20 December 2015

Sylvia Plath 2015: Year in Review

In the past, the year in review has tried to summarize the small world of Sylvia Plath as I live it. I suspect this post will be no different. Rather than go through the blog month by month, I trust that the blog archive in the sidebar will be a sufficient way for many of you to access the posts that appeared in the calendar year 2015.

By and large this year was dominated for me in two respects. The first is the Letters of Sylvia Plath project, a book which I am co-editing with Karen V. Kukil of Smith College for Frieda Hughes to be published by Faber. From the beginning of the project which officially was underway in 2013 -- but which I have been working on since circa 2010 -- it has been a privilege to read, transcribe, annotate, index, etc. all of the known letters by Sylvia Plath. I am not at liberty to say too, too much about the letters or the project now but suffice it to say someday I will. Each and every one of the thousands of hours I have spent on this project has been with you, this readers of this blog as well as those who read Plath in general, in mind. I hope that you take as much enjoyment in reading the book as I have had in helping to prepare it for publication (at a to be determined future date). Here is a photograph of me signing the contract for this book next to the second draft!

There were not too many books to come out this year. Elizabeth Sigmund and Gail Crowther's Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning came out late in 2014. 2015 saw the publication of Julia Gordon-Bramer's Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath (Stephen F. Austin University Press) was published in January 2015. I have dipped into and out of Julia's book this year as I can but am ashamed to say I have not yet finished reading it. I have found it difficult to read about Sylvia Plath while I have been so intensely reading Sylvia Plath. In addition, there were two other academic press books to come out: Sylvia Plath and the Language of Affective States: Written Discourse and the Experience of Depression by Zsofia Demjen (Bloomsbury Academic) and Mirrors of Entrapment and Emancipation: Forugh Farrokhzad and Sylvia Plath by Leila Rahimi Bahmany (Leiden University Press).

Also published this year was the long awaited biography Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life by Jonathan Bate (William Collins, UK & Harper Collins, US). In late September and early October, it seemed the world was dominated by reviews, contention, and drama and somehow we have come out on the other side of all that. I was privileged to read and comment on the manuscript in the spring and am thrilled some of my corrections and/or suggestions were taken! Bate makes excellent use of archival resources, and his notes and citations for Hughes' letters, journals and poetry drafts is commendable. It will be immeasurably helpful for Hughes scholars and future Hughes biographers.

The second dominant aspect of this year for me in terms of Sylvia Plath was befriending her first best and lifelong friend Ruth (Freeman) Geissler. After reading Andrew Wilson's Mad Girl's Love Song back in 2013, I slowly and systematically tried to reach out to many of the people that Plath knew in the attempt to locate letters. I did not reach out to too many people who had already donated or sold letters to various archives as presumably they gave or sold everything they had. In late 2014, I wrote to 'Ruthie'. I did not hear anything for a few weeks but shortly into January and email popped up in my inbox from her and it was one of those heart-skips-a-beat moments. Initially we discussed Plath at length: from the letters that Ruth held, to photographs, handmade cards, clothing, etc. We discussed life in Winthrop and Wellesley in the 1940s as well as college life in the early 1950s and married life in the later 1950s. Our friendship developed through discussing Plath's stories and poems; particularly those stories that Ruth herself lived through and witnessed. When I work on any letter or ready a diary entry by Plath that mentions Ruth, a little spark of excitement goes through me. All the emails lead to a strong friendship, so strong in fact that we have inside jokes about things like meat (yuck), dandelions (bane of my existence), and dictums of balancing out my obsessive Plathian tendencies by taking my wife out for nice dates.

This was all fine and dandy until the recent weekend of 14 November when Karen Kukil and I drove out to meet Ruth. To quote Plath: "What a thrill"! We discussed Plath among other topics and had a wonderful five hours together over dinner one night and coffee and treats the next morning. A whirlwind weekend I hope repeat, repeat, repeat.

This year I spent a decent chunk of time also tracing down some press releases that Plath more than likely authored based on evidence in her letters, diaries and calendars, and other sources. This will be the subject of a forthcoming blog post in 2016. I did not find everything that Plath took notes on, which was frustrating, but it likely just meant that the article was not published due to space constraints in the respective newspapers.

I was able to find a couple of other things along the ways, such as a previously unacknowledged letter to the editor published in the March 1955 issue of Mademoiselle. In March of this year, I was able to spend four days at the Lilly Library, sleep deprived, doing research for the letters book. I accomplished a lot and still make use, nearly daily, of the information I obtained whilst there. Deepest gratitude to the staff there for being so accommodating.

Over on my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is, things were updated periodically (text, book covers and photographs) and mostly unacknowledged. I did add a new page to the Bibliography section: Articles of Sylvia Plath's First Suicide Attempt. This builds upon the previous bibliography of articles I published in my paper "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath" (2010).

This year has had far fewer blog posts than in years past. Sorry! But I hope the content that did appear continues to be relevant and interesting. This was because of the letters project and I hope that in 2016 I have more time to do more original blogging, reviews, and keeping more up-to-date on news stories on Plath as and when the come up (if they are interesting, most are not!). A lot of people did guest blog posts or gave me ideas for other posts this year which relieved a lot of stress and kept the blog going to regular updates. Thanks must therefore go out to Annette Stevens, Amanda Ferrara, Sheila Hamilton, Katie Mikulka, Peter Fydler, Tony Cockayne, and Gail Crowther.

Things to look forward to in 2016 and beyond. Heather Clark is still very hard at work on her new literary biography of Sylvia Plath, to be published by Knopf (see Plath Unbound here). There is a book for which I am particularly thrilled to give some advance promotion! Gail Crowther recently submitted her manuscripts titled The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath to Fonthill Media, publishers of her Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Look for The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath in mid-to-late 2016.

Thank you all for reading, following, commenting, encouraging, visiting, and supporting this blog. Your interest and enthusiasm fuels me beyond expression. Be safe and warm. Happy holidays and New Year. See you in 2016!

All links accessed 22 October, 10 November 2015, and 20 December 2015.


Right Mind Matters said...

Thanks for all the work you do, Peter, in the name of Plath. It is true devotion! I'd just like to add that my book, In their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses (Imprint Academic: Exeter) came out in August 2015. The final chapter, which one reviewer called the best, is about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. The Plath part is, in large part, the material found in my Plath Profiles article, but the Hughes part is all new. It's about his belief that he had discovered the differing roles of the left and right hemispheres based on Dostoevsky's differing eyes. I cite his letters; his Paris Review article; his reading of Graves and Frederick Myers; his intro to Coleridge's verse; his projected ideal of undivided animal consciousness; and his long tribute to the right hemisphere in Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. To his credit, he also recognized a top / down cerebral dichotomy, now recognized in science as a means to loosen creative links. Graves too had espoused this method, while denigrating Ouija boards and the like.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Carole - My apologies for missing your book. I think one when has their head so far up their @$$ these things tend to happen. I am glad, however, that you provided the information here for the readers to see.


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Thanks for the kind mention here, Peter, even if you have not read my book! ;-)

I have had a great year teaching online courses with Fixed Stars Govern a Life as the principle text at Lindenwood University, and have had some great response and more conferences to speak on my Plath findings in the new year.

I am so very excited about your work and can't wait until the letters project is complete. Best wishes to you and yours over these holidays.

A Piece of Plathery said...

Thank you Peter for your updates and for sharing what you can on the letters project. I am sure we all wait excitedly for sign of it impending publication. What a year! Plath still keeps bringing people together, inspiring works, and remaining popular and relevant. Merry Christmas.

boston12855 said...

Thank you, Peter, for all that you do to remind us that SP is decidedly in the present tense.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you all!!

Julia, Glad that you're able to teach from your book! I will have time to work on reading your book in 2016. Melanie & Shaun: My pleasure.

Merry Plathmas to all, and to all a great night!


Anonymous said...

Great work from you this year PKS - thanks for all the sharing. Absolutely lovely picture of you & Ruth.
Merry Plathmas,

Anonymous said...

We are all so used to the work you do I suppose we tend to take it for granted. But when one thinks about the consistency with which you post real and important research... well it's just super-human. You are the Cal Ripken of blog posting. Ironman.

Richard Marsh

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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.