’ descriptor is helpful:

Each of these volumes focuses on an individual writer, offering lively, accessible and relatively short essays, by leading scholars, on the many contexts – literary, political, intellectual, social and cultural – that have a bearing on his or her work. Biographical and literary influences on the writer, publishing history and the creative afterlife of the work are also addressed. … Each volume offers comprehensive information and comment to clarify and illuminate the life and work of the literary figure concerned.

This Call for Proposals aims to cast the net widely, to see what exciting ideas may come in. I am seeking new and fresh voices, and original pieces, for what promises to be a significant new contribution to Plath scholarship. So please do consider sending me a proposal, concentrating on an area that you think has formed Plath’s work, and which you think will enrich her readers’ ability to understand it. Please note that each 4000 word chapter will need to be written in compliance with ‘fair dealing’ and must not have been published elsewhere.

If you are interested, please send a 200-word chapter proposal as well as a 100-word biography, to: t.brain@bathspa.ac.uk

The deadline for these materials is 15 May 2016.

27 April 2016

Post for a Birthday: Sylvia Plath Info Blog is 9

Happy Blogday to me. Happy Blogday to me. Happy Bloday SylviaPlathInfo....Happy Blogday to me.

Today, 27 April 2016, the Sylvia Plath Info Blog turns 9. It is exactly 72 years younger than Warren Plath.

What a journey this has been. Thank you all for reading, commenting, referring to, etc. Every effort I make on this blog as you in mind so this is as much your blog as it is mine. The archive of all the posts is accessible on the right hand column of the screen. You can also search for words in the search box at the top left-hand corner. Have a look around. Have fun.

You can also visit my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is, which is the oldest continually updated website about Sylvia Plath on the internet. There you can read a biography, see photographs of significant Plath related places, book covers, read at bibliographies of publications, archive locations, and the like, and read about Plath's poetry and prose.

Self-promotion aside... Thank you all sincerely.

A look towards May. Right now I am planning a few blog posts for May that I hope you will really enjoy. This will be a series of posts on Plath and The Bradford, the newspaper for Wellesley Senior High School (though in Plath's time it was called Gamaliel Bradford Senior High). I recently got to work with the entire run of issues from Plath's time at the high school from 1947 to 1950 and it was really interesting. I hope you enjoy the forthcoming posts. Look for the first one on 1 May.


18 April 2016

Gail Crowther's The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath

This August, Dr Gail Crowther will see her second book published: The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath. Following on from her successful Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning, which is going into a second printing thanks to all you greedy readers, The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath takes an unusual approach to studies on this enigmatic literary figure, focusing on the readers rather than the historical figure herself. Gail carried out primary research by collecting stories and accounts from readers of Plath and she explores key areas such as the first encounter with Plath, ways in which fans feel they 'double' with her, pilgrimages that they make to places where Plath lived and work, how they interact with her images and how they respond to objects owned by Plath. The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath is a unique study, offering a fascinating and original approach not only to Plath scholarship, but to the increasing body of literature on fandom studies.

Look for The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath , published by Fonthill Media, on 25 August 2016.

08 April 2016

Sylvia Plath in Venice

In December 2015, I did some fairly extensive, intensive work with the photographs of Sylvia Plath and Gordon Lameyer from their time together as a couple and as friends. Lameyer took a series of full color images of Plath from circa spring 1953 to April 1956 which are now on slides and printed photographs held by the Lilly. Plath is depicted from Northampton to Ipswich, atop Mount Monadnock to the beaches at Cape Cod, from Newport, Rhode Island to Paris and Venice and Rome. And more. This work included studying the photographs carefully and establishing the date on which they were taken using a variety of sources to support the conclusions I was reaching and include her journals, letters, calendars, and more.

Plath and Lameyer traveled from Paris, France to Munich, Germany on Friday 6 April 1956. Then from Munich, Germany, to Venice, Italy on Saturday 7 April 1956. They had just the one full day, Sunday, 8 April 1956, in the enchantingly aquatic city and it seems they made the most of it. They had to, for on Monday 9 April 1956 they traveled to Rome where they largely went their separate ways. Plath flew from Lameyer and Rome to London and Ted Hughes on the famous Friday, 13 April 1956.

Enamored with the Italian slides, I wanted to try to photo match the images of Plath and Lameyer to see if I could identify the exact location on one of the 177 canals where the photographs were taken. I turned to Google and was pleased and amazed to use "Street View" on the Grand Canal and other canals of Venice. (Really, for Venice, it should be "Canal View".) Which should not have been that surprising considering the waterways are the primary "streets" of this wonderful city. So, I started with the Grand Canal, grandly hoping it would be that easy. It was! I lucked out and only had to search the Grand Canal: one and done.

The first image, below, shows Plath alone in the gondola on the Grand Canal traveling from the direction of the Ponte di Rialto towards the Piazza San Marco. The location is near the Calle del Traghetto Vecchio. Beneath that image is a Google Canal View of the section of Venice in the background. The angle requires some consideration.

The second image, below, shows Plath and Lameyer on a gondola a little further up (or down?) the Grand Canal. The distance is roughly 150 to 200 meters. They are at, approximately, the S Angelo stop for the Hotel Palazzo Sant'Angelo. Beneath that image is a Google Canal View of the section of Venice in the background. The angle requires some consideration.

The third photograph of Plath in Venice, not included here but available at the Lilly Library, is from atop the beautiful Torre dell'Orologio in Piazza San Marco. Plath stands between the bell and a bell ringer. The distinctive brick orange column and white loggia of the Campanile di San Marco looms in the background. Also visible is one of the three tall bronze standards. Here are two photographs of the Torre dell'Orologio my wife took on our honeymoon.

Images from Lameyer Mss, Courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. My deepest thanks to Cherry, Zach, Jody, and Sarah for their help.

Images of the Torre dell'Orologio, Venice, Courtesy of my wife, whom I thank for marrying me!

All links accessed 5 December 2015 and 27 March 2016.

01 April 2016

Sylvia Plath: Secret Befouler

Sylvia Plath famously wrote about picking her nose in this 25 January 1953 journal entry:
do you realize the illicit sensuous delight I get from picking my nose? I always have, ever since I was a child -- there are so many subtle variations of sensation. A delicate, pointed-nailed fifth finger can catch under dry scabs and flakes of mucous in the nostril and draw them out to be looked at, crumbled between fingers, and flicked to the floor in minute crusts. Or a heavier, determined forefinger can reach up and smear down-and-out the soft, resilient, elastic greenish-yellow smallish blobs of mucous, roll them round and jelly-like between thumb and forefinger, and spread them on the under surface of a desk or chair where they will harden into organic crusts. How many desks and chairs have I thus secretively befouled since childhood? (165)
What else was she supposed to do? What with her broken leg and experiencing another Massachusetts winter!

On a research trip to Smith College last year, I was talking with College Archivist Nanci Young about the college atmosphere in the 1950s during Plath's time as both a student and a teacher. I was trying to get a more authentic perspective for the look and feel of Smith College at this time as I thought it might lend some authority to the notes I was writing for the Plath Letters project. I was initially interested in traditional archival materials like photographs, yearbooks, or even newspaper articles. But I wanted something more visual, if you will, something three dimensional. Nanci mentioned to me that Smith still holds scores of the old desks from that time period. As a side note, and a way to possibly explain this, the College Archives and Mortimer Rare Book Room are in the process of merging to become a single entity in the Neilson Library under the name Department of Hoardology. Nanci will oversee the operation as the Chief Hoarding Officer (CHO). She expressed absolute delight, "I'm chuffed to be the CHO! Overnight, very quietly, I get more stuff. It's all about the stuff, anyway. We are a library, we are an archive. Yes. But it's time to face the truth: we're hoarders at heart. That's the reason for the name."

Classroom, undated photograph,
The 1950s era desks are stored offsite in a converted Holyoke mountain range cave. I asked for three dozen to be called and set up in the Smith Alumnae Gymnasium. In the process of examining them, we found lots of substances on the undersides of the desks. This got me curious about possibly trying to identify if any of these desks were befouled by Plath! Fortunately, the provenance of each desk is cataloged, so it was possible to recall only those desks that were in rooms where Plath had classes. Thank God for Librarians!

The Lilly Library at Indiana University at Bloomington sent some of Plath's hair to Smith and from that, a DNA profile was established. Smith College's head of Rhinology, Dr. Sy Nusshaft, conducted the extensive testing on the desks. Taking a few hundred scraping samples from the desks, the initial results were quite grim. However, after three months positive results came back on three of the 36 desks! Each of the desks will take turn on a rotating display in the Mortimer Rare Book Room. If additional desks are identified, they will likely be auctioned off. One will feature in the 2017 One Life: Sylvia Plath exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Due to concerns over copyright it is not possible at this time to post photographs of the befouled desks as according to US copyright law, mucous counts as a product (a creative work of the nose) of the author. Visitors to Smith College can see the desk, sit in it(!), and take personal use photographs.

23 March 2016

Sylvia Plath Collections: Letters to Marion Freeman

In December 2015, Ruth Geissler (nee Freeman) donated twelve letters from Sylvia Plath to her mother Marion Freeman to Smith College in honor of her daughter Susan, Smith class of 1978. In my 2015: Year in Review post,  I wrote a little bit about befriending Ruth as part of the forthcoming Letters of Sylvia Plath book. There, I mention that I Karen V. Kukil and I visited Ruth in November but what was absent from the post was our purpose... Which was to collect the letters from Ruth, meeting at the time two of her daughters, Susan and Joan.

The cache of twelve letters complements the Mortimer Rare Book Room's holdings of other Plath correspondence, joining letters to the late Marcia Brown Stern, Ann Davidow-Goodman, Philip McCurdy, Elinor Friedman Klein, Hans-Joachim Neupert, and Clarissa Roche.

The dates of the twelve letters are as follows:

16 April 1946
4 November 1946
17 November 1951
1 January 1952
1 August 1952
16 January 1954
28 April 1955
circa 12 December 1956
28 March 1961
26 October 1961
31 January 1962
28 March 1962

Recently, Smith College published an article about this gift, "Letters to a 'Second Mother': New Items in Smith Collection Show Another Side of Sylvia Plath '55". As Ruth says in the article, when she found the letters she knew immediately they "belong" at Smith College. When I emailed Ruth in December 2014 to see if she had any letters, I could never have fathomed that the simple query would lead within the year to the letters finding their way to the Mortimer Rare Book Room.

The letters are available for reading in the Mortimer Rare Book Room and add valuable perspective to Plath's relationship to the Freeman family.

A list of archival collections of Sylvia Plath materials is on my website, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 3 February and 18 March 2016.

16 March 2016

Sylvia Plath Bonhams Auction: The Results

Bonhams Knightsbridge held a Fine Books, Atlases and Manuscripts auction today 16 March 2016.

There were six lots of Sylvia Plath items, Lots 140-145. All lots sold and the typed letter in a birthday card was the big seller. Congrats to the owner(s) of this material!

Here follows the results:

Lot 140
Sylvia Plath
Autograph drafts, notes, drawings and doodles for her story "Stardust", comprising a page of fairy sketches (with three red lipstick kisses applied by the author), [1946-47]
Sold for £5,000 / US$7,088

Lot 141
Sylvia Plath
Birthday card to her mother with autograph message signed ("much love to my favourite mummy! your Sivvy"), with a long typed letter within, Friday, 24 April [1953]
Sold for £6,000 / US$8,605

Lot 142
Sylvia Plath
Collection of typescripts of nine early poems, including "Ice Age", "In Memoriam", "Incident", "Crossing the Equinox" and others
The other poems are: "I Have Found the Perfect World", "Have You Forgotten?", "Humoresque", "Gone is the River", and "Gold Mouths Cry" ["The Bronze Boy"]
Sold for £3,500 / US$4,962

Lot 143
Sylvia Plath
Group of six typescript poems, including "Female Author', most with autograph revisions or corrections, all but the first with her name ("Sylvia Plath") and address at Lawrence House, Smith College, typed at the head, Lawrence House, Smith College [1954-55]
The other poems are: "On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover", "Morning in the Hospital Solarium", "Prologue to Spring", "Trio of Love Songs" ["Parallax"], and "The Trial of Man"
Sold for £3,750 / US$5,316

Lot 144
Sylvia Plath
Two typed and autograph drafts of her poem "Admonitions" (here entitled "'Never Try to Know More Than You Should'", above a quotation from Paradise Lost), [1954-5]
Sold for £4,750 / US$6,734

Lot 145
Sylvia Plath
Two photographs given by Sylvia Plath to her mother Aurelia, the first showing her and her husband Ted Hughes, the second showing her in a garden wearing a sundress [The second photograph dates to July-August 1949 and was taken in the yard at 26 Elmwood Road, Wellesley.]
Sold for £2,375 / US$3,367

Unrelated to the above, an addition Sylvia Plath related item was included in the auction:
Lot 146
Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar, First Edition, Heinemann, 1963
Sold for £3,750 / US$5,316

All links accessed 16 March 2016.

08 March 2016

Esther Greenwood Hates Technicolour

According to the mimeographed schedule of Sylvia Plath's appointments while a Guest Editor at Mademoiselle, on 17 June 1953, she and the other Guest Editors to attend a tea at Vanity Fair (640 Fifth Avenue) at 3 pm, and then at 8 pm (probably) a film preview of Let's Do It Again (IMDb ; Wikipedia) at Columbia Pictures, 729 Seventh Avenue, New York, New York. However this was the day the editors were all down with ptomaine poisoning so...

Anyway, in The Bell Jar, there is the most memorable scene before the ptomaine takes hold in the cinema:
The movie was very poor. It starred a nice blonde girl who looked like June Allyson but was really somebody else, and a sexy black-haired girl who looked like Elizabeth Taylor but was also somebody else, and two big, broad-shouldered bone-heads with names like Rick and Gil. 
It was a football romance and it was in technicolour. 
I hate technicolour. Everybody in a technicolour movie seems to feel obliged to wear a lurid costume in each new scene and to stand around like a clothes-horse with a lot of very green trees or very yellow wheat or very blue ocean rolling away for miles and miles in every direction. 
THE first edition
Most of the action in this picture took place in the football stands, with the two girls waving and cheering in smart suits with orange chrysanthemums the size of cabbages on their lapels, or in a ballroom, where the girls swooped across the floor with their dates, in dresses like something out of Gone With the Wind, and then sneaked off into the powder-room to say nasty intense things to each other. 
Finally I could see the nice girl was going to end up with the nice football hero and the sexy girl was going to end up with nobody, because the man named Gil had only wanted a mistress and not a wife all along and was now packing off to Europe on a single ticket. (1963: 43)

The point of this post is to ask you for your help as I'm not well-educated on 1950s cinema. Does anyone know the name of this film that Plath describes in the novel? Thank you for your help.

All links accessed 8 March 2016.

01 March 2016

Sylvia Plath and Smith College's Campus Cat

The Campus Cat,
Commencement 1952
In the spring of 1952, Sylvia Plath was a very active young woman at Smith College. Completing her sophomore year, Plath was doing well academically, but also socially and in terms of extracurricular activities. She was involved with Press Board, covering campus events as well as sending out news stories to local papers. But she was also involved with a small publication called the The Campus Cat.

The Campus Cat was a publication created by Smith students in 1918. Its contents provided information to the campus about going-ons, events, activities, and poked fun at the rituals, trials, and stresses of academia and life on the Smith campus.

Contributions to the periodical were anonymous, though the contributors were listed in the front of the magazine. In her 1952 calendar, held by the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington, Plath has three reminders on 3, 7, and 14 May 1952. On the 3rd she worked on writing her piece; on the 7th there was a meeting; and on the 14th there was a meeting and her "story" was due. This was new to me, as it does not appear in any bibliography: perhaps as the publication was anonymous. Plath's work on The Campus Cat is mentioned briefly in Carl Rollyson's 2013 biography American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath.

Table of Contents of The Campus Cat
On a trip to Smith College on 31 March 2015, I looked at the Campus Cat records and was very happy to find Plath listed as a contributor to the "Commencement 1952" issue of the periodical. Below is a list of the articles and features in the issue. Many of the titles appear in the table of contents one way, and under a different name on the page on which they appear. Those alternate titles are in square brackets.

"The Cat's Eye"; "The Core of the Matter" ["On the relative importance of the Apple in History or The Core of the Matter"];
"Wednesday Song" ["Il Wednesdoroso"];
"Bermuda" ["Bermuda Buggy Ride"];
"Dearie" ["Dearie; do you remember when "];
"On My Malocclusion";
"Fully two, you're famous" ["Fifty-two you're famous"];
"The Bowlegged Dinosaur"; and
"The Cliché Expert" ["The Cliche Export: Paradise Lost Revisited"].

"The Cat's Eye" section featured short pieces with separate titles:

"Spring Comes to Paradise Road";
"On Seeing One's Self in a Mirror";
"T.V. or Not T.V.";
"Ve-ry Funny!";
"The Athletes";
"Be Mine -- For Now";
"Thought for the Day";
"Why -- Hello!";
"And Hello To You, Too!";
"Reflection on Ivy Day"; and
"'She's Got It By Going 'BRRR' In Front of Bergdorf's', Peter Arno".

Blurry/fuzzy list of Contributors,
Plath among them
But as stated above the pieces were printed without attribution so pinning down exactly which article was authored by Plath might difficult, if not impossible, in the absence of any typescript or other document confirming authorship. The full list of authors in this issue were: Paula Granger, Ag Hawkins, Diana Yates, Ga Snikwah, Paula Shiff, Marj Wedin, Sylvia Plath, Betty Nore, Sue Schuster, and J. Gregg.

The Smith College archives holds material on the Campus Cat which includes most issues of the magazine, press releases and other Campus Cat related publications.

All links accessed 3 April 2015 and 26 February 2016.

24 February 2016

Sylvia Plath and William Shakespeare at The Writing House

Poets Baron Wormser and Jeanne Marie Beaumont are offering a weekend long course entitled "Plath and Shakespeare" at The Writing House, 13 Loomis Street, Montpelier, VT.

The course will be held 16-17 April 2016, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cost: $325 (lunch included)

Limited to six participants: first come, first served. As of this blog post, only two spots remain open.

Sylvia Plath was deeply attuned to the poetry of Shakespeare. His work offered her an emotional scope, a trove of verse techniques, a bottomless vocabulary, a stunning range of tones (both comic and tragic), the felt presence of classical themes, and an insistence on the primacy of drama. Accordingly, we will be looking at some Plath poems through the Shakespearean lens to see how she seized upon his plays as an aid to creating poems that were brief yet powerful dramas. Any poet with ambition yearns to reach the phenomenal eloquence Shakespeare represents. Plath not only had that ambition, she worked deliberately and intuitively at making that eloquence her own.

Readings include Macbeth, The Tempest, Antony and Cleopatra, and Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare and "Ariel", "Full Fathom Five", "Daddy", "Death & Co.", "Lady Lazarus", "Elm", "Thalidomide", "Winter Trees", "The Applicant", and  "Fever 103” by Sylvia Plath
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Publications & Acknowledgements