08 March 2011

Sylvia Plath Collections: Frances McCullough papers, 1915-1994

The Hornbake Library (left) at the University of Maryland at College Park now holds the Frances McCullough papers, 1915-1994. Below is an abstract of the collection.

"Editor and cookbook author Frances Monson McCullough began her career as an editor at Harper & Row in 1963, moved to Dial Press in 1980, and on to Bantam Books in 1986. She has worked with authors and poets including Djuna Barnes, Donald Hall, Ted Hughes, Laura (Riding) Jackson, N. Scott Momaday, Sylvia Plath, W. D. Snodgrass, and Robert Bly.

"The collection includes correspondence; manuscripts and proofs for The Telling (1972) by Laura (Riding) Jackson; Gaudete (1977) by Ted Hughes; Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (1977), the Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982), and Letters Home (1975) by Sylvia Plath; Sleepers Joining Hands (1973) by Robert Bly; Selected Poems (1987) by W. D. Snodgrass; and House Made of Dawn (1968) by N. Scott Momaday; artwork by N. Scott Momaday; and photographs.

"The collection is unprocessed, but a preliminary inventory is available."

In November I took a brief day trip down to the Hornbake Library to see what was in this collection. I arranged the visit well in advance with the archivist Beth Alvarez and though I did not get to meet her the day I was there, she has been a saint to deal with via email. As you might expect, there is a lot of stuff on Plath in these papers. Of the 14 boxes, Plath materials occupy boxes 6, 7, 8, and 9. In Box 13 there are a couple of photographs and in box 14 there are some oversized items like magazines and newspapers.

McCullough received a lot of correspondence from Aurelia Plath, Ted Hughes, and Olwyn Hughes in the course of the business side of the Plath estate and in her role as an editor at Harper & Row and The Dial Press. There is other correspondence, too. Reading the correspondence puts once in a frame of mind of being back in the 1970s or early 1980s. Many of the lost or forgotten names and issues resurface. McCullough's papers also include American edition proof copies of Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, Letters Home, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, and The Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982). There are reviews of Plath's work; as well photocopies of letters to Plath by Olive Higgins Prouty, Richard Murphy and others, and photocopies of poems and short stories by Plath. Some of the other materials in here are articles, essays and other manuscripts about Plath, written both by people that she knew as well as those studying her work.

McCullough has gone on to a good career as a food writer and I find this interesting, as Plath's editor at Knopf, Judith Jones, did to. Several Plath scholars have noted Plath's writing, most recently Lynda K. Bundtzen and Jessica Ferri.

This is perhaps the briefest of summaries but any Plath scholar would likely find a day or two in the ambiance of the very lovely Maryland Room at the Hornbake Library well worth the trip.


panther said...

I'd love to have a good long rummage through those Plath boxes ! Too bad I can't get to Maryland in the near future.

I imagine Frances McCullough's main problem with editing the Journals was all the omissions TH and the estate wanted to make. As a reader, i find them very frustrating too ! Or at least I did, until the unabridged version came out.

JL said...

Great to have a report on this archive. What of interest in the letters? Anything surprising in tone or remark, or is it very much like others you've read before?

Peter K Steinberg said...


I was there just the one day so was primarily there go get a general overview of the collection. So I'm afraid I can't say much more than I have. There was a lot of correspondence about a book that never happened called "Recollecting Sylvia Plath"; and also the failed/never completed Lois Ames biography. Some stuff about Harriet Rosenstein who was also working on a longer work. These books would've had access to information that was more fresh, if interviews and memoirs were to be a part of them. I wonder how different Plath scholarship would be today...

But this correspondence in McCullough's papers is the business side of Plath's estate, and so I guess it is probably the opposite of the other letters I've read: those by her or occaisonally to her. There are letters of this business nature floating around in the archives, but this might be the biggest collection of them by a very important publishing figure for Plath's American editions. A letter I saw recently at Smith seemed to indicate that Heinemann's archives were lost, damaged or destroyed, and so thus whatever might have been at one point in existence in Plath's dealings with them for The Colossus and The Bell Jar are now no more. But this even is very different as there would've been Plath's own letters, not letters by an Estate representing her. As a parallel, if the Knopf archives, now at the Ransom Center at University of Texas at Austin, are any indication of what the Heinemann archives contained we are at a serious loss!

I'm certain there is a lot to be learned from McCullough's papers: maybe about decisions being made, etc. But the level of study was beyond my time there.

If you will allow me a fragment of time for self-promotion...a paper that I'm currently writing with Gail Crowther, the third "These Ghostly Archives," will feature something from McCullough's papers that might make y'all shriek.


magiciansgirl said...

Hi Peter - is there any way to confirm that McCullough's handwriting is the same as that on the corrections in the proof copy of Letters Home? i.e. the areas that were "whited out" and then annotated. I think the annotations are in McCollough's hand, but other than her signature, I've not seen examples of her hand writing. kim

Peter K Steinberg said...

Kimberific - That's a great thought. I think I have a photograph of some of McCullough's notes that were mixed in with her papers and will try to confirm based on the image Laurie put up in her blog post about the book and some that another person sent to me.

Have a nice day.


Julia said...

Another reason for me to plan a trip back home to Maryland! :-)

JL said...

Thanks very much for the additional info, Peter!

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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.