|3 Chalcot Square, London|
On 13 August 1961, Plath wrote to her mother: "We put an ad in the paper for our flat (with a $280 fee for 'fixtures and fittings' to cover the cost of our decorating, lino, shelves, and solicitor's fees, and to deter an avalanche of people---the custom here) and had eight responses and two couples who arrived and decided they wanted it at the same time" (Letters Home 423).
As you know, I enjoy a good mystery. Particularly when it involves the use and reuse of archives; searching in boxes and folders not regularly cited, explored, or examined; as well as some good old-fashioned searching through microfilm; hoping that simply casting the line into a pond of blind faith will return a respectable catch. In my mind I liked to call this clue from Plath "The Mystery of the Ad in the Paper". This was one such instance where all these challenges combined and led to a glorious outcome.
The advertisement Plath mentions is something I have wanted to find for a long time. I visited the Microtext Department at the Boston Public Library and used their holdings for both The Times and the Manchester Guardian. But, to no avail. I knew that Plath's use of $280 for the fixtures and fittings would not appear in the advert as it was in an English newspaper, and based on other letters she wrote during this period, she generally said that £1 was equal to $2.80. Even I can do this math: $280 = £100.
|Mortimer Rare Book Room|
Armed with this knowledge, I had to set about trying to find a microfilm copy of this newspaper. I knew the British Library has it, but it is roughly 3,269 miles away from me. So… not that easy to get to in a flash. I put in a request through the Boston Public Library for an inter-library loan of the microfilm of newspaper from August 1961. Luckily, a copy was located here in the States, and about two months later -- in early 2014 -- the box of microfilm arrived from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. I had prepared to spend my lunch hour going over every single day looking for an advert that included the only few details that I knew: fixtures and fittings, £100, and I also figured something about the location of the flat would be present: either NW1 or Chalcot Square or even Primrose Hill.
I started at 1 August even though I held little hope it would have appeared that early, mostly to familiarize myself with the layout of the newspaper, the general location therein of the classified ads, the language and abbreviations generally used, and the like. I felt too that this is something Plath and Hughes might have done -- both at this time from house-hunting but also from their earlier massive search for a flat in December 1959 and January 1960 which landed them 3 Chalcot Square in the first place -- as they constructed the language: something akin to what she did in studying the short fiction and poetry published in magazines in order to write something that stood a better chance of being accepted as it fit the right formula and was aimed at the right market. I also knew that the advert would likely not appear after the date of the letter (13 August) as Plath used the past tense "We put an ad in the paper … and had eight responses". So there was really just a short window of time in which I needed to look.
Working through each day, I grew a bit anxious. Would I find it? Recognize it? Skip over it by accident in the blur and smudge of questionable quality microfilm or in my own lunch hour restricted haste? Would I then have wasted a month of lunches searching in vain? Would I run out of time before the microfilm was due to return to its home in Washington, D.C.?
Nothing on the 1st of August. The 2nd of August turned into the 3rd, 4th, the 5th, the 6th, the 7th, the 8th, the 9th… Nothing!
Until the 10th. 10 August 1961*. The one and only day on which the ad ran!
|The full page of the 10 August 1961|
So much hinges on that chance day: 10 August 1961. On that day, David and Assia Wevill probably sat in their flat located at 10 Addison Gardens** located in the Shepherd's Bush/Hammersmith (W14) neighborhood of London. Who spotted the advert? Who responded? Why were they looking to move? Was it David Wevill or Assia Wevill who picked up the phone to call? In A Lover of Unreason, Koren and Negev say it was Assia Wevill who called but it is not known whether it was Plath or Hughes who answered the phone to set up the appointment? Koren and Negev also publish that it was in the Evening Standard that the Wevill's saw the advert, so clearly either I should read some of these books more carefully or remember what I read a little better...
|The column in which the ad appeared|
The full ad:
And, transcribed, it reads:
PRIMROSE HILL Unfurn. 2 rms. k. & b
6 gns. p.w. F. & F £100. 17 mth lse.,
renewable. PRI 9132 after 6 p.m.
Plath and Hughes would have used abbreviation to cut down on cost. And, it is possible my transcription is inaccurate as regards punctuation; neither the film with which I worked nor the printout were the greatest. However, spelled out the ad says the flat consists of two unfurnished rooms with kitchen and bathroom at six guineas per week on a renewable 17 month lease, plus a fee for fixtures and fittings (improvements) at £100.
As silly as it might seem, I felt and still feel an immense relief at finding this advert. It puts a piece of the puzzle together. Fills in a gap that I had always felt existed during this period of Plath's biography.
* 10 August 1961 was also the 20th anniversary of Plath's first appearance in print when her short poem "Poem" was published in the Boston Herald. Hard to fathom: 20 years!
|Former residence of the Wevill's|
10 Addison Gardens, London W14
(now 10 Lower Addison Gardens)
All links accessed 5 August 2014.