28 October 2012

Sylvia Plath Symposium Panel Reviews by Lauren Benard

The following are reviews of Panels 2 and 9 by Lauren Benard, author of Plath Profiles 4 essay "Taking on a Mourning Her Mother Never Bothered With: Esther's Anguished Memory and Her Resistance to a Domestic Life in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar". Thank you, Lauren, for these reviews, I know I am not the only one who appreciates it.

Panel 2: The Bell Jar

Peter K. Steinberg (the man behind the Sylvia Plath Info curtain) spoke on “Sylvia Plath: Palimpsestic Writer in The Bell Jar.” Steinberg opened by stating how Plath and Hughes often overwrote each other; however, rather than only focusing on the lexical connections between their works, it is important to understand her own influence on her writing. It is important to read her writing for her own intertextuality. The Bell Jar entrapped Plath as much as it worked for her as an enabling device. After the novel was published she better expressed her anguish. He shares that there are more than twenty similarities between “Tongues of Stone” and The Bell Jar. In fact, many of her journal entries and poems resurface in the novel. In a way she was a “self-plagiarist.” Steinberg focused on poems such as (but not limited to): “Two Views of a Cadaver Room,” “The Babysitters,” “The Moon and Yew Tree,” and “Stopped Dead” and their influence within the novel. One example was that of the moment in The Bell Jar when Esther attempts to drown herself, but “each time popped up like a cork,” which also appears in “The Babysitters” with the dolls described as “two cork dolls.” Also, in The Bell Jar, Elaine (one of Plath’s selves) illustrates “drops of sweat dripped down her back one by one like small insects” in her story. Steinberg eagerly researched where else Plath had used this phrase and discovered the moment in “Tongues of Stone” when Plath writes “[t]ears crawling like slow insects down her cheeks.” The paper was delivered with light humor and eloquence. His talk came to a close by unfolding the idea that: Plath’s connections -- through sweat, tears, and blood-- a marvelous interconnected body of work is created.

Jessica McCort (Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA) presented the paper: “‘This Smith Cinderella’: Breaking the Glass Coffin in The Bell Jar.” The presentation began by her quoting from Plath’s scrapbook and illustrating Plath as “a modern Cinderella.” The motif of The Bell Jar parallels to that of the glass coffin: as girls reach adolescence, they are objectified. She comments that Plath often thought of herself as a revisable text and also uses the palimpsest metaphor to describe how Plath was stained by fairy-tales. She likens Esther to Alice as “falling into a childhood past.” However, Plath’s fall ends with her abrupt shift and reconstructed sleep. The fairy-tale---particularly the dominant marriage plot-- is used as a frame when Buddy asks Esther “I wonder who you’ll marry now?” In addition, McCourt alludes to the blood imagery that surfaces in The Bell Jar as a reclamation of sexual awakening. Plath’s recomposed self (unlike that of Humpty Dumpty) lies at the root of such a connection. I was very inspired by McCourt’s presentation. She made distinct connections to the use of fairy-tales in Plath’s text that left me wanting to investigate more into the topic myself. I’ve set a new goal for my next archive visit. Thank you!

Panel 9: Ariel theoretical/ metaphorical interpretations

Catherine Leigh Reeves’ (University of Wyoming, Laramie) presented her paper, “‘Oh love, how did you get here?’: Plath’s Maternal Imagination.” She outlines the violent discourse surrounding the speaker’s desire to consume the child back into the confines of her body. Reeves incorporates poetry by Toi Derricotte, Molly Peacock, and Mina Loy to support her reading of Plath’s “Nick the Candlestick” paired with “Edge.” Reeves explains that maternal poetics permeate these works because the child is often viewed as a loss as well as an extension of self. “Nick the Candlestick” parallels a moment in Plath’s journal when she writes how she wants to “crawl back abjectly into the womb.” Also, “Edge” demonstrates how the dead body wears a smile of accomplishment. Reeves also comments on the complexity of female experience/ the female body in “Three Women,” and that unnatural imagery is used to illustrate natural impulses. Reeves shared this portion of her M.A. thesis with confidence and clarity; the dedication to her project strongly showed.

The panelist Rachel Schaefer-- who studied at the American University in Cairo, Egypt--discussed “Plath’s Ekphrasis and Expressionism” by stating the poems in Plath’s final years are her own form of art. It appears that Plath was influenced by expressionist and surrealist paintings because she writes in a chopped and distorted style. Schaefer points out that Plath takes common images and uses them in uncommon ways to capture her reader. She displayed specific artwork by Paul Klee, likening “Virgin in Tree” to the fig tree in The Bell Jar. In addition, she presented Giorgio Dechirico’s “Disquieting Muses” and “Enigma of the Oracle” as well as Henri Rosseau’s “Snakecharmer” and “The Dream” to capture specific artwork that influenced Plath’s writing. Schaefer presented many visuals of the artwork to advance her argument. Overall, her work was well-informed and offered a fresh perspective on the matter.

Jennifer Hurley Yaros (Valparaiso, IN), the final panelist, examined the topic of morality in her paper “Plath’s Response and Repair in Ariel poems.” In doing so, she put Margaret Urban Walker’s essay “Moral Repair and Its Limits” in conversation with Sylvia Plath’s poems “The Jailer” and “By Candlelight.” Yaros understands that Plath’s mission was to understand and restore her own life. When discussing “The Jailer” she refers to the female slave/ animalistic qualities of the poem. Moreover, she posits that Plath felt morally wrong or responsible for leaving her children; as if she predicted her suicide in “By Candlelight.” Although Plath was heavily impacted by worldly and personal events, her own words were, perhaps, “not enough to save her life.” The final lines of her presentation could be interpreted in several ways, which left me interested as a listener. The paper was strong overall because she opened ideas up for consideration rather than closing them down. Thank you!

These brief reviews cannot replace the wonderful presentations, but please do enjoy!

-Lauren Benard

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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." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • 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 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: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • 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.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (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. 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. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "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. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.