30 December 2008

Sylvia Plath 2008: Year in review

Strides were made this year in continuing to shift the perception and reception of Sylvia Plath. Every few months, through a symposium, new book publications, or news worthy events, Sylvia Plath proved to remain fresh and vital. Two major events took place in 2008: the Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium at Smith College in April and the publication of the online journal Plath Profiles in August.

The Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium at Oxford, held in October 2007, was reprodcued on a smaller scale for an American audience at Smith College on April 25 & 26, 2008. Organized in large part by Oxford participant and Smith student Aubrey Menard, the two day event highlighted Plath's continued prominence in academic scholarship, as well as her hold on the attention of the public. Julia Stiles and Tristine Skyler attended both days and proved dedicated to conducting research into their forthcoming film adaptation of The Bell Jar. The two-day event featured a community reading of Plath's restored Ariel in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, a presentation of papers selected among those given at Oxford, and a panel of a group of Sylvia Plath's friends from high school and college, which included Judith Kroll. Scholars from around the US and the world enjoyed a friendly and informative atmosphere. After the event, Julia Stiles submitted the first guest post to Sylvia Plath Info Blog in the form of a letter addressed to Smith College President Carol Christ regarding her film project.

Before and after the Symposium, buzz was building for Plath Profiles, the new online interdisciplinary journal for Sylvia Plath studies. Launched on 10 August 2008, the first volume has proven very popular. Editor W. K. Buckley assembled an international Editorial Board, and the contributions to the first volume were mostly adapted from papers given at Oxford. In addition to new, original essays, the first volume includes two book reviews by Luke Ferretter, five poems inspired by Plath, and artwork by two women (Kristina Zimbakova and Amanda Robins ) who have been inspired by Plath in their chosen mode of expression. On the whole, the freshness and vitality mentioned above is reflected in Volume 1. The journal, online and completely free, will be a valuable resource in the future to Plath scholarship. To date, both the entire volume and the individual essays have been downloaded thousands of times. If you've read an essay or poem or had a reaction to the artwork, consider sending in a response to Plath Profiles which may open an interesting discussion. We are accepting submissions for Volume 2, which should be out around the same time in 2009. It does not matter how old you are, Plath Profiles seeks to print good essays and does not intend to be academically driven or elitist.

2008 saw new editions of Plath's Collected Poems and Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams in the US. Both received face lifts. Both of the covers (CP, JPBD) feature concentric circles and thus remind me of Faber's editions of The Bell Jar from the 1960s and 1970s. Some of you may remember that just last year, I gave the previous cover of Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams the Lifetime Achievement in Ugly Plath Book Covers Award (the LAUPBCA).

In addition to these new editions, there were several new books on Plath. The following books appeared in print, all in the last three months of the year.

Jo Gill's Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath (Cambridge University Press)
Doris Kraler-Bergmann's Sylvia Plath Lyrical Responses to Works of Art: A Portrait of the Artist(s) (VDM Verlag) Raychel Haugrud Reiff's Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Marshall Cavendish Benchmark)

Sylvia Plath's library, scattered across America & possibly the world, came together in February as a part of LibraryThing's Legacy Libraries project. Legacy Libraries are the personal libraries of famous readers. The beauty of this site and project that members and non-members alike can see which books they share with these famous readers. The LibraryThing Legacy Library project and Sylvia Plath's Library were mentioned in articles that appeared in The Guardian, Fine Books & Collections, and Rare Book Review. More information on the project can be found on the I See Dead People's Books page and through posts on Jeremy's PhiloBiblos blog. Visitors to Smith College's Mortimer Rare Book Room will be treated to seeing Plath's library shelved next to their collection of first and rare editions of books authored by Plath.

In October, Ted Hughes posthumously made big news with the sale of more of his archive going to the British Library. While it is obviously a good thing that his papers remain in his home country, this segmentation of his archive will have scholars straddling the Atlantic to see these papers and the papers already held at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. 2008 was also the 10 year anniversary of both Hughes's Birthday Letters (the book that launch a thousand arguments) and his death.

In January, after 10 years of activity, the Sylvia Plath Forum closed shortly after the death of its founder, Elaine Connell. The Sylvia Plath Forum was a wonderful place to discuss, at first, Birthday Letters, and then so much more. Although it is closed to new submissions, the whole archive is still available online and is a valuable research tool and resource on the web. For many years it was the first website I visited each morning, and during high discussion periods, was a site I continually refreshed throughout the day.

My "other" site for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is, had a big year. A mid-fall site re-design went smoothly and received pretty good feedback. In May, The New York Times ran an article which, at the end, recommended the site. A true honor, indeed. In terms of content, much was added: especially in the bibliography pages, as well as the addition of many new book covers. The five most popular pages (in order of popularity) on A celebration, this is are: the biography, thumbs 1960-1963, poetry works, thumbs 1932-1942, and The Bell Jar. It is more difficult to gauge the least popular pages as some have been online for less than a full year or were removed/merged when I did the re-design. However, in terms of hits, the four least visited pages (in order) are: Works about Sylvia Plath, Works Reviews, Collections, and Johnny Panic synopses.

A Look Ahead

There will be a couple of new books on Plath published in 2009. Luke Ferretter's Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study will be published by Edinburgh University Press sometime in the spring or summer; and Connie Ann Kirk's 2004 biography Sylvia Plath is scheduled to be published in paperback in April. These books are listed on Amazon. Listed on Chelsea House's website is Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar by Harold Bloom, as part of his Bloom's Literary Criticism series. This appears to be a collection of essays on the topic of The Bell Jar, look for this sometime around February. Amazon.co.uk has a couple of titles planned as well. A re-issue of The Bell Jar in May, as well as a book entitled Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. This is likely a new edition of Plath's selected poems. These are both called 80th Anniversary editions (2009 is the 80th Anniversary of Faber). My dream is for a re-issue of The Bell Jar with the original Heinemann cover. A few years ago The Catcher in the Rye was reprinted using the same cover as the first edition published by Little, Brown, and Company in 1951.

The Jermyn Street Theatre in London is performing Plath's "Three Women" in January and February 2009. The Guardian's Alison Flood reported on 3 December 2008. The performance, stage directing, setting, actresses, directing, etc. will be pivotal, but it is Plath's words - her work - that will receive some much needed attention. Starring Elizabeth Dahl, Tilly Fortune, and Lara Lemon, "Three Women" will run from Monday 5 January through 7 February.

In 2008, this blog saw more than 25,000 visitors. Thank you, whoever you are and wherever you are for visiting. I especially thank those who have made comments. My wish for 2009 is for more comments on posts as well as having more guest contributions. If you hear of Plath-related events or want to write a review of a book, please consider Sylvia Plath Info Blog as a place for it to appear. I appreciate those who publicly "Follow" the blog (see list on the sidebar) and those that do so anonymously. Lastly, I am in the process of finishing a manuscript of new book on Plath and though I hoped for it to be done by now, I do have plans to finish it at some point in 2009! Details later.

25 December 2008

A Sylvia Plath Christmas miracle?

The server that "A celebration, this is" is hosted on crashed and needed to be rebuilt, which the host did quite quickly. I've been through the pages and all the content seems back online. If you notice any broken links or anything, please let me know.

A Sylvia Plath year in review will be forthcoming, sometime next week.

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year, I hope it's a nice, happy, healthy and safe holiday season.

24 December 2008

Just in time for Christmas...

My website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is, is down for some strange reason. I will hopefully have it back online before too long. Until then... Be well and be warm.

20 December 2008

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 20 December 2008

Still very little going on out there...The weather outside is frightful, but writing about Plath is so delightful...

  • Rare Book Review, in their December/2008 January/2009 issue, reports on the British Library acquisition of archival papers of Ted Hughes. The three page story (pages 8-10) is beautifully illustrated with many high quality scans of these papers. This appears to be the last issue of Rare Book Review, too, which is quite disappointing.

  • A first edition Ariel (Faber, 1965) has been found among other books donated to an Oxfam in Glasgow, Scotland, the BBC reports. The Times also reports, with a different angle on the book and reader. The Herald is reporting, too. From the pictures, it looks like a mighty fine copy of this influential collection of poetry.

16 December 2008

Sylvia Plath: Did you know...

Did you know that Sylvia Plath wrote her famous poem "Daddy" on the 22nd anniversary of the day her father had his leg amputated?

In August 1940, Otto Plath stubbed a toe on his left foot. After some changes to his diet and medication with insulin, he developed pneumonia and spent about two weeks at the Winthrop Hospital. Eventually he developed gangrene and Otto Plath's left leg was amputated above the knee on 12 October 1940. Otto Plath died 24 days later on 5 November 1940.

On 12 October 1962, twenty-two years later to the day, Plath placed a stake in his fat black heart when she wrote "Daddy". 24 days later, on 5 November 1962, Plath was in London. It was on this day that she applied for the lease on the house at 23 Fitzroy Road.

Plath and Hughes visited San Francisco in the summer of 1959 while on a tour of the U.S. and Canada. It was here she likely saw the seals barking and basking in the sun off Pier 39. The image Plath uses in "Daddy" is "Ghastly statue with one gray toe / Big as a Frisco seal." For those curious (and I should add - with a strong stomach), compare the image of a seal like a "gray toe" with a image of gangrene. I wish I hadn't...

13 December 2008

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 13 December 2008

Very little going on of late...

  • Last week I posted about a live auction on eBay for a first edition The Colossus (Heinemann, 1960) by Sylvia Plath. The auction was on Thursday. The lucky high bidder won the book for a mere $508.40. Though the book shows evidence of soiling, if high bidder was a book store, chances are it'll reappear for sale shortly for double, and maybe triple the winning auction price.

  • If you're shopping for Plath items to give a loved one for Christmas, I still have a few books for sale. See my post from 1 December for more information. Nothing says "I love you, I care about you, you complete me", etc. like a limited edition.

09 December 2008

Review of The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath by Jo Gill

Since 2000, there have been a number of introductory books on Sylvia Plath. These come in two categories: biographies and critical overviews. The audience in each instance has been junior high (early teens) through high school and possibly early college. I've read each - including my own contribution to this genre - but most are written by a group of people whom I might term "serial" writers. Seemingly non-experts hired to write on Plath, or some other subject or person.

The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath (Cambridge University Press, 2008) by Jo Gill, Lecturer in Twentieth-Century Literature at the University of Exeter, is one of the most recent of these. In it, Gill discusses Plath's life and works in succinct chapters that are so packed with value it makes even the thickest Plath criticism redundant. You may know Gill's name in association with Plath's from the 2006 Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath, a wonderful volume which she edited and contributed an essay. The set-up of her Cambridge Introduction is similar, but this time the content all her own.

Gill's preface is clear: "to offer new readers an accessible, authoritative and comprehensive guide to Plath's writing...and to provide an incisive and insightful overview of key tendencies and developments in Plath criticism." (ix) This agenda is met immediately and consistently throughout the text. In each chapter, Gill breaks out major themes that she sees going on in the discussed text. These themes all present readers with questions, answers, and ideas for further study and inquiry. The books conciseness is valuable for new readers to Plath in that it sheds right off many of the layers to Plath scholarship. Although Plath has been dissected and examined, Gill encourages that us to re-examined previously held notions.

The first two chapters, as well as the last one, look at Plath's life and the contexts in which she has been read, interpreted, adopted, and discussed for more than four decades. Scholars are re-evaluating Sylvia Plath and reading her in new ways. Psychoanalysis, feminist, confessional and other readings of Sylvia Plath are a thing of the past. It is quite possible that some of those early ways of reading Plath did more harm than good. Currently, Plath is being read with an intense, dedicated focus to sociological and historical approaches. By connecting Plath's life and writing to events and other happenings at the time in which she lived, a new perspective on her accomplishments is possible. This offers, possibly, the most authentic approach to Sylvia Plath and allows for the continued re-appraisal of her works.

In Chapters 3 and 4, Gill turns her attention to the poetry. Generally her interpretations and connections of the writing and between the writing styles is accurate and authentically her own. While presenting her own analysis, she highlights the best of what's been said before her, as well as respectfully and successfully disagreeing with previous scholarship as well. Gill discusses out the controversy over Plath's Collected Poems, and the questionable chronology assigned the poems. While admitting some advantage to reading the poems chronologically, it "does not fully accomodate teh complexity of the work." (30). Her aim, therefore, is "to look at poems in detail in relation both to the collections in which they were first published, and the wider picture of Plath's ouevre." (30) This she does brilliantly. What I find particularly welcome is the amount of attention given to Plath's early poetry and juvenilia (Chapter 3). This is not surprising, given that Gill wrote on The Colossus and Crossing the Water in the Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath, the book she edited in 2006. The chapter looking at Ariel and the later poems is another fresh look at works well-criticized. In Ariel she highlights Plath's use of echoes, both the word and the sound, as well as her use of repeating words. Throughout the book, Gill refers to Plath's use of doubling or the double and thus shows a wonderful cohesiveness in all of Plath's writing.

Critical attention has shifted away from Plath's fiction for a while, the focus being on her poetry - as though Plath's identity as a poet and association with poetry makes her, in some obscene academic way, a more serious writer. The fictional writing is perhaps closer to Plath biographically, and this might be the reason for its shunning. A number of scholars are beginning to re-examine Plath's fiction, however, and Chapter 5, which looks The Bell Jar and Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, is a wonderful beginning. Gill brings some of the themes discussed in the poetry into full spotlight in the discussion of the fiction, and shows that there is continuity and connectivity between the two genres in Plath's creative works. In the discussion of The Bell Jar, we are given a separate section on Plath's narrative voice, the double, and subjectivity. The worth of the stories assembled in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams is given some major, much needed attention. These highly under-valued works will shortly be given more attention in Luke Ferretter's forthcoming critical study of Plath's fiction.

Gill examines Letters Home and The Journals thoughtfully. Both of these works are somewhat contentious: they were not specifically written for publication. I think Gill's history and reading of Letters Home will go far in reassessing their worth (while at the same time highlighting a need for a larger, more complete edition of Plath's letters). The Journals have received more critical attention, especially since the publication of the Unabridged Journals, edited by Karen V. Kukil, in 2000. Gill's looks at the Letters and the Journals in a wonderful way, "If Letters Home represents an attempt to persuade the mother of the stability of Plath's position and of the validity of the decisions she has made, then the Journals arguably represent an attemp to persuade and reassure the self." (108) Gill links these two works in ways that future researchers will find useful.

The Notes and Further Reading that conclude the book are also useful; particularly the Further Reading as the works selected are followed by brief annotations. The summaries are an invaluable way to indicate to readers what certain articles or books are about in a way that the title of the thing might not necessarily convey.

As I read each chapter, I continually said to myself, "Yes, yes". People shied away from sitting next to me on the train and my wife wanted to call the doctor. There is no reason why young readers, new to Sylvia Plath and impressionable, shouldn't be given the absolute best. I feel that with The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath, readers finally have. Gill's reading of Sylvia Plath is wonderful, intelligent, and informative. Although written with a for those who are new to Sylvia Plath, this is a must read for even the most seasoned scholar. Beginning your own introduction to Sylvia Plath with Jo Gill's book, will leave the neophyte at an advantage. Although the back story to Plath scholarship is always interesting, starting your interest here is more than a little encouraging. It shows that Plath's reception is changing, and that this change is for the better. There is very little to complain about in The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath. In fact, my only criticism is that the book was not longer.

My advice: Read this book.

06 December 2008

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 6 December 2008

  • Amazon.com began listing Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study by Luke Ferretter (University of Edinburgh Press). Amazon.com lists the publication date to be on May 15, 2009. Edinburgh University Press lists publication date to be July 2009. Regardless, look for it. Based on what I know of Ferretter's work, and what I've read & heard, I think it is safe for me to give advanced, unseen praise for this book.

    The product description on Amazon.com reads:

    Sylvia Plath's poetry has generated tons of critical interest, yet there remains no full-length study of her fiction. In addition to her classic novel The Bell Jar, Plath wrote dozens of short stories, only about half of which have been published. Luke Ferretter launches the first comprehensive study of Plath as a writer of fiction. He encompasses both published and unpublished material, tracing Plath's influences, style, politics, and place in the history of postmodern fiction. Plath was very much concerned with gender ideologies of the 1950s, and Ferretter reads Plath's work against this cultural context. Building on recent studies of her multigeneric work, Ferretter defines a clear and comprehensive place for Plath's fiction in her richly complex body of work.

    Key features:
    • First full-length study of Plath's fiction
    • Comprehensive discussion of Plath's unpublished short fiction
    • Extensive discussion of Plath's short fiction as a whole.

    This is a very worthy and welcome subject, and Ferretter's book will undoubtedly bring much needed and wider recognition to Plath's fiction.

  • Ebay and Bloomsbury will have a live auction on 11 December for a first edition The Colossus by Sylvia Plath (Heinemann, 1960). Quite a rare book, and typically expensive, it might be possible to snatch this up at a bargain.

03 December 2008

Plath's "Three Women" on stage in London

Sylvia Plath's "Three Women" to be performed in January & February 2009.

Alison Flood at The Guardian writes about its revival. Tim Kendall and yours truly quoted in it, as well!

Elisabeth Dahl, Tilly Fortune, and Lara Lemon appear in the first revival of Sylvia Plath's only play. Three women's monologues recount their experiences of childbirth, remember the different routes that brought them there, and consider what the future has in store. Don't miss your chance to see this powerful piece on stage at the Jermyn Street Theatre from January 5 2009. Directed by Robert Shaw.

Jermyn Street Theatre
16b Jermyn Street, London

When: Monday 5 January - Saturday 7 February 2009
Mon-Sat 7:30pm
Sat matinees 4:00pm

How much: £18 (£12 concessions)
More info: Box Office: 0207 287 2875
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