Al. Alvarez and Sally Bayley engaged in a long talk about Alvarez’s friendship with Plath and Hughes. The conversation stayed mostly on the former, despite the opportunity for a longer friendship with the latter. Alvarez started by explaining his role and presence at the Symposium. He asked Sally, when approached, if he was to be a participant or an exhibition! Laughter rolled through the audience.
Alvarez read Plath’s “The Moon and the Yew Tree”, discussing as he did in Voices and Visions how the poem shows two voices, both vying for supremacy. Ultimately, Plath’s true poetic voice triumphed, evidenced in lines such as “I simply cannot see where there is to get to.” On this transformation of Plath’s voice, Alvarez says, “She said fuck it! To hell with all this English gentility.” He also commented that there is “much more life in Plath’s writing about death… There is energy…”
Alvarez was quite candid. At one point his train of thought derailed, so he turned to Sally and questioned, “What the fuck was I saying”.
Alvarez does not keep up with what has been written about Plath, saying that he’s got other things to do. He didn’t want to become a professor of Plathology or Applied Plathology. It was quite humorous. Alvarez is a completely entertaining man, a strong presence in the room. He held his court captivated.
The last session of the day led several panels to go up against Judith Kroll. If anyone attended, please post your thoughts in a comment. I could not attend as Irralie Doel and I presented “Sylvia Plath’s ‘Perfect Place’” to a small six person audience. The story, the working draft titled “The Lucky Stone”, was printed in the 28 October 1961 women’s weekly magazine My Weekly. Someone pointed out that we were also presenting the story on 28 October! Oddly coincidental. Prior to this panel, I did write about it in my 2004 biography of Sylvia Plath. The story, unacknowledged in any Plath bibliography or biography, is set in Whitby, England, a town on England’s east coast Plath and Hughes visited in August 1960.
Lena Friesen read a reference to the story in Letters Home from 9 November 1961. I found the typescript at Smith College and a letter from My Weekly dated 1962 rejecting two other stories “Shadow Girl” and “A Winter’s Tale”, but commenting on how the editor enjoyed “The Lucky Stone” which they published the previous year. Irralie Doel connected the magazine, eventually tracking down a copy of the story. At some point the title was changed to “The Perfect Place”. Plath was also eager to get her works into print, and was generally receptive to changes suggested by editors and their ilk.
Irralie’s paper gave a history of My Weekly and its publishing guidelines, as well as working in images that appears in the story and in Plath’s prose, like “Ocean 1212-W”. My own paper looked at the story in relation to the next large prose project Plath worked on, The Bell Jar, comparing characters, themes, etc. between both the story and the novel.
The panel moderator was Luke Ferretter who presented his paper on the first day of the Symposium. His work on Plath’s prose and women’s magazines is very promising, so please keep your eyes out for that.
Sunday evening included a reception at the Oxford Playhouse, which I missed, taking a pint at the King’s Arms with Gail, Annika, and Petter. The Sylvia Plath Gala Celebration I did attend. Diane Quick gave a spooky, disquieting welcome to the audience before the variety show began. These was a short film which made little sense, an operatic version of “Sheep in Fog”, “The Couriers”, and “The Night Dances” which was odd, doing nothing to three of my favorite Plath poems. Perhaps the two best acts were a scene from The Bell Jar done in drag. I don’t speak only for myself when I say I am glad that the Buddy Willard character exited stage right to reveal to Esther his main course of Thanksgiving dinner. I also enjoyed listening to a full reading of “Three Women”, though the actresses were over-dramatic in parts.
I could not attend the last, final mornins sessions on Monday, 29 October, 2007. So, if anyone was there and wants to submit comments, please do! So, I'm back in London now, heading home tomorrow...
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.
- "Banking on his passion for Plath" by Melissa Davis Haller. UMW Today. Spring 2005.
- "Sylvia Plath's Three Women to be staged in London" by Alison Flood. The Guardian. 3 December 2008.
- "FBI files on Sylvia Plath's father shed new light on poet" by Dalya Alberge. The Guardian. 17 August 2012.
- "There Are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia Plath" by Ashley Fetters. The Atlantic. 11 February 2013.