18 January 2013

Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Sigmund, Olwyn Hughes, The Bell Jar, The Guardian and The Mail on Sunday

In case you missed it, there were two interviews posted today on The Guardian's website on the topic of Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar. The first interview was with Plath's good friend Elizabeth Sigmund; the second with the polar opposite, Olwyn Hughes.

1963 Heinemann edition
with dedication present
Both of these women had a particular relationship to Sylvia Plath and the nature of that relationship shines through quite blindingly. The story came about largely as the result of the Faber edition of Plath's novel, which was first published under Plath's name in 1966. In this edition, and subsequent paperback editions and reprints, the dedication "for Elizabeth and David" was not included (it was included in the 1971 Harper & Row American edition and so far as I know and have looked has never been absent. The missing dedication was the subject of a 1973 TLS article by Elizabeth, which prompted an apology by Faber's Charles Monteith and a rectification of the oversight (Monteith was the recipient, himself, of what would become a rare signed copy of Plath's first poetry collection, The Colossus, published by Heinemann in 1960) .

The interviews were part of The Guardian's Reading Group which is featuring and focusing on The Bell Jar this month, moderated by Sam Jordison. Olwyn Hughes fairly goes off on her late sister-in-law while also making incendiary comments about Elizabeth Sigmund. In the past, Olwyn Hughes has commented that Plath and Hughes had met - at most - a half dozen times. This might be hyperbole. But one thing to also consider is the number of times that Olwyn, herself, was in Plath's presence, which can't have been much more.

What it comes down to is the fact that Olwyn Hughes was tasked by her brother to be the keep of Plath's literary fame. However, in her role as literary executor she failed miserably to conduct herself professionally, dispassionately, and objectively. What it further boils down to is that as her friend, Elizabeth Sigmund has behaved respectfully and with much admiration. This goes beyond to which camp you belong. Indeed, the camp boundaries have been blurring in recent years which is wonderful. These articles/interviews serve primarily to get web hits, sell newspapers, and pick open the healing scabs of old wounds and steps away from what should be a celebration of Sylvia Plath's novel that leads to a celebration of her life. I perhaps now fear what is coming down the pike as we approach 11 February.

Something else to consider this weekend...

Are you, too, chomping and desperate to get your hands on Andrew Wilson's biography Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted? Well, we will get a bit of a taster this weekend as part of a two-week serialization in London's Mail on Sunday. Starting Sunday! And, I am told, at some point also The Observer will feature the book. Read on.

More on Wilson's book on Sunday...

7 comments :

Anonymous said...

I do like to see two women in their 80s deying little old lady stereotypes...

Cath

Anonymous said...

The different photos of Plath that accompany the texts of each interview are telling. OH's includes the stock photo of Plath looking dowdy and distracted by her own disquietude. ES's has coy, affable, attractive Plath. I've always wondered why the former photo is the image most commonly associated with Plath. I'm only a neophyte, but I think she would not have been pleased by it. And it perpetuates the image of Plath as the disturbed girl that OH would have us remember her as.

Maura

Peter K Steinberg said...

Maura, Thank you for your comment. I too noticed the photographs that accompanied each article. The ironic thing, perhaps, is that the photo of the intense-looking Plath in the Sigmund interview was taken by Olwyn Hughes!

Please do not let the possibility that you are a neophyte dissuade you from being a part of this blog's little community. All, well, most, are welcome!

pks

suki said...

It's interesting that these stereotypes of Plath are being resurrected. Particularly as the scholarship on Plath has changed so much over the past few years and we have been able to see so many versions of Plath and hear different parts of her story.

Anonymous said...

PKS: Thank you for the kind welcome. Do you have any insight as to how the photo that's used in OH's interview became the file photo for Plath? As for the other, more flattering photo, ironic indeed!

Maura

Peter K Steinberg said...

Maura! Hi there. No, I'm not really sure. The two photos in these articles are the stock photos. The 1959 one that was in the Olwyn Hughes interview was taken by Rollie McKenna and I think it is used partially because her Estate is OK with it, and partially because I think she looks sad. Her eyes are downcast, and this fits the easy-way-out reputation that Plath has in popular culture.

The 1956-ish photograph of Plath taken by Olwyn Hughes is glorious. I love it; it is among my favorite images of Plath. But, it's one of at least two pictures from that day. The other picture is brighter, slightly out of focus, and shows Plath radiantly smiling. It was printed in one of the biographies. Bitter Fame perhaps?

pks

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response, Peter! Interesting stuff and, I agree, the photo taken by OH really is glorious.

Maura

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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.

Interviews