Plath then saw much success between October 1952 and April 1953, practically owning page-space whilst appearing five times in those seven months (Plath did not appear in either November 1952 or February 1953). In that run of months and appearances, Plath's three poems and two stories were "The Perfect Setup (story, October 1952); "Twelfth Night" (poem, December 1952); "Initiation" (story, January 1953); "The Suitcases are Packed Again" (poem, March 1953); and "Carnival Nocturne" (poem, April 1953). Plath's poem "Sonnet to a Dissembling Spring" was accepted but never printed.
Plath's short story "Initiation" won second prize in the annual short-story contest held by Seventeen. The idea for the story, which was originally titled "Heather-Birds' Eyebrows", came out of Plath's own experiences in high school and was a long time in coming. Andrew Wilson relates a memory of Aurelia Plath's in his excellent 2013 biography Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted: "The [original] title [of "Heather-Birds' Eyebrows"] came from a conversation that occurred while Sylvia, 'carrying out orders during high school sorority hazing, asked people on the bus what they ate for breakfast,' recalled Aurelia. 'When she told me of the delightfully imaginative reply given by an elderly gentleman, I exclaimed, ‘There! You have a story!’'" (81-82)
Another possible inspiration for the story is Seventeen magazine itself. In November 1950, Plath's poem "Ode to a Bitten Plum" appeared; but also in this issue, a story called "Initiation Fee" by Rebecca Shallit (later, Rebecca Turtletaub). The tagline for the story reads, "Nothing in all the world seemed as important to Dodie as pledging the right sorority" (77).
|First page of "Initiation Fee" by Rebecca Shallit, |
from Seventeen, November 1950.
Shallit's story received many letters of praise to the editor in the months following its appearance. As a reader, as a contributor, and as a studier of the magazine, Plath had the perfect setup herself for being able to write on a similar theme but in her own voice and based on her own experiences.
Plath's 1950 appearances warranted some attention from Stookie Allen in January 1951. In the summer of 1951, Seventeen sent Plath "sent two brief mimeographed copies of eulogistic letters" for her story "Den of Lions" (Letters Home, page 72; please note the letter was written on 6 July 1951 and not 7 July 1951, as the book states). In looking through all the Seventeen magazines for the summer and fall of 1951, I could not find that these letters were ever printed; and the kind people at the Lilly Library were not able to find anything in the massive Plath archive there when asked. However, praise for Sylvia Plath did appear in print in the January, March, and April 1953 issues of Seventeen:
Plath received some praise in the magazine for "The Perfect Setup" and "Initiation". Below are some images of letters to the editor from appreciative early readers and followers of Plath.
On "The Perfect Setup", January 1953, page 4
On "Initiation", March 1953, page 4
On "Initiation", April 1953, page 4
You can see all the covers of Seventeen magazine where Plath's works appeared on the periodicals thumbnail page over at A celebration, this is.
All links accessed 15 November 2015. Post modified 1 March 2015.