15 January 2019

There's Something About (Sylvia Plath's) Mary (Ventura)

There is something about Mary Ventura...

Sylvia Plath's recently published story, "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom", is the first new fictional prose of Plath's published in the US (or any country, really), since 1970s. As such, it is appropriate for there to be some media attention about it.

However, some of that media attention sprung up due to poor word choices and possibly a general ignorance or a misunderstanding about libraries, archives, typescripts, etc. It needs a hashtag and a -gate, though, in order to truly achieve the sublime and the ridiculous. Is it #MaryGate? #LostGate?

The Lilly Library raised questions about The New Yorker's use of the term "lost" in a series of tweets, which lead to an article by Sarah Bahr in the Indianapolis Star. (Please note that in the Star piece, Plath won Mademoiselle's College Fiction contest in 1952, not 1951. And The New Yorker incorrect reports that Judith Raymo found the story in the archives. She purchased it via auction. See below for more information on that.)

There are at least three histories to "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom". The first is its composition. The second is Plath's title change and revision. The third concerns its whereabouts.

The Composition of "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom"

Plath wrote "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" in December 1952 for her creative writing course English 347a, Style and Form, taught by Robert Gorham Davis. Attempts to locate the course syllabus have not been fruitful, but I thank Nanci Young at Smith College for searching on my behalf. The copy Plath submitted for her course, which has both her instructor's comments and her revisions, is held in Plath mss II at the Lilly Library.

Plath's notes for the course, also held by the Lilly, show perhaps some of the ideas she sought to incorporate into the story. There are two pages of notes though one page is torn and likely contained quite useful information). Her notes list words like symbolism, occult, fantastic, anxiety, fear, catharsis, pity, and terror. She cites E.T.A. Hoffman's short story "The Sandman" and "The Night of Storm", which may be referring to the poem by Paul Fort. In her notes she has something about the "east", and this is where the page is torn. The following line does mention "west"; but it is unclear due to the tearing if she made notes on the north and south. The north of course could be pertinent as this is where the train "Mary Ventura" is on which is hurtling towards the Ninth Kingdom.

Between getting the story back and January 1953, Plath revised it—what else did she have to do, what with her "FABULOUS FRACTURED FIBULA" and all (Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, page 538). On 21 January 1953, Plath wrote to her mother:
Here is the story: not as good as it looked when I first wrote it, but I’ll give it a try. After you type it, please send it right off in a brown envelope to [Mademoiselle]... Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, page 553.
That copy of the story was rejected by Mademoiselle in March 1953 and it became the copy text for the various 2019 publications. There are textual differences between the Lilly copy (19 pages and to Plath's count 5,000 words) and the revised copy (23 pages; 22 pages plus a title page, and about 5,400 words).

"Marcia Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom"

In December 1954, Plath massively revised story and changed its title to "Marcia Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" as she considered submitting it to the Christophers contest. (See Letters, Volume 1, pages 876-7.) Plath wrote a one-page introduction to the story entitled "Teen-Agers Can Shape The Future" which serves as a kind of authorial commentary on the text; however, it was clearly written with the Christophers in mind so may be read with that in mind.

"Marcia Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" is also in Plath mss II at the Lilly. There is a 13-page draft with much revision; and then a 6 page story, with a one-page introduction for which there is a top and carbon copy. The "Marcia Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" is so cut-down I consider it a separate story.

Mary's Whereabouts: Or, Mary Ventura: Typescript Detective

First up is the Lilly Library's draft. That was with Sylvia Plath and then Aurelia Plath from 1952/3 until 1977 when Mrs. Plath sold the papers to the Lilly Library. Not lost. Just unpublished and if you want to be honest, with the exception of Luke Ferretter's Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study (2010), largely critically ignored. I am guilty of this, myself, as I did not read the story until 2015 and that was on my fifth or so visit the the Lilly. The story has been available in the archive, cared for expertly by its custodians and used by some of its users.

I have been lucky in that I have known about this revised copy of the story, and have had access to it and the ability to do research on it, since 2016.

The press has frequently called the story "lost". This is a complete misnomer for it has never been lost; it has just been in private hands, which is not the same thing. In fact the story's whereabouts has a very clear line of ownership.

When Sylvia Plath received the story back from Mademoiselle, she took it home with her to Wellesley.  It remained in Wellesley for nearly thirty years, from 1953 until it was sold via a Sotheby's auction in 1982.

Thirty-two years later it was part of the big December 2014 Sotheby's auction which failed to sell (see this blog post also, please, which discusses the aforementioned 1982 auction). Then it then reappeared for sale as an individual lot in a Bonhams auction on 15 June 2016.

Since it has been publicized, the winner of that lot in 2016 was Judith G. Raymo, a graduate herself of Smith College who, in the spring of 1953, was also in the running with Plath for a Guest Editorship at Mademoiselle.

So the line of ownership is this:

1953-1982: Sylvia Plath/Aurelia Schober Plath
1982-2016: Private owner/collector
2016-    : Judith Raymo

In other words: not "lost". There has also been some confusion about the different copies of "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom". So, again, there are only two extant copies of the story "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom". There is the original version held by the Lilly Library. And, there is the revised, final version which is owned now by Judith Raymo and which provided the text for teh published copy. That's it.

The typescript of "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" and the rejection letter were displayed in Raymo's 2017 Grolier Club exhibit: "This is the light of the mind . . ." Selections from the Sylvia Plath Collection of Judith G. Raymo. In addition to being published now, I have heard that "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" will appear later this spring in Hudson Review.

I am now off the soapbox.

If you are interested about the real Mary Ventura, please make sure to look at Plath's adolescent diaries held by the Lilly Library, her published JournalsThe Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, and my blog post: "Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura".

All links accessed 7 and 15 January 2019.

07 January 2019

Dating Sylvia Plath's Journals: Part II

Back on 15 April 2014, I did a blog post on "Dating Sylvia Plath's Journals". The point of it was to show how the Letters of Sylvia Plath, in conjunction with additional archival resources--Plath's and otherwise--could be used to date undated entries in Plath's journals. Now that both volumes are published and I had a bit more time on my hands, I revisited Plath's published Journals to see how many more entries could be dated exactly, approximately, or just not at all.

There is not much to criticize about the published Journals, but I have always wished there were supplied dates for undated entries. Using a variety of resources, including Plath's letters, wall and pocket calendars, and other archival resources, I have gone through the book and assigned exact and circa dates for the undated entries. I hope that you find this useful. And, please let me know if I am incorrect with any of these, or if you have information which can help more accurately date an entry or date one I did not.

The structure below is the journal entry number, the page number from the 2000 Faber/Anchor edition on which the entry begins, and then the supplied dates. Journal entries where no date could be established are not included here; but they will be added in the event information can lead to doing so.

1950-1953 Journal

Entry Number        Page Number        Date(s)
4 8 ca. 11-15 July 1950
6 9 1 August 1950
10 12 19 or 26 August 1950
11 13 ca. 20 August-4 September 1950
13 16 ca. 26 August
15 16 ca 27 August 1950
20 19 ca. 11 September 1950
28 21 ca. 21 September 1950
31 23 ca 4 November 1950
34 27 ca. 4 October 1950
35 28 20 November 1950
36 29 26 November 1950
37 31 ca. 15 December 1950
38 33 ca, January 1951
39 34 ca. January 1951
40 34 ca. 21 January 1951
44 39 ca. 21-24 January 1950
45 40 ca. 3 December 1950
49 44 after 11 January 1951
51 46 ca. 29 January 1951
56 50 ca. 10 March 1951
57 51 ca. 10 March 1951
58 51 ca. 10 March 1951
59 52 23 March 1951
62 54 29 March 1951
63 54 ca. 29-30 March 1951
63 54 ca. 30-31 March 1951
64 56 9 April 1951
65 57 ca. 18 April 1951
71 59 ca. 4 May 1951
82 66 15 June 1951
83 67 ca. 8-10 July 1951
85 70 ca. 12 July 1951
86 70 ca. 12 July
87 71 ca. 14 July 1951
90 74 ca. 14 July 1951
91 75 ca. 17 July 1951
93 77 ca. 17-18 July 1951
94 77 19 July 1951
95 78 19 July 1951
96 78 ca. 19 July 1951
97 80 ca. 20 July 1951
98 80 ca. 25 July 1951
99 81 ca. 30 July 1951
100 82 ca. 30 July 1951
101 82 1 August 1951
102 83 1 August 1951
103 83 ca. 1 August 1951
104 84 ca. 4-5 August 1951
106 85 ca. 3 August 1951
107 86 19 August 1951
115 89 ca. 24 August 1951
117 90 30 August 1951
118 93 ca. 31 August 1951

In the above section, one of the more fun finds was in entry 107, which reads in part:
In the newspaper, the dead lock over a Korean armistice is still going on; a widow Tabor's letter about saving face and squeezing out more than a stalemate of the Chinese forces is getting a big play; Anglo-Iranian crisis is still rampant; senate voting a cut in foreign aid . . (bad sign?) and on page 14 Mrs. MacGonigle, age 103, tells how to live to a ripe maturity: "Eat lots of fish and keep away from busses and trains."
As Plath was in Swampscott, I figured she was reading The Boston Globe. So I went to their online archive and found the story on Mrs. McGonigle which was published on 19 August 1951. Back when the Journals were being prepared this would have been required using microfilm, but still the information was then available.

The article  was on page 41, not page 14 as Plath wrote. Some of the other articles mentioned are:

There were a couple of articles on the Korean situation. As Plath was in the C-Section of the paper, a possible article mentioning the armistice is "Reds Threaten Air Attacks If Truce Talks Fail" on C1. This may also be the second article Plath refers to about the stalemate and saving face... I found nothing in the paper by or about a 'widow Tabor'.

"Counter Offer by Iran Keeps Oil Talks Alive" (page C65).

"More Foreign Aid Cuts by Senate Units Seen" (page C1).

Beginning with journal entry number 122, still in the 1950-1953 journal, and continuing through the end of her available journals, Plath more regularly, more religiously, dated her journal entries. So there are fewer in the below table that were undated by Plath.

Entry Number         Page Number        Date(s)
131 122 6 August 1952
132 122 ca. 6 August 1952
139 131 ca. 18-19 August 1952
144 138 ca. 25 August 1952
150 143 after 1 September 1952
152 147 20 September 1952
153 148 20 September 1952
170 174 ca. 18 February 1953

The following are for the Appendices. I flit between half-wishing and full-on wishing that they would have been inserted into the main body of the text so that there would not be the need to flip back and forth. In fact, the necessity of doing that for the endnotes, alone, in the Journals encouraged me to press for footnotes rather than endnotes in the Letters so that all relevant information would be on the immediate page(s).

Appendix 2

Entry Number        Page Number        Date(s)  
Appendix 2 538 ca. 7 January 1953

Appendix 5

Entry Number        Page Number        Date(s)
Appendix 5 543 ca. 4 July 1953

Appendix 10

Entry Number        Page Number        Date(s)
Drawing: Shoes 572 26 June 1956
Drawing: Kiosk 573 ca. 26 June 1956
14[b] 574 26 June 1956
17 [b] 574 3 July 1956
19[b] 575 ca. 6 July 1956
31[a] 579 ca. 19-20 September 1956
31[b] 580 24 September 1956
32[a] 581 24 September 1956
32[b] 581 24 September 1956
40[a] 586 ca. 1 September 1957-31 August 1958
42[b] 588 ca. Spring 1959 (before 20 May)
44[a-b]-46[a] 589 ca. 30 December 1958
47[a]-[b] 594 ca. 16 January 1959
52[a]-55[a] 595 ca. 27 October 1960

Appendix 11

Entry Number        Page Number        Date(s)
4[a] 609 ca. 19-20 June 1957
5[a]-7[b] 609 ca. 20-25 June 1957
12[a-b] 612 ca July-August 1957
26[b]-27[a] 612 ca. July-August 1957
41[a] 615 ca. August 1957-ca. 19 July 1958
41[b or c] 615 cac. 16-17 January 1959
97 [a-c] 616 ca. June 1957-ca. June 1960

Appendix 15

This appendix is largely dated. However the initial entries for many of the dossier-like impressions on Plath's North Tawton acquaintances are not. Plath's 1962 Royal Letts calendar has 'NT Notebook' listed on two days: 12 and 14 February 1962. The entry for 14 February also indicates Plath wrote in her 'DIARY'. O! To have that diary... So it is clear from the Letts and from her journal entries on the Tyrers, Winifred Davies, Mrs. Hamilton, the Webbs, and the Keys that she was getting into the swing of her surveillance at this time. Several North Tawtonians and other Devonians then came onto the scene such as the entries for the Watkins', Nancy Axworthy, Mr Ellis, Charlie Pollard, and the Billyealds are all fully dated. Mr Ellis, from 4 July, is the last dated entry in the 'journal' as clearly the disruption in the marriage several days later likely prevented Plath from maintaining her pace and contacts with her neighbors. A lot of episodes recorded in this Appendix can be dated using a variety of sources. I wish Plath had written up her visits with Elizabeth Sigmund and David Compton.

All links accessed 30 September 2018.

03 January 2019

Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom Published Today

Though it has been available for a week or so in the United Kingdom, today is the official publication day of the Faber & Faber edition of Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom.

It is a small format paperback of 40 pages. The ISBN is 978-0-571-35173-2 and copies are reasonably priced at £3.50.

The book is for sale via the link above to Faber's website, as well as from Amazon.co.uk, Waterstones, and other booksellers.

If you are interested about Mary Ventura, please make sure to look at Plath's Journals, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, and my blog post: "Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura".

All links accessed 2 January 2019.

01 January 2019

Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura

With the imminent publication of Sylvia Plath's short story "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom", her readers may wonder about the name "Mary Ventura". Any reader of her diaries, journals, and letters will recognize it as that of a girl with whom Plath attended Wellesley public schools. Here is the real Mary Ventura's story.

Mary Ventura was born Maria Domenica Ventura in Natick, Massachusetts, on 21 February 1932, daughter of Italian immigrants Joseph (1901-1977) and Adelia Di Giacomantonio (1910-1994) Ventura. According to information recorded in the 1930 Census, Joseph and Adelia married around 1925; he was 24 and she was 15. Joseph's occupation was listed as Gardener and in the Industry of "Odd jobs". Delia was not employed and the couple resided at 4 Waban Street, Natick.

Sometime between 1932 and the mid 1940s, the Ventura family moved to Wellesley, the next town over. It was at Junior High School where Plath and Mary Ventura met each other. The Venturas lived at 357 Linden Street, which backs onto the main train line between Boston, Worcester, and beyond.

Mary had literary aspirations. She was published a few times in the Wellesley town newspaper, The Townsman, authoring three reports: "Junior High Briefs" on 16 January 1947 (p.11) and two "High School Highlights" on 29 September 1949 (p. 4) and 10 November 1949 (p. 7). In May 1948 Plath and Ventura co-wrote a radio play called "The Island"; a typescript copy with holograph corrections is held by the Lilly Library. At some point in 1950, Mary wrote a beautiful 34 line poem entitled "sylvia". Composed of one four-line stanza and six five-lined stanzas, the poem shows Mary meditating on Plath, with most first lines in each stanza beginning "i think of her…". Mary's last published article that I could find was a letter to the editor which appeared on 27 January 1972 in the Townsman.

In the autumn of 1949, in her senior year at Bradford (later Wellesley) High School, Mary Ventura and her family moved back to Natick. The Townsman reported on 24 November 1949 that her English class held a "Mary Ventura Day" in which the class, at Mary's request, listened to Bach recordings. Plath noted Mary's absence in her High School scrapbook (p. 25). And she appears several times in Plath's early diaries, as well as in her published Journals. Mary graduated from Natick High School in 1950. Though she was in the class of 1950, circumstances in her life lead to a delay in matriculating into college, graduating from Boston University in 1958.

Mary Ventura married her Natick High School sweetheart John P Detore, Jr. (1933-2008) in December 1952 at St. Paul's Church, Wellesley. By this time the Venturas had moved back to Wellesley and were living at 440 Washington Street, which faces the railroad tracks, in Wellesley Hills. At the time of her wedding, Mary was taking evening courses at Boston University and Detore was at Northeastern. After a honeymoon in Vermont, the Detores settled in Natick.

However, by 1954 and 1955 Mary Ventura appeared as Mary V Detore in the Boston City Directory as a typist in Boston at the YMCA. Yet in both directories, her home is listed as the old 440 Washington Street in Wellesley which we can deduce indicates that her marriage was short-lived.

By March 1955, Mary was taking courses at the Newton Junior College, having worked for the previous few years. By October 1957, she was again just Mary Ventura. She was elected to the executive board of the Student Christian Association at Boston University. She was at this time a senior at BU in the college of Liberal Arts majoring in American Literature and History. Mary was awarded a Bachelor of Arts from Boston University at their summer commencement in 1958. In 1961, there is an immigration card for a "Maria D. Ventura", with "our" Mary's exact birthday and birthplace, recording that she arrived in NYC on the SS Independence from Naples, Italy, and which lists her home as Malden, Mass.

Between 1958 and her death in 1973, little is known about Mary Ventura. At the time of her death, Ventura was listed as a social worker in Natick who had lived in Wellesley for 36 years. She died at her home, 29 Kingsbury Street, Wellesley, at the age of 41, where she was living with her parents. In her Townsman obituary, it is listed that she died "after a long illness." Her death certificate lists the cause of death as Hodgkin's Disease. Mary was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery with a lovely headstone engraved with "Till we meet again". She was joined by her parents five and twenty-two years later, respectively. I visited the cemetery in Wellesley on a below-freezing morning in November 2018 to find the final resting place of Mary Ventura and her parents.

Sylvia Plath used Mary Ventura as a character and name in two stories written for courses at Smith College in her second and third years. Her "Mary Ventura", written for English 220a "Practice in Various Forms of Writing", is probably an exercise in the genre of nonfiction as other pieces written just before seem also to fall into this category. While a very crude summary… in "Mary Ventura", Mary and the narrator meet for lunch after a chance encounter. Mary works at Filene's, and the narrator has been away at college. They discuss their once close but now divergent lives after the passing of a year. In the story Mary admits to having an affair with a married man, and likes to watch trains go by her house with the narrator, hoping one day to be on one and ride it "to the end of the earth." A typescript, dated 14 December 1951, is held by the Lilly Library.

The following year, Plath wrote a story called "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" for English 347a "Style and Form". That typescript, also held by the Lilly, is dated 12 December 1952. In January 1953, Plath revised the story and asked her mother to retype it and submit it immediately to Mademoiselle (see Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, p. 553). Mademoiselle rejected the story in March 1953 and it is this copy of "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom"—the only known existing copy of the story in this form—that Faber and Faber is printing in their Faber 90 series (press release), commemorating the 90th anniversary of the firm. Plath later revised the story in December 1954, changing the title to "Marcia Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" and considered submitting it to the Christophers contest, ultimately selecting a different story for the competition.

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom will be published in the UK by Faber on 3 January 2019 and by HarperCollins in the USA on 15 January 2019. Excerpts appeared in the 29 December 2018 issues of The Guardian (UK) and Wall Street Journal (US).

All links accessed 16 November 2018 and 1 January 2019.

25 December 2018

Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar Translations

The truth is, I really thought I was done buying the property, or former property, of Frieda Hughes. Turns out, I was wrong.

Back on 29 August 2018, there was an auction for seven boxes of books in translation by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes via Halls Fine Art in Shrewsbury, England. The winner of the lot was a gentleman in every sense of the word called Norman Macdonald. He started listing his new stock online via ABEbooks and included images of many of the books. The provenance to these books is Ted Hughes to Frieda Hughes, and some of the books include letters from Faber passing on the copy/copies of the book(s).

I love translations of The Bell Jar, so I was particularly focused on these as I browsed the collection, which is only partially listed so far through Norman's ABE page. I selected five that wound up being Christmas presents from my wife which fill in missing languages. They are:

Croatian edition, 1991

Dutch edition, 1981

Korean edition, 2013

Serbian edition, 1976

Slovakian edition, 2015

The Slovak translation included one of these aforementioned letters from Faber to Frieda Hughes. A couple of these were new to me and so are now on the Non-English book covers page over at A celebration, this is. And as well, some of the books now have better images, if they were already represented.

These books join other translations: Norwegian, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Swedish, Spanish, Catalan, Turkish, Japanese, Macedonian, Estonian, and Slovenian. And I have an edition in Braille, too.

I highly recommend you all view Normal Macdonald's Collection of Sylvia Plath's and Ted Hughes' books and acquire something for yourself. Norman's pricing is fair and his customer service is professional and expedient. It is a unique opportunity to own something with a rich, significant, and unimpeachable provenance.

My parents gave me this Arcturus edition of The Bell Jar for Christmas, too.  It us really lovely.

All links accessed 19 November 2018.

15 December 2018

Sylvia Plath Year in Review 2018

2018!!! To quote Tori Amos, it was a "pretty good year"!! In fact it seems the last few years have been filled with Sylvia Plath! That is a good thing. This is, as usual, a blog post recapping the year of Sylvia Plath as it appeared in this blog and in my life and I hope that somehow there is a confluence with how you perceived Plath in yours.

In December 2017, I found out about the big Bonhams auction but was asked to stay quiet on it. Which was difficult, but necessary. So to keep that at bay I decided to post right off the bat about the 43 newly located articles on Plath's first suicide attempt. I just can't stop looking for Sylvia Plath. In January I helped to proof the Bonhams sales catalogue, found out that Smith College was going to get the Ruth Beuscher letters, and started the first round of proofing of the second volume of Plath's letters. I guess you could say that the year started out on fire!

At the Belfast Plath conference in November 2017, I met Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick and we began collaborating on two blog posts about the famous Ted Hughes trunk at Emory. After doing some investigating, drafting and correcting some blog posts, and even getting some photographs of the famed trunk we decided to post about it in February, which is generally a "big" Plath month. The first post revealed that the trunk had been opened more than a decade earlier; and the second post included thoughts on the news from a random selection of Plath and Hughes scholars.

Towards the end of February, we (Karen V. Kukil and I) received word that we could use the Ruth Beuscher letters in volume 2 of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. Karen transcribed the letters and then sent them to me for proofing and annotating. It did require some moving around of footnotes but this was a happy thing to do for these letters fill in massive gaps in Plath's (auto)biographical record. And it was an intense, emotional experience.

Also in February the full list of items in the auction was released and the counting of pennies commenced. And it continued until the auction itself was held on 21 March 2018. It was appointment viewing and as cliche as that sounds, it really is true. I flirted with staying home from work that day to watch online, but then feared a snow storm, freak loss of power, etc. and decided to come into where the connection is only marginally somewhat more reliable. I do not think I breathed for several hours. It was a stunning event and I walked away the winner of one lot and the loser of many others. A big article was written on the auction by Kate Bolick called "Who Bought Sylvia Plath's Stuff." Around this time, Plath was also given a very overdue obituary in the New York Times. Meanwhile, proofing continued on the Letters into early March and by the end of the month we were indexing.

In early April, my winning item, Plath's fishing rod was delivered. I immediately went to New York City to participate in a Letters related talk with Karen. After the event I took a train home and before the next sunrise I was in the emergency room with something wrong with me. Someone obviously did not like my talk and put a hex on me. While recovering from this I continued indexing the majority of the Letters, and then prepared to go to Columbia College in Chicago to talk about the Letters there, and then sat in and participated in a glass taught by my good friend David Trinidad. While in Chicago, I met a fellow-Plath reader Kelly Coyne and had a lovely coffee with her, continued to index and also proof the front matter for the Letters. I felt very happy with the way things went and am now the proud owner of David's worksheets (on pink paper) for his poem "Nothing in the Box" which was his response to the Ted Hughes trunk story. It is a prized possession.

In April and May I started trying to trace where various Bonhams auction lots went and even got a guest blog post about Frieda Hughes's blue coat. In addition to Tammy's blue coat (which Plath mentions in a couple of letters!), David Trinidad won Plath's cane table (see also "Sylvia's Table"), and I acquired two books: White Horses and Black Bulls, signed and inscribed to Plath by the author Alan C. Jenkins and an unbound proof copy of Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams with a couple of corrections by Ted Hughes. In the course of time I have traced about 56 lots. Many went to booksellers who have either sold or are trying to sell the individual books from multi-item lots. And I have gotten to see a few things held privately, too.

In early May we finalized and finished The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963 and at the end of that month I had a surgery I had been putting off. And it actually helped me recover from the fatigue of the project by forcing me to have some down time! But... as I am stubborn I was still at work because by this point Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick and I had started formulating a book project and were soliciting publishers. So while that was going on, I was transcribing some of the letters and journals that will go into our The Selected Writings of Assia Wevill, which the LSU Press will publish. We signed the contract in August. At the end of the month, the Daily Mail of England serialized the letters and the book was published by Faber on 6 September in England.

Throughout the year various other blog posts were done such as one looking at the publishing history of Plath's poem "Mad Girl's Love Song"; Ted Hughes' scrapbook at Emory; and a bibliography of movies, plays and the like that Plath saw. Also over the summer, the BBC aired Sylvia Plath: Inside The Bell Jar, a one-hour documentary which featured, for the first time in video, Frieda Hughes and many of Plath's friends talking about Plath and the novel.

October brought with it some excitement as is usual for Plath's birth month. There ended up being, I think, two big things. First was the British Library event called "Triple-Threat Woman: The Letters of Sylvia Plath" which included Karen, Heather Clark, Mark Ford, and myself talking about Plath's letters and wonderfully chaired by Elizabeth Lowry. The above photo of the stage and participants was taken by Gillian Groszewski (source: Twitter). The event was a warm one, I feel, and it was wonderful to see familiar faces and meet a lot of new people as well. Then for/on Plath's birthday Faber announced they would be publishing a short story by Plath in January 2019 entitled "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom". I was lucky enough to work with Faber on the press release, as well as with Richard Lea of The Guardian on their article: "Unseen Sylvia Plath short story to be published in January". HarperCollins will publish the story in the US. At the eleventh hour, just about HarperCollins had to delay publication of their edition of The Letters of Sylvia Plath by one week from 30 October to 6 November. Within a month, however, the book was already into a second printing which is simply astonishing. The reviews have generally been very good.

In November I attended the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair and on the Saturday, sat at Jett Whitehead's booth to talk Plath, sign books, and breathe in the lovely atmosphere of rare books. On Sunday, I gave a talk on the Letters and signed some more books. It was a really neat experience. The highlight for me was the honor of speaking to friends and peers. In terms of books, the crowning moment was handling Plath's own proof of The Bell Jar in Jonkers Rare Books booth that was particularly magical.

My twitter friends voted for immediate access to two long-term projects that have been ongoing for years, so I skipped a few scheduled blog posts to get you good people access to the Sylvia Plath Archival Documents Hub and a bibliography of Articles about Sylvia Plath. Enjoy!

On 5 December, a letter from Sylvia Plath to Katherine Benion sold at Bonhams for $8,000. It was a six-page handwritten letter and is a lovely one. Congratulations to the winner.

Also in December, Plath's adolescent home located at 26 Elmwood Road went on the market. The current owner purchased the house directly from Aurelia Plath in the 1980s. That's just two owners from October 1942 until the end of 2018/early 2019. Impressive. I have been privileged to be inside the house twice in 2012 and 2016.

In addition to Mary Ventura and Ninth Kingdom coming out (Faber & HarperCollins), there are reissues to look forward to in 2019 including the Carol Ann Duffy version of Selected Poems (Faber, March) and Ariel (Faber, September). Also, probably in the autumn, will be The Letters of Sylvia Plath in paperback. More information on those when I have it! We have some books on Sylvia Plath to look forward to in the coming years. First up in 2019 should be Sylvia Plath in Context, a collection of essays edited by Tracy Brain to be published by Cambridge University Press. Also on the horizon are Carl Rollyson's The Last Days of Sylvia Plath and Heather Clark's The Light of the Mind: A Life of Sylvia Plath. Both promise to reveal new details and insights into Plath's biography and I am sure you are just as impatient as I am to see these in bookstores.

Well, this is just about all I can think to point out about this year in Sylvia Plath from my perspective. How about yours? What are your impressions for this year of Sylvia Plath? I'm sorry if I forgot something or overlooked something; it was purely accidental. A year is a long time and they can be tricky to summarize. Remember that the blog archive of more than 1,150 posts is there; I hope some of the older posts are still relevant! And please do not forget about my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

Unless I get something Plath-related for Christmas, this will be the last Sylvia Plath Info Blog Post of the year.  I have an exciting post all set and ready for 1 January 2019 and am looking forward to some down time with family. Thank you all, as usual and with all the genuine sincerity I can express, for reading these blog posts, for your comments and support, for your emails and your friendship. I would like to ask that for any content which you may have enjoyed or benefited from, please consider sending me a tip via PayPal. There are expenses associated with the work I do on Plath and while it is something I enjoy, it is starting to take a toll. Thank you for at least considering! All funds will be put towards making Sylvia Plath Info better.

This has been the most vigorous period of my Plath-life and I know I would not have gotten through it without your support and words of encouragement. So, thank you sincerely for that. The year ends much as it began as we are finalizing a list of corrections and updates for the paperback issue(s) of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. Be safe, be merry, be Plathy!

All links accessed on 8, 16, and 24 November and 1 and 12 December 2018.

Please note: The post was slightly revised on 17 December 2018 to include a paragraph of the sale of 26 Elmwood Road. ~pks

10 December 2018

Sylvia Plath Collections: University of Kansas

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas holds a portion of the Critical Quarterly Archive (summary of contents). It was purchased in 1968 from Argosy Books in New York and contains: "584 Letters (including 9 retained copies of letters from CQ), Manuscript fair copies of poems, reviews, essays, and proofs." The abstract to the collections says:
Archives (letters received; some texts and proofs): of literary magazine. Submissions of material to Critical Quarterly; friendly personal news; literary gossip; academic life. Some polite notes from famous names. Some material concerning Cox or Dyson rather than the Critical Quarterly.
As you might imagine, they contain Sylvia Plath archival materials... There are ten letters from Plath to the journal's editors A. E. Dyson and C. B. Cox from 1960 to 1961. I learned of the collection first through Linda Wagner-Martin's wonderful Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life (1999, 2nd ed. 2003).

I have withheld posting on this Sylvia Plath collection for many years as the ten letters formed an integral part of an essay I selfishly wanted to write on the poetry supplement Plath edited for the CQ in 1961 entitled American Poetry Now. I was able to write the essay, "'What's been happening in a lot of American poetry': Sylvia Plath as editor and reviewer", for the book I co-wrote with Gail Crowther, These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath (Fonthill), where it appears as Chapter 7. Another reason for not posting this was that the letters were to be printed in The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2.

This is one of those intricate archival stories where pieces are scattered and where sense can only be made once all those pieces are discovered, assembled, and studied. Papers relating to Plath's work on the American Poetry Now pamphlet are spread between at least five repositories: University of Kansas, Indiana University, Smith College, Emory University, and the University of Manchester. It is possible other materials are held elsewhere, too!

The correspondence at the University of Kansas is just part of the story. The letters are dated 16 January 1960; 22 February 1960; 1 January 1960 [1961]; 3 May 1961; 17 June 1961; 25 June 1961; 24 August 1961; 17 October 1961; 14 November 1961; and 12 December 1961. While it is evident that Plath received letters, it does not appear that she kept them (and the journal did not apparently retain carbons).

The initial letters from 1960 deal with publication of Plath's poetry. Namely her verse "Medallion" which was awarded a best poem prize as well as submissions. The eight 1961 letters all relate to American Poetry Now.

If you are interested in the other holdings outside of Kansas, you will find them in the following:

Emory University: Sylvia Plath: Subseries Prose
Indiana University: Plath mss
Smith College: Sylvia Plath Collection, Series XVI: Writings of Others Collected & Edited by SP
University of Manchester: Critical Quarterly Archive

All links accessed 20 April 2017 and 6 December 2018.

05 December 2018

1951 Sylvia Plath Letter at Bonhams

A six-page handwritten letter that Sylvia Plath wrote to Katherine Benion on 3 March 1951 appeared at auction today at Bonhams, New York. Lot number 212 was estimated to sell for $7,000-$10,000 dollars, which averages to a minimum of $1,166.6666666667 per page!

The lot sold for $10,000 which includes the buyers premium. Hammer price was $8,000.

Images from Bonhams

From the catalog description:
Autograph Letter Signed ("Sylvia Plath"), to Miss Katherine Benion, concerning how she got started in writing, 6 pp (on 2 pairs of conjoining leaves), 8vo, [Northampton, MA], March 3, 1951, in ink on blue-bordered patterned stationery, folded, light handling smudges.
Provenance: Family of the recipient, by descent.

A remarkable early Plath letter discussing her budding career as a writer, written when she was just 18 years old and attending Smith College. "... that's the total of my 'published' record — two poems, a story, an article and a story to appear in May." The recipient was a teacher and freelance writer, who was a young mother at the time. Responding to an inquiry about her writing, Plath seems unsure about whether it is her true calling: "I read one choice little article about me titled 'Born to Write.' That, I think, was rather too bad, because I just happened to get a few little things published, and I was born for reasons other than writing, I'm sure." She seems a little surprised to have anyone ask about her, saying "... I don't consider myself anything unusual...." and "When I am asked to talk about myself, I always stop with a start and wonder — Who am I anyway? I am afraid sometimes that I am writing about a fictional character that exists only in my mind." On the last page she talks about her development as a writer, saying "As I grew older, I found that I could sustain a story mood for more and more pages. I could assimilate more experiences with a greater depth of feeling, and so here I am, now eighteen, hoping that I have something worthwhile to say...."
Sylvia Plath received a letter from Benion on 17 February 1951. Plath replied in this 3 March letter and received a second letter from Benion on 24 March 1951. Both letters from Benion are stored in Plath's High School Scrapbook held by the Lilly Library. (See a catalog of the scrapbooks contents.) Benion sought information about Plath for a proposed article on a young writer but it is not clear whether said article was ever written or printed.

All links accessed 26 November and 5 December 2018.
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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.
  • 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.