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From the Inpress Books website, "This book [Theme & Version: Plath & Ronsard] presents the previously unpublished translations of Ronsard which Sylvia Plath made in 1956 or '57, during her time as a mature student at Cambridge.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