24 February 2013

Sylvia Plath's Teen-Age Triumph

On 24 February 1951, Sylvia Plath wrote a postcard home to her mother from Haven House at Smith College about seeing a cartoon about her posted on the community bulletin board in College Hall. She wrote:

... A senior said to me at lunch, 'Congrats for being up on the College Hall Bulletin Board again.' (Smith girls in the news, you know.) So, full of curiosity, I hurried over. [...] I stood for a full five minutes laughing. It was one of those cartoon and personality write-ups titled 'Teen Triumphs.' There was a sketch of a girl s'posed to be me--writing, also a cow [...] All this effusive stuff appeared in the Peoria, Illinois, Star on January 23. Beats me where they got the sea stuff. I just laughed and laughed." (Letters Home, 66-67, please note the date assigned in Letters Home, 25 February 1951, is the postmark date. The letter is dated by Plath  "Saturday", which was the 24th that year.)

The text from the cartoon reads:
Sylvia Plath, 17, really works at writing. To get atmosphere for a story about a farm she took a job as a farm hand. Now, she's working on a sea story.
And I'll get a job on a boat.

A national magazine has published two of her brain children! -- The real test of being a writer.
The little Wellesley, Mass., blonde has won a full scholarship to Smith College.

This cartoon (pictured below) was by Stookie Allen; a collection of his cartoons was published in 1955 under the title Keen Teens. I examined a copy at the Library of Congress recently and was disappointed that the Plath cartoon did not make it.

Plath had a copy of this cartoon in her publications scrapbook (Lilly Library, Plath mss II, Box 15, page 8). Along with this is a card from Margot MacDonald from Seventeen. The copy in Plath's scrapbook seems to be a proof of the cartoon, as it has "RELEASE TUESDAY, JANUARY 23, 1951" at the top. Based on this connection to Seventeen, and some of the information in the book Keen Teens, I believe Stookie Allen found out about Plath from an employee on the magazine: maybe even from Margot MacDonald herself. The national magazine that had "published two of her brain children" was certainly Seventeen as in their August and November 1950 issues, they published her story "And Summer Will Not Come Again" and her poem "Ode to a Bitten Plum."

The cartoon itself was published on page A-9 of that January 23, 1951 issue of the Peoria Star. It may be that this was the first "article" about Plath's work! Many thanks must go to Cindy Wright (Reference Services) and Deb Bier (Reference Librarian) at the Peoria Public Library for supplying me with a scan of the cartoon from their microfilm holdings.

1 comment :

Kris Underwood said...

Wow, I JUST read that from letters/the Andrew Wilson bio today. Enjoying that bio, by the way.

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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.