10 October 2007

Corrected carbon typescripts for Ariel

Plath's Ariel manuscripts are held mostly by Smith College. As I reported here, the Houghton Library and Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard hold "Tulips". The recently published Ariel: The Restored Edition is a blessing to Plath scholars. The addition of facsimile typescripts gives the reader an idea of the holdings; though, seeing the real thing cannot be matched. One day, maybe all of her typescripts in facsimile will be available commercially. Not too long ago the following collection of Ariel typescripts was for sale.

In the book world, literary manuscripts are among the rarest of the rare as well as the biggest ticket items. There are a couple of manuscript poems by Plath from the 1940s for sale ("Snowflake Star" and "The King of the Ice"). However, in the last five years or so, two sets of poems were on the market. This post will cover a very rare, interesting set of Plath's Ariel poems that was for sale but was recently removed from the booksellers' online catalog. According to the bookseller, the typescripts sold about six months ago to a private collector.

The description (I've added paragraphs breaks for flow) of the collection is as follows.

"Plath, Sylvia (1932-1963). Corrected Carbon Typescripts for Ariel. 1960-1962. Seventy-five quarto sheets, text on rectos only. Original corrected carbon typescripts for forty poems, twenty-eight of which were published in Ariel (1965); the remaining twelve poems were published in later volumes. The title poem, "Ariel," bears a highly significant and previously unrecorded holograph dedication: "For Al [Alvarez]." Fifteen of the poems have been annotated by Plath in the top right-hand corner with the names of the journals and magazines which had accepted her poems for publication. Most of the poems bear numerous autograph corrections of accidentals throughout (mostly changing colons to periods).

"The present group of typescripts is almost certainly another copy of the carbon typescripts which Ted Hughes mentions in "Publishing Sylvia Plath," as being the scripts from which he selected the poems to be published in Ariel: "She left behind a carbon typescript, its title altered from Daddy to Ariel, its pages littered with minor corrections, containing about thirty-five poems, beginning as now with "Morning Song" and ending with the Bee poems . . . It began with the word "love"` and ended with "spring," as she pointed out . . ." Hughes discusses the same typescript in his introduction to Sylvia Plath: Collected Poems: "Some time around Christmas 1962, Sylvia Plath gathered most of what are now known as the "Ariel" poems in a black spring binder, and arranged them in a careful sequence. . .This collection of hers included almost everything she had written between The Colossus [1959] and July 1962 -- or two and a half years` work."

"In her biography of Sylvia Plath (Bitter Fame, 1989), Anne Stevenson suggests that Plath may have rearranged the text on 15 November 1962: "It contains "Death & Co.," written the day before, but no poem written later. . .The manuscript [i.e. the text] had already been through earlier revisions; there were former titles crossed out on the title page, and the order of certain poems changed, with several of them corrected by hand."

It seems from these descriptions of the typescript that both its contents and its sequence match those of the present series (although "The Swarm" is missing here). It also seems likely that, having gathered the carbon typescripts in the black binder and into what was to be the "final" typescript for Ariel, Plath then annotated the present carbon copies with the names of the journals, her typing corrections and the dedication of "Ariel" to Al Alvarez (the last presumably in or after December 1962). This dedication to Al Alvarez, at that time literary critic for The Observer, is particularly striking in view of the relationship that seems to have grown up between him and Plath during the winter of 1962. In December she had "got in touch with Alvarez to show him the completed manuscript of Ariel. . .Very probably Sylvia was looking for a new man in her life, a relationship that would fulfill her emotionally and intellectually and restore her pride. . .A. Alvarez may well have been Sylvia`s first choice. He was influential, amiable, and attractive; clearly he admired her and fully responded to her new poetry. In his memoir Alvarez implies that his relationship with Sylvia was no more than literary, yet he confesses frankly to a bleak feeling of having let her down." (Anne Stevenson, Bitter Fame, 1989). Alvarez himself comments in The Savage God, 1971, on his initial reception of Ariel and Sylvia Plath`s response: "I told her it was the best thing she had done and a few days later she sent me a fair copy of it, carefully written out in her heavy, rounded script, and illuminated like a medieval manuscript with flowers and ornamental squiggles."

"Ted Hughes explained why the Ariel published in 1965 was different from the volume Plath herself had planned. It contained the poems she had written in 1963 and omitted "some of the more personally aggressive poems from 1962." The published Ariel was his "eventual compromise between publishing a large bulk of her work -- including much of the post-Colossus but pre-Ariel verse -- and introducing her late work more cautiously, printing perhaps only twenty poems to begin with. "I`m still not sure whether Ariel would not be a better book if I had kept out everything that followed the "Bee" poems, as in her version. She herself regarded those last poems as the beginning of a new book." The twelve "more openly vicious" poems of the present series which were omitted in the final Ariel volume are: "The Rabbit Catcher," "Thalidomide," "Barren Woman," "A Secret," "The Jailor," "The Detective," "Magi," "Lesbos," "The Other," "Stopped Dead," "Purdah" and "Amnesiac." The poem which is usually known as "The Courage of Shutting-Up" is here entitled "The Courage of Quietness."

"The journals and publications named on some of the typescripts are: The Observer, Partisan Review, Hutchinson Anthology, London Magazine, New Yorker, Mermaid Festival Commission, PEN 1963, New Statesman, Harper`s and The Atlantic Monthly. Several poems are annotated with the names of more than one journal. Judging from the publication of her poems during her lifetime and after her death, it seems that Plath annotated those poems which had already been accepted by the named journals. Plath spoke of "The Moon and the Yew Tree" on the radio in July 1962, and the BBC recorded her reading of "Berck-Plage" on November 17, 1962 -- both of these poems, as well as "The Rabbit Catcher," are marked "BBC." "Medusa" is dated in Plath`s hand "October 16 1962" it is the only dated typescript of the series. On eleven occasions Plath had difficulty in positioning the carbon paper. This resulted in only the top part of the last line of "Berck-Plage" being reproduced, the last line of "Purdah" being added in ink by her, and the last lines, sometimes three or four, of nine poems being retyped directly onto these sheets. A key document in the emergence of the book which established Sylvia Plath`s literary reputation. The vast majority of Plath`s manuscripts were sold to Smith College in the 1970s with the obvious consequence that manuscripts of any importance are virtually unheard of on the market. We have seen nothing to compare in significance with the present typescript offered for sale to the public."

The research value of this collection of corrected carbon typescripts is immense. I am thankful, at least, for such a long narrative description of the collection and do hope it will be available for scholars one day.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." 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.