01 February 2015

Sylvia Plath and the BBC Genome

The BBC has recently launched something called BBC Genome (currently in BETA). The site "contains the BBC listings information which the BBC printed in Radio Times between 1923 and 2009. You can search the site for BBC programmes, people, dates and Radio Times editions."

As you might have guessed, I searched for … Sylvia Plath. I also searched Ted Hughes and Frieda Hughes.

The website offers two major ways to access listing information. One is a blanket, standard search (with advanced searching available, too). Another is to browse the separate issues of Radio Times (and by doing so, you can see a select few of the actual covers -- greedily I would love to see them all). I like both methods, but have to admit it is easier to search the Radio Times listings if I know the exact date for the broadcast in which I am interested. For example, Sylvia Plath's "Three Women" was broadcast on 19 August 1962, and thus appeared in the 16 August 1962 issue of Radio Times in the Third Programme section. It is fascinating to see what else was on at the time, and to try to guess whether Plath listened to the other programs on at the time. "Three Women" was re-broadcast on 13 September 1962, which was when she was in Ireland. In browsing the search results, I learned that Plath's novel The Bell Jar was dramatized on the BBC's Radio 3 on 29 December 1974 (and again on 1 February 1976). The adaptation was about 70-80 minutes in duration. Would love to hear it. (Hint hint.)  And review it. (Hint hint).

The data in many of these search results is not as granular as I would like, but I am perhaps unreasonable given the massive breadth of what the BBC would have to do to present all the information. Such as I would love the site to present the poems read by title. Through my own research and consulting published works by Stephen Tabor and Kate Moses, among others, I have captured this level of detail on my website for Sylvia Plath, so at least I feel we are covered from that angle. But, my website really only concerns itself with broadcasts during Plath's life time. And what you see in BBC Genome is the fuller history of Plath herself on the British radio (during her lifetime and posthumously) but also those programmes that she may have listened to during her time at Cambridge, in London, and in Devon. Plath regularly listened, for example, to foreign language programmes in German and Italian, which is noted in her 1962 Letts Calender.

Listing for dramatization
of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar,
from The Listener.
The BBC's other publication, The Listener, is also available online (news about it here). However, unlike the Genome, The Listener Historical Archive is not free. Though some might find access to it as I did through their local public and/or college libraries. Also a terrifically vital resource, The Listener archives should certainly please you. The page images (an example is to the right), are accessed via full-text search capability that is very accurate, are in full color and are downloadable. If you are interested in seeing the covers of Listener issues that featured Plath's poems, please head over to the periodical covers page on A celebration, this is. But, please do not forget to come back.

If you have access to both the BBC Genome and The Listener . . .  well, let's just say you can and should call it a party.

All in all, BBC Genome is a wonderful resource. The website is easy to use and to navigate, and I get a certain thrill being able to browse the Radio Times this way knowing that Plath, herself a subscriber to the Radio Times, browsed it in the original version. Many of the Genome's pages are already cached by Google, so you can always quickly search "Sylvia Plath" "BBC genome" and feel happy about the results. Go on, get lost in history.

Kind thanks to Dr Ann Skea for letting me know about the resource.

All links accessed 8, 20, 28 January 2015.

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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.