16 March 2013

Catalog Review: Paper Doll Featuring Sylvia Plath

The Paper Doll catalog (ISBN: 0-88828-217-6) accompanying the exhibit by the same title is a well put together book. The exhibit appeared at the Owens Art Gallery from 16 September to 6 November 2011, and at the Mendel Art Gallery from 30 March to 10 June 2012. Both in Canada. Normally I like to be more timely with reviews like this, but found this buried in my list of documents. Sorry!

The cover image (pictured left) features a single paper doll outfit by Sylvia Plath from circa 1945-1946. Inside the book are three gorgeous full-page illustrations of Plath's paper dolls from the Sylvia Plath mss. II collection at the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington, as well as a roughly two page review of the Plath component to the exhibit.

Curated and written by Anne Koval, the Plath piece is really well done; I cannot profess to possess any knowledge of paper dolls, so will spare everyone reading this any further critique. I like that Koval quotes from Plath's poem "Tulips" in regard to its reference to a paper doll: "And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow." In some ways it reminds us that Plath, at age 28 when the poem was written, was not too far removed from the girl who made and played with paper dolls. (Koval appears to have missed that just over a year after writing "Tulips," that Plath began her poem "Crossing the Water" this way: "Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people." Plath alludes to papery people also in her poems "Widow" and "The Applicant", among others.) And, it is wonderful that Koval makes connections between one of the paper doll designs Plath called "The Fairy Scarf" to a poem by the same name she composed in 1945. In addition to a copy of "The Fairy Scarf" that is held by the Lilly Library (Plath mss. II, Box 8, Folder 6), a fair, illustrated manuscript copy is held by The Morgan Library.

Koval points out that Plath named her outfits with "romantic titles such as "Heartaches," "Fireside reveries," or "Easter suit" (14). But here was a missed inter-textual connection, for Plath wrote a poem called "Fireside Reveries" which was published in her junior high school newspaper, The Phillipian, in February 1947 ("Fireside Reveries" is not listed in Plath's Collected Poems). So it is quite contemporary to the eponymous paper doll outfit. The speaker in the poem, written in an irregular but rhyming meter, sits dreaming in front of a fire with "A book of poems in my lap" (Phillipian 7). She describes the way the flames leap from the logs in language and imagery that also call to mind the much later poems "Lady Lazarus" and "Fever 103°."

I should think that any Plath reader, scholar, or enthusiast will likely enjoy this tall, slim volume as a rich component and addition to their collection. In my own experience with the Lilly Library, I can say that their digitization is top-notch. The digital surrogates of Plath's paper dolls in the catalog are amazing and crisp and take on a life of their own.

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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.