24 September 2017

Guest Post: Gesa Matthies on her Sylvia Plath Film

The following is a guest post by Gesa Matthies...

The lady in the book – Sylvia Plath, portrays

Peter K. Steinberg generously proposed that I write this guest post. I met Peter when I started doing research for what was then a vague project: "a film on Sylvia Plath in the places where she lived and with people who live there today". Peter took me on a tour to some Plath places around Boston and Winthrop. We stopped in front of Plath's old house close to the waterfront on Johnson Avenue, at Yirell Beach where he showed me the house where Plath's grandparents lived and at Winthrop cemetery to see her father's grave. The tour went on to Mclean Hospital where Peter pointed out the network of subterranean passageways that connect the different houses. That was in 2012. The film is now finished and is called The lady in the book – Sylvia Plath, portrays.

I filmed this at places where Plath had lived or stayed and I filmed women who live there today. They perpetuate her presence and above all her writings. It is a film about how Plath's voice continues to echo with contemporary women's lives.

At the beginning of this documentary film project, like at the beginning of many projects, there was a coincidence: In 2008, Rachel, an old friend of mine whom I had met when I was a student in California and who in the meantime had moved to the East coast, was about to get married. The address on the invitation card sounded somewhat familiar: 24 Prince Street, Jamaica Plain, Boston. The house where Sylvia Plath first lived.

© drawing by Lawrence Fane
When Rachel confirmed that she and her husband Dimitri had in fact bought the downstairs apartment where Plath had lived until the age of three I realized I had found the pretext and starting point for a film about my favorite author. I went to Boston that same year and spent three weeks in the house of Rachel/Sylvia. The Jamaica Plain house with its wooden floors, its spacious rooms and my friend's decoration was a beautiful place for me that summer, but I didn't feel any closer to Plath by being there. I decided to leave it at what it was in the first place: a pretext to make a film inspired by Sylvia Plath.

Two years later, with the kind help of Richard Larschan, I had the occasion to visit the house on 26 Elmwood Road in Wellesley where Plath had lived from the age of nine until she left for Smith College. When owner and resident Linda Gallo invited me to see the upstairs bedroom that Sylvia had shared with her mother, I felt I was leaving the sphere of fiction in which until then my connection with the author had developed. I was now entering the "real world" of Sylvia and I could feel "the warm feminine atmosphere of the house enveloping me in its thick, feathery smothering embrace." (Journals, p. 16)

The non-fictional experience with Sylvia Plath continued for me when I spent a week in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College in front of the original manuscripts of her journals. I think everyone who has had the chance to read these hand-written pages, must have had this sensation of closeness and authenticity. I also found that her writings took on a physical dimension. Photographs of Sylvia Plath represent her physical characteristics and her surroundings, but the pages and pages of hand- and typewritten documents are a very concrete by-product of her thoughts and the act of creating. That's why I loved filming these pages. In my documentary you see the hands of Karen V. Kukil, Associate Curator of Special Collections at Smith College, turning the pages.


At Smith College, I also met Kyle Kaplan, a student and young writer who that year was living in a room in Haven House. Someone had told her it used to be one of Plath's rooms. For me, it was not so much the room that made the connection with Plath as this young woman who had decided to become a poet and who was living in this room and writing at its desk in 2014.


That same year, I met Emmett and Jennifer, two students and residents of Lawrence House where Plath had her room during her junior and senior years. We had a long conversation about the pressure they feel to choose from the variety of career opportunities they theoretically enjoy today as Smith students. At the time Plath graduated, women were expected to get married shortly after college. They became mothers and caretakers and as Plath put it might only "pick up Bergson, or Kafka, or Joyce" while "I am stumbling up to cook eggs and feed milk to the baby and prepare dinner for my husband's friends". (Journals, p. 225)

Today, women who are studying at prestigious colleges are educated to pursue leadership positions. Yet, it seems that a lot of these young women see themselves also as future mothers. Whereas "wanting everything" is not considered inappropriate any more for women as it used to be when Plath graduated, "a life of conflict, of balancing children, sonnets, love and dirty dishes" (Journals, p. 225) is still an important issue for women today even if traditional gender roles have shifted and gender itself has become an option to choose in progressive environments like Smith College, as Emmett Wald points out, sitting in the Lawrence House study room in 2014.

In spring 2016 I met Janelle Tan, English major in her senior year who had come to Smith because of Plath. She said that Plath has been "a big part of what she is as a person" and reading the Journals while living at Smith had helped her to cope with everyday life. Janelle had also started writing poetry when she had discovered Plath. Some images as well as the violent and unapologetic tone of her poem "Motherland" which she reads in my film, remind me of Plath's "Medusa".


For a long time, Plath's readers have been stereotyped as unstable and frustrated young women in need for a silent idol. As a matter of fact, young women like Janelle Tan and the other people in my film as well as older women like me and countless other readers (women and men) of Plath identify with her. However, we identify with her writings not with her person and we identify with her because she is all but silent. She has never stopped speaking to us or, in other words, her words have the capacity to "put our feelings into words" as Janelle Tan puts it in one of my interviews with her.

My first English copy of The Bell Jar (I had already read a German one at 14) I bought at a yard sale in San Francisco in the late 1980s when I was a foreign exchange student in California. Inside the cover a former reader had left the following note:
"I often felt like the lady in the book, but it is good reading.
Cheers, love, Laurie"

In the very elaborate Voices & Visions documentary film Sylvia Plath from 1988 (to watch on YouTube) we can see a long and very moving interview with Aurelia Plath and many other interviews with people who had known Plath and/or who had written about her. Besides this film in which we also get to hear a great number of her poems, there seems to be no other documentary on Plath.

I did not want to make a film about her life. I think there are enough well researched and detailed biographies out there to be read. Films are not for people who don't want to read. Films are about images and sounds and I wanted to show my searching for images and sounds of Sylvia Plath in places where she had lived and that had influenced her. In my film it's the people who I met at these places who carry something of Plath within themselves as if they were figures in her stories. Like the unknown Laurie who wrote in my copy of The Bell Jar, the women in my film, without saying it explicitly, have already felt like "the lady in the book".

The lady in the book – Sylvia Plath, portrays has been produced in France by a French production company and a small local TV station. I live in France and so I had proposed it to French film funding institutions who found it an interesting project. Their funding allowed me to do several research trips to Massachusetts. Plath is not very known in France. Feminists know her or people who are into poetry or English-language literature. In 2011, Gallimard issued Ĺ’uvres with her essential works: the poems, The Bell Jar, several stories and the abridged journals all translated into French, for some of it for the first time and for some of it newly translated. Plath also appears in a few recent publications on women poets. I hope with this film a French audience will find the way into her books. I also hope an American audience will enjoy the film and recognize one of their culture's most important writers.

The lady in the book – Sylvia Plath, portrays
60 min, France 2016,
A film by Gesa Matthies
Facebook

There will be a screening at Smith College October 21, 2017 for the 20th anniversary of the Poetry Center at 2.30 pm (screening time to be verified shortly before the event) in the Weinstein Auditorium.



All links accessed 12 and 20 September 2017.

20 September 2017

Sylvia Plath Exhibit at the Grolier Club

The Grolier Club in New York City will host the exhibition "'This is the light of the mind': Selections from the Sylvia Plath collection of Judith G. Raymo" which opens today, 20 September 2017, and runs through 4 November 2017.

On Thursday, 12 October, the Grolier will host a Sylvia Plath Symposium from 6:00 PM-8:00 PM. Speakers include Karen Kukil, Associate Director of Special Collections, Smith College; Peter K. Steinberg, co-editor of The Letters of Sylvia Plath; and Heather Clark, Fellow, Leon Levy Center for Biography, CUNY Graduate Center. Moderator: Judith Raymo. Other details TBA. No charge, but reservations are requested. RSVPs from non-members should go to Grolier Club Administrative Assistant Maev Brennan, tel. (212) 838-6690, or e-mail mbrennan@grolierclub.org.

A stunningly produced catalog has been printed and copies will be for sale via Oak Knoll. Looking forward to giving a talk and to meeting who ever shows up!



The Grolier Club is located at 47 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022.

All links accessed 6 and 20 September 2017.

11 September 2017

The Education of Sylvia Plath, Smith College, 1952-1953

For her third year at Smith College, Sylvia Plath changed houses from Haven to Lawrence. Lawrence House is a co-operative house and residents performed jobs in exchange for a reduced tuition. Plath roomed this year with Mary Bonneville, a senior. The room numbers have changed, but from descriptions, Plath and Bonneville lived in either room 6 on the second floor or room 24 on the third floor.



With a major of English declared, Plath's studies this year were dominated by courses in this subject. She was required to take a Science course and this caused her quite a bit of concern. Plath was heavily involved with Press Board and other extra-curricular activities. During the first semester, her more-or-less steady boyfriend Richard Norton was diagnosed with tuberculosis while a student at Harvard Medical School and was treated at a sanatorium at Ray Brook, New York.

Plath's notebooks for Medieval Literature, Milton, Modern Poetry, and Physical Science are held in Plath mss II, Lilly Library. Papers or works created for a course which are held by the Lilly Library and listed in their finding aid have been added beneath the course.

English Unit, Medieval Literature: Seminar in Middle English Poetry. Emphasis will be placed on the works of Chaucer, medieval romances, or medieval drama, according to the special needs of the students. Attention will be given not so much to the reading of texts as to problems of research. Mr Howard Rollin Patch.

English Unit, Modern Poetry: Taught by Elizabeth Drew

Edith Sitwell and the Development of Her Poetry, 25 March 1953

English 39b, Milton: Milton. W Th F 2. Eleanor Terry Lincoln.

Chiaroscuro and Counterpoint, 11 May 1953

English 347a, Style and Form: The expression of different kinds of experience. By permission of the instructor. W Th F 2. Mr Robert Gorham Davis.

"Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom"; 12 December 1952; and
"Dialogue", 19 January 1953

English 347b, Techniques of Fiction and Criticism: Techniques of fiction and criticism with some consideration of poetry and expository form. By permission of the instructor. W Th F 2. Robert Gorham Davis.

"Doomsday", 21 February 1953; and
"To a Dissembling Spring", Spring 1953;

Physical Science 193 (a) World of Atoms: The World of Atoms. An introductory study of modern atomic theory by means of relevant aspects of chemistry and physics, including developments of current interest. Emphasis is placed on the logic of science and the nature of the evidence rather than on technical applications. Three lectures and one discussion. Lee. Th F S 9; Dis. W 10, 2. Mr Sherk (Director), Irving L. Kofsky. (Division III)

In the spring semester, Plath audited the following course:

English 44b, Twentieth Century British Literature: Joyce, Yeats, Eliot: M T W 10. Miss Drew.

Her notebook from this course, concentrating on James Joyce, is held by the Lilly Library.

All links accessed 9 August 2017.

01 September 2017

The Persistence of Sylvia Plath


For a long time now, 2017 has appeared to be a banner, monumental year for Sylvia Plath with so much happening. So, last winter I pitched an article idea to the good people at Fine Books & Collections on Sylvia Plath and to my absolute happiness, they said yes and made it a feature-like story. Thus I got to work on what became "The Persistence of Plath" which is out now in the Autumn 2017 issue.

My article discusses the National Portrait Gallery's One Life: Sylvia Plath exhibit; a member exhibit titled "This is the light of the mind: Selections from the Sylvia Plath Collection of Judith G. Raymo at the Grolier Club in New York City; and the publication of the Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1. I also mention conference Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words, Fragments.

One Life opened on 30 June and runs through 20 May 2018 and by now you know a lot about it. Raymo's exhibit runs from 20 September to 4 November 2017. The Letters of Sylvia Plath are published on 5 October in the UK and 17 October in the US. The Plath Conference is to be held at Ulster University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 10-11 November.

If you want to read more, you need to buy the magazine!

All links accessed 27 August 2018.

24 August 2017

Call for Sylvia Plath Help

If you have been visiting the Sylvia Plath Info Blog for any amount of time, you know that 24 August usually features something relating to Plath's first suicide attempt on that day in 1953. There are many posts "tagged" with "First Suicide Attempt". I'd encourage you all to click through these posts to see a history of the work I did on building a full bibliography of the articles that I have located.

The post I had long intended for this year's anniversary was the announcement that I had transcribed all the articles that I had found to date. But I decided to post that on 1 January as I could not see sitting on that for most of the year.

In the past, I have asked for help from readers of this blog to search through their local library's and university's microfilms to see if they can find missing articles. To date, no one has heeded the call. So... I am asking now, again, for some helping in building on the bibliography. 

If you have any interest in what the house at 26 Elmwood Road is like, please do read the section of Chapter 4 "'A house redolent with ghosts...': Plath’s domestic and creative spaces" (pp. 93-99) in my book with Gail Crowther, These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath, published earlier this year by Fonthill. (Book Depository).


All links accessed 17 August 2017.

20 August 2017

Review of Vivian R. Pollak's Our Emily Dickinsons

Review of Vivian R. Pollak, Our Emily Dickinsons: American Women Poets and the Intimacies of Difference, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016, pp. 355, $55. ISBN: 987-0-8122-4844-9


Vivian R. Pollak's Our Emily Dickinsons is a rich, intensely researched, and well written exploration of American women poets from Emily Dickinson to Marianne Moore to Sylvia Plath to Elizabeth Bishop. Pollak book takes "roughly one hundred years as its focus, Our Emily Dickinsons describes changing conceptions of Dickinson and the problem for women poets of being cut off from the social experiences which consolidate and affective community, however that community is defined" (8-9). The book also concentrates on other important figures in each of these people's lives such as Helen Hunt Jackson and Mabel Loomis Todd for Dickinson as well as significant family members and/or partners/spouses. These four main subjects share something like an heredity of female poetics.

I enjoyed learning as much about the life of Emily Dickinson and the afterlife of her publishing history as I did in the introduction and first two chapters. The third chapter on Marianne Moore continued Pollak's examination expertly. It would have seemed more logical/chronological to me to put Bishop next rather than the two-chapter Plath intermission as strictly speaking Bishop should have been next up. However, by the close of the book the order of the poets discussed seemed a natural lineage.

Chapter 4, "Moore, Plath, Hughes, and 'The Literary Life'", was first published in American Literary History in 2005. I loved it then, as I do again now, as I felt it probed into an overlooked and thus little understood relationship. Pollak's research was inspiring. And it remains so. Throughout chapter 4, Dickinson is all but absent, which left me wondering why this was included other than act as a to bridge Moore and Plath. However, Pollak explains Dickinson's absence in her conclusion which was admirable. The additional Plath chapter, "Plath's Dickinson: On Not Stopping for Death" appears to be new and written for this volume. Here Pollak "discusses Plath's early imitations of Dickinson and explores the roles of her mother, Aurelia Schober Plath, and of her husband Ted Hughes in shaping Plath's literary taste and posthumous reputation" (16). There is some content-overlap between chapters four and five with some quotes and points being repeated, and in general I dislike the use of the familiar "Sylvia", "Ted", "Emily", etc. and I found the end of chapter five, in a section entitled "A Queer Interlude" to be a stretch as a way to connect Plath to Bishop.

Pollak's Our Emily Dickinsons is an original, convincing, and authoritative work on the life and posthumous publications of the mysteriously reclusive and enigmatic Emily Dickinson. Pollak explores reactions and responses to Emily Dickinson by three of the 20th centuries leading women's poets. Pollak's work in and with a variety of archives, as well as her notes and documentation, is exemplary scholarship. There is no other book like it.

All links accessed 12 August 2017.

10 August 2017

The Education of Sylvia Plath, Smith College, 1951-1952

This is the second post in a series on the Education of Sylvia Plath and it reviews the courses she took during the 1951-1952 academic year.

In Sylvia Plath's second year at Smith College, she roomed with Marcia Brown (later Stern), in Room 6 of Haven House. This room was on the middle floor of the house (2nd floor American, 1st floor elsewhere). Plath's room faced the Davis Student Center this year and the room had a bay window, a nice architectural feature.

View from bay window of Room 6, toward Library

View from bay window of Room 6, toward Elm Street
1950s floor plan of Haven House

As with her first year, Plath carried six courses and received 15 credits (Physical Education did not earn her any credit). Using the finding aid to Plath mss II at the Lilly Library, I have added some of the papers that Sylvia Plath submitted for her courses. Her artwork I am unable to attribute at this time, an oversight for which I apologize. Plath's notebooks for Government 11 and Religion 14 are held by the Lilly Library.

Art 210: Development of Principles and Methods of Visual Expression. Studio and individual projects in creative pictorial organization, using various painting and graphic media and techniques. Prerequisite, 13. Students must consult the instructor before enrolling. Nine studio hours of which six must be M T W 10-12. Mr Cohen. (51)

English 211: Literature of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. M T W 9. Miss Randall and Miss Drew. (71).

English 220a, 220b: Practice in Various Form of Writing. M T W 11, 2. Miss Page. (73)

"The Perfect Set-Up", September 1951;
"The Latvian", 30 October 1951;
"Sonnet: To Eva", before 2 November 1951;
"Sonnet: To Time", before 15 November 1951;
"Somebody and We", 15 November 1951;
"Suburban Nocturne", 15 November 1951;
"Mary Ventura", 14 December 1951;
"All I Can Tell You Is about the Fog", Spring 1952;
"The Estonian", 29 February 1952;
"Though Dynasties Pass", 14 March 1952;
"Sunday at the Mintons", March-April 1952;
"The Dead", 11 April 1952; and
"Marie", 4 May 1952
Government 11: Introduction to Politics. Leading problems, principles, and concepts in political science. For Freshmen and Sophomores only; not open to students who have taken Social Science 192. Two lectures and one recitation. Lee. M T 12. Rec. W 9, 12, 2; Th 11, 12, 3; F 11, 2. Mr Overstreet, Mr Pierce, and members of the Department. (84)

Physical Education 2a, 2b: Dance and Sports. Three periods of one hour each. Required for Sophomores. Each term a choice of sports and dance as listed under the corresponding term for 1a and b. (111)

Religion 14: Introduction to the Study of Religion. Teachings of contemporary Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. Problems presented by scientific thought, nationalism, and industrialized society. Survey of certain important religious ideas. For Freshmen and Sophomores only. Lee. Th 10. Rec. (for Freshmen) Th F 3, F S 10; (for Sophomores) Th F 2, F S 10. Miss Corwin, Mr Christian. (117)

["Religious Beliefs"], circa Fall 1951?;
"Unitarianism: Yesterday and Today", 8 December 1951; and
"Religion As I See It", 3 May 1952
All links accessed 2 August 2017.

03 August 2017

Sylvia Plath Scholar Heather Clark Awarded NEH Grant

Heather Clark, author of The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (OUP, 2011) and The Ulster Renaissance: Poetry in Belfast, 1962-1972 (OUP, 2006), has been awarded a $50,000 2017-18 "Public Scholar" Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The funds will enable Clark to continue work on her forthcoming, highly-anticipated biography of Sylvia Plath entitled Sylvia Plath: The Light of the Mind (Knopf).

The award says many things but perhaps most important is the NEH's recognition of Sylvia Plath's status as an iconic American writer.

Reports have appeared so far in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

From The Washington Post, "Heather Clark won a public scholars grant to write a definitive critical biography of Sylvia Plath, which Knopf expects to publish in 2019."

Heather Clark, CUNY Research Foundation ($50,400): "The Light of the Mind"

"A biography of American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) that emphasizes her literary development and her important place in American letters."

Congratulations Heather!  You can read the full list of grants here (p. 29)

All links accessed 2 and 3 August 2017.

01 August 2017

The Education of Sylvia Plath, Smith College, 1950-1951

Sylvia Plath's education was impressive. She attended grade schools in Winthrop and Wellesley, Massachusetts before matriculating with the class of 1954 at Smith College in Northampton. I have always wanted a single easy way to see which courses Plath was taking and when so as such I have made a series of blog posts on the subject of "The Education of Sylvia Plath". This is the first part, for her first year at Smith College, 1950-1951. Perhaps in time I can go a little further and do something like this for Plath's junior high and high school if the record is complete enough to reconstruct something meaningful.

Using the Smith College course catalogs both in person and via the Archive.org, I have transcribed the courses from these sources that Plath herself would have read. They give an overview of the subject, but to read her notes and syllabi and papers would require traveling to the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington which holds the greatest number of these materials. Smith College itself may have some syllabi in the College Archives.

During her first year at Smith, Plath resided in the ever-yellow Haven House and made much use of the Neilson Library, pictured here. Under English 11 and History 11, I have added the dated papers Plath wrote for the course based on information from the Plath mss II finding aid held by the Lilly Library. Papers are held, along with Plath's notebook for Art 13, are held by the Lilly Library.

Art: Art 13, Basic Design. From the course catalog: "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 Freshman, Sophomores, and Junior transfer students. M 9; eight studio hours of which four must be T W 2-4, Th F 10-12, 2-4. Director, Mr Jules" (51).

Botany 11: General Botany. From the course catalog: "A study of the life processes and structure of seed plants with emphasis upon their relationship to the needs of man. A survey of representative types of other green and nongreen plants; reproduction, heredity, evolution. Two lectures and two two-hour laboratory periods. Lee. Th F 12. Lab. A, M T 9; Lab. B, M T 1 1 ; Lab. C, M T 2; Lab. D, Th F 9; Lab. E, Th F 2. Miss Kemp, Mr Wright (Director), Miss Donahue" (55).

English: English 11, Freshman English. From the course catalog: "Practice in expository and critical writing in connection with the study of selected literary forms. Members of the Department. Director, Miss Chase; Assistant Director, Miss Williams" (71).
"The Golden Season", 16 October 1950;
"Atmosphere in the Short Story", 6 November 1950;
"Character is Fate", 22 November 1950;
"The Agony of the Will", 18 December 1950
"The Dualism of Thomas Mann", 17 January 1951;
"Modern Tragedy in the Classic Tradition", 26 February 1951;
"The Tragedy of Progress", 19 March 1951;
"The Imagery in Patterns", 18 April 1951; and
"A New Idiom", 9 May 1951
French 16: Introduction to French Literature. From the course catalog: "Introduction to French Literature. Choice of representative texts; literary, historical, and cultural background. Prerequisite, three units in French, 12, or 11d. M T W 9, 10, 11, 12; Th F S 9, 10, 11, 12. Members of the Department. (L)" (76).

Plath had first registered for French 13 which was a course in "Reading, Grammar, and Composition. From the course catalog: "Prerequisite, three units in French, 12, or 11D. M T W 9, 12; TH F S 9, 10, 11. Members of the Department" (76).

History: History 11, General European History. From the course catalog: "A survey of the history of Europe from the decline of the Roman Empire to the present. One lecture and two recitations. Lec. M 2. Rec. T W 10, 11, 12, 2; Th F 9, 10, 11, 12. Members of the Department. Director, Mr von Klemperer" (87). Plath was largely History taught by Mrs. Koffka.
"Darwin, Marx, Wagner", 1951
Physical Education 1a, 1b: Body Mechanics, Dance, and Sports.1 From the course catalog: "Three periods of one hour each. Required for Freshman.

1.A fee is charged for golf, riding, campcraft, and winter sports.

Fall Term. One period, body mechanics; two periods, swimming for those who have not passed the test, for others a choice of the following:

Archery, canoeing, crew, golf, hockey, riding, soccer, swimming, tennis, volleyball.
Individual Gymnastics. Miss Ryder, Miss Eddy.
The Dance, modern and folk. Mrs Myers, Miss Horning.

Winter Term. One period, fundamental movement; two periods, a choice of:

Badminton, basketball, bowling, children's games, fencing, riding, squash, swimming.
Individual Gymnatics [sic.]. Miss Ryder, Miss Jennings, Miss Eddy.
The Dance, continuing the fall course and new sections. Mrs Myers, Miss Horning.

Spring Term. One period, rhythmic work or body mechanics; two periods, beginning swimming for those who have not passed the test, for others a choice of:

Archery, campcraft, canoeing, children's rhythms, crew, golf, lacrosse, riding, softball, swimming, tennis, volleyball.
Individual Gymnastics. Miss Ryder, Miss Eddy.
The Dance, continuing the fall and winter courses and new sections. Mrs Myers, Miss Horning" (111).

 All links accessed 19 June 2017 and 31 July 2017.

21 July 2017

The Letters of Sylvia Plath: An Update


It seems to have been going on for ages, but The Letters of Sylvia Plath really took off sometime in 2011. Work began before this, by several years, but the daily grind of locating, transcribing and all the rest started about then. I think...

It has been the most immense privilege to get to work so closely with Plath's letters and archives, with Karen V. Kukil (the co-editor), with Frieda Hughes, and the very good people at Faber and HarperCollins on this project. Not to mention the archivists and librarians and private citizens who have offered tireless help and information.

After living with the manuscript in various states and sizes for so many years, it is with the utmost pleasure that I am publishing this blog post to let you know that the hundreds of letters comprising Volume 1 (1940-1956) is off my hands and has passed now the point of no return.

THANK YOU ALL for your support and patience during this project. You will never really know, and nor can I express in words, just how you each sustained me for the duration of this project. Every letter located, read, transcribed, annotated, edited, and proofed was done all for you and on the support of your shoulders. I am so thrilled to have this volume of the book at the publishers. To kind of quote Plath, "We have come so far, it is [nearly] over."

From Amazon.co.uk:
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was one of the writers that defined the course of twentieth-century poetry. Her vivid, daring and complex poetry continues to captivate new generations of readers and writers.

In the Letters, we discover the art of Plath's correspondence. Most has never before been published and is here presented unabridged, without revision, so that she speaks directly in her own words. Refreshingly candid and offering intimate details of her personal life, Plath is playful, too, entertaining a wide range of addressees, including family, friends and professional contacts, with inimitable wit and verve.

The letters document Plath's extraordinary literary development: the genesis of many poems, short and long fiction, and journalism. Her endeavour to publish in a variety of genres had mixed receptions, but she was never dissuaded. Through acceptance of her work, and rejection, Plath strove to stay true to her creative vision. Well-read and curious, she offers a fascinating commentary on contemporary culture.

Leading Plath scholar Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil, editor of The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962, provide comprehensive footnotes and an extensive index informed by their meticulous research. Alongside a selection of photographs and Plath's own line-drawings, they masterfully contextualise what the pages disclose.

This selection of early correspondence marks the key moments of Plath's adolescence, including childhood hobbies and high school boyfriends; her successful but turbulent undergraduate years at Smith College; the move to England and Cambridge University; and her meeting and marrying Ted Hughes, including unseen letters post-honeymoon, revealing their extraordinary creative partnership.
Look for publication on 5 October (UK) and 17 October (US)!  At 1,424 pages (per Amazon), this volume of Plath's letters will be about fifty pages fatter than Faber's own Collected Poems of Ted Hughes. So, start lifting weights. I will have much more to say about the work that went into The Letters of Sylvia Plath project at the Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words, and Fragments Conference being organized by Plath scholar Maeve O'Brien. The conference will be hosted by the Ulster University, Belfast, on 10-11 November. The call for papers closes on 31 July, so please send your proposals in soon.

I guess I have to start thinking about Volume 2 now!

All links accessed 20 July 2017; blurb accessed 20 July 2017.
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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 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, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • 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: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • 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.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (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, Volume 1, 1940-1956. 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. "'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. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • 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. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.

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