13 December 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Irwin Edman papers at Columbia

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University holds the Irwin Edman papers, [ca 1930]-1954 (Finding Aid).

There are two Sylvia Plath items in this collection. I know what you are thinking: Who was Irwin Edman? The short answer is that Edman (1896-1954) was Professor of philosophy at Columbia University. The items in the collection are a letter co-authored by Plath and Gamaliel Bradford Senior High School classmate Jeanne Woods dated 15 March 1949 and his reply, dated 28 March 1949.

In their 15 March letter, Plath and Woods respond to Edman's March 1949 article "A Reasonable Life in a Mad World" from the Atlantic Monthly (pages 60-62). The letter is a mixture of sanctimoniousness with aspects Christian ideology. Plath at the time of this letter was a junior in High School and was writing on behalf of her English 31 class which was under the tutelage of Wilbury Crockett. The authors of the letter credit Edman with writing logically on the subject but find fault and inadequacy with his resolutions. They write to challenge his conclusions and hope for an honest evaluation of them. Acknowledging the benefits of nature, they argue that there are limitations on man that prohibit him from creating order in civilization. A human's mind is not enough to see everything in the universe. Edman advocates stoicism, pleasure principle, and hope but Plath and Woods ask about the role of spiritualism (seeking guidance from outside of one's self, from above).

Edman's response from 28 March 1949 is a dismissive missive of which the component parts are sexist, ageist, and patronization. Edman compliments his critics saying that the future of the country is promising because high school students are tackling the subject of his philosophic essay. He writes that if he were teaching the class they would undoubtedly discuss the matter, but that in the shape of correspondence, such a detailed and time-consuming venture that would take a year to talk about sufficiently is not reasonable. Edman writes that "a group of girls about sixteen years old" can hardly hope to solve simply philosophical issues that have been troubling higher minds for about two thousand years. He calls their arguments "traditional beliefs" and encourages them to reconsider their positions after they reach college.

Thanks are due to Tara Craig at Columbia for providing copies of these documents.

Sometimes an archival collection can consist of just one or two items. This collection is a perfect example as it is just one letter from Plath, and a carbon copy reply to her. You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials, both large and small, on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 18 November 2013.

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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.

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