22 July 2011

Sylvia Plath Collections: Oscar Williams mss.

Finally after sitting on this information for nearly a year, I can post about the archival Plath material contained within the Oscar Williams mss. at the Lilly Library.

The Oscar Williams mss, 1920-1966 contains seven poems by Sylvia Plath; and in addition, holds several photographs in which Plath appears (and Ted Hughes too). Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes visited Oscar Williams in New York in early June 1958. According to Plath's address book held at Smith College, Williams lived at 35 Water Street in NY; which is in Lower Manhattan near South Ferry. The block where Williams lived is no longer extant and has been replaced a modern office building.

The poems held are typescript copies that Plath likely gave to Williams at the time of visit to New York City in June 1958. The poems are: "Full Fathom Five," "Sculptor," "Black Rook in Rainy Weather," "On The Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad," "Sow," "Departure of the Ghost," and "November Graveyard, Haworth." Plath signed/inscribed the typescript of "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" praising Williams, his basil, the sun, and tug-boats, and dated the inscription June 4, 1958. This of course makes me wonder about the original order of the poems as Plath gave them to him. We can surmise that "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" was the first poem, either that or he particularly liked it.

The photographs are really very interesting. Part of this has to do with the fact they are unpublished and so far as I could tell, never mentioned in any previous publication about Plath. One photograph is of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes was published in "These Ghostly Archives 3" by Gail Crowther and myself (see page 125) in the Volume 4 of Plath Profiles. Another photograph is of Plath alone and a third is of Hughes alone. These are described on page 126 of the article, but if you are interested in seeing them I suggest either visiting the Lilly or writing to them and asking for scans. There is a fourth photograph of Oscar Williams with a woman identified (on the verso of the photograph) as Plath. However, after reviewing the photograph I do not believe the female subject of the photograph is indeed Sylvia Plath.

Apologies for the 10-month delay in posting this information, but it was a central part of "These Ghostly Archives 3." Have you read the article? How do you feel about the image and what is your reaction to seeing a never-before published photograph of Plath? Are there other archival finds to "discover"? Undoubtedly. Are we sitting on information: certainly! If you are interested in the location of Plath related archival materials, please visit my Collections page on "A celebration, this is" or click the "Sylvia Plath Collections" tag beneath this post to see coverage in this blog.  As you read in "TGA 3", Gail is on her way here to America. Who knows, maybe I can get over to England myself for "These Ghostly Archives 4: Trading Places."


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

WOW! I suspect since there are no comments yet here, that everyone is as swamped this summer as I have been. Can't wait until I can find a pace to sit with all of this! Thank you, Peter.

Rehan Qayoom said...

The articles were (I'm sure for all) very enticing and well-needed advances in Plath/Hughes scholarship.

Peter K Steinberg said...


Hi there. Unswamped at the moment, which is usual and feels great. It's the summer and I expect this blogs readers are on holiday or still reading Plath Profiles so comments can come whenever, and I hope they do. I was going to include in this post a mini-discourse on the semantics of archival "discovery" but then decided I'd sound like an ass. But I think "These Ghostly Archives 3" speaks for itself...

Rehan, thank you! I'm sure all the contributors to Plath Profiles will find your comment very pleasing!


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