01 February 2016

More Sylvia Plath Press Releases

I was surprised recently to discover that I have been looking for the press releases that Sylvia Plath wrote for Smith College's Press Board for more than six years. This was determined judging from the file creation dates for some PDF's that I have. Granted, this project was done off and on as time and as information from my various researches permitted, but it is a long time and I think this post will represent closure on the project (for now).

One of Sylvia Plath's
Press Board and course
notepads, held by
the Lilly Library.
In March 2015 I spent four days at the Lilly Library. Held there are a couple of spiral bound notebooks that Plath used for recording impressions and quotes and interview notes that she then used to write her releases. This was really valuable information because it also complemented her wall calendars where she noted down class assignments, dates, extracurricular activities, vacations, films and plays, and other details of her life at Smith College. The calendars for 1951, 1952 and 1953 contain a wealth of information about Plath's first years at Smith. Plath often would write "cover due" or something like this to indicate when a story was due. Using these calendars as well as her notes, letters, and also information from the Smith College archives about the campus events at Smith, I was able to attack this side project with a vengeance in the fall of 2015. The results were largely favorable.

Here are the newer articles that I found (in date order):

"Says Capitalism May Save Asia." Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 16, 1951: 10. [unattributed]

"Can Benefit By the Writing of Satirists." Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 21, 1951: 3. [unattributed]

"Smith Girls to Take Exams in Civil Service." Daily Hampshire Gazette. December 5, 1951: 3. [unattributed]

"'True Health' Lecture Topic At The College." Daily Hampshire Gazette. December 14, 1951: 7. [unattributed]

"Says Music Can Illustrate Cultural Life of a Nation." Daily Hampshire Gazette. January 17, 1952: 8. [unattributed]

excerpt from "Says Music Can Illustrate Cultural Life of a Nation".
"Smith Students Have Service of Koffee Klatch." Daily Hampshire Gazette. February 20, 1952: 3. [unattributed]

"Dr. A. Gesell Gives Lecture For Day School PTA." Daily Hampshire Gazette. March 3, 1952: 16. [unattributed]

"Rev. Dr. Roberts Will Be Vespers Speaker." Daily Hampshire Gazette. March 7, 1952: 6. [unattributed]

"Life University Second Program Slated Sunday." Springfield Union. March 7, 1952: 30. [unattributed]

"Misery of Man is Due to His Defects." Daily Hampshire Gazette. March 11, 1952: 5. [unattributed]

excerpt from "Misery of Man is Due to His Defects".
"Marxism Seeks to Replace God, Lecturer Says." Springfield Union. March 13, 1952: 30. [unattributed]

"Smith Hears Frost in Muse and Views." Springfield Union. April 10, 1952: 31. [unattributed]

"Frost Presents Poetry Readings." Daily Hampshire Gazette. April 11, 1952: 12. [unattributed]

"Smith College." Daily Hampshire Gazette. April 18, 1952: 13. [unattributed]

excerpt from "Smith College",
"Ogden Nash is Speaker". Daily Hampshire Gazette. May 2, 1952: 6. [unattributed]

"Smith Library Displaying 'Fanny Fern Collection'". Daily Hampshire Gazette. May 5, 1952: 8. [unattributed]

"Faith Groups Open Center For Students." The Springfield Daily News. October 6, 1952: 26. [unattributed; original Press Board typescript with Plath's name located]

"Central Spot for Religion Groups at Smith." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 7, 1952: 16. [unattributed, heavily edited from Springfield Daily News article]

"Smith Outing Club Will Bike To Hatfield." The Springfield Daily News. October 15, 1952: 32. [unattributed; original Press Board typescript with Plath's name located]

"Smith Provides Writing Clinic." Springfield Sunday Republican. November 9, 1952: 62. [unattributed]

Based on two notations in her 1952 calendar that match up with articles that were published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, there are two articles that Plath may have authored. I am going to list these two articles here just for the record, but it is unknown and more difficult to verify at this point in time if Plath actually authored them:

"'Smith Mobile' Scheduled for October 15, 16." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 10, 1952: 8.

"Religion After College Will Be Discussed at Smith." Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 15, 1952: 7.

Other blog posts on this subject have appeared and can be revisited:

"Sylvia Plath was busy...did you know" (8 March 2012); "New Article Written by Sylvia Plath Found" (20 May 2014); "Sylvia Plath: Covering the Crisis" (8 June 2014); and "More Sylvia Plath College Articles Found" (7 July 2014).

Plath spent upwards of 12 hours a week on Press Board activities. So there is a likelihood that she authored more than what this research has found. You can see a complete list of Plath periodical publications on my website, A celebration, this is.

PDF's and JPG's of all these articles will be given to the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College later this month.

All links accessed 6 November 2014 and 17 October 2015.

14 January 2016

The Mental Hospital Trilogy: Sylvia Plath, Jennifer Dawson, & Ken Kesey

On Saturday 13 June 1959, the same day she and Hughes attended the wedding of Margaret Cantor's oldest daughter, Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal,
Read COSMOPOLITAN from cover to cover. Two mental health articles. I must write one about a college girl suicide. THE DAY I DIED. And a story, a novel even. Must get out SNAKE PIT. There is an increasing market for mental-hospital stuff. I am a fool if I don't relive it, recreate it" (495).
Well, Plath was no fool.

Published on 14 January 1963, Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar was the third in an unrelated trilogy of novels set in mental hospitals to appear in print in three years. British author Jennifer Dawson's The Ha-Ha came first, published in early 1961. Then came the American writer Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, published in the United States in February 1962 (and in the United Kingdom in January or February 1963).

The connections between these authors and their books is most interesting. Three writers separated by continents and countries and experiences all exploring quite similar material though in very different ways. As stated above, Plath's journal entry comes on the heels of her reading articles in a contemporary issue of Cosmopolitan. The two "mental health articles" were: "Psychiatry and beauty" by Eugene D. Fleming (June 1959: 31-36) and "'I Was Afraid to Be a Woman'" by Patricia Blake (June 1959: 56-61). These articles were mentioned and discussed previously in works by Luke Ferretter and Brittney Moraski.

In November 1961, Plath received a Eugene F Saxton grant for her novel which by that point was largely done. An article appeared in The New York Times about this ("Fellowship for Poet" on 21 November 1961: 36). Nearly two years before, on 22 January 1960, an announcement was made that Ken Kesey was also the recipient of the Eugene F Saxton grant (24). The articles revealed no details of the subject of the novels.

Plath's novel was written in the spring of 1961 -- after Dawson's novel was out but before Kesey's was published. It is unknown if Plath knew much about either novelist. There might be some mention of this in her journals for this period (which are missing). But no known reference otherwise exists that mentions these authors. In Giving Up (2002), Jillian Becker reports that Dawson's novel was one of the items she was to fetch for Plath when she was staying with them from 7-10 February 1963.

The timing of Plath reading The Ha-Ha might be as a result of Dawson's second novel Fowler's Snare being reviewed by Francis Hope in The Observer on 6 January 1963. The Ha-Ha is not mentioned in the review, so it is speculative to suggest that Plath read this review and was inspired to seek out Dawson's previous novel. However, the subject of Fowler's Snare may have caught Plath's eye. Hope writes in his review:
Miss Dawson's new novel...revolves around that familiar character, an intelligent but disorganised girl who does not know what to do with her life, and eventually succumbs to the man with the most dogged ability to stay near her through thick and thin, or rather through thick and very thick. Joanna tried David, her flat and priggish college suitor; Bric, a scruffily selfish American post-graduate; a period of teaching at a Catholic school for infants; and finally, broken down by her father's death, rebounds messily towards the Fowler's snare of David's reliability...The result is sometimes rather mechanical, as if one were crossing off unacceptable life-styles like items on a shopping-list...There are no nice people in Miss Dawson's world; no moral purpose; few things to enjoy and none at all to trust. It is, in fact, very real. (18)
This same issue of The Observer printed three poems by Ted Hughes: "Water", "New Moon in January", and "Dark Women" (later titled "The Green Wolf"). Going back a few months, The Ha-Ha was mentioned in the "Paperbacks in Brief" section of the 24 June 1962 issue of The Observer: "Jennifer Dawson's highly original novel of life in a mental hospital" (25).

When published in the United States in 1962, Kesey's novel was scarcely reviewed in some of the likely sources Plath would have had access to from England. The New York Times reviewed One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on 4 February 1962. It was also reviewed in Time on 16 February 1962. Plath may have seen the "Briefly Noted: Fiction" mention in The New Yorker on 21 April 1962.

In England, the TLS mentioned the forthcoming novel in England in their 10 August 1962 issue. A notice also appeared in the 1962 Cheltenham Festival of Literature program which published Plath's prize winning poem "Insomniac". The notice reads; "Ken Kesey has written an exciting and very human first novel set in a mental home". However, the majority of reviews or mentions of the novel appeared in the days and weeks after Plath's death (reviews in The Times on 21 February 1963 by Anthony Burgess in The Guardian and Julian Jebb in The Times on 24 February 1963). Burgess, you may recall, reviewed The Bell Jar in The Observer on 27 January 1963. The most interesting review, perhaps, appeared on pages 116-120 of the Spring 1963 issue of Northwest Review: "Review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by R.L. Sassoon (that's right, Richard Sassoon).

The three novels have an interesting and connected history, no?, Read together, they tell of a frightening reality in mental health care during the 1950s and early 1960s. Kesey's treatment of ECT is horrifying and I felt I learned some insight into the treatment Plath received during her Bell Jar summer of 1953.

01 January 2016

Sylvia Plath Visits the Wayside Inn

Listen, my children, or face my wrath
Of the midday meal of Sylvia Plath,
On the Thirtieth of August, in Forty-five...

Sylvia Plath kept a daily diary for several years starting in 1944. I recently worked with her diaries for the first time, delving deeply into them looking for contextual and other reference information to try to improve notes on the letters for that period. On 30 August 1945, Sylvia Plath wrote in her diary about a day spent she and Warren had, from the dentist in Boston and out for lunch in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Plath's dentist was Howard C. Reith, a Winthrop, Massachusetts resident. According to the Boston city directory, his office was located at 370 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston (map), which is now the location of the Eliot Hotel at the corner of Commonwealth and Massachusetts Avenues.


The trip to Sudbury was made with Ralph Gaebler, his brother Max, and Max's wife Carolyn. Plath commented on Ralph's driving (fast). They at at the famous Wayside Inn (map). The inn began serving travelers in 1716. In 1862 the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited, later publishing a book of poems, Tales of a Wayside Inn, among those including "Paul Revere's Ride", spoofed above.

Plath gorged on crackers, sausages, pineapple, potatoes, squash, lettuce, carrots, rolls, and ice cream, among other things. After the meal, the group took a tour of the site. Plath comments on the old fashioned rooms and the name plates of the famous historical visitors. She also commented that she signed the register book.

Interested about this, I contacted the Wayside to see if they had in their archives the old guest books. I was both happy and surprised to receive back an email from their archivist Roberta with an attachment! It is with their permission that I reproduce the page featuring the signature of Plath, her brother Warren, and Ralph Gaebler below.



Plath and her brother gave their residence as "Wellesley 81, Mass.". The "81" is the old two digit zip code for their part of Wellesley (Wellesley Hills) which was implemented circa 1943.The zip was expanded to a five digit code, 02481, on 1 July 1963, just a few months after Plath's death.

All links accessed 21 December 2015 and 1 January 2016.

20 December 2015

Sylvia Plath 2015: Year in Review

In the past, the year in review has tried to summarize the small world of Sylvia Plath as I live it. I suspect this post will be no different. Rather than go through the blog month by month, I trust that the blog archive in the sidebar will be a sufficient way for many of you to access the posts that appeared in the calendar year 2015.

By and large this year was dominated for me in two respects. The first is the Letters of Sylvia Plath project, a book which I am co-editing with Karen V. Kukil of Smith College for Frieda Hughes to be published by Faber. From the beginning of the project which officially was underway in 2013 -- but which I have been working on since circa 2010 -- it has been a privilege to read, transcribe, annotate, index, etc. all of the known letters by Sylvia Plath. I am not at liberty to say too, too much about the letters or the project now but suffice it to say someday I will. Each and every one of the thousands of hours I have spent on this project has been with you, this readers of this blog as well as those who read Plath in general, in mind. I hope that you take as much enjoyment in reading the book as I have had in helping to prepare it for publication (at a to be determined future date). Here is a photograph of me signing the contract for this book next to the second draft!


There were not too many books to come out this year. Elizabeth Sigmund and Gail Crowther's Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning came out late in 2014. 2015 saw the publication of Julia Gordon-Bramer's Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath (Stephen F. Austin University Press) was published in January 2015. I have dipped into and out of Julia's book this year as I can but am ashamed to say I have not yet finished reading it. I have found it difficult to read about Sylvia Plath while I have been so intensely reading Sylvia Plath. In addition, there were two other academic press books to come out: Sylvia Plath and the Language of Affective States: Written Discourse and the Experience of Depression by Zsofia Demjen (Bloomsbury Academic) and Mirrors of Entrapment and Emancipation: Forugh Farrokhzad and Sylvia Plath by Leila Rahimi Bahmany (Leiden University Press).

Also published this year was the long awaited biography Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life by Jonathan Bate (William Collins, UK & Harper Collins, US). In late September and early October, it seemed the world was dominated by reviews, contention, and drama and somehow we have come out on the other side of all that. I was privileged to read and comment on the manuscript in the spring and am thrilled some of my corrections and/or suggestions were taken! Bate makes excellent use of archival resources, and his notes and citations for Hughes' letters, journals and poetry drafts is commendable. It will be immeasurably helpful for Hughes scholars and future Hughes biographers.

The second dominant aspect of this year for me in terms of Sylvia Plath was befriending her first best and lifelong friend Ruth (Freeman) Geissler. After reading Andrew Wilson's Mad Girl's Love Song back in 2013, I slowly and systematically tried to reach out to many of the people that Plath knew in the attempt to locate letters. I did not reach out to too many people who had already donated or sold letters to various archives as presumably they gave or sold everything they had. In late 2014, I wrote to 'Ruthie'. I did not hear anything for a few weeks but shortly into January and email popped up in my inbox from her and it was one of those heart-skips-a-beat moments. Initially we discussed Plath at length: from the letters that Ruth held, to photographs, handmade cards, clothing, etc. We discussed life in Winthrop and Wellesley in the 1940s as well as college life in the early 1950s and married life in the later 1950s. Our friendship developed through discussing Plath's stories and poems; particularly those stories that Ruth herself lived through and witnessed. When I work on any letter or ready a diary entry by Plath that mentions Ruth, a little spark of excitement goes through me. All the emails lead to a strong friendship, so strong in fact that we have inside jokes about things like meat (yuck), dandelions (bane of my existence), and dictums of balancing out my obsessive Plathian tendencies by taking my wife out for nice dates.

This was all fine and dandy until the recent weekend of 14 November when Karen Kukil and I drove out to meet Ruth. To quote Plath: "What a thrill"! We discussed Plath among other topics and had a wonderful five hours together over dinner one night and coffee and treats the next morning. A whirlwind weekend I hope repeat, repeat, repeat.

This year I spent a decent chunk of time also tracing down some press releases that Plath more than likely authored based on evidence in her letters, diaries and calendars, and other sources. This will be the subject of a forthcoming blog post in 2016. I did not find everything that Plath took notes on, which was frustrating, but it likely just meant that the article was not published due to space constraints in the respective newspapers.

I was able to find a couple of other things along the ways, such as a previously unacknowledged letter to the editor published in the March 1955 issue of Mademoiselle. In March of this year, I was able to spend four days at the Lilly Library, sleep deprived, doing research for the letters book. I accomplished a lot and still make use, nearly daily, of the information I obtained whilst there. Deepest gratitude to the staff there for being so accommodating.

Over on my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is, things were updated periodically (text, book covers and photographs) and mostly unacknowledged. I did add a new page to the Bibliography section: Articles of Sylvia Plath's First Suicide Attempt. This builds upon the previous bibliography of articles I published in my paper "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath" (2010).

This year has had far fewer blog posts than in years past. Sorry! But I hope the content that did appear continues to be relevant and interesting. This was because of the letters project and I hope that in 2016 I have more time to do more original blogging, reviews, and keeping more up-to-date on news stories on Plath as and when the come up (if they are interesting, most are not!). A lot of people did guest blog posts or gave me ideas for other posts this year which relieved a lot of stress and kept the blog going to regular updates. Thanks must therefore go out to Annette Stevens, Amanda Ferrara, Sheila Hamilton, Katie Mikulka, Peter Fydler, Tony Cockayne, and Gail Crowther.

Things to look forward to in 2016 and beyond. Heather Clark is still very hard at work on her new literary biography of Sylvia Plath, to be published by Knopf (see Plath Unbound here). There is a book for which I am particularly thrilled to give some advance promotion! Gail Crowther recently submitted her manuscripts titled The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath to Fonthill Media, publishers of her Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Look for The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath in mid-to-late 2016.

Thank you all for reading, following, commenting, encouraging, visiting, and supporting this blog. Your interest and enthusiasm fuels me beyond expression. Be safe and warm. Happy holidays and New Year. See you in 2016!

All links accessed 22 October, 10 November 2015, and 20 December 2015.

10 December 2015

Plath, Otto Plath

The following is a post first started between June and December 2012, revisited briefly in June 2014, and then forgotten about as I was working full time on the letters of Sylvia Plath project. I felt it was important to work on the blog some more this fall with the intention of posting it on 5 November, which was the 75th anniversary of the death of Otto Plath. But then other things got in the way...

Recently, though, I had a change of heart about the bulk of this post. Much of what I wanted to say I learned years ago but will refrain from posting now as I believe that Heather Clark, in her forthcoming biography of Sylvia Plath, will discuss at beautiful and thorough length the history and biography of Otto Plath.

However, what I do still want to relate is interesting information I obtained Warren's Plath's daughter Susan in June 2014 concerning something Paul Alexander wrote as fact in his biography of Sylvia Plath, Rough Magic. Alexander writes, "On April 13, 1885, in the village of Grabow, Germany, he a born Otto Emil Platt" (Da Capo Press edition, 2003: 15). This is patently not true. Susan told me that when she asked Alexander about this several years ago he admitted that he simply made it up. (And makes me wonder what else he made up in his book! Rough Magic, indeed ) So, if you ever happen to read anywhere that Otto Plath was born Platt, please keep in mind this valuable information provided by the PLATH family.

01 December 2015

When Sylvia Plath Rocked Cleveland

In late September and early October I took a vacation, the purpose of which was to enjoy the last hold of summer and enjoy the American pastime: baseball. I found myself in Cleveland, Ohio, a city in which there is almost nothing to do (it took me 6 hours of walking around just to find a postcard).

So, before attending the Minnesota Twins versus the Cleveland Indians baseball game that night, a game won by the Twins and in which I caught a home run ball hit during Twins batting practice, I visited the Cleveland Public Library to, of course, look through microfilm of their 1953 newspapers. As you do, right?

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer was available through a database but I did not find an article there. Two other papers, the Cleveland News and the Cleveland Press were available on microfilm only so I spent an hour or so looking through the papers this way. Happily! I found one article in each paper, which adds to the list of articles on Plath's first suicide attempt/disappearance.

"Smith College Student Missing." Cleveland News. August 26, 1953: 1.
"Hunt Top Student." Cleveland Press. August 26, 1953: 12.

These two articles bring the total up to 198 articles found.

Before Cleveland, in Cincinnati which is a city with even less to do (especially during the rain delay of the Chicago Cubs versus the Cincinnati Reds baseball game), it did not occur to me to look through their microfilm in their public library (which has a beautiful book sculpture on Vine Street). We were so bored one day by 8 a.m. that I asked my wife if we could pop over to the Lilly Library for the day but she said no.

I requested the Cincinnati newspaper via Interlibrary Loan so perhaps the city might have covered it and will redeem itself, somehow. That's disingenuous and maybe unfair as the food was fine at Taste of Belgium and Melt Eclectic. The other city we hit, Pittsburgh, was amazing on all fronts: feel/vibe, food, ballpark and quality of baseball.

Later . . . not like you can tell . . . But after a couple of weeks the Boston Public Library received the Cincinnati Enquirer for me on microfilm via Interlibrary loan and the Queen City only marginally redeemed itself by yielding an addition article on Plath's first suicide attempt, bringing our total to 199.

"Missing Student Found." Cincinnati Enquirer. August 27, 1953: 11.



See the complete, in progress, bibliography here.

Some images of the beautiful ballparks at night:

Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark
Cleveland's Progressive Field
Pittsburgh's PNC Park

All links accessed 6 October 2015.


20 November 2015

"'Viciousness in the Kitchen': The Backstory of Sylvia Plath's 'Lesbos'" by David Trinidad

Poet and writer David Trinidad has a new essay on Sylvia Plath: "'Viciousness in the Kitchen': The Backstory of Sylvia Plath's 'Lesbos'" published today on Blackbird out of Virginia Commonwealth University.

For various reasons, the piece had to be published without the images that David intended. So as a complement to the piece, I have agreed to publish the photographs here on the Sylvia Plath Info Blog.

Sylvia Plath and her children at Court Green, spring 1962


Marvin Kane, circa 1961


Cadbury House, 2010. ©Derek Harper


"Lesbos" beach: "the most heavenly gold sands by emerald sea."


Beyond the stone arch, the only cottage in Hicks Court with
"a sort of cement well." Could this be "Quaintways"? 2010, ©Gail Crowther


Lane to "Lesbos" beach, 2010, ©Gail Crowther

"Lesbos" beach, 2010, ©Gail Crowther

"Lesbos" beach, 2010, ©Gail Crowther


Memorial plaque for Kathy Kane


Memorial plaque for Marvin Kane

11 November 2015

Sales Results: Two Sylvia Plath Lots at Bonhams Knightsbridge

As reported on 10 October 2015 in this blog post, there were two Sylvia Plath lots at the Fine Books, Maps and Manuscripts auction via Bonhams Knightsbridge auction today in London. The two Sylvia Plath lots just finished.

Lot 120 featured an autograph manuscript of Plath's early short story "The Mummy's Tomb".

Lot 121 featured annotated typescripts of five poems written when Plath was a student in high school and at Smith College: "acquatic nocturne", "Terminal", "Van Winkle's Village", "The Dark River (P.N.)", and "The Invalid".

Lot 120 sold for £5,000 ($7,559)  also blowing passed the high estimate. Price includes buyers premium.

Lot 121 sold for £13,750 ($20,789) annihilating the high estimate. Price includes buyers premium. Go Plath.

That was intense and interesting bidding to watch online!

All links accessed 10 November 2015.

06 November 2015

A Penny for Sylvia Plath's Thoughts...

In February 1955, Mademoiselle published a special "twentieth anniversary issue". One of the sections of this issue did a year-by-year review of highlights and Sylvia Plath was mentioned as one for 1952. This was the year in which her short story "Sunday at the Mintons'" was published and won first prize in the College Fiction Contest.

Mademoiselle, March 1955
We know Plath read this February 1955 issue for two reasons. One is that Cyrilly Abels sent Plath a telegram (held by the Lilly Library) on 1 March 1955 saying "Thanks for your fine words about February and also for the stories". It is possible this is in reference to three stories Plath sent to Abels on 30 January 1955: "The Day Mr. Prescott Died", "Tongues of Stone", and "Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit". The second reason we know Plath read the February 1955 issue is because in their March 1955 issue, Mademoiselle printed Plath's brief accolade referred to in Abels' telegram in the "A Penny for your thoughts…" section.

Appearing on page 64, this brief but previously unknown periodical appearance for Plath has not been recorded in any previous bibliography. Printed under a heading of "Many happy returns", Plath's text reads:
Page 64 of Mademoiselle,
March 1955 
Never have I read such a plump, magnificent issue as your February one! A very happy twentieth birthday to you.

At Smith, my friends and I were especially enchanted by the gay, lilting love poem by Donald Hall and the winsome, whimsical Peynet sketches. I reveled in the superb story by Bryan McMahon and you can imagine how I welcomed Dylan Thomas! To tell the other features I enjoyed would be to run through the contents of the whole magazine. Congratulations on the most wonderful MLLE yet -- a delight and challenge to the eye and to the mind.

S. P., Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
The February 1955 issue of Mademoiselle, as Plath mentions, printed the following works: Donald Hall's "Valentine" (p. 121), French artist Raymond Peynet's sketches under the collective title "The Path of Love" (pp. 144-145), Bryan MacMahon's "O, Lonely Moon!" (pp. 164-165, 211-216), and Dylan Thomas' short, short story "The Vest" (pp. 142-143), among other features. Here is a photograph of the Table of Contents which Plath so enthusiastically enjoyed:



And here are the Peynet sketches:


27 October 2015

Parliament Hill Fields: In the Footsteps of Sylvia Plath

The following is a guest blog post by Sheila Hamilton. Thank you, Sheila!

Sylvia Plath wrote the poem "Parliament Hill Fields" in February 1961, in London, very shortly after suffering the miscarriage which is the poem's subject. In the poem, the narrator walks in a wintry landscape and ponders the loss ("Already your doll grip lets go.") Towards the end of the poem, there is a sense of renewed life. At this time, Plath, Ted Hughes and their baby daughter Frieda were living in a small flat on Chalcot Square, maybe a mile away from Hampstead Heath of which Parliament Hill Fields are a part. Like many London dwellers, they would have enjoyed access to the Heath, sometimes referred to as "London's green lungs", a spacious place of grass and trees, birds and ponds, secluded glades overgrown with ivy, bramble and nettle, quiet meadows and, here and there, wonderful views of the city. Once marshy and very much outside London, part farmland, part private estate, by the mid nineteenth century the Heath was being transformed into a leisure space for the public. Several attempts to sell it off for "development" met with vigorous opposition and, ultimately, failure.

Parliament Hill Fields is the name given to the south-eastern portion of the Heath. It acquired its name during the English Civil War (1642-1649) when Parliamentary forces led by Oliver Cromwell encamped there. Though it has another, earlier Parliamentary connection: in 1605, the Gunpowder Plotters came here to get a good view of the Houses of Parliament as they blew up. Unbeknownst to them, their co-conspirator Guy Fawkes, the man sent to actually prime the gunpowder in the cellars under Parliament, had already been arrested. They waited, almost certainly, right at the top of what later became known as Parliament Hill.


(Plath writes in the poem of how "Southward, over Kentish Town, an ashen smudge/Swaddles roof and tree. . ."; this is a view from a different angle.) Moving a short distance down this hill you come to the place known as the tumulus ("I circle the writhen trees. . .These faithful dark-boughed cypresses/Brood, rooted in their heaped losses."). One myth suggests that this tumulus was an Iron Age settlement of some kind, another that it is the burial-mound of Boadicea, queen of the Iceni tribe who raised a doomed revolt against the Romans. Archaeologists digging there several decades ago found tobacco pipes, broken bits of Delftware pottery and Chinese porcelain, all dating from the eighteenth century, but nothing earlier and certainly no bones or any signs of burial. In Plath's time, as now, the tumulus would have been simply a cluster of dark trees, a place of birdsong, with some benches.

Photograph by Gail Crowther
Parliament Hill Fields, like the rest of the Heath, is a leveller: everyone comes here. Parents with buggies, nannies with buggies, joggers, solitary walkers, kite-fliers, people walking energetic dogs. People with cameras. People with magnifying glasses and field guides examining fallen trees colonised by fern and fungus.


Bird-lovers make their way down the hill towards Highgate Pond No. 1 and Bird Sanctuary Pond, both home to swans, herons, moorhens, various species of duck. Swimmers aim north-westwards towards the Men's Bathing Pond or the Kenwood Ladies' Pond, as appropriate, or westwards to the Mixed Bathing Pond, or south-eastwards to the Lido, an open-air unheated pool opened in 1938. These three ponds and the Lido are popular throughout the year, with some people aiming to swim every day, rain or snow notwithstanding.


(One of these swimmers is A. Alvarez, Plath's friend and, in the early 60s, a prominent literary critic, one of the first people to recognise the importance of her work. Now in his 80s, Alvarez lives near the Heath and writes extensively of its joys in his recent book Pondlife, a selection of his journals.) I found it easy to imagine Plath strolling among these various groups of people. On that day in February 1961, her view of the ponds ( "the linked ponds") would have been clearer on account of bare trees than the one I got in September.

Hampstead Heath is a place rich in historical, artistic and literary associations. John Constable the English landscape painter lived nearby in the 1820s and 1830s, partly because the air of Hampstead was good for his consumptive wife and partly because he loved to paint the Heath in its many moods and weathers. John Keats, it is said, heard the nightingale to which he addressed his "Ode to a Nightingale" on Hampstead Heath if not on Parliament Hill Fields themselves. Several years earlier, as a medical student, he herborised here, observing and learning about many species of medicinal plant: bogbean, coltsfoot, lady's smock, sphagnum moss. (Later drainage projects sounded the death-knell for most of these species.) Anna Pavlova the Russian ballerina lived near here for twenty years before her death in 1931, almost certainly enjoying the sight of swans on the ponds as well as having several swans as pets. Religious and political gatherings often focussed on the Stone of Free Speech until maybe the middle of the nineteenth century.


In Plath's time, one of the recognisable walkers here and thereabouts was Hugh Gaitskell, the then Leader of the British Labour Party and probable future Prime Minister. Gaitskell died at the age of 56, of the complications of lupus, in January 1963, less than a month before Plath's own death. That month was the coldest month in England in the twentieth century; in fact, you would have to go back all the way to 1814 to find a colder one. Snow would have been lying thick on the grass on Parliament Hill Fields, there would have been ice on the ponds, and I assume, many struggling swans, ducks and other birds. Simultaneously, Plath was struggling in her flat on Fitzroy Road with frozen pipes, power-cuts, flu, depression. Winters like this kill, sometimes directly, more often indirectly, felling those already vulnerable.

Time brings changes. The Lido no longer has any diving-boards and it now has CCTV but it is still the much-loved destination of water-loving Londoners. The bowling-green, children's playground and cafe, here in Plath's time as far as I have been able to establish, are still here and much used. There is still a bandstand. Nowadays, a little further off, there is also an athletics track. The whole place, now as then, is wonderfully uncommercial for the most part. Walkers, both human and canine, continue to walk and enjoy. Though the emotional tone of "Parliament Hill Fields" is one of sadness, I have formed the strong impression that this place was in general a nurturing one for her, a mixture of haven, bolt-hole and gentle, unobtrusive therapy.

Sheila Hamilton
September 2015

Unless otherwise stated, all photographs by Sheila Hamilton.
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