01 August 2015

Sylvia Plath's "Mules That Angels Ride"

Back on 9 January 2012, I gave an "Update from the Archive" during a week spent at Smith College. In that post, I wrote the following:

One abandoned Plath poem that I have often wondered about is "Mules That Angels Ride"! I know! The title is from a line in part VII of Wallace Stevens' "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle". In Karen Kukil's Unabridged Journals, the index lists this as a provisional title, which Plath planned to write during her spring break from teaching in 1958. We know she turned to ekphrastic poetry, writing on Klee, Gauguin, etc. She planned to write "on a new poem" which was for a contest. She saw it as being 350 lines and as an "exercise to set me free" (350). Plath saw the poem as containing the "naturalness & implicit form (without glassy brittleness)" that she said affected "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" (350). Plath later said that "Mules That Angels Ride" would be "about the spirit, luminous, making itself manifest in art, in houses, and trees and faces" (352).

While Kukil says this is a provisional title, by 28 March 1958 Plath had sent out "a group of eight poems, seven of them new, under the title 'Mules That Angels Ride' to a Wallace Stevens Contest" (357). Of the group of poems, Plath writes of them that "the vision arrives astride the symbol, the illumination comes through a mask of mud, clear and shining" (357). But, what are the eight poems that comprise "Mules That Angels Ride"?

Christopher Geissler, the Librarian for American and British Literary and Popular Culture Collections at Brown University, and Gerrianne Schaad, the college archivist at Southern Florida College, provided invaluable information on the Wallace Stevens Award. The "Wallace Stevens Contest" to which Plath submitted her poems was held by the Southern Florida College in Lakeland, Florida. Schaad found an article (pictured left) regarding the contest printed in the student newspaper The Southern on 14 March 1958. The contest requirements were as such: "The national poetry contest is open to authors who have either had a volume a verse published by a known publishing house, or at least three poems published in recognized magazines with a cash prize of $1,000 going to the winner … Poems submitted in the contest should not exceed 350 lines and must be unpublished" (2). The judges that year were Conrad Aiken, R. P. Blackmur, and Allen Tate.

Geissler let me know that an advert for the contest appeared a 1958 issue of The Writer: "Florida Southern College announces the Wallace Stevens Award of $1,000, open to authors who have had a volume of verse published, or at least three poems published in recognized magazines" (Vol 71, p 28). This is a magazine Plath knew and read; in fact, Smith College holds several copies formerly belonging to Plath (though not the one in which appears the quote Geissler provided).

During my four day trip to the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington earlier this year in March, I had occasion to look at just about every box and every folder in the Plath mss II collection. In Box 12, Folder 2 is a notebook Plath kept during the spring semester of 1958 whilst she was auditing Priscilla Paine Van der Poel's Modern Art course (Art 315). The course catalog for that year reads: "Contemporary art and its background from Jacques Louis David and the French Revolution to the present. Open to sophomores by permission of the instructor. Open also in the second semester to students who have had a course in nineteenth-century art abroad. Recommended background, 11. M T W 10. Mrs Van der Poel" (49).

The notebook was spiral bound, 80 sheets, purchased from the Quill Bookshop, then located at 100 Green Street, Northampton (now Ford Hall, opened in 2010). The cover is brown with a dark green band towards the top with "SMITH COLLEGE" printed in goldish-brown color. At the bottom, Plath has written her name "Sylvia Hughes" along with "Library 59", which was where her office was during the year she taught at Smith. Aurelia Plath has added a sticker-label on it that reads "Modern Art Notes". Present are other annotations by Plath including text (a partial/incomplete line "the man in the west moon" from Dylan Thomas' "And Death Shall Have No Dominion"), scribbles/doodles, and division/computations.

On the fourth page of this notebook, Plath has three lists of poem titles (largely using short titles, not the full titles). Two of these lists include total line counts of poems and computations. Plath seemed to be trying to get to 350 lines, which as we know from above was a criterion of the contest. Not all of the poems Plath lists are known or are even possibly extant any longer, but most are. The seven known/extant poems are:

"The Disquieting Muses"; "The Lady and the Earthenware Head"; "Virgin in a Tree"; "Battle-Scene from the Comic Operatic Fantasy The Seafarer"; "Departure of the Ghost" ("The Ghost's Leavetaking"); "Perseus: The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering"; and "Snakecharmer".

There are a few possibilities, though, for the eighth poem. The first I list here because it was included at one point with the above seven. Plath listed these poems in short title format, not including full titles. So the actual title of this poem is unknown but Plath's short title was "White Cow" and it consisted of 55 lines. The difficulty with this is that Plath wrapped the title in parenthesis and crossed out the line count. Parenthesis, in Plath's lists of poems, generally means exclusion or omission, a change in thought, or possibly indecision.

Another possible poem, also presumably lost, is on the subject of a cat & bird (based on Paul Klee's 1928 painting Cat and Bird). Plath mentioned this in her 22 March 1958 letter to her mother saying: "a little lyric on a cat with a bird-stigma between its eyebrows[1], a really mammoth magic cat-head" (Letters Home 336). In this letter she enclosed two poems: "Battle-Scene from the Comic Operatic Fantasy The Seafarer" and "Departure of the Ghost" ("The Ghost's Leavetaking"). But, a poem on the subject of a cat and bird does not appear in these lists.

The third possibility is another poem altogether, which feels to me in my analysis to be a complete cop out, but there we are.

The three lists of poems are all in different orders. This might suggest or show Plath in the process of arranging the poems in a specific order. The three orders are:

List one (in pen), on left hand side of the page with line counts:

White Cow -- 55 lines;
"Departure of the Ghost" ("The Ghost's Leavetaking") -- 45 lines;
"Battle-Scene from the Comic Operatic Fantasy The Seafarer" -- 40 lines;
"Virgin in a Tree" -- 45 lines;
"Perseus: The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering" -- 50 lines;
"The Lady and the Earthenware Head" -- 35 lines;
(At this point in the list the lines are added, totaling 270 lines. Then Plath adds)
"The Disquieting Muses" --56 lines; and
(Plath then notes she needs to get 80 more lines and adds)
"Snakecharmer" -- 28 lines.

List two, in pencil, to the right of the first list, with no line counts, is:

"The Disquieting Muses";
"The Lady and the Earthenware Head";
"Virgin in a Tree";
"Battle-Scene from the Comic Operatic Fantasy The Seafarer";
"Departure of the Ghost" ("The Ghost's Leavetaking");
"Perseus: The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering"; and

List three, in pen, in between the first to but started lower on the page, with line counts is:

"Departure of the Ghost" ("The Ghost's Leavetaking") -- 45 lines;
"Battle-Scene from the Comic Operatic Fantasy The Seafarer" --40 lines;
"Virgin in a Tree" -- 45 lines;
"Perseus: The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering" -- 50 lines;
"The Lady and the Earthenware Head" --35 lines;
"The Disquieting Muses" --56 lines; and
"Snakecharmer" -- 28 lines.

Readers should note that in "The Ghost's Leavetaking" printed in Letters Home includes an extra stanza that Plath later removed at the suggestion of her sister-in-law Olwyn Hughes. This stanza (originally the fifth) was also captured in recordings Plath made for Lee Anderson in Springfield, Massachusetts on 18 April 1958 and at for the Woodberry Poetry Room on 13 June 1958.

Thanks must go out to Peter Fydler for asking about "Mules That Angels Ride" in an email, to Gail Crowther for reading and commenting on this post, to Christopher Geissler at Brown University and Gerrianne Schaad at Southern Florida College for their help, to Aurelia Plath for saving everything, and to the Plath archives at Smith College and Indiana University.

All links accessed 9 April 2015.

22 July 2015

A little minus, a little plus: A Review of A Memoir of Ted Hughes by Dr Nathaniel Minton

Review of A Memoir of Ted Hughes by Dr Nathaniel Minton (London: Westmoreland Press, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-9932660-0-3. 43 pages, £4.99. Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk)

Dr. Nathaniel Minton's memoir of Ted Hughes is brief, but provides an additional perspective to Ted Hughes and the male company he kept. Previous memoirs by Daniel Huws (Memories of Ted Hughes, 1952-1963, 2010) and Lucas Myers (Crow Steered/Bergs Appeared, 2001 and An Essential Self: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, a Memoir, 2010) have also been published since Ted Hughes' passing in 1998. Another American in Cambridge, Bert Wyatt-Brown, published "Ted, Sylvia, and St. Botolph's: A Cambridge Recollection" (The Southern Review, Spring 2004).

In the Foreword written by Minton's daughter Anna, she reveals that her father's memoir was to be part of a planned book of memories to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hughes' death in 2008. I wonder if Daniel Huws' book was also to be part of that, and if Myers second book from 2010 grew out of that as well. And I wonder how different this memoir would have appeared compiled with others? A Memoir of Ted Hughes was published this year to coincide with what would have been Dr Minton's 80th birthday. Minton passed away in 2012.

Minton, Hughes, Huws, Wyatt-Brown, and Myers along with David Ross and Daniel Weissbort called themselves 'the gang' (6). These were the men behind the now famous Saint Botolph's Review (1956) that set in motion the now even more famous meeting of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath on that fateful February night in 1956. Minton fondly recalls the times spent in the Anchor pub singing, drinking. This activity is in other memoirs of Ted Hughes and seems to have made a significant impression in the bonds of their friendships.

The memoir is brief, just 41 pages with exaggerated spaces between paragraphs. We learn much about 'Than' Minton, perhaps the least known of the Saint Botolph's Review Crew. Minton published a story in the Review entitled "An Impression in Hospital" which was "based on and experience I had after a spell in hospital" (12). He comes across as a nice, gentle man, loyal to his friends. In fact, it seems as though all the people with whom Hughes surrounded himself were like this. Loyalty is an amazing quality and certainly one seeks for that in their friends. Hughes, too, seems to have been dedicated to them as well. I'm sorry, but this has to be said: it is a shame that this sense of loyalty did not transfer to Ted Hughes' relations with members of the opposite sex.

As nice as Minton comes across, some of his comments, particularly about Sylvia Plath, are questionable. Minton visited Hughes at 23 Fitzroy Road at some unstated point between 11 December 1962 and 10 February 1963. I wish it would have been possible to know the exact date. Minton's social call to the flat was to see Hughes as he was fresh back from years abroad. He was given Plath's address from David Ross but it is not made clear why Ross would not have given Minton Ted Hughes' actual address, at that time most likely 110 Cleveland Street. So he was likely lucky to call in at 23 Fitzroy Road at the given hour of a particular day when Hughes happened to be visiting his children and his wife. Minton's description of the flat is at odds with what has previously been reported. The story about Plath's death is that she has safely and securely sealed the door to the kitchen in an effort to control and contain the gas. Minton states that there was an "open plan room on the first floor. Sylvia was standing behind a wooden counter, cutting either carrots or onions with complete intensity" (25). This setting, with the "open plan room" is confusing.

There are lots of confusing, contradictory reminiscences and thoughts in this visit to Fitzroy Road section of the book. As for Plath's treatment of him: Minton said he felt unwelcome, regretted turning up, and left almost immediately seeming to recognize something was amiss though not knowing at the time the nature of the situation; that Plath seemed "irritated"; and that she "may have been on the edge of a psychotic, agitated depression" (25, 26). A friend of Minton's said that "Sylvia should have asked me to stay for supper" but then admits that he had turned up "uninvited" and that Plath "seemed to be emotionally overwhelmed" (26, 27, 26). At least he had the sense to leave the two alone. While Minton was a trained psychiatrist and psychotherapist, he does what many do and assigned a posthumous diagnosis to Sylvia Plath to try to explain her decision to commit suicide (she "may have been on the edge of a psychotic, agitated depression"). This is not only dangerous, it is unfair. His conclusion may be applying general theory on what defines depression or suicidal tendencies but I imagine a reputable diagnosis is only possible if it is about one's own patient based on sustained and involved therapy and notes. Minton met Plath only a couple to a handful of times which is not sufficient to make such a statement.

With many of the memoirs about a person, there is the sense of dedication to their friend that leaves one seemingly to overlook flaws or to make excuses for behavior not directed explicitly towards them. In the case of friends of either Plath or Hughes, there are clear sides taken and blind-spots. Minton writes that Hughes "was not a cruel uncaring man without feeling, but a deeply suffering and tormented man with a poignant range of feeling" (36). But of course there are multiple sides to people, and Minton was fortunately on the side of Hughes that one can admire.

Handsomely produced and reasonably priced, I came away from A Memoir of Ted Hughes liking Dr Nathaniel Minton quite a bit. He appears to have lead a good life, and was devoted to friends and his family.

15 July 2015

Sylvia Plath: Did you know...

The Bell Jar, published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, received mixed reviews when it was published on 14 January 1963. Within a month after Plath's death, Ted Hughes gave Heinemann permission to publicly release Plath's name as the author. That did not stop Heinemann from releasing a book club edition of Victoria Lucas's The Bell Jar under the Contemporary Fiction imprint in 1964. Strangely, though, on the back of that dust wrapper it reads, "Victoria Lucas is a pseudonym, and we are not in a position to disclose any details of the author's identity."

Do you know what's on the inside flap of the dust wrapper of the first, Heinemann edition (pictured left)?

"Esther Greenwood's story began before her visit to New York, but it was during those strangely unreal weeks - when with eleven other winners of a fashion magazine contest, she was offered the riches of the city as a gift - that her growing feeling of unease an inadequacy began to oppose her. Life for Esther had been a history of success: at school, at college, even with Buddy Willard, that superb, all-American symbol of success; but the value of these achievements seemed now to retreat from her, leaving her to focus on those vast territories where she would never tread with confidence of anything but failure. Back from New York, cramped by her mother's sympathetic watchfulness, Esther felt herself withdrawing into a private world, and in chapters of wonderful lucidity and vividness the author describes that borderland between sanity and insanity, whose only promise of escape is violence and death.

"This is a remarkable first novel by a young American woman - remarkable both for being a novel which uses detail and imagery to evoke a concrete, recognisable world and never to obscure it, and because it treats the subject of break-down with unusual directness and understanding."

The front and rear flaps of The Bell Jar (Heinemann, 1963)

Swell! This is a summary of the novel before the legend of Plath was widespread; before the nearly one to one association of Plath's biography to the novel. I have often wondered if Plath wrote this, or someone at Heinemann?

Just to round out the dust wrapper, designed by Thomas Simmonds, the back of the dust wrapper lists recent Heinemann fiction publications.

The front and rear covers of The Bell Jar (Heinemann, 1963)

These titles, in order of appearance, are:

Michael Noonan - The December Boys
Paul Smith - The Stubborn Season
Alison Lurie - Love and Friendship
Anthony Burgess - The Wanting Seed
Edward Upward - In the Thirties
Barbara Comyns - The Skin Chairs
Alfred Grossman - Many Slippery Errors
Jerome Weidman - My Father Sits in the Dark
Eric Ambler - The Light of Day
S. J. Perelman - The Rising Gorge
Paul Gallico - Coronation
Anthony Powell - A Dance to the Music of Time

Though I have never checked with any systematic focus or determination, I have often wondered if The Bell Jar by "Victoria Lucas" is listed on the back(s) of any Heinemann publications.

06 July 2015

Guest Post: An Interview with Karen V. Kukil

The following is a fourth guest blog post by Annette Stevens. Previous interviews with Elizabeth Winder, Andrew Wilson, and Peter K. Steinberg appear on her Mademoiselle Women website.

Hello Karen, thank you for agreeing to this interview. When did you first become interested in Sylvia Plath and why?
Thank you for inviting me. I first became interested in Sylvia Plath when I took an English seminar on ‘Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath’ with Professor Dianne Hunter at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, during the spring 1974 semester. I remember that my final paper was about Sylvia Plath’s influence on the poetry of Ted Hughes, particularly Ariel’s influence on Crow. This particular English course changed my life Please could you describe your job and duties at Smith College?

For the past twenty-five years, I have curated the papers of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. My official title is Associate Curator of Special Collections, which means that I work in all sections of special collections (Mortimer Rare Book Room, Sophia Smith Collection of Women’s History Archives, and the Smith College Archives). There are about 45,000 rare books at Smith and 20,000 linear feet of manuscripts. I teach classes and provide reference service to scholars around the world using all this material. I am also on the faculty for our Archives Concentration Program at Smith College.

Have you ever worked previously in the publishing industry, prior to the publication of the Plath Diaries you edited?
My first job when I graduated from Trinity College in 1975 was as a typesetter and graphic artist for Belle Typesetting Company. I remember that I designed a yoga book as one of my first assignments. From 1976-1986 I worked for Yale University at the Lewis Walpole Library, an estate library focused on the work of British, eighteenth-century writer Horace Walpole. It was my privilege to assist the great collector Wilmarth S. Lewis and the editors of the Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence. I learned many of my editorial practices from Wilmarth S. Lewis who was a superb writer and editor. I also took a useful indexing course when I was in graduate school at Southern Connecticut State University where I received my M.L.S. in 1982. The unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath were published in London by Faber and Faber and Anchor Books in New York in 2000. In 2003, I co-hosted the Thirteenth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf at Smith College and edited a volume of Selected Papers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2005. When Stephen Enniss acquired the Ted Hughes Papers for Emory University, we co-curated a joint exhibition in New York at the Grolier Club in 2005 with a catalogue on ‘No Other Appetite’: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Blood Jet of Poetry.

Would you ever consider writing a book about Plath yourself?
I am currently editing Sylvia Plath’s Letters with Peter Steinberg for Frieda Hughes. Plath’s letters will be published in London by Faber and Faber. I am also co-curating an exhibition with Dorothy Moss on Sylvia Plath for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. One Life: Sylvia Plath will open in 2017. I love bringing Plath’s original manuscripts and letters into broader circulation. But as for your question, I have no plans to write a book about Sylvia Plath.

There's debate online about whether manuscripts not intended for publication-i.e letters and diaries-should or shouldn't be published. What do you think?
Sylvia Plath’s copyrights are owned by her daughter, Frieda Hughes. It was Frieda Hughes who asked me to edit her mother’s journals and her mother’s letters. Since the family made this decision after careful consideration, I never questioned their choice. I am fascinated by the complexity of daily life that women writers need to navigate in order to succeed. I am grateful that Virginia Woolf’s diaries, for example, have been published in great detail. They were an inspiration to Sylvia Plath and the journals of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf are an inspiration to me and to other writers.

Do you think it would be fair to say that Sylvia was a 'victim of her era' ?
I don’t think of Sylvia Plath as a victim. She was resilient and fearless in spite of family traumas and the medical treatment she received, such as poorly administered electroconvulsive therapy, dangerous insulin injections, and Parnate for depression, which has all sorts of side effects. Although her life was short, Sylvia Plath had an incredibly rich experience (Books, Babies, and Beef Stews) and wrote some of the best poetry and prose of the twentieth century that is as fresh and honest today as it was over fifty years ago.

For anyone who wishes to follow in your footsteps, do you have any advice? Robust education, continual professional development, and constant deep learning are very important to me, but it is also essential to risk and embrace challenge. I certainly don’t see myself as particularly extroverted, but I was able to give my first public lecture about editing Sylvia Plath’s Journals to English PEN in 2000 at the CafĂ© Royal in London and my first PowerPoint lecture on ‘Sylvia Plath’s Women and Poetry’ at Oxford in 2007 It is also important to surround yourself with good people. I am particularly lucky to have a supportive husband, Bo, and incredibly knowledgeable colleagues and mentors who have helped me along the way.

01 July 2015

Guest Post: An Interview with Peter K. Steinberg

The following is a guest blog post by Annette Stevens, who recently interviewed me (!) for her blog, Mademoiselle. You'll remember that two previous interviews, of Elizabeth Winder and Andrew Wilson also appeared on both her blog (Elizabeth, Andrew) and mine (Elizabeth, Andrew). Tune in next week for a fourth interview with Karen V. Kukil, editor of The Journals of Sylvia Plath (aka The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath) and a forthcoming edition of Sylvia Plath's letters.

Peter K. Steinberg is a Sylvia Plath scholar, who runs two online resources, and is currently co-writing a Plath letters collection with Karen Kukil. Here, you can read what he has to say about Sylvia Plath:

Hello Peter, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Hello Annette, it’s my pleasure! Thank you for asking me to participate.

What initially sparked your interest in the work of Sylvia Plath?
It started as a junior in college last century. I was in an introduction to poetry course and when we got to Plath I was captivated by ‘Lady Lazarus’. When I asked my professor for more information about her he was not encouraging at all. So, at the suggestion of a friend I went to the library and checked a few of books out (Collected Poems, The Bell Jar, and Paul Alexander’s Rough Magic, because I liked the title better than any other biography available at that time). Hooked.

Out of all her poems and prose pieces, do you have any particular favorites?
The Bell Jar is my favourite prose by Plath. Love that book so so much. There are a number of poems I could not live without including ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree'; ‘The Night Dances'; and ‘Sheep in Fog’.

You also have two websites, dedicated to Plath. What inspired you to create them both?
The website ‘A celebration, this is’ [Click here to view] I started because when I was first introduced to the web there was really nothing about Plath online. I was interested in seeing the places in which she lived and about which she wrote. But there was nothing. So I started traveling to these places, taking photographs, getting the films developed, scanning the images and putting them online. It was a sort of niche-thing. But I quickly realized I was not the only one interested in this and so developed the website more fully. I remember back in 2002, a Chinese Plath scholar was effusively grateful for the photographs and that really struck a chord that the website and its content was reaching people.
There are a number of poems I could not live without including ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree'; ‘The Night Dances'; and ‘Sheep in Fog’.
That sounds like a great occupation. How did you go about creating your Sylvia blog?
Like with the website, there wasn’t really a ‘blog’ dedicated solely to Plath so I just kind of made it up without really knowing the direction it would go: both content-wise, but also successful or not. The ‘Sylvia Plath Info Blog’ [Click here to view] grew out of an inability, for boring reasons, to update my Plath website. I had tons of new information but no way to get it online. And it developed from there into the beast that it is today.

In future, would you ever consider creating a Plath app?
No. And that stems from a lack of technological skill, but also a lack of time. I’m surprised my wife hasn’t left me yet. I think for the most part all the content I have online is accessible via 3G, 4G, wifi, etc. and that should suffice any users, I hope!

Yes, it probably does. Are you currently working on any other Plath projects?
Yes. I’m working on an edition of Plath’s letters with Karen V. Kukil of Smith College. After that, there are two books that I would like to do but this is kind of so new I shouldn’t discuss it. What I can say is that they’ll both be about Sylvia Plath.

Would you ever consider writing a Sylvia biography?
I did! But you might mean a full-length? Full-length: no. The more biographies of Plath there are ad the more independent research I do in the archives, the more I realize the best way to know the life of Sylvia Plath is to visit the archives and read Plath for one’s self; to reconstruct her life that way. It mightn’t be an exact chronological biographical portrait, but it would allow the person to discover Plath in phases as they are ready. Each biographer – most of whom I like, have tremendous respect for, and have benefited from their work – has a bias and an agenda, so it’s Plath’s life filtered through that distorted lens. I’m guilty of this to a degree in my 2004 biography, but I tried very hard to write it sans bias. It might make for drier reading, but I’m interested in the facts.
I’m working on an edition of Plath’s letters with Karen V. Kukil of Smith College.
Yes, I did mean full length..Do you think that Sylvia could be classed as ‘a victim of her time’?
That’s tough to say, but I think probably yes, she could be. I’m wary of taking Plath out of the context of her own time by applying modern or recently modern theories or definitions upon her. She’s isolated in the period of time covering the years 1932 to 1963. Certainly in that time period she was living a more, ahem, advanced lifestyle than some of her contemporaries, illustrated I think in Andrew Wilson’s wonderful Mad Girls Love Song.

What do you think was the main effect on Plath’s writing by Hughes and vice versa?
There was a mutual influence there, explored successfully by Diane Middlebrook (Her Husband) and Heather Clark (The Grief of Influence). Both of these books should be required reading. I’m not sure either would have been as successful without the other, but that’s getting into hypothetical s which are a dangerous game to play.

Do you think that we will see another poet like Sylvia again?
I’d like believe that we will not see another poet like Plath again. I feel like Plath and her life and story and her writings are so unique as to be unrepeatable.

Do you have any tips for anyone who wishes to follow in your footsteps?
I’m a little surprised there aren’t more Plath websites out there. There are plenty of hosting options these days that won’t cost money (or cost too much money). If someone is passionate enough about Plath they should consider making a website or doing a Thesis or just simply writing articles. I do not speak a foreign language (unless as an English woman you find my American language strange), but I feel like this is an area that appears completely untapped: Plath in German, Italian, Spanish, etc.
I feel like Plath and her life and story and her writings are so unique as to be unrepeatable.
I didn’t even know that she wrote like that. Where do you carry out your Plath research?
I’ve spent years collecting information (notes, photocopies, etc.) from the archives and buying or receiving as gifts books, getting copies of articles from journals, newspapers, etc. So, most of my work can be done from home. There is no place like the archive. Plath’s papers are quite dispersed so it takes effort, and a little money, but it’s something worth being poor for. But there is something to be said for email, too, because it’s really easy to write an archive or a friend for something that I might be missing or something on which I am less well versed. But the archive is my favorite place to be. Every single trip – first time or a return visit – is illuminating. One can look at the same document over and over and get something new from it based on the perspective of having seen it before, having kept it in mind, and having learned more about Plath since the previous excursion.

For any Plath fan, the archives sound amazing. Are there any manuscripts that Sylvia left unpublished?
Bunches and bunches and bunches. Not even considering papers written for courses, there are dozens if not hundreds of poems, and dozens of stories and other prose pieces. Plath did publish more prose (both creative writing and non-fiction, journalistic writings) than was collected in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, and it would be for me a dream come true to help bring out a fuller edition of her prose works.

What was it like when you were first quoted as a Plath expert?
Well, that’s difficult. It’s humbling and reassuring; and I hope certainly something I have earned. I have dedicated more than half of my life (!) to learning about Plath and it’s always been my motivation and guiding principle to give of myself completely to anyone that asks a question. I haven’t been able to please everyone (sometimes you simply don’t take a shine to someone), but even still I have always tried to do what my college professor mentioned above could not: encourage and answer and to try to be resourceful. I can think of no better way to honor Sylvia Plath.

And one random question-as you may get bored, asked constantly about Plath:

Do you prefer books or television?
Books. But I prefer chocolate to all.

I think the majority of us do.

Thank you Peter for answering our questions!

16 June 2015

Sylvia Plath's Two Lovers and a Beachcomber

Last December, a fellow Sylvia Plath reader Peter Fydler asked me a question about Sylvia Plath's English tripos book "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber" submitted as part of her Fulbright fulfillment at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, in May-June 1957. Specifically the contents list of the volume. I did not know the answer. Turns out we took a convoluted route in trying to piece it together.

First looking at the Cambridge Review from 7 February 1969, which focused on the recent find of the manuscript of the book in the English faculty library at Cambridge and featured both some essays on Plath and printed several poems by her that were included in the manuscripts.

The manuscript contained 43 poems. Though initially Plath envisioned it being slightly larger. On 21 November 1956, Plath wrote to her mother, "My own book of poems (now titled "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber") grows well, and I should have 50 good poems by the time I submit it to the Yale Series of Younger Poets in February" (Letters Home, 287; please note this is the text from the book, but the original letter varies slightly). Plath submitted the book to the Yale Series on 16 February 1957. Anyway, back to the Cambridge manuscript. Smith College has most of the originals, holding 31 poems that probably came from the manuscript. From the finding aid, the manuscript of "'Two Lovers and a Beachcomber' (book) by Sylvia Plath Hughes" includes typescripts of the following poems: "Wreath for a Bridal", "Monologue at 3 a.m.", "Street Song", "Strumpet Song", "Two Sisters of Persephone", "Spinster", "Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats", "Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper", "To Eva Descending the Stair", "Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives", "The Snowman on the Moor", "Apotheosis" ["To a Jilted Lover"], "Mad Girl’s Love Song", "Recantation", "Mad Maudlin" ["Maudlin"], "Epitaph for Fire and Flower", "Metamorphosis", "Go Get the Goodly Squab", "Sow”, "On the Plethora of Dryads", "Soliloquy of the Solipsist”, "On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad", "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea", "Natural History", "Aerialist", "Dream with Clam-Diggers", "Black Rook in Rainy Weather", "November Graveyard", "Temper of Time", "All the Dead Dears", "Doomsday". For those savvy enough in math, there are 12 poems missing.

Three of the poems for which typescripts are not present in the collection at Smith College, but are mentioned in the Cambridge Review essays, are: "Complaint of the Crazed Queen", "resolve"; and "Shrike". But at first glance we are not sure where they fit.

After some time, Peter Fydler found the full table of contents of the book in Gary Lane and Maria Stevens' Sylvia Plath: A Bibliography (1978), on pages 56-57. Which for me is embarrassing as I have a copy of that book. Based on a comparison of what is in the Plath papers at Smith College and what is listed in Lane's bibliography, the pagination of "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber" looked like the below (please keep in mind that those poems enclosed in brackets are the poems for which the original typescripts are missing).

Wreath for a Bridal, page 1
Monologue at 3 a.m., page 2
Street Song, page 3
Strumpet Song, page 4
[Letter to a Purist, page 5]
[The Glutton, page 6]
[The Shrike, page 7]
Two Sisters of Persephone, page 8
Spinster, page 9
Ella Mason and her Eleven Cats, pages 10-11
Miss Drake Proceeds, to Supper page 12
[Vanity Fair pages, 13-14]
To Eva Descending the Stair, page 15
Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives, pages 16-17
The Snowman on the Moor, pages 18-19
Apotheosis, page 20 (variant title: To a Jilted Lover)
[Complaint of the Crazed Queen, page 21]
Mad Girl's Love Song page, 22
[Pursuit, page 23-24]
Recantation, page 25
Mad Maudlin, page 26 (variant title: Maudlin)
Epitaph for Fire and Flower, pages 27-28

Metamorphosis, page 30 (variant title: "Faun")
"Go Get the Goodly Squab", page 31
Sow, pages 32-33
[Touch and Go, page 34]
On the Plethora of Dryads, pages 35-36
Soliloquy of the Solipsist, pages 37-38
On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad, pages 39-40
Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea, page 41
[resolve, page 42]
Natural History, page 43
[Dream of the Hearse-Driver, pages 44-45 (variant title: "The Dream")]
Aerialist, pages 46-47
Dream with Clam-Diggers, page 48
[Pigeon Post, page 49]
Black Rook in Rainy Weather, pages 50-51
[Lament, page 52]
November Graveyard, page 53
Temper of Time, page 54
[The Lady and the Earthenware Head, pages 55-56]
All the Dead Dears, pages 57-58
Doomsday, page 59

I wonder where those missing pages are! Of those missing twelve, the Lilly Library has paginated typescripts for "Lament" and "Pursuit", but the page numbers on those are not from the manuscript of "Two Lovers", but from another assembled book.

When comparing the contents of "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber" (May 1957) to Plath's first book The Colossus (1960), it is stated in the Cambridge Review that "[o]nly six were included in The Colossus (Heinemann, 1960) and this number was reduced to four in the American edition (Knopf, 1962)" (244). However, there were eight poems carried over from the 1957 book to the Heinemann edition. As well, there were five carried through to the Knopf edition in 1962. The eight poems brought through the years were: "All the Dead Dears"*; "Black Rook in Rainy Weather"; "Mad Maudlin" ("Maudlin"), "Metamorphosis" ("Faun")* , "Sow" *, "Spinster"*, "Strumpet Song"*, and "Two Sisters of Persephone". The * indicates that the poems appeared in both the English edition and the American edition of The Colossus.

Lastly, to make a long story short, Fydler recently found that a complete manuscript copy of the book is held in the Alvarez papers at the British Library.

Thanks must go to Peter Fydler for inspiring this blog post.

01 June 2015

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in Benidorm: A Study Week

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in Benidorm:
A Study Week

a residential course with Terry Gifford and Lorraine Kerslake
At AlmĂ ssera Vella: October 3rd – 10th 2015

Where I felt at home. The blood-raw light,
The oiled anchovy faces, the African
Black edges to everything." --Ted Hughes

"...but I am, in my deep soul, happiest on the moors – my deepest soul-scape, in the hills by the Spanish Mediterranean." --Sylvia Plath

A RESIDENTIAL STUDY WEEK. Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes wrote some 35,000 words about their experiences in Benidorm whilst on honeymoon there in 1956. During this week we will be visiting the house they shared in 1956 and the quay at Alicante where Ted Hughes described his new wife as:

"… in moonlight, / Walking the empty wharf at Alicante / Like a soul waiting for the ferry,"

We will be discussing aspects of their work, including poetry, prose essays, fiction and letters. The course is designed to suit interested readers of Plath and Hughes, postgraduate students, teachers and poets at all levels.

TERRY GIFFORD is the author of Ted Hughes (2009), Reconnecting With John Muir: Essays in Post-Pastoral Practice (2006), Pastoral (1999) and Green Voices: Understanding Contemporary Nature Poetry (1995; 2nd edn. 2011), together with six chapters in books on Ted Hughes. He recently edited The Cambridge Companion to Ted Hughes (2011). His seventh collection of poems (with Christopher North) is Al Otro Lado del Aguilar (Oversteps Books, 2011). Terry Gifford is Visiting Scholar at Bath Spa University’s Centre for Writing and Environment, UK, and Senior Research Fellow and Profesor Honorifico at the University of Alicante, Spain.

LORRAINE KERSLAKE holds a BA in English and French studies and an MA in Translation and Interpreting from Alicante University, Spain, where she teaches English Language and Literature. She has worked as a translator of literary criticism, poetry and art and published articles and reviews on children’s literature and ecocriticism. Her current research interests include children’s literature, the representation of animals and nature in literature and art, ecocriticism and ecofeminism.

ALMASSERA VELLA is Relleu’s original olive press opened in 2002 by Christopher and Marisa North as a Literature and Arts Centre. Comfortable bedrooms, private bathrooms, day-room, loggia, 3000 book library, Free wi/fi, a refectory and a meeting place with log fire. Extensive rear terrace, pool and almond orchard and nearby olive and citrus groves. Relleu is an ancient mountain village with modern pharmacy, general store and bars. Alicante airport is 50 minutes away.

Cost of the week ₤750 all inclusive (7 nights) save flight/travel and insurance.

Christopher and Marisa North | web | Facebook | Twitter @oldolivepress

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?

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Publications & Acknowledgements