06 March 2010

Saint Botolph's Review 2

I recently received from a friend a photocopy of Saint Botolph's Review 2, which was published in 2006, 50 years after the first issue (pictured here). The first issue is, of course, mythic. One can just imagine the launch party for Saint Botolph's Review 2. The canes & the dentures, the 5 o'clock dinner & blue hair... Counting pills rather than conquests...

Lucas Myers contributed an essay on pages 8-10 called "The Voices of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes." The essay has likely new pieces of information: conversations & memories remembered that may or may not have been in his 2001 memoir Crow Steered Bergs Appeared. But it's the end of the essay that I want to write about today. As most of you haven't read the essay I realize this puts you at a disadvantage, however I'll try to be fair and keep things in context.

As Myers concludes his essay, he discusses how Plath's "talent developed phenomenally" during her marriage to Hughes and how "her style evolved and changed", for the better I presume (10, all quotes from this page). First with Yaddo, then with the October 1962 poems and finally the late creative burst of poems with their "tone of finality and resignation" in January and February 1963. Myers, too, believes "Edge" to be Plath's last poem. (Future scholarship must move away from this belief because there is no certainty that her last poem wasn't "Balloons", which was also dated 5 February 1963.)

The conclusion of Myers essay is something I found ... troubling. He discusses this "fixed system of ego" and "personal mind" stuff. How Hughes "escaped the fixed system of the ego in himself" but was open [to attack] from the ego's of other people. Myers writes,

"As he told me at Court Green in 1963 or 1964 and wrote in Birthday Letters, he developed fibrillations of the heart and felt as though he were 'already posthumous'--soon after, at the beginning of his seventh year of marriage, he initiated an extramarital affair. His adultery enabled the full development of the 'Ariel voice' and freed Sylvia to enter upon her annus mirabilis and her death. Ted was blindsided by the surrogate of Ego. Subsequently, surrogates of her surrogate claiming to speak for her attacked him unremittingly until his death - and after it."

This could be a matter of interpretation, but the way I read it Myers, crudely, seems to be creditng Hughes for his actions and their consequences. That by cheating on Plath, Hughes assisted ("enabled") Plath to break through to her "Ariel voice" which then led directly to her death. This seems quite callous and cold. The Ariel poems are all about a movement towards life, a new life. Not death.

Perhaps in some ways 1962 was an annus mirabilis (and could be the subject of a full-length study, called Three Women, perhaps). But one must ask: at what it cost? Perhaps, if considering the idea of it, the annus mirabilis could be July 1961-June 1962? This period of time before the adultery had been a good year: increasing opportunities to work with the BBC, the move to Devon, birth of Nicholas, wonderful poems including "The Moon and the Yew Tree", "Three Women", "Elm", etc., work with New Statesman, the completion of The Bell Jar and the prospect of its publication, The Colossus was published in the US (albeit quietly), etc.

Plath published nothing between 18 May and August 1962, when things dissolved at her home. In fact, Plath's submissions list, housed at Smith College, show that she submitted nothing between 30 June and 11 October 1962. This five month period, from mid-May to mid-October, corresponds to a relative dry period in her creativity & vocation which was a direct result of the infidelity of her husband. Thus, even considering 1962 to be an annus mirabilis is ________________ (adjective). (Let's play Mad Libs)

Myers' displeasure at the surrogates of surrogates attempting to speak for Plath is hypocritical. Is he not doing to same thing through his possessive allegiance for Hughes by his flippancy towards Plath and denigration of her "surrogates"?

Copies of the first Saint Botolph's Review are held at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emory University, Cambridge University, University College of London, University of Oxford, and undoubtedly in private hands. I'll have a little more on the first issue of the Saint Botolph's Reivew later this spring.

6 comments :

Anonymous said...

well said, my friend. I apologize for not sending you SB II - I still haven't found my copy...kim

P.Viktor said...

Great write-up. I have always been wary of Lucas Myers because he was such a close friend of Hughes and therefore has no objectivity on the situation whatsoever. He also disliked the way Plath came in and 'stole' his best friend. The comments he made in this piece indicate that when Plath died there was no love lost between them and he probably felt relieved that Hughes was free of her. Although I've never read Crow Steered I've heard it is pretty venomous in places.

panther said...

"His adultery freed Sylvia" ? Don't think SHE saw it like that. I daresay over the years TH might have rationalized it in this way, and managed to convince various friends of its validity.

TH was a powerful and charismatic person and powerful and charismatic people tend to attract people (of either gender) rather too willing to adore them and lap up their every word.

I would hold TH in higher esteem if he'd just said, in effect, "Yes, I had an affair. It upset Sylvia terribly and I don't feel very good about that, but there it is. " That would feel HONEST.

the feeling lioness said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
suki said...

Meyers comments are interesting aren't they - his memoir in Stevenson's biography came in for some questions too.

Regarding Edge not being the last poem: I have always thought that Plath wrote in clumps of poems - the three about the nasty family, the two about Lyonnesse as other examples.
If you place Edge beside Words and Contusion they make another small group and the imagery in the three are similar- whereas Balloons is a totally different type of poem - very little use of white or bones and the words used in Balloons are much longer than the three previous poems with more syllables

Peter K Steinberg said...

Suki - Quite an excellent point regarding the batches of poetry Plath tended to write in and how "Balloons" falls outside of "Edge", "Words", and "Contusion". Thanks! Scholars & critics out there - pay attention to this!

Kim - no worries on the SBR2.

Panther-Nicely put!

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