20 January 2017

Elizabeth Sigmund (1928-2017)



As a result of Alison Flood's article "Sylvia Plath's Three Women to be staged in London" in The Guardian, I met Elizabeth Sigmund, who passed away peacefully at her home in Cornwall on Friday, 6 January 2017. Shortly after the article ran my mobile phone rang with an English phone number showing up on the caller-ID. It was Elizabeth, calling to discuss my quotes in the piece and to discuss Plath. We became fast friends. Elizabeth was like that -- instantly likable. We spoke on the phone periodically after that -- it was always a fulfilling thrill to speak to her: especially in July when I'd call her on her birthday and sing to her, and the next day she'd call me on mine and sing back to me. She possessed a beautiful and inviting speaking voice, a vibrant and contagious laugh, and had the amazing ability to make any day we spoke both brighter and happier.

In March 2013, when Gail Crowther and I gave a preview talk for our paper "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past" at Plymouth University in England, we made a side trip to meet Elizabeth and her husband William at their home. Without Gail's navigation, I am confident I never would have found the house, nestled deep in the country. That day was miserably cloudy and rainy, but we were greeted warmly inside with excellent conversation and tea. To say the occasional was a memorable highlight of my years spent studying and discussing Sylvia Plath is an understatement.

There will be better obituaries and tributes to Elizabeth Sigmund than this post will provide by people that knew her much better. It was a privilege to introduce my best friend, Gail Crowther, to Elizabeth, and to work with them on various projects such as their essay "A Poem, A Friend" and their resultant book, Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. I was chuffed to be asked to write the introduction to it. As I say in that, "Sylvia Plath is a connective figure."

Elizabeth and Sylvia Plath met in Devon in 1962 almost by chance after Plath and Ted Hughes's 1961 BBC radio interview "Two of a Kind: Poets in Partnership". As a result of that meeting, the two young women became immediate friends. Friends, indeed, with a bond so strong that within months Plath was to dedicate her novel, The Bell Jar, to Elizabeth and her then husband David Compton. Elizabeth was a vital woman who was unafraid to support and defend Plath after her death. I feel like Elizabeth's passing is a monumental loss both to a connection to Plath and to Plath's memory.

In addition to various letters to the editor, an essay entitled "Sylvia, 1962: A Memoir" (New Review, May 1976 and Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work, ed. Edward Butscher), and Sylvia Plath in Devon, Elizabeth was the author of the book Rage Against the Dying: Campaign Against Chemical and Biological Warfare (London: Pluto Press, 1980). Later, Elizabeth was the subject of an impressive article in The Independent in 1995. It gives a wonderful glimpse at how formidable she was, and how interesting, too.

Our thoughts and prayers go to her husband, William, and to her children and grandchildren. The celebration of Elizabeth's life and funeral ceremony were held on 17 January in Buckfastleigh, South Devon. Gail Crowther attended and read "When Great Trees Fall" by Maya Angelou.

Elizabeth was much loved and will be greatly missed.

Rest in Peace, Elizabeth.



Elizabeth Sigmund with Gwyneth Paltrow


All links accessed 6 January 2017.

3 comments :

suki said...

Thanks for this Peter

A Piece of Plathery said...

Thank you for this tribute Peter.

Anonymous said...

A committed woman. A loyal friend. An excellent post.
Cath

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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.

Interviews