23 March 2014

Sylvia Plath's Passport, Part Two

A while back (13 December 2009), I did a post that involved looking at statements or assertions made in Paul Alexander's biography of Sylvia Plath Rough Magic regarding a supposed abortion had by Plath circa September 1955. Since then I have looked some more at Plath's passports, trying to figure out her travel routes and the cities through which she passed - even if only fleetingly in the carriage of train. I started this post in February 2012 and feel like it is time to post it!

There are two passports of Plath's. The first she used from 1955 through 1957 is now held by Indiana University; the second was in use from 1959 until 1963 (though the last stamp is from 1961 -- when Plath visited Wales and Ireland in 1962 she did not receive stamps). The second passport is now held by Emory University.

As such, I have broken this post up into two parts: the first part (which is part two if you consider the post from 2009 to be part one) will examine Plath's first passport (1955-1957); and the third part, which I will post in April, will look at the second passport. The first passport in particular was difficult to figure out as Plath was quite active once she got to Europe on her Fulbright. Several items below are questionable and I have tried to both list when I am a unsure and also tried to determine a most likely solution.

20 September: Arrival stamp at Southampton, England
5 October: Registration stamp at Cambridge, England
20 December: Departure stamp at Folkestone, England
20(?) December: Arrival stamp Boulogne(?) [France] (stamp smudged, poorly inked)

5 January: 3 stamps: Arrival and departure stamp from France to Italy at Pont Saint-Louis (http://www.oldstratforduponavon.com/images/mentonfrontiere.jpg) and;
Arrival stamp in Italy; the location is unknown as the stamp was poorly inked. Plath was on the way to Ventemiglia
9 January: Departure stamp at Dieppe, France
9 January: Arrival stamp at Newhaven, England
24 March: Departure stamp at Dover, England
24 March: Arrival stamp at Calais, France and then Paris
24 March - 6 April Paris, France (See Plath's Journals, Appendix 7 (pages 552-568) for information about her time in Paris.
6 April: Arrival stamp at Kehl Bahnhof, Germany (11 months later, Plath wrote in her journal on 4 March 1957, "I am angry now because, except for snow, I forget what the trip from France to Munich was like" (273).
7 April: Arrival stamp at Kufstein Bahnhof, Austria
7 April: Arrival stamp at Brennaro Ferrovia, Italy on her way to Venice with Gordon Lameyer
9 April: Travel from Venice to Rome
13 April: Departure stamp at Rome, Italy
13 April: Arrival stamp at London Airport
22 June: Departure stamp at London Airport
22 June: Arrival stamp at Le Bourget airport, France
6 July: Departure stamp at Hendaye, France
6 July: Arrival stamp at (?), Spain (Irun, Spain is the most likely entry point given it is just across the border from Hendaye, France).
22 August: Departure stamp at Barcelona, Spain
22 August: Arrival stamp at Cerbere, France
29 August: Departure stamp at Dieppe, France
29 August: Arrival stamp at Newhaven, England
29 October: Registration stamp at Cambridge, England

20 June: Departure stamp at Southampton, England

In this passport, issued on 29 June 1955 at Washington, D.C., there are five "Permitted to land stamps" done by British Immigration. Four of them give Plath permission to be in the country until 20 September 1956 and one until 20 September 1957. The last one, which changes the language from "permitted to land" to "grant of leave to land" appears to have been dated by the Immigration officer as 10 October 1956.

Plath left Paris and traveled to Munich, entering Germany by train at Kehl, just east of Strasbourg. The date stamp on the passport is quite difficult to determine as the stamp did not hit the page evenly, or possibly it was not evenly inked. Plath planned to be in Paris through Easter, which in 1956 fell on 1 April. In Rough Magic, Paul Alexander states that Lameyer arrived in Paris on 4 April and that he and Plath left Paris on 6 April. They stayed just the one night in Munich.

From Munich, it appears Plath traveled through Kufstein, Austria. She has a stamp in her passport for 7 April 1956. She has another stamp on her passport for that date from Brennero, on the Italian/Austrian border. The "B" in Brennero is on the fold-line between two pages, so it is missing, but a look at a map confirms that Brennero is likely where she crossed countries. So, Plath and Lameyer traveled from Munich to Kufstein through Innsbruck to Brennero to Venice. Between 7 and 13 April she was in Italy in Venice and then Rome, she left Rome on 13 April, her father's birthday.

The Lameyer photograph collection at the Lilly Library has some amazing images of Plath from this time in Venice, on a gondola, etc. Some of these have recently been published in Andrew Wilson's book Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted.

All links accessed 25 February 2012 (!!) and 18 March 2014.


Anonymous said...

Peter: Do you have actual photos of Sylvia's passport? stamps and all? I'd love to see them. Thanks.


Peter K Steinberg said...


I did get digital images from both Emory and Indiana. As far as I know, anyone can!


Petter said...

Do you have thoughts on where the photograph that Hughes alludes to in "Fulbright Scholars" might be found? Would be an interesting catch. I think it's quite likely that the Fulbright office in London would photograph the incoming U.S. grantees, but neither the Fulbright office or the press and cultural affairs office at the embassy were able to help. Best, Petter Næss

Petter said...

Do you have any thoughts on where the photograph that Ted Hughes alludes to in "Fulbright Scholars" might have been published? It may just be his invention, but I find it perfectly likely that the Fulbright office would photograph the incoming crop of U.S. Fulbrighters each year. Neither the Fulbright office in London nor the U.S. Embassy library (formerly U.S. Information Service) have archives that can help, unfortunately.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Publications & Acknowledgements