17 December 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: Letter to Dorothea Krook, Central Zionist Archives

As with the previous post on the letter co-written by Plath to Irwin Edman, this post focuses primarily on one original Plath document.

Sylvia Plath admired greatly her Cambridge don Dorothea Krook (later Krook-Gilead). In journals and letters, Plath sung her praises. She was one of the "brilliant young" women Plath knew (Unabridged Journals, 225), and to her mother on 29 April 1956, she wrote: "My philosophy supervisor, Dorothea Krook, is more than a miracle!" (Letters Home, 243). Plath often put Krook on the same level that she did her "psychiatrist" Dr. Ruth Beuscher. By February 1957, Plath had become so familiar with Krook that she started to refer to her by the nickname "Doris". (Among other faults, one of the more disingenuous comments in Plath's abridged Journals appears on the footnote to the quote above about Krook being one of the brilliant young women. The editorial comment reads in part, "Plath frequently--and inexplicably--refers to her as Doris Krook in the journal" [Journals 1982, 125]). While Plath mentions in her journals and other letters that she had sent a  couple of letters written to Krook, only one original letter is known right now. This letter, dated 25 September 1958, was printed in the London Magazine in August-September 2003 within an article titled "Sylvia Plath and Dorothea Krook: The Pupil/Tutor Relationship", pages 24-31. But, in reviewing the issue, I could not find a reference to the location and/or owner of the letter, which perplexed me.

A little research found that the Central Zionist Archives (English version) in Jerusalem, Israel holds the Dorothea Krook-Gilead Archives. And in fact there was a book published in 1993 entitled List of Files of the Archives of Dorothea Krook-Gilead (WorldCat).

The Archive holds many documents relating to Sylvia Plath, among them fortunately is the original 1958 letter from Plath to Krook under the title of "Plath-Hughes, Sylvia" with a call number of A410\321. Plath sent other correspondence to Krook, such as Christmas-time ("holiday", to be politically correct) cards but nothing else appears to be available now. Additional Plath related materials in the Central Zionist Archives include:

Correspondence about Sylvia Plath, 1972- 1976: A410\306;
Correspondence with Toni Saldivar regarding Sylvia Plath, 1987-1991: A410\307;
Correspondence with Linda Wagner about her book on Sylvia Plath, 1984-1985: A410\308;
Dorothea Krook's "Recollections of Sylvia Plath", in the Critical Quarterly, Vol.18, No.4, Winter 1976, reprints in English and Hebrew, and correspondence: A410\304;
Hughes, Ted (Sylvia Plath's husband) and Hughes, Olwyn (his sister), correspondence, 1966- 1976: A410\256; and
Reviews, newspaper clippings and essays on the work of Sylvia Plath and some of her poems: A410\305 (contains pamphlets, booklets and articles).

I asked only about the Plath letter and the "Reviews, newspaper clippings" materials; the rest of the documents should be quite valuable to researchers but at the present time were outside the scope of my inquiry. If anyone else investigates this material, please do write something up about it for the blog!

The 25 September 1958 letter from Plath to Krook is newsy, long, open, and really nothing short of brilliant and gives magnificent insight into the nature of their relationship: both as student and teacher as well as friends. The letter opens with Plath commenting on Krook's publication in the London Magazine of a review on Henry James*. She recaps the last year of teaching at Smith and how she modeled her teaching style to the extent she could off of her experience with Krook's tutelage. Plath admitted that she felt her teaching style was more dictatorial than would be appropriate for American professors. She lists many of the texts that she taught, feeling herself to be limited with what she could engage with her students. She also discusses Ted Hughes' experiences teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and she was actually quite disparaging about the school and its students. Kind of snobby, thumbing her nose at its being a state school in a state chock-full of excellent private universities that take the better students. She was critical of life in Northampton of it. She then goes on to talk about life in Boston, singing its praises and their flat at 9 Willow Street. She gives a great description of the flat and, having been in the actual unit in which she lived, really vivifies the area for me. She mentions that she was re-reading her Cambridge notes that she took while a student and that in doing so she had a total recall of the experiences; and that she had just started reading The Notebooks of Henry James (Plath's copy of this book is held by Emory University). She ends the letter talking about Hughes' current work and how the poetry is stronger and more mature and consistent than what he published in The Hawk in the Rain as well as discussing acquaintances among other things. Naturally this is a gross paraphrase of the letter and much of the content was, as a result, not mentioned.

Krook wrote "Recollections of Sylvia Plath" which, as noted above, appeared in the Critical Quarterly 18:4 (Winter 1976, pp. 5-14). The piece also was printed in Edward Butscher's book Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., pp. 49-60).

My sincere thanks to Rochelle Rubinstein for her help with this request.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 10 & 13 December 2013.

*I found Krook published "Principles and Methods in the Late Works of Henry James" in the July 1954 issue of London Magazine, pp. 54-70. Krook also had a review, "The Tragedy of Manners: Moral Drama in the Later Novels of Henry James", in The Modern Language Review in April 1959 (pp. 270-271) but this appeared after Plath's letter was written. Krook authored a book on Henry James (The Ordeal of Consciousness in Henry James, Cambridge [England]: University Press, 1962) and a book on Moral Thought (Three Traditions of Moral Thought, Cambridge [England]: University Press, 1959). I do wonder if any of the information or opinions in these books came out of her supervisions with Plath in 1956-1957.

3 comments :

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Thank you for these, Peter. The blogs have been especially interesting lately.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Julia: very glad to know you've found the recent posts interesting!

~pks

suki said...

They are really amazing and such intricate research. I'm going to reread the Butscher article.

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