01 March 2015

Sylvia Plath: Two Films

On Sunday 2 March 1958, Sylvia Plath wrote a letter to . . . her mother! I know! #Shocking. Wholly omitted from Letters Home but available to read at the Lilly Library, the typed letter was written on the now famous pink Smith College Memorandum paper. Among other things, Plath writes that the night before --1 March-- was spent lazily seeing two films: one on Goya and another on a documentary on a bullfighter.

The film on Spanish painter Francisco De Goya (info) was The Glory of Goya (1950) and featured music by Andres Segovia, a musician Plath saw perform at Smith College as an undergraduate on 10 April 1954.

The documentary on the bullfighter was the 1956 Mexican film Torero! (YouTube) about the Mexican bullfighter Luis Procuna (info).

The film on Goya is interesting as within three weeks Plath was on Spring Break, writing nearly a poem a day and all largely influenced by art, specifically modern art. Also this creative outbreak was inspired by both her auditing of Priscilla Van der Poel's course on modern art (Art 315) and receiving a request for poems from the magazine ARTNews. The course description for Van der Poel's Art 315 course reads: "Contemporary art and its backgrounds from Jacques Louis David and the French Revolution to the present. Open to sophomores by permission of the instructor. Open also in the second semester to students who have had a course in nineteenth-century art abroad. Recommended background, [Art] 11 [Introduction to the History of Art]. M T W 10" (49).

The French painter Jacques Louis David (info) was a contemporary of Goya's and both artists likely influenced the work of future artists to which Plath responded to verbally in her Spring Break poems inspired by Giorgio de Chirico, Henri Rousseau, Paul Klee, and Paul Gaugin.

The film names above were provided by Dianne Weiland, a College Archives Intern at Smith College. For her help and research on this I am extremely grateful. The films were listed in the 23 February 1958 issue of the Smith College Weekly Bulletin. Grateful thanks also must go to Nanci Young, College Archivist, of Smith College.

All links accessed 14 June 2014 and 19 February 2015.


boston12855 said...

Peter - will we ever live in a world where all of the Lily and Smith College libraries on Sylvia are entirely digitized? I would love to read all of her poems, short stories, and journal entries through her high school years, for instance! I would also love to read "America! America!" and "Beach Plum Season on Cape Cod."

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hi Boston12855,

Thank you for your comment. The short answer is probably not! Copyright for Plath will likely not expire in our lifetimes. And I think many people do not either understand or realize that posting images of archival materials online via Twitter and other social media is a violation of copyright. Doing so hurts the repository holding the material (which is my major concern) as well as the Estate of Sylvia Plath.

As such, the only way to read them is to visit the archive which is the best and mind-blowingest way to get a full un-biased (unless you bring one with you into the reading rooms) portrait of the real Sylvia Plath. I've found in doing my own archival research that no biography can capture her; it is up to each of us to do the leg work, to spend the hours traveling and reading and reading and reading.

For whatever it is worth: "America! America!" is in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams; and pieces like "Beach Plum Season at Cape Cod" are available both on microfilm as well as via the online archive ($$) of the Christian Science Monitor (advanced search).


Devan Gill said...

I would love to visit the Lilly Library archive someday. It's definitely on my bucket list because I've felt an artistic kinship with Plath since I first stumbled across her work at 15. And you are right about the value of seeing archival material firsthand. It's a very unique experience and well worth the effort.

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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 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, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • 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: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • 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.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (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, Volume 1, 1940-1956. 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. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • 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. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • 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. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.