01 September 2016

A Sylvia Plath Tour

On 18 August, I was fortunate to give a tour of some Sylvia Plath sites to four women involved in the current The Bell Jar film adaptation: Kirsten Dunst (director), Dakota Fanning (lead actress), Lizzie Friedman (Producer, Priority Pictures), and Brittany Kahan (Producer, Echo Lake Entertainment). To my surprise, I was not nearly as nervous as I thought I would be. In part because I know the sites like the back of my hand, and also because all four were very relaxed and engaging and put me instantly at ease.

We started in Winthrop where we saw Plath's house at 92 Johnson Avenue before carrying on to Deer Island and Point Shirley were we experienced Plath's writings in living color. Armed with the Journals of Sylvia Plath, her Collected Poems, and of course a copy of The Bell Jar, I read selected passages in situ which helped contextualize the real places Plath wrote about in her works. This exercise illustrated how she may have made creative changes after recording them in her journal as she re-wrote them in poetry and prose.

Water Tower Hill and Yirrel Beach from Deer Island,Winthrop
After this, we shuttled over to the grave of Otto Plath in Winthrop Cemetery and had an amble through the three separate yards before pausing for a good while at Plath's father's grave. This is always my favorite part of the tour because of how Plath reworked the experience of visiting the cemetery in her journals into other creative forms. I also find that everyone who visits these places reacts in quite similar ways but at the same time with complete uniqueness. Like Plath wrote: "It is good to have the place in mind."

"They always knew it was you."
Dunst, Mr Sylvia Plath Info, and Fanning at Otto Plath's grave.
The day was quite hot and so we left the open, bright expanse of Winthrop for the "motherly breath of the suburbs" in Wellesley. It was here where we had perhaps the highlight of the day: a in-house tour of 26 Elmwood Road. This was quite a moving and privileged experience. It was my second time in the house and I was able to observe more and gain a greater appreciation for its layout. Being there, too, on a hot summer day was actually informative as it kind of gave an indication why Plath may have so enjoyed summer camps and other experiences away from the house once she was in college.

Ladies and the tramp:
Kahan, Fanning, Steinberg, Friedman, and Dunst.
Following lunch, we drove to the tour's last stop: McLean Hospital. We drove around the "campus" and as we did this I pointed out which buildings where which as they appeared in The Bell Jar and what they are called in actuality: Belsize was Belknap; Caplan was Codman; and Wymark was Wyman.

Then, sadly, I had to drop them back off at their hotel. It was an amazing day. The time went by quickly - a little too quickly as good times often do. But, also, I feel things were paced in such a way that it was not overwhelming. I was really happy that I did not make a complete fool out of myself, and also that I neither cut myself shaving that morning nor drooled or dripped salad dressing down my shirt. Phew! It is the little things... We had lots of great conversations and they asked fantastic questions - but please do not ask about that!

At their hotel, I admit I became a cheesy-fan and asked Kirsten and Dakota to sign the copy of The Bell Jar that I used for this tour.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Faber, 1967.

8 comments :

suki said...

I'm going to read poems and think, I will see these places shortly....

P.H.Davies said...

Peter - you're becoming a celebrity fraternising with all these A-Listers! Love the signed Bell Jar!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Sue! It was good practice for your tour later this year. Get ready!

Mr PH! Well, they may be A-Listers but I'm squarely set at ZZZZ.

~pks

A Piece of Plathery said...

Excitement :)

Eva Stenskar said...

Ah, good for you! And what a treat for them.

Anonymous said...

I am honored to be stamped on, but how could they know it was me? ~ Otto

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Fun! I was just visiting all of these sites only a few weeks ago (though not in the Wellesley house, of course). It is a great feeling to be there. I fell in love with Winthrop in a way I did not expect. I hope they do The Bell Jar justice. It is great to know they care as much as they do.

m a r i e said...

It is awesome. Finally, a movie based on The Bell Jar is 100% real!!!

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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.

Interviews