02 March 2010

Edwardian Writing Desk

In the Telegraph yesterday, an obituary ran for John Rety. This is a new name to me, but there is a Plath connection:

"After meeting Susan Johns, with whom he was to have a son and a daughter, Rety opened a furniture shop in Camden High Street, where he sold an Edwardian writing desk to an American who asked him to re-cover it in blue leather. She kept asking when it would be ready, explaining that she was writing on her knees in the meantime. But when he took it to her house, a man told him to "f--- off" and that the woman was dead. On returning home, Susan told him that the lady was the poet Sylvia Plath, and he had just met her husband Ted Hughes."

The whole "writing on her knees" bit sounds very much like Plath!

11 comments :

Melissa said...

That's an amazing anecdote.

Lady Grinch said...

oh wow! she was something!

Anonymous said...

Oh, man, ya' try to like Ted Hughes and appreciate what he went thru & then you get reminded of what an insensitive jerk he was.

panther said...

In defence of Ted's behaviour on that occasion, I can only point out that grieving and shocked people don't always behave very admirably.

There are plenty of testimonies to Ted Hughes being, in more normal circumstances,a polite, generous and encouraging man.

He went thru hell.Some of that was undoubtedly of his own making but I do think some allowances should be made.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Yes, it is just a see-saw sometimes... As a poet I like much of his work; particularly Crow. But, it was reading edited books like Nick Gammage's The Epic Poise and Christopher Reid's The Letters of Ted Hughes that opened him up beyond Ted Hughes the poet, Ted Hughes the husband, adulterer etc. Sometimes I just have to look beyond the mess he made of things...My feelings are likely at odds with many of you... I try to be sympathetic

panther said...

He wasn't a saint-few of us are! I am absolutely NOT defending some of the things he did. And I find it highly disturbing in "Birthday Letters" that he seems to attribute everything that went on as Fate (how very convenient !).

But I would say this. Sylvia herself knew she was a very difficult person to live with : emotionally needy, perfectionist, given to extreme mood-swings, etc.People with mental health issues can be very difficult to be around.I speak as someone who has had such issues.I can see how an affair might happen.Ironically, of course, the "other woman" was also plagued with mental health issues, though of a rather different type.

I would say to people who haven't read his letters, read them.They don't always put him in a good light, and he exhibits a certain amount of denial, wishful-thinking, etc etc-again, who doesn't ?-but they give a richer picture of the man.It's a good selection that doesn't seek to put him on a pedestal.

Julia said...

Fascinating little story. Given the circumstances, I might have said "F-- off" myself. Pain is pain.

Seems like Sylvia would have chosen red though, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Julia, I think I read somewhere that she said she was going through a Prussian blue period or something - instead of red she was drawn to blues of all types - after she separated from Ted. This might be been from a letter or the journals, I can't remember which.

Panther, my sense in reading BL and other pieces of Ted's work is that he genuinely believed in the concept of "fate". I don't think it was just a convenient excuse for him, although I can see how it would look that way. I'm sure he was aware of that as well - that most people would think he was deflecting blame. kim

panther said...

Kim,I think he did genuinely believe in Fate,yes.I'm also aware that some people who believe in Fate appear to do so only after various tragedies-as a way of "dealing with" what has happened. Perhaps Hughes ALWAYS believed in it, I don't know.

I'm also aware that in some people's eyes, he will always be in the wrong. Even if he had written BIRTHDAY LETTERS in a sackcloth-and-ashes kind of tone, this wouldn't have been acceptable to them.If they really do want to crucify someone, I would suggest that there are better targets, both living and deceased.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Regarding blue: the last poem in Birthday Letters, "Red" reminds me of Kim's comment above. The poem ends, on page 198...

"Then sometimes, among them, little bluebirds.

Blue was better for you. Blue was wings.
Kingfisher blue silks from San Francisco
Folded your pregnancy
In crucible caresses.
Blue was your kindly spirit - not a ghoul
But electrified, a guardian, thoughtful.

In the pit of red
You hid from the bone-clinic whiteness.

But the jewel you lost was blue."

This poem and these lines ending the collection could indicate that "blue" was predominant at the end of Plath's life. But I'm not sure I'm reading too much into it...

Interestingly, regarding the poem ending on page 198...the news of Birthday Letters broke in 1-98 (or, January 1998). As though the poems ending on this page also ended something else (his silence) while also indicating his last words. Everything concluded, as it were. And by publishing them then, it gave rise to something. And, like the duration of a pregnancy, Hughes was dead in 9 months time.

Talk about reading too much into it...

Julia said...

Coincidence or not, it's fascinating. Ted was astrological and mystical, after all. Numerology, I'm sure, would have been just as significant.

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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.

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