11 March 2010

Sylvia Plath: Did you know...

Within six weeks of Sylvia Plath's death, Ted Hughes gave Heinemann permission to disclose Plath's identity as the author of The Bell Jar. Naturally Plath's identity as the author wasn't completely anonymous: in certain circles, it was quite known that she was the author of the novel.

When the Heinemann Contemporary Fiction edition was published in September 1964, the author, however, was still listed as Victoria Lucas. The back of the dustwrapper states that the author's name is a pseudonym and that they weren't at liberty to disclose the identity.

Now, this contradicts my first sentence, but this is just the way it goes sometimes...

Plath's name was not on the title page of The Bell Jar for another two years, when Faber brought out their first edition of the novel on 1 September 1966. The Heinemann, Contemporary Fiction and Faber editions of The Bell Jar can be seen here; they are the first three in the first row.

Did you know... On March 11, 1965, 45 years ago today, it was officially published that Plath was the author of The Bell Jar? It was on this day that Faber published Ariel.

In the front matter, on verso of the half-title page where Plath's previous books are listed, two books are present (see image to the left). The first, a poetry collection, The Colossus. The title under the Fiction heading is The Bell Jar with the author given "(as Victoria Lucas)". This is the first time the novel appeared in print with the author's true identity stated and came a year and a half before Faber's publication of The Bell Jar.

For those curious, the first edition of Ariel published in the United States by Harper & Row in 1966 does not similarly list The Bell Jar. Odd? Probably not given Plath's own wish that the novel not be published in America (a sentiment she and her mother shared). However, it is odd when one considers the following:

Plath's award of the Saxton Grant for a novel appeared in The New York Times on November 21, 1961. While the title and subject weren't mentioned, those interested in Plath might have made a mental note to keep on the lookout.

Plath & Heinemann did actively market the novel to her American publisher Alfred Knopf. After a lot of discussion and consideration Knopf passed on it. These letters are held with the Knopf papers at the University of Texas at Austin.

And, Plath's authoring the novel was discussed in "Poetry of Bay Stater Disturbs London Critics", an article about Ariel by Brenda Maddox which ran on June 5, 1965, in the Worcester Telegram. It is likely this article was syndicated in other newspapers around this time. Yet, it may just be the first to publicly tie the novel and the author together in her home state and country.


Anonymous said...

your post about 'the bell jar' got me thinking...

I own what I think is one of the first Faber editions of the novel. On the second page it reads:

First published by Faber and Faber 1966, then attributes copyright to Sylvia Plath 1963.

Does this mean that my particular copy was published in 1966? It doesn't have any other date on it, and unfortunately only retains the spiral design of the original dust-jacket, selotaped into the back.

The other books listed as 'by the same author' read:

Ariel (faber and faber)
The Colossus (heinemann)

Any help would be appreciated!

hummingbird x

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hummingbird x,

Thanks for your comment.

Based on your description, this sounds like a first edition.

Does your edition have the dedication "To Elizabeth and David" in the front matter or right before chapter 1. The first printing of Faber's Bell Jar lacks this dedication.

If you have access to Stephen Tabor's Sylvia Plath: An Analytical Bibliography, he has very detailed descriptions of the first editions.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

no it doesn't have that dedication, but I have access to the Tabor.

many thanks x

Peter K Steinberg said...

No worries. It's a shame about the selotaped dustwrapper.


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