23 May 2011

The Magic Mirror by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath graduated Smith College with honors in June 1955. She had spent her senior year working on a special honors thesis which she titled: "The Magic Mirror: A Study of the Double in Two of Dostoevsky's Novels." Her originally submitted typescript is held by the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College (a microfilm copy also exists). Additionally, a typescript carbon of the work, as well as her notes and note cards, are held in the "Smith College Memorabilia" (Box 11) of Plath mss. II at the Lilly Library, Indiana University (a list of Plath's archival collections, with links, can be found here).

Plath's thesis is one of those documents that garners continual interest. And, in 1989 it was published in a limited edition by the Embers Handpress in Wales, UK. Currently there are no copies available through book sites such as ABEbooks.com, thus proving it is a highly collectible book. There are 25 copies held in libraries around the world per WorldCat.

However, you may be surprised and interested to know that copies of the original edition of 200 are still available from directly the Embers Handpress.

I have emailed with Roy Watkins of the Embers Handpress and can say that he is a very fine, open man. In addition to Plath's The Magic Mirror, Embers has published two limited editions of short stories by Plath: A Day in June (1981)  and The Green Rock (1982). These stories were printed in the expanded, first paperback edition of Faber's Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (1979), but were excluded from the American publication and thus have never been in print in America.

I recently asked Watkins how he and the Embers Handpress came to publish these texts. Waktins told me that has been "(now) almost a lifelong friend of the Hughes family - especially Ted's sister, Olwyn." Watkins says he "met her through Ted when he suggested that I send some things I'd written to her -she was acting as a literary agent then - and we became friends. When I started printing, Olwyn asked Ted to give us a little support. He was a great supporter of the small presses - almost as much as he supported young poets - and he gave us (gratis) the rights to the small editions we made of A Day in June and The Green Rock."

About The Magic Mirror, Watkins says "Hughes felt that it would have to be published, but ... that it was not [something] Faber and Faber or some other major publisher would publish” and saw it as something that would be better in a small press edition." I could not agree more, especially having seen Smith College's copies of both Plath's original thesis and the Embers edition. Watkins continued, "So we took it on."

The process of creating small books like A Day in June and The Green Rock is different to creating a 60-odd page monograph. Watkins said, "For such a small press (two of us - a little platen press - a few cases of type) it was a huge job...we couldn't possibly handle it from our resources, so we had the text set by Gloucester Typesetters - maybe the last letterpress service of its kind. I think they have gone now. But they were very good. Of course, that increased expenses. Everything else we've done was hand-set, mostly by Eve who is very quick. I do the title pages, layout, presswork and binding."

Asked how copies of The Magic Mirror remained unsold where other Plath titles sold out, Watkins remarked "Amazon shortly thereafter published a Plath bibliography declaring that the book was out of print, rare, unavailable etc." In reality, "we had barely begun to sell the copies - all bound by hand. That was one of the elements that drove us to quit printing and go back to itinerant lecturing around the globe. I do feel bitter about Amazon - they truly wrecked us. It is only now, after all these years, that we can continue to sell the original copies because they have increased in value."

Quantities of The Magic Mirror are limited and even though the price is higher than when originally published, this is probably the cheapest you are likely to find them for a long time. Unfortunately, Embers has no more copies of either The Green Rock or A Day in June...Copies of the limited editions of the two Plath short stories can be found via ABEbooks.com. If you are new to all this, a good place to start is on ABEbooks by reading "Collectible Sylvia Plath" by Beth Carswell.

My deepest gratitude must be extended to Roy Watkins for his helpfulness and also to Olwyn Hughes for verifying some of the bibliographic & publication history information in this post.


Peter K Steinberg said...

I just had an email from Roy Watkins letting me know that there are about a dozen copies of The Magic Mirror which have some foxing and for these, the price will be £65. This is a great option for people who are interested but that may not necessarily have much to spend.


Peter K Steinberg said...

Me again. A timely article by Dan Gregory appeared on the "Between the Covers Blog." Read Gregory's "Do Rare Books Appreciate in Value" here.

Mind that this is mostly looking at trade editions books. Limited editions, such as the Embers Handpress edition of The Magic Mirror discussed in this blog post, are by their very nature a separate species. Thus, by definition they comprise many of the variables/facets that Gregory mentions: edition, condition, scarcity, and desirability.

Dan was very helpful in my own article "Proof of Plath" which appeared in the Spring 2011 quarterly issue of Fine Books & Collections.


A Piece of Plathery said...

Thank you for this information Peter. I agree, Roy Watkins has been nothing short of fabulous in his correspondence with me. The Embers Handpress items are simply quite beautiful.

I will put some photos of The Magic Mirror up next week.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thanks Plathery! I look forward to reading your post.


Rehan Qayoom said...

Both A Day in June and Green Rock are in my Faber edition of Johnny Panic & the Bible of Dreams. Still available here in the UK.

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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.