20 February 2014

Sylvia Plath Collections: University of Tulsa

Since October 2013, for American Archives Month, Sylvia Plath Info Blog has been highlighting various archives that hold Sylvia Plath archival materials. At the time twelve or so posts were planned, but that number has been far exceeded. It was certainly never imagined it would take this long to work through all the various collections, but in the process of looking, a number of additional places that hold documents were located that warranted inclusion. You can find all of them and more by searching the label "Sylvia Plath Collections". But despite finding still more additional caches of archival holdings --a man must be allow his little secrets for a rainy day -- this is the final post in the series. Knowledge of all these archival collections does benefit all of Plath's readers, and with rare exception, copies can be obtained of these materials for a small fee. Some of these places and the documents they hold discussed over the last five months I had been hoarding for potential inclusion in papers with the inimitable Gail Crowther, but decided to let it all hang out here on the blog as that series of papers for now has concluded.


You might not expect it, but the University of Tulsa has amazing Sylvia Plath materials in the Special Collections of their McFarlin Library. A search of their catalog, limiting results to Special Collections finds an impressive 64 titles. A few highlights of books/publications includes:

Pursuit (1973, one of 100 copies)
The Bell Jar (1963, Heinemann edition)
The Colossus (1960, Heinemann edition)
Sculptor (offprint, 1959)
"Dialogue en Route" (In: The Smith Review. Northampton, Mass. Exam blues issue, January 1955 p. 12-13.)

In addition to holding of number of very rare and limited editions and first editions, the Special Collections department of the University of Tulsa holds manuscripts of Plath's and a typescript as well. There are three separate collections that warrant our attention: the Stevie Smith papers; the Richard Murphy papers; and "Ocean 1212-W".

Stevie Smith
The Stevie Smith papers hold one letter from Plath written from Court Green and dated 19 November 1962. The letter was printed on page 6 of Stevie Smith's Me Again: Uncollected Writings (London: Virago, 1981 & New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982). The original letter is contained in Series I: Correspondence, Box 7, Folder 2.

In the letter, Plath writes that she had been listening to Smith's interview with Peter Orr, who gave Plath her address (this interview, along with Plath's, is included in the book Orr edited in 1966 The Poet Speaks (Routlege and Kegan). Plath admits that she is an "addict" of Smith's poetry, and for emphasis proclaims herself "a desperate Smith-addict." She says she really wants to get a hold of Smith's A Novel on Yellow Paper, writing that she just finished writing her own on pink (a reference to The Bell Jar which was largely drafts on pink Smith College Memorandum paper. Plath mentions her beekeeping and apple growing activities in Devon and that booksellers in that region are nil. She closes by saying she is hoping to relocate to London by New Year and invites Smith to tea or coffee and that she had wanted to meet her for a long time.

The Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College holds Stevie Smith's prompt 4-page, handwritten reply, written on 22 November 1962, thanking her for her letter and hoping they meet after she moves to London. The letter shows a great amount of humor and personality. Stevie Smith also writes that she hope Plath's move goes well, as well as the novel, too. I get the impression from the letter that Smith had heard of Plath, which if that is the case, must have been heart-warming to her.

Other Plath related item in this folder is a handwritten excerpt from Plath's London Magazine piece "Context". The bit noted down is where Plath talks about the poets she delights in such as Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, and, you might have guessed, Stevie Smith.

Richard Murphy
The Richard Murphy papers, which includes five letters from Plath to Murphy, and one letter from Plath to Mary Coyne. The letters to Murphy and Coyne are all dated from 1962 and were sent from Court Green. Letters to Murphy are dated 21 July, 17 August, 8 September, 21 September, and 7 October. The letter to Mary Coyne is dated 15 December, just after Plath moved to 23 Fitzroy Road, London. (Read more on Plath and Ireland in "The Irish Sojourn of Sylvia Plath" by Emily Houricane and in "'The wild beauty I found there': Plath's Connemara" by Gail Crowther.)

The letters to Richard Murphy offer a good look at Plath's reaching out to a fellow poet in the immediate aftermath of the revelation that Ted Hughes was having an affair. In her 21 July 1962 letter, Plath writes to let Murphy know that "Years Later", the epilogue to his poem "The Cleggan Disaster", had been judged the winner of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival (Plath's poem "Insomniac" was a winner the previous year). Plath also inquires about the possibility of herself and Hughes traveling to Ireland for some time on Murphy's boat, to be near the sea and away from screaming babies. Plath was looking at late August or early September (they eventually visited Murphy and Ireland from 11th September to roughly the 19th). Plath mentions her hopes of seeing Jack & Maire Sweeney in Dublin, too, impressing the point that boats and the sea were a central part of her early life.

On 17 August 1962 , Plath wrote saying she thought they could leave North Tawton on 10 September for the visit to Ireland and asking for advice on how to get to him. She added her classic Plathian humor by asking whether he had life preservers, saying that she did not want to be the subject of another of his sea-disaster poems and mentioned the sea boiling their eyes. She expressed distaste with the British seaside and caravans and wrappers floating on the tide lines (this is also how she described the coast north of Boston in Lynn in The Bell Jar).

On 8 September 1962, three days before they were to leave, Plath sent a brief letter detailing up-to-date plans: they had a nanny to mind the babies; were going to cross the Irish Sea from Holyhead to Dublin on that Tuesday night (11 September); see the Sweeney's in Dublin; travel by train to Galway on Wednesday evening; and that they were looking forward to seeing him and staying in his cottage (The Old Forge) (for more on The Old Forge, see Gail Crowther's excellent "Sylvia Plath: The Playfulness of Time").

In her 21 September 1962 letter, the tone is different. Plath thanks Murphy for hosting them, and sent him an unused Galway-to-Dublin train ticket, the intention being maybe that someone from the Cleggan area might be able to use it. She then gets down to business: she states that getting to Ireland and away from England for the winter will mean a lot to her health and hopes that he will not be averse to her wintering so close to him, encroaching, if you will, on what he considered to be his turf (poetically and otherwise). Her desire is to be alone and independent; to recover her health and sense of self; to write; to be a mother. Murphy seems to have been sensitive to Plath and Hughes thinking about writing poems about Connemara, but Plath says they were kidding and that she cannot write poems when she is writing prose -- in this instance a novel set in Devon (a tantalizing thought: this would have been the once titled "The Interminable Loaf", and later titled "Doubletake" and "Double Exposure"). Plath ultimately rescinds her offer to show Murphy Court Green, as Hughes would not be around, and also based on the snub she felt he did to her.

The last letter from Plath to Murphy is from 7 October 1962. She mentions a review he had written, and something to do with jackdaws and black birds and rooks. Plath's plans at this point were to travel to Moyard, Ireland with Ted Hughes' aunt as a companion until she can get an Irish girl to help. She was interested in a Catholic who might save her damned soul. She mentions that she has resolved to get a divorce and that she is finally writing for what feels like the first time in years -- since her last letter to Murphy, Plath had written eight poems: "For a Fatherless Son", "A Birthday Present", "The Detective", "The Courage of Shutting-Up", "The Bee Meeting", "The Arrival of the Bee Box", "Stings", and "The Swarm" -- and that her real self is finally opening and breathing from being suppressed. She was not kidding!

The review Plath mentions is "The Empty Tower at Ballylee", in which Murphy discusses several books published in 1962 including W. B. Yeats: Explorations; J. M. Synge: Collected Works, Vol. I: Poems, ed. Robin Skelton; The Dublin Diary of Stanislaus Joyce, ed. George Harris Healey. The review was published in the 7 October issue of The Observer on page 29. (Source.)

In the 15 December 1962 letter from Plath to Mary Coyne, Plath informs Coyne that she has moved to London for the winter rather than Ireland, in part because Nicholas needed his eye seen to by a specialist. She asks that Coyne send on some clothing (sweaters) for Frieda and herself. She then asks Coyne to inform Richard Murphy that she is living in Yeats' house, with a blue plaque and everything.

These are wonderful letters that fill in important biographical information in a turbulent time. The power of the archive is that it does this time and time again. When we think we know all there is to know, caches of letters become available that helps to round out our knowledge of a subject.

Copies of Richard Murphy's letters are held in the Frances McCullough papers at the University of Maryland, College Park (more here).

"Ocean 1212-W", or "Landscape of Childhood"
As if the above was not enough, The McFarlin Library also holds a supremely rare BBC typescript of Sylvia Plath's "Ocean 1212-W", though under its original name, "Landscape of Childhood."

The full catalog title reads: "Ocean 1212-W / by Sylvia Plath ; producer Leonie Cohn ; read by June Tobin ; Recording: 23rd July 1963, Transmission: 19th August 1963 ; tape no. RO 16556 broadcast script."

More important information to consider is:

"Description: 9 leaves : 20.5 x 33 cm.

"Summary: "Broadcast script from the BBC series Writers on Themselves which was later published in 1964 under that same title with an introduction by Herbert Read. This script of Sylvia Plath's chapter includes material that does not appear in the published version."

Gail Crowther and I discuss the origins, title changes, history, and a host of other archival researches that we encountered with this title, including visits to Smith College, the BBC Written Archives Centre, and the British Library in "These Ghostly Archives", "These Ghostly Archives, Redux", and "These Ghostly Archives 3". Getting a copy of the BBC typescript from the British Library is not an easy process; however, Tulsa was happy to supply a high resolution PDF of the document. And they did so quite quickly which was much appreciated.

This particular typescript I believe is an exact copy of that which Gail worked with at the British Library (see "These Ghostly Archives 3" linked just above), and I note that in comparing this typescript to the first printings of the prose piece (The Listener in August 1963 and in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams in 1977) that the major textual differences aside from cut text are in the punctuation marks: commas for semi-colons, semi-colons for dashes and the like. I believe, however, that this typescript represents -- as near as is possible to determine -- the closest facsimile that we know of to what Plath's original typescript looked like.

A big thank you to Milissa Burkhart and Kristina Johnson for their assistance with these collections.

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 and information accessed 24 September, 18 November 2013, and 15 February 2014.

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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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