23 May 2012

Sylvia Plath Collections: Olwyn Hughes Correspondence, British Library

Although I received notice in February, it is only now that I realized I never posted about this archival update. The collection of Olwyn Hughes Correspondence is now open for research at the British Library. Back in September 2010, the British Library issued this press release about the acquisition. This blog made reference, too. Additional papers of Olwyn Hughes' are held at Emory University; visit the Archival Materials page over at A celebration, this is, for more information. You can access the full catalog descriptions of the collection via the British Library's website.

To read the description of the collection, please go to the British Library search page, type in Add MS 88948, and you will see all the records which are applicable. The "details" option gives very good information on what is contained in each series/fonds. In addition to letters and poems sent from Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes to Hughes' sister, which are bound to garner the most attention, the collection also include some of Olwyn Hughes' personal papers such as school reports, receipts, and other miscellaneous items.

The Olwyn Hughes Correspondence is arranged into the following four series & subseries:
Add 88948/1: Letters from Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
Subseries/folder: Add 88948/1/1: 1954-1959
Subseries/folder: Add 88948/1/2: 1960-1964
Add 88948/2: Letters to Olwyn Hughes from others
Add 88948/3: Poetry and prose drafts by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
Subseries/folder: Add 88948/3/1: Prose and poetry drafts by Ted Hughes ([1950s-1960s] )
Subseries/folder: Add 88948/3/2: Poetry drafts by Sylvia Plath (1950-1960)
Add 88948/4: Miscellaneous papers

While more information is available on via the catalogue, the information contained in this blog forthwith is a summary of the materials originated by Sylvia Plath. Undoubtedly this expands our knowledge of Plath's communication with her sister-in-law, and offers potentially interesting variations to Plath's then in-progress poetry. As well, the documents related to or about Plath, both during her lifetime and those created after her death might give insight into how the Hughes family, their friends, and her enemies/detractors dealt with the situation.

Add 88948/1: Letters from Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath: Autograph and typescript letters written by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath to Hughes' sister, Olwyn. In the letters the couple write about their work, their travels, people they have met and their future plans. The letters include the period, which Hughes and Plath spent living in the USA.

Subseries: Add 88948/1/1: 1954-1959: Autograph and typescript letters from Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. The majority of the letters are from Ted Hughes although some are written jointly with Plath or solely by her. Unless otherwise stated the letters are written solely by Hughes. Further information about the letters is as follows -

[Items 1-9, 11-16, 22-23 : See the catalog]

10. Partial letter from Plath in which she writes about teaching at Smith College; on the development of Hughes' work and on how both of them used their experiences when writing. 9 February [1958].

17. Partial letter from Plath in which she writes about the publication of some of her work and her job as secretary for the Head of the Sanskrit and Indian Studies department at Harvard. She also includes a cake recipe.

The next five letters in this subseries were sent by Hughes (and Plath) to Olwyn Hughes and Hughes’ parents, William and Edith when the couple were staying at Yaddo from September until the end of November 1959. The following order aims to be chronological although it may not be completely accurate:

18. Letter to Hughes’ parents in which he writes about Yaddo in great detail describing the house and its grounds, the daily routine and the food they were served.

19. Letter to Hughes' parents in which the couple write about Yaddo and the other guests, and a play Hughes has written.

20. Letter to Olwyn in which Hughes writes about his new play and the work of Claudel and Brecht (11 November 1959).

21. Partial letter to Olwyn in which Hughes writes about French literature and asks her to forward a cheque that was being sent to him care of her address from the Guggenheim Foundation.

Subseries: Add 88948/1/2: Autograph letters from Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. The majority of the letters are from Ted Hughes although some are written jointly with Plath. Unless otherwise stated the letters are written solely by Hughes. Further information about the letters is as follows -

[Items 1-4, 6, 8, 10-18: See the catalog]

5. Letter from Hughes and Plath in which both comment upon a dinner they attended with Stephen Spender, Rosamund Lehmnann and Louis McNeice. Both also mention the forthcoming publication of The Colossus [October 1960].

7. Letter from Hughes and Plath in which Hughes writes about his work including a production of a play that he has written. He also includes a poem, which he was sent in his role as one of the judges for the P.E.N. Anthology 1962. Plath writes about an art exhibition of Leonor Fini [before Christmas 1960].

9. Letter from Hughes and Plath who thank Olwyn for sending copies of the plays of Francois Billetdoux who they both admired. Hughes also writes about his interest in ‘Elouard’ [Eluard] while Plath writes about their new life in Devon [Autumn 1961].

Add 88948/2: Letters to Olwyn Hughes from others: Autograph letters to Olwyn Hughes from friends and family. Details of the correspondents and their letters are as follows -

[See the catalog]

Add 88948/3: Poetry and prose drafts by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
Autograph and typescript drafts of poetry and prose written by the couple and sent to Olwyn Hughes. Includes a partial play draft and some unpublished poetry by Hughes.

Subseries: Add MS 88948/3/1: [1950s-1960s]: Includes poetry and prose drafts some of which are unpublished as follows -

Poetry: [Items 1-18, : See the catalog]
Plays: [Item 20 : See the catalog]

19. 'The Captain's Speech': an excerpt from The House of Aries , a play broadcast on the BBC as part of the Third Programme. The excerpt was also published in Audience and Two Cities in 1961. Plath has noted two submissions on the left hand corner of the draft.

Subseries Add MS 88948/3/2 : 1950-1960: Poetry drafts sent by Plath to Olwyn Hughes, as follows -
1. 'Spinster' and 'Mad Maudlin': both were published in The Colossus (1960). The first differs slightly from the published version and the second was published simply as 'Maudlin'

2. 'Nocturne' and 'Departure of the ghost': published in The Colossus as 'Hardcastle Crags' and 'The Ghost's Leavetaking' respectively. Both poems differ from the published versions.

3. 'The Hermit At Outermost House': published in The Colossus.

4. 'Swords into Ploughshares' (also known under the alternative title 'Bitter Strawberries'), which has been annotated 'SOLD ... C.S. Monitor August 1950'.


Add 88948/4: Miscellaneous papers: Autograph and typescript papers relating to and written by Ted Hughes, Olwyn Hughes and Sylvia Plath as follows -
[Items 1-5, and 8: See the catalog]

6. Small piece of pink card on which Sylvia Plath has written notes under title 'Underground Man' (undated).

7. Two drafts of an introduction by Hughes to Plath's Crossing the Water, which was published in 1971 (one autograph, one typescript). The text seems to have been written to accompany a reading of poetry from the volume.

2 comments :

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

A couple of these sound familiar. Might they have been included in The Letters of Ted Hughes?

Sounds like a fun treasure to search through. Have you read it all yet, Peter?

I have just received my copy of The Letters of Ted Hughes and Keith Sagar and look forward to diving in.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Julia - No, I have not yet been to work with the papers but several friends (and readers of this blog) have. I am also not sure if these letters were included in the Reid book.

I have read and am working on a review for this blog of the recent British Library publication Poet & Critic: The Letters of Ted Hughes and Keith Sagar. That is all I can say, otherwise y'all might not read the review!

~pks

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