27 May 2012

Did you know...Sylvia Plath, Valerie Pitt, and Pierre de Ronsard

One of the reviews of the first Faber edition of The Bell Jar, the first edition to appear in print with Sylvia Plath's name as author, was by Valerie Pitt, in The Sunday Telegraph, 25 September 1966. Pitt's review, titled "Isolated Case," praises the novel story as being told with "controlling definiteness" and "disciplined clarity," remarking that these are also qualities of Plath's poetry. Very true. Pitt's review ends, "It is a book to make one regret, increasingly, the early death not only of so brilliant a writer but of so uncommon a personality."

Valerie Pitt evidently was a reader of Plath's poetry at the time of the review, commenting that "Not surprisingly, the publishers have have followed the success of Sylvia Plath's 'Ariel'" by issuing her novel under her own name. It is Pitt's comment about Plath being so "uncommon a personality" that strikes me as interesting. It is possible to ascertain something of a writer's personality from the material they publish. And naturally it is possible if you actually know the person, too. For Pitt, though, which is it? The answer, did you know..., was both!

Plath & Pitt both took a course in French translation (Montaigne, Racine, Baudelaire, among others) as well as Practical Criticism in Cambridge.

For her French Translation course at Cambridge, under the tutelage of Miss Anne Judith Barrett, Plath wrote the paper "Passion as Destiny in Racine." This paper, dated 3 March 1956 is housed now in Plath mss. II at the Lilly Library, Indiana University. And we of course remember that Plath used an epigraph from Racine for her poem "Pursuit." Another French writer Plath translated during this course is Ronsard. In 1994, the Menard Press published some of Plath's translations in Theme & Version: Plath & Ronsard. Pierre de Ronsard lived from 1524-1585.

From the Inpress Books website, "This book [Theme & Version: Plath & Ronsard] presents the previously unpublished translations of Ronsard which Sylvia Plath made in 1956 or '57, during her time as a mature student at Cambridge.

"Daniel Weissbort, who knew Plath there, contributes an essay on her approach to translation. Audrey Jones's essay discusses Renaissance iconography in Ronsard and its mediation through Plath's work. The third essay is by Yves Bonnefoy, on the significance of his great precursor."

Plath studied with Miss Barrett during her first year at Cambridge, in 1955-1956. If you are interested in buying Theme & Version, copies are available via Inpress Books, Amazon, and ABEbooks. Additionally, libraries also hold this title, so check out this link to WorldCat to see if one is near you.


Melanie Smith said...

Off to the online shops... Da dee dah. Thank you for this information Peter.

Peter K Steinberg said...


Anytime you need some of your money spent, just let me know...!


Carl Rollyson said...

What a nice nugget you've uncovered Peter.

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Melanie cracks me up.

I love Julio's comments too!

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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.