do you realize the illicit sensuous delight I get from picking my nose? I always have, ever since I was a child -- there are so many subtle variations of sensation. A delicate, pointed-nailed fifth finger can catch under dry scabs and flakes of mucous in the nostril and draw them out to be looked at, crumbled between fingers, and flicked to the floor in minute crusts. Or a heavier, determined forefinger can reach up and smear down-and-out the soft, resilient, elastic greenish-yellow smallish blobs of mucous, roll them round and jelly-like between thumb and forefinger, and spread them on the under surface of a desk or chair where they will harden into organic crusts. How many desks and chairs have I thus secretively befouled since childhood? (165)What else was she supposed to do? What with her broken leg and experiencing another Massachusetts winter!
On a research trip to Smith College last year, I was talking with College Archivist Nanci Young about the college atmosphere in the 1950s during Plath's time as both a student and a teacher. I was trying to get a more authentic perspective for the look and feel of Smith College at this time as I thought it might lend some authority to the notes I was writing for the Plath Letters project. I was initially interested in traditional archival materials like photographs, yearbooks, or even newspaper articles. But I wanted something more visual, if you will, something three dimensional. Nanci mentioned to me that Smith still holds scores of the old desks from that time period. As a side note, and a way to possibly explain this, the College Archives and Mortimer Rare Book Room are in the process of merging to become a single entity in the Neilson Library under the name Department of Hoardology. Nanci will oversee the operation as the Chief Hoarding Officer (CHO). She expressed absolute delight, "I'm chuffed to be the CHO! Overnight, very quietly, I get more stuff. It's all about the stuff, anyway. We are a library, we are an archive. Yes. But it's time to face the truth: we're hoarders at heart. That's the reason for the name."
|Classroom, undated photograph, |
The Lilly Library at Indiana University at Bloomington sent some of Plath's hair to Smith and from that, a DNA profile was established. Smith College's head of Rhinology, Dr. Sy Nusshaft, conducted the extensive testing on the desks. Taking a few hundred scraping samples from the desks, the initial results were quite grim. However, after three months positive results came back on three of the 36 desks! Each of the desks will take turn on a rotating display in the Mortimer Rare Book Room. If additional desks are identified, they will likely be auctioned off. One will feature in the 2017 One Life: Sylvia Plath exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Due to concerns over copyright it is not possible at this time to post photographs of the befouled desks as according to US copyright law, mucous counts as a product (a creative work of the nose) of the author. Visitors to Smith College can see the desk, sit in it(!), and take personal use photographs.