20 September 2016

Guest Post: Visit to Heptonstall

The following is a guest blog post by Annika J. Lindskog from Sweden on her recent visit to Sylvia Plath's grave in Heptontsall. Thank you, Annika!

In June this year, I finally had the opportunity to visit a place I had long wished to see: Sylvia Plath's grave at Heptonstall in Yorkshire. Like many other Plathians, I hold a strange fascination for places associated with Plath and have previously visited many of the 'sites', both in the UK and the US (including a lovely and much appreciated tour around the Boston area with Peter in 2008). For someone who doesn't live in the UK, Heptonstall is a bit 'off', though, which is probably why it's taken me so long to get there.

Referring to Plath's grave as a 'site' feels a bit disrespectful to me, because it is a grave. I couldn't help but feel that visiting this grave felt a little like trespassing on somebody else's tragedy. Death is personal, after all. At the same, though, I wanted to visit Plath's grave because her writing has meant so much to me – more, perhaps, than any other writer. I wanted to pay my respects. (And, I should confess, I'm an avid literary tourist – my Yorkshire holiday also included two visits to Haworth, one to the house in Manchester where Charlotte Brontë began Jane Eyre, and one to Elizabeth Gaskell's home, also in Manchester. I love literary tourism – this was my dream vacation!)

Once in Yorkshire, getting to Heptonstall was easy. We were staying in Leeds for a couple of days – where I was supposed to be attending a conference about Virginia Woolf but mostly played hooky, because, well, Plath! Brontë! – and from there, we took the train to Hebden Bridge where we changed to a small bus, which drove us up the hill. On a poster, Hebden Bridge described itself as a place where you could 'soak up the cosmopolitan atmosphere and be part of [a] trendy café society'. Tempting as that sounded – especially for someone as obsessed with coffee as I am – we didn't look around except what we saw from the bus. It was very picturesque and the train station looked like it belonged in a costume drama set in the early twentieth century (the current station house was apparently built in the 1890s). The village itself felt exclusive, with lots of jewelry shops and other expensive-looking locations (my husband thought it had more of a new-age vibe – maybe we were looking out on opposite sides of the bus).

Heptonstall was very close to Hebden Bridge – about ten minutes on the small bus. It was situated on a hill and some of its streets were quite steep. Heptonstall, too, was very picturesque but not as touristy. There was no problem finding the churches – there are two, but one is in ruins. The 'new' one is from the middle of the nineteenth century. Plath's grave, likewise, is in the 'new' graveyard: an extension to the earlier graveyard, which, I suppose, filled up at some point.

Finding the actual grave took some time and resulted in two pairs of wet shoes – the grass was high and the whole cemetery somewhat overgrown. The grave itself was beautiful, though, and I kind of liked that we really had to look for it. It had more flowers growing on it than the other graves - mostly blue and pink flowers. The blue flowers, especially, caught my eye. They were intensely blue – the picture doesn't do them justice – and somehow fit so perfectly with the epitaph that Hughes chose for the stone: 'Even midst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted'.

I'm not quite sure what I expected from this visit. Standing at Plath's grave, I didn't feel much, except perhaps a sense of sadness and waste that she died so young. It felt a bit odd that a young American woman would end up in a churchyard on a hill in the middle of Yorkshire. At the same time, Heptonstall and the surrounding landscape – the moors – were striking in their raw beauty – an extreme kind of beauty that felt very fitting to Plath.

After returning with the mini-bus to Hebden Bridge, we took another bus that drove over the moors towards Haworth and that way we got to see more of the stunning landscape, which is what I'll remember most from this visit. 'The horizons ring me like faggots,/ Tilted and disparate, and always unstable'. Yes, indeed.


suki said...

Thank you Annika it's a lovely description.

Birgitta said...

Beautifully written.

Eva Stenskar said...

I agree, beautifully written. Vackert.

BridgetAnna said...

Lovely. Thank you so much for sharing.

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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.