01 December 2016

Sylvia Plath's "A Winter's Tale" Illustrated

Sylvia Plath's "A Winter's Tale" (the poem) was a New Yorker poem, appearing in their 12 December 1959 issue. While she marketed it to the magazine in mid-1959, Plath was encouraged by Howard Moss to resubmit it later in the year after revising a line.

"A Winter's Tale" is a poem of place, and that place is Boston, Massachusetts. Plath and Ted Hughes had been living in Beacon Hill at 9 Willow Street since September 1958, so she got to experience the Christmas season in the city in 1958 like never before. Plath worked briefly that autumn in the psychiatric ward at the Massachusetts General Hospital, likely in the same building and ward where she was a patient five years earlier in the late summer of 1953. She and Hughes familiarized themselves with their city by foot, often going on long walks along the wharves and through Scollay Square. They also took in museums and galleries and frequented the Boston Public Library at Copley Square.

The composition date of "A Winter's Tale" is unknown, but it was certainly after 28 November 1958, when Boston held its Ninth annual tree lighting ceremony, as was reported in the Boston Globe the following day. Joseph A. Keblinsky wrote about it in his 29 November article, "Christmas Festival Opens In Burst of Light, Carols". A read through of his piece contextualizes some of the scenes Plath witnessed. I found, too, a photograph depicting part of the nativity scene printed in the Boston Globe the following year on 30 November 1959. I imagine the scene would largely have been the same from year to year.

I was reading "A Winter's Tale" recently and was struck by the number of places, buildings, and companies that Plath captured. Some of these sites are still around; some are "long gone darlings", to quote another Plath poem, "All the Dead Dears" (which coincidentally, like "A Winter's Tale" was both the title of a poem title and the title of a short story).

Due to copyright, I cannot post the entire poem here, but what I have done is to reference the stanza and then the word or words from the poem which place the verse in Boston. Then I have included a link to a photograph found on Flickr from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, or inserted my own photograph to help to illustrate "A Winter's Tale". Also there are some annotated Google maps. My hope is that the poem will be visually contextualized in a way that makes it new and modern yet also historically rendered.

To set the scene, though, how about a photograph of Acorn Street from April 1958 taken from directly in front of 9 Willow Street. And here, too, is one from February 1959 -- a snowy scene quite possibly taken with Plath and Hughes six floors up in the apartment looking out their windows.

View of Acorn Street from Sylvia & Ted Hughes' apartment
9 Willow Street, Boston (October 2012)
This map relates to stanza one and stanza seven
In stanza one, Plath begins the poem in her own backyard, as it were, at Boston Common (May 1958). The trees are labeled in the Common and Public Garden; which is something Plath herself referred to in her later poem, "Two Campers in Cloud Country". In "A Winter's Tale", Plath specifically mentioned the "Ulmus / Americana", otherwise known as the American Elm.


Plath's adolescent home was on Elmwood Road, Wellesley, and she lived on Elm Street twice in Northampton (at Haven House and at 337 Elm Street). The elm likely held particular significance to her. Later, Plath's writing desk in North Tawton was a large plank of elm that was originally cut for a coffin. The desk is now held by Smith College. Peaking Beacon Hill is the "domed State House" (March 1958). The Common and State house are identified on the map above by the number 1.

Here are two photographs. The first is of Boston Common, taken from inside 9 Willow Street in what was Plath and Hughes' bedroom. The second is of the State House, taken from the roof deck.

View of Boston Common from Sylvia & Ted Hughes' apartment
9 Willow Street, Boston (October 2012)
View of State House from roof deck,
9 Willow Street, Boston (October 2012)
This map relates to stanza three and stanza four
In stanzas three and four, Plath compares the angels in the nativity scene to the models in several of Boston's department stores. She mentions Bonwit's (then at 234 Berkeley Street), Jay's (on Temple Place), and S. S. Pierce (144 Tremont Street). In the image of S. S. Pierce, the building is next to "Central" truck.

This map relates to stanza five
In stanza five, we are now with the speaker of the poem in Downtown Crossing, then the heart of Boston's pedestrianized shopping area, listening to carolers on Winter Street, Temple Place, and outside of Filene's (February 1959). Winter Street and what was then Filene's and Temple Place are circled in the map above. Filene's is now gone, replaced in part by a Primark and an in-construction office and residential tower.

In stanza seven (see first map image above), eight and nine, Plath's speaker is back in Beacon Hill. She name-drops many of its most famous, exclusive streets and listens to the carolers filling the air with their songs. Pinckney Street (March 1959), Mt Vernon Street (April 1958), and Chestnut Street (1958).

There are still "odd violet panes" on the windows, too: a fantastic, idiosyncratic detail to record. The image below is from just around the corner from 9 Willow Street.

"Of  windows with odd violet panes"
29A Chestnut Street, Boston, Mass.
Is it the best photograph? Oh, no. Certainly not. But if you are interested in this violet phenomenon, please see "Why Some Boston Brownstones Have Purple Windows", Boston Magazine, 23 September 2015. It is sometimes a wonderful thing to know that my own eyes --and yours too-- can still look upon the very exact same thing that Plath's did.


This map relates to stanza nine
The last stanza and a half addresses the Little City on a hill (See also). There is some interesting imagery here. If the the final four place names were looked at from above and lines drawn connecting the points, they would form a close approximation of a Cross, the symbolism for which hardly needs explaining.

Charles Street (February 1959) (West) and Customs House (August 1959) (East).
North Station (September 1959) (North) and South Station (April 1957) (South).

All links accessed 21 May 2016, and 1 and 17 November 2016.

21 November 2016

Book Review Fronts of Modernity: The 20th-Century Collections at the University of Victoria Libraries

Editor J. Matthew Huculak's Fronts of Modernity: The 20th-Century Collections at the University of Victoria Libraries (2016) is a remarkable work. He, along with the other contributors, survey the important archival collections held at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. Published in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the special collections at the university, Fronts of Modernity is a treat for anyone interested in archives, modernism, poetry, literature, photography, art, and more. And if you have not heard of the collections at the University of Victoria, you are missing out.

Fronts of Modernity was printed in limited run (1,000 copies), but is free to download as a PDF. In the book/document, readers are treated to a smorgasbord of archival topics, from collection policies to descriptions of unique manuscripts. Throughout, there is context provided in these cohesive "letters" so that you always know how the materials fit into the mission of what the library collects, preserves, and makes available for scholarly research or personal use. In addition to excellent, riveting essays, high resolution scans compliment the expert texts written by Huculak, Jonathan Bengston, Heather Dean, Nicholas Bradley, G. Kim Blank, James Gifford, Matthew S. Adams, Elizabeth Grove-White, Stephen Ross, Christine Walde, and Michael Nowlin.

The essays are presented in a geographical fashion covering records originators from Canada, Ireland, France, Egypt, England, and America. Within each chapter/letter, there is chronological progression of themes and authors. This is not a book that requires a completely linear reading. As Huculak writes, the collections represented at UVic are an "interconnected ecosystem of material spanning thousands of years across various disciplines" (xv). The University holds papyri, but it's strength is in the modernist moment from Ezra Pound to W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot to Virginia Woolf. There is Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell. As well as Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and the Harlem Renaissance. What I loved particularly were the first essays which detail the genesis of the libraries collecting focus: from the first librarians/archivists/collectors and the players responsible for the foundation of the the university's first acquisitions. They do not forget their roots, which is so wonderful and refreshing. I feel in these pieces the writing is so enticing that if it does not give you archive fever then there is something wrong with you.

It may not surprise you that I gravitated towards Christine Walde's piece "Talking Back to The(ir) Archive: File SC060, or the Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath Collection at UVic Libraries". Christine navigates this important collections with expert precision and care. Acknowledging that the collection is small, she rightly illustrates how these papers "[correspond] to the larger archives of its creators held in other libraries and archives" (102). She asks important archival questions about the conversations that take place on either side of the page: "Did the awareness of the potential value [of their papers] inspire Plath to insert herself further into Hughes' archives? Or, as Plath's fame grew after her death, did he insert himself in her papers to present a picture of himself as poet, husband, father, executor?" In some instances one might be able to determine which came first, but in others it could be virtually impossible.

The illustrations in the book from the Plath-Hughes point of view are wonderful. They show the vibrancy of their manuscripts and typescripts, as well as the chilling realities, such as an unfinished letter from Ted Hughes to David and Assia Wevill. The letter is undated but from the evidence could be assigned to circa 27 June 1962 for Hughes mentions having been in London "yesterday" and seeing the film Last Year at Marienbad (Criterion). Plath and Hughes had traveled to London on 26 June for BBC appointments and other things, and as Mrs. Plath was at Court Green there was little reason to rush back. Last Year played at the International Film Theatre, Bayswater,

I really enjoyed Fronts of Modernity and I hope if you download a copy, or are lucky enough to have the physical book to hold, that you do too.

All links accessed 10 November 2016.

10 November 2016

Sylvia Plath's Wellesley Neighbor in The Bell Jar

One of the other things I learned on my tour of 26 Elmwood Road in August was that I got the house that inspired the description of Dodo Conway's wrong. This new information was alluded to in a post on McLean Hospital last month. I have long known that Dodo Conway was inspired by Sylvia Plath's Wellesley neighbor Betty Aldrich. The Aldrich family -- C. Duane and Betty and their nine children -- lived at 23 Elmwood Road which is across the street at a diagonal to the Plath house. The house I thought inspired Plath's description was a little further down the road. Today, the Aldrich house, like many in Wellesley and other affluent towns, appears to have been greatly improved from the way it looked in the 1950s.

Of Dodo and the Conways, Plath wrote in The Bell Jar:
Dodo Conway was a Catholic who had gone to Barnard and then married an architect who had gone to Columbia and was also a Catholic. They had a big, rambling house up the street from us, set behind a morbid façade of pine trees… (1963: 122)
It was the "up the street from us" that led me to deduce the wrong house… So, I suppose this would be an instance of light fictionalization in the novel because in reality, the house is one house away at a diagonal and across the street.

Plath was not done, she continued:
Her house was unlike all the others in our neighbourhood in its size (it was much bigger) and its colour (the second storey was constructed of dark brown clapboard and the first of gray stucco, studded with grey and purple golf-ball-shaped stones), and the pine trees completely screened it from view, which was considered unsociable in our community of adjoining lawns and friendly, waist-high hedges. (1963: 122-123)
The Aldrich/Conway caricature is one of those instances in The Bell Jar where Plath wrote negatively about a person and family whom, in fact, she regarded quite dearly.

In real life, Betty Aldrich (1920-2001) was a 1941 graduate of Radcliffe College. She married C. Duane Aldrich, a lawyer, who was a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School. So you can see where Plath invented some details in an attempt to mask the real people. You can read about this remarkable woman here.

The Aldrich family moved into 23 Elmwood Road in November 1947. At that time they had three children. Plath took some lovely photographs of "Libby" Aldrich on Elmwood Road circa 1948. These she pasted onto page 9 of her High School scrapbook held by the Lilly Library with the caption: "These pictures of Libby Aldrich, the little girl across the street show how much I wanted to capture moods of a young child. She is my idea of a perfect little girl. I just wish she would never grow up!" The fourth Aldrich child was born in 1949; the fifth in 1951; the sixth in 1955; the seventh in 1956; the eighth in 1959; and the ninth in 1963 after Plath's death. The Aldriches visited Plath in the spring of 1956 while she was a student at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, and were the first Wellesleyites to meet her then new boyfriend, Ted Hughes.

So, when Plath was writing the novel in the spring and summer of 1961, the Aldriches had eight children and she changed this, slightly, to six, with seventh on the way (p. 123). Dodo is a disingenuous name, of course, and may have been used to complement the pure vanilla-ness of the name "Buddy". It also can be used in a hardly flattering way. The use of the name here may have been inspired by many things: from knowing Dido Merwin, and also being an acquaintance Eric White of the Arts Council, whose wife Edith Dorothy went by the name "Dodo". Lastly, Plath's other neighbor, Dorinda Cruickshank, went by the name 'Do'.

Here is a Google Street View screen capture of 23 Elmwood Road:


You can see two of the lone remaining pine trees along Elmwood Road. Also, some of the features on the front of the house do recall Plath's description in the novel but both the stonework and vinyl siding appear newer.There is also a line of pines extending down the eastern border of the property. Here is a view from Plath's bedroom window of the house:


You can see from this photograph, taken from Plath's bedroom window, how the Aldrich house was/is screened from view.

All links accessed 28 August and 1 November 2016.

01 November 2016

Sylvia Plath at the University of Victoria, British Columbia

As the seats in the room began to fill, the nerves left me almost immediately: like morning valley fog burning off when the sun reaches a certain point in the sky. I became instantly happy.


Jonathan Bengston (University Librarian ), Lara Wilson (Director of Special Collections and University Archivist), and Christine Walde (Plath scholar, Awesome-sauce and Grants and Awards Librarian) welcomed the standing and sitting room only crowd to Room 210 in the Mearns Centre for Learning at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. Their comments brought the assembled listeners up to speed with the context for the lecture/talk they were about to hear. 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Special Collections at the university. The library holds some remarkable acquisitions including manuscripts and typescripts by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, as well as letters by Hughes. Indeed, some of the letters were written by Hughes with Plath in the room with him, giving present, still living action to Plath. Very evocative.

Don't tell anyone, but the fire code set maximum occupancy of 65 persons. 80 chairs, however were set up, and people were seated in a group up front, standing in the back, crowding the doorway. Some were even turned away. Yes, there was cake afterwards, but the UVic media relations did an excellent job of building interest not just in the talk I would give, but more importantly to their latest, fascinating acquisition.

In July I tweeted out a link (above) to a rare, interesting copy of a Victoria Lucas edition of The Bell Jar. It was a first edition, reprint. The provenance of this copy is the stuff of dreams. It belonged to Ted Hughes, who gave it to Nicholas Hughes. Upon his death in 2009, the copy then transferred ultimately to Frieda Hughes. There may have been an intermediary ownership but that at the moment is unclear. The book sustained a heavy trauma at some point, the front board being nearly severed in half. And this creasing extends through the front pastedown, front free endpaper, and into some of the preliminary pages. There are also some tears. Frieda Hughes drew over the heaviest creases: one of a zipper; another of stitches presumably a task undertaken cleverly by a mouse. An alligator nibbles at a small tear. It's one thing to see images of it; another completely to behold it and trace your fingers over it. Christine retweeted it and put a link of Facebook and Lara saw that and very shortly afterwards had secured the book for the Special Collections. Social media working to benefit our cultural heritage.

Christine and Lara invited me out to give a 45 minutes talk on Plath and the topics we agreed upon were textual variations to The Bell Jar, Plath's letters, and her archives. I was surprised at how fun and easy it was to write about these topics, and had enough time to rehearse the talk and be comfortable with the slides. Victoria, BC, is a wonderful city. My first day an unexpected thing happened: the sun was out the entire afternoon so I took advantage of the freedom to use my legs after a long transcontinental flight to explore the downtown area, Beacon Hill Park, and the coast. I gazed across the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the Olympic Mountain range in Washington State and saw snow-capped mountains. A tapas dinner at the Veneto Lounge capped off a very long day. Excellent food and the lovely company of Christine and her husband Paul, as well as a strong IPA (Fat Tug) put me in the mood for sleep. It also put in mind to start my own IPA: International Plath Association! It is another PUI (Plathing Under the Influence) for me.

Wednesday was a frenzy. I had the morning to myself and it was raining, meeting my expectations. Christine and I had lunch at the University Club with Christopher Douglas, an English professor who teaches The Bell Jar, and two Ph.D. students (Erin & Alyssa) which got us in the mood for the media. Lara Wilson and I gave a radio interview with Pamela McCall of CFax, but I have to admit the story before ours -- a couple returned home from a five-week holiday to discover squirrels had wrecked their house -- was frankly more exciting. It was, however, great that there was so much interest in the university's acquisition. We also met with a student reporter as well as Richard Watts of the Times Colonist. I had dinner on my own that night and worked on the final preparations for my talk.

It was during the media portion that I was able to see some of the library's Plath books and hold their new Victoria Lucas copy of The Bell Jar. I also got to work with their Plath and Hughes collection (SC060). THE BOOK was quite amazing to hold; and nothing compares to seeing poetry drafts and letters in person. A selection of books were going to be on display in the front of the lecture room. In addition, I was able to look through letters from Ted Hughes to Robin Skelton from circa 1961 to circa 1964.


Also on Wednesday, items were selected to be on display in the entrance area to the library.







The day arrived. Thursday, Plath's Birthday. It had the perfect set-up for disaster. I woke with a migraine, sore throat, and sinus pain. A pre-dawn run along the coast did little to make me feel any better and so I resorted to a hour long nap and ibuprofen to try to get a handle on myself. Somehow, I woke clear headed. Lunch at Thai Lemongrass at Yew Tree Corner(!) with Christine, complete with a beer called Dark Matter followed by chocolate cookies from the Dutch Bakery and coffee from Kicking Horse clarified any remaining fogginess, and I felt ready to give the talk.

Sitting in the staff lounge before the talk, looking at a large crow in a tree, I calmed myself thinking about 210, the room number where the talk was to be held. 210: Plath was born at 2:10 in the afternoon. Plath's mother saw the 2:10 showing of A Queen is Crowned in Boston on 24 August 1953. 210. Plath signed the contract for The Colossus on February 10 (2/10), 1960. My favorite typo in the first edition of The Bell Jar is page 210.  February 10, 1963: Plath's last full day of life.

Students, teachers, and townies were lined up outside the room at or before 4 o'clock. A full half-hour before the start time! We were flabbergasted that upon welcoming them at 4:15 to take seats the room was more than half-filled within minutes. More and more and more people filtered into the room and it was quickly realized that media outreach was working for this event.
After the three welcoming comments, one of which was captured above by Matt Huculak, I took to the podium and tried my best to follow the script I had prepared. I lost my place one or twice and tried to look up from the paper a couple of times per page and make eye contact. It was hardly perfect but I hope it was done well enough.
I had prepared a slideshow of 48 slides for the talk. Thanks to Claire S. Kanigan for her tweet, above. This meant there was more than one per minute, but the way it worked out some slides were up for a while, and some for too short a time. Life isn't fair. The topics upon which I spoke were: 1) the history of The Bell Jar and edits made to the novel after Plath's death; 2) working with her letters for the Letters of Sylvia Plath I co-edited with Karen V. Kukil, and 3) working with Plath's archives, which lead to the book of essays I co-wrote with Gail Crowther, These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. I think I could feel a genuine feeling of attentiveness from the audience, and there were certainly some things I discussed that I knew were so new, that I truly hope I stumped them silly. We had a good question and answer session afterwards, followed by a ridiculous crowding at the front of the room for people to see Victoria's Victoria Lucas Bell Jar.


It was determined there were at least 100 people in the room, and I was told that no event had had such a turn-out as that. Well, after all, there was cake.

Thank you again to Christine, Lara, Jonathan, and to fellow post-talk dinner attendees Matthew Huculak and Iain Higgins. Dinner at the Ferris' Oyster Bar was lovely and conversation great. In honor of Plath I had mushroom ravioli. Matthew and I realized it is a small world and discussed our common acquaintance with Amanda Golden. A parting gift of a print copy of Huculak's recently edited Fronts of Modernity: The 20th-Century Collections and a UVic Libraries coffee mug and flash drive were very sweetly received. The book contains wonderful essays about their special collections, high resolution scans, and is freely available to download. I highly recommend you get a copy for yourself -- and not just for the Plath and Hughes! Also scored a doughnut from the Sidney Bakery, which, when consumed at 32,000 feet above Sault St. Marie tasted mighty fine.

Again thank you to all the students and faculty and staff and general public of Victoria for attending the event. I was spoiled rotten this week. Thank you thank you.

All links accessed 29 October 2016.

20 October 2016

Sylvia Plath and McLean Hospital

In August when I was in the final preparations for the tour of Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar sites, I found that I had long been mistaken about a couple of things. This is my coming clean. It was my intention in this blog post to discuss just McLean, but I found myself deeply immersed in other aspects of Plath's recovery. The other thing I was mistaken about will be discussed in a separate blog post. I suppose I need to state from the outset that I am drawing conclusions from Plath's actual experiences from what she wrote in The Bell Jar and vice versa, taking information from the novel that is presently unconfirmed or murky and applying it to Plath's biography. There is enough in The Bell Jar, I think, based on real life to make these decisions. At the same time, I like to think that I know enough to distinguish where things are authentic and where details were clearly made up, slightly fudged, or out of chronological order.

McLean Hospital was Plath's third and last stop on her road to recovery from her suicide attempt in August 1953. She initially recovered at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Paul Alexander writes that she was at Newton-Wellesley from 26 August until 3 September at which point in time she was moved to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He then states that Plath moved from MGH to McLean in Belmont eleven days later on 14 September. The fullest autobiographical account of Plath's summer and suicide attempt can be read in her 25 December 1953 to Eddie Cohen. She never sent letter. In this letter Plath claimed to have spent "two sweltering weeks" at Newton-Wellesley Hospital before spending two weeks in the psychiatric ward at Massachusetts General. This particular letter is fairly candid and glib, so she may have been being generic with regards to the duration of her her various hospital stays.

Little is known about this entire period. Some information I learned from an envelope in Plath mss II at the Lilly Library. The back of an envelope, that once contained a letter from Gordon Lameyer to Sylvia Plath and which was postmarked 1 September 1953, contains two full-lipped lipstick blots. I was enraptured by this before realizing it also held notes about visiting the MGH. The notes, transcribed below following the line breaks on the back of the envelope, read:
Go to M.G.H. {Charles to
Cambridge Street
Fruit Street is
1st of [sic.] 2nd left
to Main Desk.
Ward B7
----------------------
ask for
Dr
Wedrow = resident Dr.
Before 4:30
----------------------
Take Dr. Racioppi's instructions
Face & Chloro-hydrate
----------------------
Visiting hours?
[baciguent?]
Chloro-hydrate at [shorthand symbol: night]
----------------------
3 p.m Dr Cohn
[shorthand symbols: walk straight through "ment"]
Corridor sign B7 &
B8 [shorthand symbol: take] Elevator
up.
Some notes on the notes:
  • Dr. Wedrow is Dr. Earl M. Wedrow, resident physician in psychiatry.
  • Dr. Racioppi is Dr. Francesca M. Racioppi Benotti, the Plaths' family doctor who practiced under her maiden name Francesca M. Racioppi, M.D. Her office, which opened in 1947, was located at 152 Washington Street, Wellesley.
  • Dr. Cohn might be either Dr. Z.A. Cohn, assistant resident physician in medicine, or Dr. M.E. Cohen, assistant resident physician in psychiatry.
  • In the first set of shorthand symbols four lines from the bottom, "ment" is a best guess. It might very well be "main", which contextually makes more sense. It also "looks" similar to the word "main" as defined in this shorthand dictionary (see page 130).
My deepest thank to Jeffrey Mifflin, archivist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and to Catherine Rankovic for her assistance with "translating" the shorthand. Visit Catherine's blog, Studying Aurelia Plath, to learn about Aurelia Plath, shorthand, and more.

Back to McLean… I knew Plath stayed at Belknap House in McLean Hosptial. It was listed as the return address in the letter to Eddie Cohen mentioned above and printed, though edited down, in Letters Home (pp. 129-132). However, there are two Belknap's: North Belknap and South Belknap. I arbitrarily decided (or read somewhere, maybe?) that it was North Belknap. Or, it is possible that I simply mis-remembered which house she was in if the name was printed in a book or article. My conclusion, however wrong, was also not only based on what I saw, but on Plath's description in The Bell Jar, Chapter 15:
My room was on the first floor, and the window, a short distance above the pine-needle-padded ground, overlooked a wooded yard ringed by a red brick wall. If I jumped I wouldn't even bruise my knees. The inner surface of the tall wall seemed smooth as glass. (1963: 197)
North Belknap has, in the front of the house, a red brick walled courtyard. It was the most visible and approachable house on my first, timid visits.

Walled-in courtyard of North Belknap
The quote from the novel above comes right when Esther Greenwood moves from the "City Hospital" (aka Massachusetts General in Boston) to the private hospital. Based on the chronology of the novel and the way things worked in the real world, Plath, like Esther Greenwood, was likely first admitted to Codman House, the model for Caplan in the novel. We know Esther herself was in Caplan for she says in Chapter 19: "I often thought if I had been assigned to Doctor Quinn I would be still in Caplan or, more probably, Wymark" (1963: 236).

However, in doing the final research preparations for the tour, I learned that back in the day there was Men's Belknap and Women's Belknap and that modern day McLean has different names for these houses. Men's Belknap is now North Belknap and Women's Belknap is now South Belknap. This is extremely useful to know as we have a clear idea of where Plath was during a time in which little information (no journals, sparse letters) is known. Therefore, the quote from Chapter 15 above most likely describe Codman/Caplan.

The hierarchy of houses and how they link to The Bell Jar is as follows: Women's/South Belknap (freest and the model for Belsize), Codman (medium security, for lack of a better way to put it, and the model for Caplan), and Wyman (lockdown, the model for Wymark; see Pressman, Last Resort, 247). In addition, Pressman states: "Within each building the floors were also rated, from I to III ('I' being lowest), further differentiating the levels of disturbance" (247). We can deduce that because Esther was on the ground floor that she was not deemed a serious threat. At McLean, Wyman and Codman were tucked further back into the woods from the main entrance and center of the grounds. As Esther Greenwood goes, in Chapter 17, to receive electroshock therapy, she describes the journey:
Then Doctor Nolan unlocked a door at the end of the hall and led me down a flight of stairs into the mysterious basement corridors that linked, in an elaborate network of tunnels and burrows, all the various buildings of the hospital. (1963: 225)
Many of these tunnels, constructed between 1893 and 1895, are visible. Some are burrowed into the ground, some have an above ground pathway that parallels its more secretive interior.

Tunnel near Codman House
Tunnel connecting South Belknap to Administration Building
Tunnel near Centre Building

Esther had two rooms in Caplan. The first room was at the back and was described above; the second room was in "the front of the house" and had "lots more sun" (1963: 204). Caplan's original, Codman House, is no longer in use. It is boarded up and abandoned and heavily overgrown with weeds and foliage. The front of the house faces south so in the late fall and winter, it would receive all the sunlight on any given day. I walked around the area and took some "safe" photographs.

Codman House, main entrance (south-facing)
Codman House, East side
Tunnel door by Codman House
Codman House, ivy-league psychiatric care
Someone bolder than I has taken a video of the exterior of the vacant building.

There are a few maps of the grounds available. This one from circa 1900 is really useful. As is the Belmont Assessor Plans from 1931, much closer to Plath's time. In this section map you can clearly see walled in areas behind both Women's Belknap as well as the front of Codman and in the rear at the back (just above "man" of "Codman").

Bing and Google Maps offer various current perspectives on the houses. I found the Bing maps better for the south facing side of Codman House as the leaves were off the trees and it was before it was so overgrown due to abandonment.
Bing Map showing main entrance and part of a tunnel.
Bing Map showing back side of Codman house, and woods.
Once I found out about the older/original name for South Belknap, I found the following images of Women's Belknap from 1903 via the Harvard Art Museums website. These provide truly enlightening glimpses at the decor of McLean in 1903 and supplies information about the geography of the house and its rooms.

Some larger images from the above:
Front View
Parlor
Sitting Room
Patient's Room
Reception and music room
Dining Room

The Women's Gymnasium was located directly behind Women's Belknap. The building adjacent to the Women's Gym was Power House. See also some interior images of the Women's Gym can be seen here.

Plath would have checked into and likely out of the hospital at the Pierce Building (Administration).

Some larger images from the above:
Entrance Hall, Pierce Building
Reception room and library
Library

For further reading:
Pressman, Jack. Last Resort: Psychosurgery and the Limits of Medicine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998 (Amazon).

All links accessed 17 and 26 August and 7 September 2016.

10 October 2016

Sylvia Plath Collections: Wellesley Police Department Records

In the past two months I have been doing a lot of research into Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt on 24 August 1953. Maybe this is a morbid topic over which to obsess? However, I feel that it is an very fascinating topic and fortunately, somehow, I am able to not get too emotional over it.

As a part of this research, I put online scans of all the articles I have found that covered Plath's suicide attempt. There are more than 200! I hope that you all use this resource; that you enjoy it and benefit from it. In processing all those files, and re-reading them, I grew more and more intrigued with the finer-point details presented in the 1953 articles themselves, in the biographies, in articles, and, of course, in Plath's wonderful novel The Bell Jar. A lot of my querying was further encouraged by my recent tour of Plath's 26 Elmwood Road, Wellesley, house.

This got me wondering if the Wellesley Police Department might have any archival record of their role in searching for Plath. So I wrote to Kelly Dias, the records manager, and in a very short time she sent me the following images from one of their log books. As they are public records she gave me her blessing to post them here.

At 5:30 pm on 24 August 1953, Mrs. Plath called the Wellesley Police to report her daughter missing.


The log reads:
5:30 pm Mrs Plath 26 Elmwood Rd. reports her
daughter Sylvia Plath age 20 - 5'9" - 140 lbs.
dark brown eyes, dark blonde hair missing. Propably
wearing blue denim skirt, blouse and Jersey.
This girl depressed. Route officer and
all station a our radio network notified.
Teletype item 85. West P.D. notified.
At 6:46 am on 25 August 1953, Mrs. Plath called back to let the police know that she found the pill bottle missing.


The log reads:
6:46 AM Tel. Mrs Plath 26 Elmwood Rd. reports
she finds a bottle containing sleeping pills missing
and feels sure her daughter must of taken
them with her. Car #3 Officers Murphy, Turdar [?]
and Monaghan detailed to search area.
At 12:40 pm on 26 August 1953, the Plath's called to report that Sylvia Plath had been located in the cellar.


The log reads:
12:40 p.m. Tel: Send Police to #26 Elmwood Rd. —
Officer Webb detailed with Ambulance -
Car 1 - Chief and McGlone detailed and
report: Sylvia Plath reported as missing
8-24-53 located in this house. Taken to
Newton Hospital in Ambulance.
Rev. William Rice - notified.
Missing report cancelled by Item 36 - 8/26/53.
I was hopeful to see interview notes, notes summarizing police activities, and possibly photographs. But these things seemingly do not exist; or exist no longer.

As far as I am aware no previous biographer worked with these document but they do present the most accurate timeline for those days. When things happened. The minutes, in fact, that logged phone calls were made from Mrs. Plath to the police. You will remember that on the afternoon of 24 August 1953, Mrs. Plath saw the film A Queen is Crowned at the Exeter Street Theatre on Exeter and Newbury Streets in Boston's Back bay. She would have gotten home sometime around 4 pm and waited at most 90 minutes before starting the search for Sylvia Plath.

My sincere thanks to Kelly Dias for her help on this post.

All links accessed 18 September 2016.

01 October 2016

A Sylvia Plath talk at University of Victoria, British Columbia

Although the announcement was made several days ago and nearly broke the internet... I am really pleased to post on the blog that Director of Special Collections and University Archivist Lara Wilson and Grants and Awards Librarian Christine Walde of the McPherson Library at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, have invited me to give a lecture on Sylvia Plath. That is the second longest sentence recorded in history (see Henry James).

On 27 October 2016, at 4:30 pm, I will be giving a talk entitled: "'She wants to be everything': Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Letters, and Archives".

Here is the brilliant, sleek looking poster they made up for the event, which is helping to celebrate 50 years of the University's Special Collections.


This is Sylvia Plath on Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire, from circa 17 July 1954. The photograph is from the Lameyer mss, Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington.

So, if you are in the Victoria area, I look forward to seeing you and meeting you in Room 210 of the Mearns Centre for Learning, McPherson Library, later in the month.

My most sincere thanks to Christine and Lara for this opportunity.

All links accessed: 28 September 2016.

20 September 2016

Guest Post: Visit to Heptonstall

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

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

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


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

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



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



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


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

10 September 2016

Some Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Books

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

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

Ladies first... The Plath books are:

Ariel (London: Faber and Faber, 1965)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some images of these lovely Plath books:





The Hughes books are:

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

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

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

Lupercal (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960)

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

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

Here are some images of the fine looking Hughes books:




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

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

All links accessed 1 September 2016.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Publications & Acknowledgements

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

Interviews