20 November 2019

Sylvia Plath's Excerpted Reviews



You might think that because The Letters of Sylvia Plath has more than 4,300 footnotes it would be hard to pick a favorite. But you would be wrong. One of my favorite footnotes falls in Volume 2, late in the book.

In her 20 November 1962 letter to Olive Higgins Prouty, Plath writes still not knowing if she would be getting the flat at 23 Fitzroy Road, London. The letter breathlessly recaps, among other things, her 5-7 November visit to London when she found the flat and talks about all its advantages: "right round the corner from my old panel of wonderful doctors & the park & minutes by bus from the BBC" (910).

But the part that had me most allured when I transcribed, proofed, edited, and annotated came somewhat towards the end of the letter when Plath talks about her reviews of children's books. She enclosed a clipping of one from the New Statesman which the periodical titled "Oregonian Original" (9 November 1962, p.660).


"Oregonian Original" discusses nine books in total: E. S. Bradburne, Opal Whiteley; Evan Hunter [Ed McBain], The Wonderful Button; Leo Lionni, Little Blue and Little Yellow; and Elizabeth Rose and Gerald Rose, Punch and Judy Carry On; Tomi Ungerer, The Mellops Go Flying; H. E. Bates, Achilles the Donkey; Dr Seuss, Horton Hatches the Egg; Gaby Baldner, The Penguins of Penguin Town; and Reinhard Herrman, The Creation. Plath provided the stars at the top left and bottom right; Prouty annotated the clipping in pencil: "Would like to know more about the introduction". Prouty also underlined in pencil the words "splendid" and "curious" in the first paragraph. There is a pencil doodle beside the review of Punch and Judy Carry On and underlining, in pen, next to Horton Hatches the Egg.

This is nifty information, but still not what I want to highlight. No, it is just after this when in the letter Plath types, "My children's reviews are beginning to 'take'---Faber & Faber quoted one in an advertisement & I opened one book to find a former review of mine of an earlier one in the series on the back jacket" (912).

They were rewarding days when I found both the advertisement Plath mentioned seeing as well as landing on the book in which her review was blurbed.

I knew that Plath read The Observer and The Guardian but honestly who has the time to look through all those issues? I have free time. But not that much free time! Plath had been reviewing books for about a year at that point... 365 issues? No thanks.

This is where modern technology rocks. Some geniuses used Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software on digitized microfilm and it (the OCR) was cleaned up enough so that when I searched a database holding these two newspapers I got a hit for "Sylvia Plath" 17 June 1962, page 27.

I was familiar enough with Plath's periodical publications that I knew it was not a hit for a poem published. As well, based on the date it would not be for The Colossus. But it might very well have been that she or her work was mentioned in an article. In this case I hit the nail on the head, though, and it was the excerpt from her review of Elizabeth & Gerald Rose's The Big River which was quoted in The Observer: "A clear, poetic account of a river's genesis and progress to the sea, with superb illustrations—Sylvia Plath, New Statesman."

Here it is:


The other one proved to be trickier as Plath had reviewed a dozen or so children's books. So it meant making a list of all the books she reviewed as well as both those books that may have been reprinted as well as subsequent books by these authors and illustrators. As luck would have it, the way I approached this was the very long way around so that it was literally the last author and book I went after that was the one to which Plath referred: Plath's review of Wanda Gág's The Funny Thing (published on 18 May 1962 when the Wevills were visiting Court Green) quotes on the rear jacket flap of Plath's review of Gág's The ABC Bunny (London: Faber & Faber, 1962): "'An excellent read-aloud adventure for very young children . . . all the finality of a good fable.' New Statesman".



Frankly, I should have guessed it would be a Faber publication as the gesture may have been one of respect for the quality of Plath's review but also because of the publishing house's relationship with her husband.

17 November 2019

Books about Sylvia Plath for sale

I have extra copies of the following books about Sylvia Plath that I would like to see in new homes. Proceeds will go directly into my Sylvia Plath work (including renewing the domain for my A celebration, this is website for Plath www.sylviaplath.info).

Prices include shipping. 

The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath. 2 copies available. $15 each. (Retails for $28.99)

The Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath. 2 copies available. $15 each. (Retails for $37.99)

Critical Insights: Sylvia Plath. 1 copy available. $30. (Retails for $105)

Representing Sylvia Plath. 1 copy available. $35.  (Retails for $113)




Thank you!  US only.

15 November 2019

Elizabeth Sigmund's Copy of Sylvia Plath's Copy of Dylan Thomas

Back in late June, Bonhams had a small series Sylvia Plath lots in their auction.

Lot 238 was Plath's copy of the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. It sold for a handsome £11,312 (roughly US$ 14,519) including the buyer's premium.

That copy is now for sale through the awesome Peter Harrington Rare Books in London for the even more handsome £27,500 (roughly US$ 36,409.61).




Peter Harrington also has Elizabeth's copy of Last Encounters by Trevor Thomas. That is listed for £1,250. It is featured in their Christmas 2019 catalogue (image below).




All links accessed 12 and 13 November 2019. All images shamelessly pilfered from Peter Harrington's  ABE page and Christmas catalogue.

12 November 2019

Auction Results: Sylvia Plath's membership cards

On 14 May, via Heritage Auctions, Sylvia Plath's membership card to the Poetry Society of America sold for $1,875. This was originally part of Lot 330 in the massive Bonhams auction of the Property of Frieda Hughes, held in London on 21 March 2018.



More recently, on 26 October 2019, Heritage offered Plath's Massachusetts driver's license for sale and that went for $3,000. I learned of this auction from my friends at the great Fine Books & Collections magazine.



Some of the other cards from Plath's wallet are presently on eBay. (Well, presently on eBay being in August when I drafted this post)...

Mutual of Omaha


Social Security card


Plath's Boston Public Library card was also up, but that auction ended on 22 September 2019 and the card sold for $7,500.

All links accessed 13 August and 12 November 2019.

06 November 2019

Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura in Other Languages

Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom was published in October in a Catalan language edition. Mary Ventura i el Novè Regne is the title and was brought out by Edicions del Periscopi. The book was tranlated by Marta Pera Cucurell.

Germany is getting onto the Mary Ventura train, too, and will publish Mary Ventura und das neunte Königreich on 8 March 2020 (Surkampf Insel Verlag). The book was translated by Eike Schönfeld.



Oh, that Catalan cover is righteous.

All links accessed 6 November 2019.

01 November 2019

Footnoting the Letters of Sylvia Plath

One of the things I loved most about my work on The Letters of Sylvia Plath was the footnotes. A friend wrote to me in an email and said that she could "hear" me in them, which was the highest compliment. Periodically, I intend on showing some of the materials I acquired in the research process of annotating Sylvia Plath's experiences. For me, it adds so much contextual information about how Plath lived. What she read and saw and what made an impression on her life.

Today I am showing the article Plath read on Sunday, 23 September 1962, which she wrote about in the letter to her mother the next day. She typed, "I would love to go on a skiing holiday in the Tyrol with them someday. I just read about it in the paper" (836).

The article Plath referred to must have been, I think, published in The Observer, her Sunday paper of choice. The article appeared on page 37 of the Travel section. The quality below is wanting, please accept my apologies.

Full Page

The article on Austria
I cannot think of this letter, or the article, without then thinking about "Daddy" written a couple of weeks later with the lines: "The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna / Are not very pure or true."

What do you think? Is this something you would like to see more of?

27 October 2019

The Site of Sylvia Plath's "Ariel"

This is a blog post I started several years ago (in 2013!!!) but never posted for a variety of reasons. Today seems like a good day to publish it…

In the morning before a Sylvia Plath archives talk Gail Crowther and I gave at Plymouth University in England---please see the March 2013 Blog archive for a bit about that presentation.---Gail and I did a bit of Plathing in the villages of Belstone and Corscombe in Devon. Belstone is were Susan O'Neil-Roe lived at "Pear Trees" cottage. (For more on Belstone and "Pear Trees" please click here.) It took two trips to the village to find the house, but thanks to the marvel that is Google we were able to locate the house.

From there, we went onto to nearby Corscombe, where was Plath took horse riding lessons on an older, docile horse called Ariel. Being there, the poems "Ariel" and "Sheep in Fog" take on a whole new meaning, as does her December 1962 introductions that she wrote about the poems. (The broadcast was never-realized her then new work.) These introductions are reprinted in Ariel: The Restored Edition (both) and in The Collected Poems (just "Sheep in Fog"). Tellingly, the order in which Plath introduced the poems had "Sheep in Fog" first, followed by "Ariel". For "Sheep in Fog" Plath wrote: "In this poem, the speaker's horse is proceeding at a slow, cold walk down a hill of macadam to the stable at the bottom. It is December. It is foggy. In the fog there are sheep." For "Ariel", she said, "Another horseback riding poem, this one called 'Ariel', after a horse I'm especially fond of."



Plath's visited Miss Redwood, her riding "mistress", regularly in the autumn of 1962. Miss Redwood lived at a farm called Lower Corscombe (top left). From Lower Corscombe one can go up that hill of macadam (top right -- the camera's point of view looks downhill towards Lower Corscombe) where the road makes a sharp right turn and then goes higher still before plateauing and continuing further on with one or so turns, directly to North Tawton. From the plateau here you can see several Dartmoor tors including Cawsand Beacon and Yes Tor (lower left), as well as the valley below. The Dartmoor rail line runs quite close to these farms though when we were there, there were no trains running (lower right).


In the map above the red line is the train line, the white arrow points approximately to Lower Corscombe farm; and the yellow arrow is the hill of macadam. That is the train line that rain through North Tawton.

Among other things on her 30th birthday, 27 October 1962, Sylvia Plath had her charwoman Nancy Axworthy over from 10:15 to 12:15. From 11 to 12 that morning, Plath was at Miss Redwood's for her horse riding lesson. That morning, also, Plath wrote "Poppies in October" and "Ariel". Later on she picked apples, baked bread. She also ironed and washed a sweater.

As you should know by now, I find being in or at a place Plath wrote about enhances the experience of reading the poem. This is a different form of interpretation than a biographical reading which is a sound approach, but which has come under intense scrutiny and criticism over the years. Plath was influenced by a place or a thing almost as much as she was by the events of her life and both undergo a beautiful transformations from the lived-experience to the art of the creative work. This is, in part, the living archive, a concept Gail and I developed in our papers and subsequent book, These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath.


All links accessed 21 March 2013, 19 June 2019, and 26 October 2019.

19 October 2019

Recap: Letters of Sylvia Plath Book Talk and More


Thanks go to Gregory Stall at the Grand Central branch of the New York Public Library for asking me to come and give a talk about my work on The Letters of Sylvia Plath. I did so Thursday and had a good time talking to the crowd. And it was terrific to see some familiar faces such as Eva S. and Richard L. I appreciate the rapport of the Q & A afterwards, and am grateful to Liz for lugging copies of the Letters from Staten Island.

After the talk I retired to my room at the nearby Roosevelt Hotel. I chose it for its Plathian association. On 2 June 1953, her second day as Guest Editor at Mademoiselle magazine, Plath wrote in a letter home: "Yesterday a.m. we saw our first (my first) fashion show at the Roosevelt Hotel" (p631). The hotel is located at 45 E. 45th Street.



Her calendar for the day calls it a "College Clinic" that started at 10:15. In a document from Plath's Mademoiselle papers held by the Lilly Library, we can learn a little more:


The Grand Ballroom is located on the Mezzanine Level, is 5,696 square feet and features twenty-seven feet high ceilings. I could not access it as there was a private event going on and I was asked politely to leave. Felt it was better to admit defeat than be escort outed.

After the Fashion Show, Plath had lunch at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station and then went to Richard Hudnut for hair and make-up consultations. Since it was effectively next door, I visited Grand Central and the awfully smelling Oyster Bar.


Before the long journey home yesterday morning I spent some time in the Berg Collection at the main branch of the NYPL. I had visited this archive once years ago and decided it was worth a trip to look again at the following Plath materials:

Cartoon of a koala bear (Juvenilia)
Alphabet and birthday quatrain (Juvenilia)
"Trixie and the balloon" (Story, Juvenilia)
Camping list (Juvenilia)
Pencil drawing of campsite (Juvenilia)
"Winter and magic" (Story, Juvenilia)
9 pencil tracings and drawings (Juvenilia); and
Notebook of copied poetry (With "Activities and Awards" sheet)

The Berg also has some drafts of "Brasilia" and "Insomniac" with other Plath works on the versos but I already have copies of those. In addition, they have a letter from Plath to her grandmother but that's in the Letters (Volume 1).

I wrote about the Berg Collection in this previous blog post. Some of the Berg's holdings were highlighted in this Gothamist piece. Which leads to another document I worked with: a letter from Plath to Alfred Kazin from 26 April 1961. In 2011 when I first visited the Berg I was told this letter was "lost". In 2013 I followed up and it was still "lost". In 2015, when that video was aired, they had the letter. Perhaps I should have followed up again? It is disappointing it is not in Volume II of the Letters, but at least we know it has been found.

One of the main things I wanted to see again was Plath's copy of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. I did work with it ages ago but once was not enough and I have long dreamed of seeing it again. The book was given to her by Richard Norton. I love the fact that the first Quartet is "Burnt Norton", and using modern parlance for insulting someone... she burned Norton, alright, in The Bell Jar.

I also spent heaps of time with Plath's sporadically heavily annotated copy of Louis Untermeyer's Modern American and British Poetry (1955 edition). I have not yet really worked with the photographs I took but there are probably annotations to north of 180 pages.

I find it so useful and important to visit and revisit (and revisit again) archives. Don't you?

Before leaving I looked in at the JD Salinger exhibit which opened that morning. Lots of great stuff in there but my time was running out before I had to go. I felt goddamn phony, if you want to know the truth.

All links accessed 16 and 19 October 2019.

09 October 2019

Published today: Reclaiming Assia Wevill by Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick


The LSU Press publishes today Reclaiming Assia Wevill: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Literary Imagination by Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick.

From the description:
Reclaiming Assia Wevill: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Literary Imagination reconsiders cultural representations of Assia Wevill (1927–1969), according her a more significant position than a femme fatale or scapegoat for marital discord and suicide in the lives and works of two major twentieth-century poets.

Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick’s innovative study combines feminist recovery work with discussions of the power and gendered dynamics that shape literary history. She focuses on how Wevill figures into poems by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, showing that they often portrayed her in harsh, conflicted, even demeaning terms. Their representations of Wevill established condemnatory narratives that were perpetuated by subsequent critics and biographers and in works of popular culture. In Plath’s literary treatments, Goodspeed-Chadwick locates depictions of both desirable and undesirable femininity, conveyed in images of female bodies as beautiful but barren or as vehicles for dangerous, destructive acts. By contrast, Hughes’s portrayals illustrate the role Wevill occupied in his life as muse and abject object. His late work Capriccio constitutes a sustained meditation on trauma, in which Hughes confronts Wevill’s suicide and her killing of their daughter, Shura.

Goodspeed-Chadwick also analyzes Wevill’s self-representations by examining artifacts that she authored or on which she collaborated. Finally, she discusses portrayals of Wevill in recent works of literature, film, and television. In the end, Goodspeed-Chadwick shows that Wevill remains an object of both fascination and anger, as she was for Plath, and a figure of attraction and repulsion, as she was for Hughes.

Reclaiming Assia Wevill reconsiders its subject’s tragic life and lasting impact in regard to perceived gender roles and notions of femininity, power dynamics in heterosexual relationships, and the ways in which psychological traumas impact life, art, and literary imagination.
I have read the book. I love the book. I encourage you to buy the book. In addition to the publisher, Reclaiming Assia Wevill is available on Amazon.

All links accessed 5 October 2019.

03 October 2019

Letters of Sylvia Plath Event at NYPL

On Thursday, 17 October 2019, I will be giving a talk on my editorial work on The Letters of Sylvia Plath at the Grand Central Branch of the New York Public Library.

The library's address is: 135 East 46th Street New York, NY, 10017.

The talk will start at 6 PM. It is free, however, you must RSVP.


If you have time, please read an interview between me and Gregory Stall of the NYPL Grand Central location.

Author photograph by Kathrine Smart, taken inside 3 Chalcot Square, London. Sorry I cropped you out of the photograph, Nick.

All links accessed 7 and 14 August, and 10 September 2019.
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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.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • 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