01 November 2010

Sylvia Plath's Desk

When Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes moved to Court Green in September 1961, they had abundant living space for the first time in their married lives. Each even got a room to serve as a study. In a 15 September 1961 letter to her mother, Plath writes about settling in Court Green and that her brother Warren “has been really a wonderful part of the family “ (429). While he was there, Warren Plath assisted in “sanding an immense elm plank which will make me my first real capacious writing table” (429).

Over the next 14 months, Plath would probably write all her new poems and stories on this elm plank. And probably also typed letters home and made entries in her journals.

That elm wood desk was part of Plath’s estate sale that, in 1981, would go to the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College. How wonderful and coincidental that Plath lived on Elmwood Road! To celebrate this piece of elm wood and the works composed on it, here is a badly shot video. It hangs in the offices of the Mortimer Rare Book Room. Its position hanging on a wall is highly reminiscent of Han Solo hanging frozen in carbonite in Jabba the Hut’s palace on Tattooine.

I had meant to post this in October but other news and posts kind of took over!

If you’re interested in just seeing a still image of questionably better quality, please see “These Ghostly Archives” from Plath Profiles 2. The desk is on page 189 but, having co-written the piece with Dr. Gail Crowther, I’d encourage you to read the whole thing (if you haven’t done so already)! Like Star Wars, there was a sequel, “These Ghostly Archives, Redux.” And we’re in the early stages of a third installment...

See all Sylvia Plath Info YouTube videos.


Julia said...

Thanks! It was nothing like I had imagined it. Much more rough and raw, which I really like.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Julia, thanks! It is something out of this world to stand in front of. From time to time they take it down and set it up for display. I'd love to see that. The archive is like a petting zoo.

panther said...

Am i being dense-didn't the table have any legs ? Was it just placed across something else for when SP wanted to write ?

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hi Panther - No I don't think you're being dense. It was (is) just a plank of wood and would have been rested upon something at both ends. What it rested upon I know not, tree stumps? Cabinetry? Something like this. Hughes and Warren Plath might well have made legs for it...I'll ask Karen...


panther said...

Thanks for that, Peter. It certainly has a lot of presence. I like to imagine SP spreading out her papers on it.

And I was interested to learn elsewhere that SP needed a lot of space for writing, would spread out notes, books, etc all around her. . .whilst Hughes was happy to just tuck into any odd niche and write. Neither of these methods wrong, of course, just what suited that person. Personally, I like to write in cafes and on trains. Cafes with rectangular tables better than cafes with round tables.

Kristina Zimbakova said...

Wow! The plank is reminiscent of an experimental sculpture, its wood blank, but still 'ringing' from the artist's strokes.

'Love is a shadow.
How you lie and cry after it.'

Anonymous said...

Extraordinary that this artifact is there for anyone to see. How I would love to place my hand on that surface -- as Panther said What a presence!

"Echoes travelling / Off from the center like horses"

--Jim Long

BridgetAnna said...

Thank you, Peter, for taking the time to record this video and uploading it! What a wonderful thing to see, albeit vicariously.

My tactile experience with Plath was one which I still vividly remember, several years after it happened. When I as at the Lilly Library in Indiana looking at her archives, I came across a swatch of her blondish hair. I felt it, I imagine with the white gloves the library distributes, and felt awe. This was as close to Plath as I would ever feel, and it was extraordinary. Would love to put "seeing her desk" on my Bucket List!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Panther - I just heard back from Karen about what Plath's desk rested on...

"Plath's desk rested on a metal stand that was screwed into the bottom of the plank. When Smith purchased Plath's papers, the elm plank was shipped without the stand."


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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 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, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • 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: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • 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.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (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, Volume 1, 1940-1956. 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. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • 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. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • 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. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.