11 January 2012

Update from the Archive Day 3

In the archive this morning, I revisited some of Sylvia Plath's papers which I have studied before.  I find that revisiting certain series of documents benefits my understanding of how it all fits together - her life, her creative productivity, etc. - and the perspective of time and continued research and learning can be quite beneficial to seeing how the individual, disparate "things" add up to a connected life. This morning began with a browse through Plath's short stories and reviews. And most of it I had seen before, but there was one folder that was completely new to me. It is possible I missed it in a previous research trip; it is possible that it was added after the last time I looked it. Who knows; a wonderful aspect to the Sylvia Plath Collection at the Mortimer Rare Book Room - and likely other archives as well - is that it is still growing. Those little pieces, those traces, of Plath's life continue to be located and in some instances they are reunited to a larger Plath collection. After this, I browsed through the box of correspondence Plath received. This was followed by, for the first time ever, looking at the box of Plath's artwork. Inspired by the recent exhibition of her artwork at London's Mayor Gallery, I wanted to see some of the other pieces Plath created. The whole gamut is here: from undated to crayon drawings from the early 1940s up through that famous collage of hers, which was reproduced on the cover of Robin Peel's excellent Writing Back: Sylvia Plath and Cold War Politics. I saw, too, the original "Study of a Woman" which graced the cover of Tracy Brain's superb The Other Sylvia Plath. This one was even more striking to me in the original than when I view it on Tracy's book and I think the reason it that is is in stark white matting; it made the colors pop.

The Roche's house
This morning, before coming to the archive, I took a little walk around the area to see a few houses that Plath may have known. The first house was that of Leonard and Ether Baskin at 108 C South Street. This is a small set of buildings set back off the road. I could not sort out which was the C unit, but the picture here should give an idea of the place. Nearby, and in the shadow of Sage Hall, was the house where Paul and Clarissa Roche lived at 27 Belmont Avenue. A nice house, as can be seen here.

The Baskin's house (right) was one I was particularly keen to see as it was a stop on Plath & Hughes' cross country tour in the summer of 1959. Plath and Hughes signed some offprints of "Sculptor" and "Roosting Hawk" ["Hawk Roosting"] for them and dated it 7 July 1959. For more on the July/August trip, please read or re-read David Trinidad's terrifically detailed "On the Road with Sylvia & Ted: Plath and Hughes's 1959 Trip Across America".

Ladies and the tramp; or beauties and the beast! I feel pretty,
oh so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and bright....
This afternoon the "Editing Sylvia Plath's Correspondence" class included a field trip and and the rare opportunity to walk out of the room - with permission - with an original Plath document. The field trip continued my indoctrination as a "Smith Girl" (aka a "Smithie"). We walked over to the Historic Costume Collection and got to look at Plath's 1953 Prom dress, which she wore to the Yale Junior Prom with Myron "Mike" Lotz. Additionally, they have her circa mid-1940s Girl Scout Uniform.  In a research trip to Indiana a few years ago I was able to hold clippings of Plath's hair which adds a completely different dimension to her. Working with her papers gives a sense of her methodology of production. Seeing something that she wore adds now a physical dimension to her which is something we can comprehend from photographic images: but that medium is limiting. Seeing the actual thing dress she wore? Can't describe it. But, Plath did. On 1 March 1953 (Page 177 of The Unabridged Journals), Plath wrote: "sunlight raying ethereal through the white-net for the new formal bought splurgingly yesterday in a burst of ecstatic rightness...silver-winged bodice of strapless floating-net gown: it is unbelievable that it could be so right!...I want to be silvery beautiful for him: a sylvan goddess." We paired up after this field trip to read and edit our letters. My reading partner and I left the room, with permission, with two letters Plath wrote to Phil McCurdy. Reading and editing the letters was an interesting process that gives a good insight into the care and concentration involved with documentary editing.


Melanie Smith said...

I love the photo Peter, though not a poem the dress is in its own right a valuable piece of Plath's person and persona. It is so true that objects, costumes, trinkets, etc provide another layer/side to Plath that enhances and adds to our impressions of her. I am so glad that you are sharing this experience with us.

Tiffany McCunn said...

Enjoying your updates so very much, Peter. And the dress-- what a wonderful experience!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you Tiffany. I really failed miserably to convey what it was like to see and hold the dress.


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Never mind the dress--you held the hair!!!!!!!!!!!!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Oh yeah, Julia, I head the hair. I don't think they let people do this anymore but I might have that wrong.

The Plath Diaries said...

Oh my god Peter!! That dress!!! It's so beautiful!!!! How thrilling!!

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