23 March 2016

Sylvia Plath Collections: Letters to Marion Freeman

In December 2015, Ruth Geissler (nee Freeman) donated twelve letters from Sylvia Plath to her mother Marion Freeman to Smith College in honor of her daughter Susan, Smith class of 1978. In my 2015: Year in Review post,  I wrote a little bit about befriending Ruth as part of the forthcoming Letters of Sylvia Plath book. There, I mention that I Karen V. Kukil and I visited Ruth in November but what was absent from the post was our purpose... Which was to collect the letters from Ruth, meeting at the time two of her daughters, Susan and Joan.

The cache of twelve letters complements the Mortimer Rare Book Room's holdings of other Plath correspondence, joining letters to the late Marcia Brown Stern, Ann Davidow-Goodman, Philip McCurdy, Elinor Friedman Klein, Hans-Joachim Neupert, and Clarissa Roche.

The dates of the twelve letters are as follows:

16 April 1946
4 November 1946
17 November 1951
1 January 1952
1 August 1952
16 January 1954
28 April 1955
circa 12 December 1956
28 March 1961
26 October 1961
31 January 1962
28 March 1962

But how did the letters get to Smith? I emailed Ruth in December 2014 to see if she had any letters for the book. She wrote back that she did and set about making scans of them for me. I could never have fathomed that the simple query would lead within the year to the letters finding their way to the Mortimer Rare Book Room. I was and am really happy to have played a contributing role to seeing these letters placed in such a respected archive. Recently, Smith College published an article about this gift, "Letters to a 'Second Mother': New Items in Smith Collection Show Another Side of Sylvia Plath '55". As Ruth says in the article, when she found the letters she knew immediately they "belong" at Smith College.

The letters are available for reading in the Mortimer Rare Book Room and add valuable perspective to Plath's relationship to the Freeman family.

A list of archival collections of Sylvia Plath materials is on my website, A celebration, this is.

Update: A subsequent piece entitled "In Letters At Smith, A Glimpse at Lesser-Known Side of Sylvia Plath" appeared on New England Public Radio about the letters on 16 May 2016. Unfortunately absent is any mention of the Letters of Sylvia Plath.

All links accessed 3 February and 18 March 2016 and 19 May 2016; post revised slightly on 19 May 2016.

16 March 2016

Sylvia Plath Bonhams Auction: The Results

Bonhams Knightsbridge held a Fine Books, Atlases and Manuscripts auction today 16 March 2016.

There were six lots of Sylvia Plath items, Lots 140-145. All lots sold and the typed letter in a birthday card was the big seller. Congrats to the owner(s) of this material!

Here follows the results:

Lot 140
Sylvia Plath
Autograph drafts, notes, drawings and doodles for her story "Stardust", comprising a page of fairy sketches (with three red lipstick kisses applied by the author), [1946-47]
Sold for £5,000 / US$7,088

Lot 141
Sylvia Plath
Birthday card to her mother with autograph message signed ("much love to my favourite mummy! your Sivvy"), with a long typed letter within, Friday, 24 April [1953]
Sold for £6,000 / US$8,605

Lot 142
Sylvia Plath
Collection of typescripts of nine early poems, including "Ice Age", "In Memoriam", "Incident", "Crossing the Equinox" and others
The other poems are: "I Have Found the Perfect World", "Have You Forgotten?", "Humoresque", "Gone is the River", and "Gold Mouths Cry" ["The Bronze Boy"]
Sold for £3,500 / US$4,962

Lot 143
Sylvia Plath
Group of six typescript poems, including "Female Author', most with autograph revisions or corrections, all but the first with her name ("Sylvia Plath") and address at Lawrence House, Smith College, typed at the head, Lawrence House, Smith College [1954-55]
The other poems are: "On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover", "Morning in the Hospital Solarium", "Prologue to Spring", "Trio of Love Songs" ["Parallax"], and "The Trial of Man"
Sold for £3,750 / US$5,316

Lot 144
Sylvia Plath
Two typed and autograph drafts of her poem "Admonitions" (here entitled "'Never Try to Know More Than You Should'", above a quotation from Paradise Lost), [1954-5]
Sold for £4,750 / US$6,734

Lot 145
Sylvia Plath
Two photographs given by Sylvia Plath to her mother Aurelia, the first showing her and her husband Ted Hughes, the second showing her in a garden wearing a sundress [The second photograph dates to July-August 1949 and was taken in the yard at 26 Elmwood Road, Wellesley.]
Sold for £2,375 / US$3,367

Unrelated to the above, an addition Sylvia Plath related item was included in the auction:
Lot 146
Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar, First Edition, Heinemann, 1963
Sold for £3,750 / US$5,316



All links accessed 16 March 2016.

08 March 2016

Esther Greenwood Hates Technicolour

According to the mimeographed schedule of Sylvia Plath's appointments while a Guest Editor at Mademoiselle, on 17 June 1953, she and the other Guest Editors to attend a tea at Vanity Fair (640 Fifth Avenue) at 3 pm, and then at 8 pm (probably) a film preview of Let's Do It Again (IMDb ; Wikipedia) at Columbia Pictures, 729 Seventh Avenue, New York, New York. However this was the day the editors were all down with ptomaine poisoning so...

Anyway, in The Bell Jar, there is the most memorable scene before the ptomaine takes hold in the cinema:
The movie was very poor. It starred a nice blonde girl who looked like June Allyson but was really somebody else, and a sexy black-haired girl who looked like Elizabeth Taylor but was also somebody else, and two big, broad-shouldered bone-heads with names like Rick and Gil. 
It was a football romance and it was in technicolour. 
I hate technicolour. Everybody in a technicolour movie seems to feel obliged to wear a lurid costume in each new scene and to stand around like a clothes-horse with a lot of very green trees or very yellow wheat or very blue ocean rolling away for miles and miles in every direction. 
THE first edition
Most of the action in this picture took place in the football stands, with the two girls waving and cheering in smart suits with orange chrysanthemums the size of cabbages on their lapels, or in a ballroom, where the girls swooped across the floor with their dates, in dresses like something out of Gone With the Wind, and then sneaked off into the powder-room to say nasty intense things to each other. 
Finally I could see the nice girl was going to end up with the nice football hero and the sexy girl was going to end up with nobody, because the man named Gil had only wanted a mistress and not a wife all along and was now packing off to Europe on a single ticket. (1963: 43)

The point of this post is to ask you for your help as I'm not well-educated on 1950s cinema. Does anyone know the name of this film that Plath describes in the novel? Thank you for your help.

All links accessed 8 March 2016.

01 March 2016

Sylvia Plath and Smith College's Campus Cat


The Campus Cat,
Commencement 1952
In the spring of 1952, Sylvia Plath was a very active young woman at Smith College. Completing her sophomore year, Plath was doing well academically, but also socially and in terms of extracurricular activities. She was involved with Press Board, covering campus events as well as sending out news stories to local papers. But she was also involved with a small publication called the The Campus Cat.

The Campus Cat was a publication created by Smith students in 1918. Its contents provided information to the campus about going-ons, events, activities, and poked fun at the rituals, trials, and stresses of academia and life on the Smith campus.

Contributions to the periodical were anonymous, though the contributors were listed in the front of the magazine. In her 1952 calendar, held by the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington, Plath has three reminders on 3, 7, and 14 May 1952. On the 3rd she worked on writing her piece; on the 7th there was a meeting; and on the 14th there was a meeting and her "story" was due. This was new to me, as it does not appear in any bibliography: perhaps as the publication was anonymous. Plath's work on The Campus Cat is mentioned briefly in Carl Rollyson's 2013 biography American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath.

Table of Contents of The Campus Cat
On a trip to Smith College on 31 March 2015, I looked at the Campus Cat records and was very happy to find Plath listed as a contributor to the "Commencement 1952" issue of the periodical. Below is a list of the articles and features in the issue. Many of the titles appear in the table of contents one way, and under a different name on the page on which they appear. Those alternate titles are in square brackets.

"The Cat's Eye"; "The Core of the Matter" ["On the relative importance of the Apple in History or The Core of the Matter"];
"Wednesday Song" ["Il Wednesdoroso"];
"Bermuda" ["Bermuda Buggy Ride"];
"Dearie" ["Dearie; do you remember when "];
"On My Malocclusion";
"Fully two, you're famous" ["Fifty-two you're famous"];
"The Bowlegged Dinosaur"; and
"The Cliché Expert" ["The Cliche Export: Paradise Lost Revisited"].

"The Cat's Eye" section featured short pieces with separate titles:

"Spring Comes to Paradise Road";
"On Seeing One's Self in a Mirror";
"T.V. or Not T.V.";
"Ve-ry Funny!";
"The Athletes";
"Be Mine -- For Now";
"Thought for the Day";
"Who?";
"Why -- Hello!";
"And Hello To You, Too!";
"Reflection on Ivy Day"; and
"'She's Got It By Going 'BRRR' In Front of Bergdorf's', Peter Arno".

Blurry/fuzzy list of Contributors,
Plath among them
But as stated above the pieces were printed without attribution so pinning down exactly which article was authored by Plath might difficult, if not impossible, in the absence of any typescript or other document confirming authorship. The full list of authors in this issue were: Paula Granger, Ag Hawkins, Diana Yates, Ga Snikwah, Paula Shiff, Marj Wedin, Sylvia Plath, Betty Nore, Sue Schuster, and J. Gregg.

The Smith College archives holds material on the Campus Cat which includes most issues of the magazine, press releases and other Campus Cat related publications.

All links accessed 3 April 2015 and 26 February 2016.
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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.

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