28 December 2009

Sylvia Plath 2009 - Year in Review

By and large, the biggest - and saddest - news this year was the death of Nicholas Hughes by suicide in March. Plath said it best, "A smile fell in the grass."

In January, London was treated to Robert Shaw's production of Plath's "Three Women". The play was on at Edinburgh in August and I'm still hopeful the company can come west to Boston or New York. While the play received mostly positive reviews, from the standpoint of bring Plath's words to a greater audience it was a huge success. Also in January, the website ladylazarus.tv was launched by Florian and Sonja Flur. The website has been updated so please check back to it! The Flur's visited Boston in March and we met up so that I could show them the Plath sites. It was a very memorable day - certainly one of the best of the year - and they were very gracious guests.

In April we voted "Three Women" to be our favorite poem in the 2009 Sylvia Plath Poetry tournament. This was fun and the discussion of the poems was very lively. Around the same time, Laurie started her Sylvia and Ted Collection blog. The photographs and stories are wonderful, as is the blogger!

May brought with it Owen Sheers' Poets Guide to Britain which had an episode on Sylvia Plath and "Wuthering Heights". The documentary focused on her Yorkshire poems and was well received. Visible primarily to residents in the United Kindgom, it left the rest of us green as the countryside with envy. (Though I was lucky enough to see the episode due to contributing images to it.) This series was so wonderful in part as the episodes were so focused and it brought poetry alive in many respects. Sheila Hamilton and I both reviewed "Wuthering Heights" for the blog. Hamilton | Me.

There were three exhibits this year; one at the University of North Carolina which featured a couple of Plath books - and two in Massachusetts. Karen Kukil's unconquerable "Unconquered by Flames: The Literary Lights at Yaddo" focused on Plath's pivotal time at Yaddo in 1959. The exhibit was larger than Plath, but I only had time to see the Plath cases (see my review here). My small exhibit on Plath holdings by the Woodberry Poetry Room coincided a reading by Catherine Bowman in November.

The year in books was a mix of good and bad, and, thankfully in small measures, the atrocious. For those with the means, some rare Plath books and manuscripts sold at auction in July. The manuscripts went to the Lilly Library where they continue to add to their formidable Plath holdings. The rare book, a signed & inscribed first edition of The Colossus went to Peter Harrington, a rare book dealer in London. What recession? Peter Harrington brought this book with them to the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair in November. It was ironic that it was brought back to the city where Plath was born and close-by to Wellesley, where she was taught by Crockett.

Faber brought out new editions of The Bell Jar and Selected Poems in May in part to celebrate their 80th anniversary. Harper's brought out their limited Olive Edition of The Bell Jar in November.

Of the books that were about Plath, there were six. There were Harold Bloom's unmemorable Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (New York: Chelsea House Publishers) and Connie Ann Kirk's reprinted biography Sylvia Plath: A Biography. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books). Elena Ciobanu's very good and original Sylvia Plath's Poetry: The Metamorphosis of the Poetic Self (Iasi, Romania: Casa Edtoriala Demiurg) came out later in the year. Ellen Miller's Releasing Philosophy, Thinking Art: A Phenomenological Study of Sylvia Plath's Poetry (Aurora, Colo: Davies Group, Publishers) came out in the spring. I wasn't able to read it; the writing being so intelligent as to soar completely over my level of comprehension. However, Luke Ferretter did review it in Plath Profiles 2, which came out to favorable sentiments in August. Too recent to be reviewed is Lisa Narbeshuber's Confessing Cultures: Politics and the Self in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath (Victoria, B.C.: ELS Editions). I look forward to getting this shortly and reviewing it in 2010. In other genre's, Catherine Bowman's poetry collection The Plath Cabinet was published in March and Grace Medlar's novel The Lost Papers of Sylvia Plath came out in June. Frieda Hughes released her new collected The Book of Mirrors, too.

Plath was the subject as usual in numerous articles, the best - naturally my bias shines through - printed in Plath Profiles 2. And, Plath scholarship received atrocious attention in Alix Strauss' Death Becomes Them. I don't want to give her book too much attention, but it must be pointed out again for its overall, inspired awfulness.


This blog had close to 40,000 visits in the last year. Wow! Thank you! For those keeping track that is 15,000 more than in 2008. My other website for Sylvia Plath grew this year with the introduction of a thumbnail page for the covers of periodicals that printed works by Sylvia Plath. I'm still looking for more of these and more book covers, so if you have any that aren't on the site, please send me jpgs! Other changes were made, mostly small ones here at there to improve the text and/or its thoroughness.

The article Gail Crowther and I wrote, These Ghostly Archives, was certainly a highlight for me. Collaboration can be tricky and complicated, but this experience was truly a fine one and one in which she and I hope will advance certain aspects of Plath scholarship in the months and years to come.

A look ahead

In November, I was awarded a Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship by Indiana University to assist me in working on two or three Plath projects: continuing work on an updated bibliography, an article for Plath Profiles 3, continuing to re-build Plath's library on LibraryThing, and something else. Sorry, must be a little vague. Time permitting, I hope to update the blog each evening discussing the materials with which I worked that day and passing on anything that might be either interesting or fun or both, and things that might lead to discussion. From previous visits to the archive, I know that, for example, Letters Home was pretty heavily edited. Much stink was raise at the heavily edited Journals, but not as much seems to have been raised about the letters. They hold most, if not all, of the original letters as well as the original manuscript, which according to the finding aid, "Differs substantially from printed version." Working in the archives never produces the same the same finds because each visit we bring a different focus and different knowledge. Bring it on.

Thanks must be given to all of the readers of this blog, as well as to those who have commented or sent me emails. I continue to learn new things, in part, because of the support each of you gives me. I'll stop there because I don't want to tear up...I have a reputation to protect...

Happy Old Year/Happy New Year.

24 December 2009


I've been making Otto Plath cookies for years now. It started by accident several years ago with some friends. This is my 2009 Otto Plath cookie sugar cookie. Notice the amputated left leg, with residual evidence of gangrene, represented by green sugar sprinkles. (It was at this point my wife stopped talking to me.) The surgeon (at 2 a.m.) was a little sloppy and didn't clean up all the blood (red sprinkles). Notice the cleft in the chin instead of the foot. Notice, too, the doubling here by the cookie and its shadow. The sun makes a model of him, "A man in black with a Meinkampf look / And a love of the rack and the screw." The cookie is on the cooling rack and it is screwed because I ate it just afterwards. And I loved it. Don't you give me that Meinkampf look!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, whatever you celebrate.

20 December 2009

Links, reviews, etc. - week ending 19 December 2009

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But Plathing is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

For In Other Words, the blog of the Toronto Globe and Mail, Judith Fitzgerald writes about "News of Hughes", a story about a recent Sotheby's auction of correspondence between Ted Hughes and scholar Nick Gammage (editor of The Epic Poise: A Celebration of Ted Hughes), as well as almost 400 rare and first editions. The little collection sold for £39,650 ($68,400).

It should be pointed out that Olivia Cole at the Evening Standard wrote about this first in "How Ted Hughes let his imagination sparkle through letters to a fan."

Whilst randomly searching "Sylvia Plath" on Google, I found this reading guide to The Bell Jar published by Faber.

Whilst randomly searching "Sylvia Plath" on blogs, I found this post by Amica Carmilla about an artist called Justin Fitzpatrick. Those artists out there might find these paintings very intersting. I think some of them are very interesting and thought-provoking. From a visit to Justin's website, I gather these (or some of these) are on at an exhibit called, Long Nights: A Group Exhibition, Open from Thursday 11th of December to Sunday the 25th of January, at William Angel Gallery, 1 Barry Parade, Peckham Rye, East Dulwich, London SE22 0JA.

17 December 2009

Writing and Reading Life

Having read so much drivel about Plath this year, I decided to turn back the clock a bit...

Linda Wagner Martin's Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life (Macmillan Press, 1999; 2nd. ed. rev. and expanded, 2003) is a gem. What struck me in 1999 when it first came out was the fact that it discussed unpublished materials, be they letters, poems, prose, or other. Discouraged by the number of mediocre books I've read recently about Plath (particularly poems about Plath), I thought I'd give a critical work a read, just to reestablish a connection with good writing about Plath. A good critic can convince the reader that their approach to the subject is the right way, despite any amount of knowledge one may possess about the said subject. Wagner-Martin does this. In the Preface, she states that Plath's life was "genuinely a literary life. There was no other aim for Sylvia Plath..." It is with this in mind that Wagner-Martin writes one of the best critical books on Plath.

The themes in Plath's poetry and prose that Wagner-Martin examines include "Plath's Hospital Writing", "Plath's Poems about Women", as well as "Recalling the Bell Jar" and "Lifting the Bell Jar", amongst others. Each chapter is clearly written and easy to read, full of wonderful, original analysis and shows the constant connections and a continual narrative, in Plath's body of work. Wagner-Martin draws much of her information and analysis from her own experience in working on Plath, as well as the working papers for her 1987 biography, and includes interview transcriptions and correspondence with Plath's friends and family members. It shows the value of good archival research, looking at drafts of poems and their deleted or otherwise unused lines and unfinished ideas.

Wagner-Martin writes, "We care about Sylvia Plath because of her poems, and her progress toward her last poems is one of modern literature's most exciting narratives." A finer way to express why we read Plath and why her poetry and prose matters cannot be stated. By examing Plath's earlier writing, and considering some of the writers she was reading, Wagner-Martin's claim that "Sylvia Plath trained all her life for her art" is easily supported.

The second, revised and expanded edition, published in 2003, includes a thirteenth chapter that looks particularly at Birthday Letters. Wagner-Martin explains that the first edition was already in production when Birthday Letters was published, making it impossible to add commentary about it at that time. While given just cursory criticism and examining just a few poems, the chapter takes a little bit away from the books focus: Plath's literary life. This is unintentional, especially given Wagner-Martin's criticism of Hughes having published the collection in a fashion that she feels usurps "the authority of Plath's narrative" and "literally [takes] the words out of Plath's mouth."

Wagner-Martin closes the second edition with what I consider to be a challenge to Plath's Estate and her readers. She says that, as a major poet, Plath "deserves to be swept along in a steady stream of appreciative criticism, scholarly accuracy and newly loyal readers." I couldn't agree more. Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life is a valuable contribution to Plath scholarship by an ardent scholar and admirer of the poet.

13 December 2009

Sylvia Plath's Passport and Travel Documents

or, Liar Liar Pants on Fire

Sylvia Plath arrived in Southampton, England on the Queen Elizabeth on 20 September 1955 from New York via Cherbourg, France. After her marriage to Ted Hughes on 16 June 1956, she traveled to Spain via France for a long honeymoon before returning to England in late August 1956. She spent the month of September 1956 in Heptonstall and Yorkshire. While getting to know her in-laws, she played host to her college friend Elinor Friedman Klein. At the end of September she returned to Cambridge. This is the exceedingly short version of Plath's biography from 1955-1957.

This post will address a couple of details printed in Paul Alexander's biography Rough Magic. The first is that of Kenneth Pitchford's claim that he met Plath on board the Queen Elizabeth in September 1956. The second, related to this, is Pitchford's (and Alexander's) conclusion that Plath was on that ship returning to England after having had an abortion. Neither of these has ever sat well with me, so you'll have to excuse the lengths to which I have gone to straighten the story out for my own peace of mind.

In Rough Magic, Paul Alexander interviewed Kenneth Pitchford, a man he called a "reliable eyewitness". (Rough Magic, 197) Pitchford, on a Fulbright and his way to study at Oxford, claims that he met Plath on this voyage in September 1956. Pitchford arrived in Southampton on the Queen Elizabeth on 17 September 1956, approximately 363 days after Plath (1956 was a leap year). Alexander's narrative before Pitchford's story appears to solidly place Plath in England throughout September. In fact, he relates Plath's activities from the 4th, 10th, 18th, and 21st. Alexander then breaks from his biography of Plath giving Pitchford coverage he never should have received. It was the mention of one word in a journal entry by Plath--abortion--that led both Pitchford and Alexander to speculate that Plath was returning to England from America after possibly having an abortion.

In addition to his appearance in Rough Magic, Pitchford contributed to the Sylvia Plath Forum on 27 May 2003, giving more detail behind his claim that he met on the ship Plath in 1956. In sum, Pitchford says that Alexander compared Plath's passport with his. And, that after the comparison, they found identical customs stamps and dates for their entry into England. Alexander was now on board (pun!) with Pitchford and believed that Plath and his "reliable eyewitness" were on the same ship. The reason, probably, for the similarity or exactness of the stamps in their passports is that it is likely the same stamps were in use in 1955 and 1956. Concluding that they were on the same ship based on the stamps is exceedingly naïve, espeically when considering the following.

I have reviewed the UK incoming passenger lists available through Ancestry.com, looking both at Plath's records, Ted Hughes's, and Kenneth Pitchford's. My focus was specifically Pitchford's ship. Neither the name Sylvia Plath nor Sylvia Hughes appears as a passenger on the ship manifest for the Queen Elizabeth which arrived in Southampton on 17 September 1956. While Pitchford claims that Plath was allowed to ride anonymously and not as a listed Fulbright passenger, are we supposed to believe also that Plath travelled to and from England - on her own passport - and some how managed not to appear on the ship's manifest? How did Plath afford such a trip? The issue at this point is more with Pitchford for making up this story than with Alexander. But I also take issue also with Alexander for printing it. I have examined a copy of Plath's passport and have drawn some factual conclusions that I believe completely discredit Pitchford's statements and Alexander's seeming support of them (by publishing them in his biography).

A detailed examination of Plath's entrances and exits to countries reveals that Alexander's and Pitchford's analysis and conclusion is incorrect. Already I have mentioned that Plath arrived in England first on 20 September 1955 and that Pitchford arrived on 17 September 1956. When one enters the United Kingdom, as a student like Plath did, one is given a stamp giving the passport holder the permission to land in the country. Upon the condition of landing, the stamp states that the person shall not remain in the United Kingdom longer than a certain amount of time. In Plath's passport, the stamp indicates that she had to leave the country after "twelve months", or by 20 September 1956. Each time Plath re-entered England inside of this twelve month period, she received the same stamp but the immigration officer could not write "twelve months" again. Thus, the officer would write in 20 September 1956. Plath was tied to the date of 20 September. Similiarly, Pitchford would have been tied to the 17th. There are no dates in Plath's passport that match Pitchford's landing date of 17 September 1956.

All totaled, there are five of these "permitted to land" Immigration stamps in Plath's first passport. There is the initial stamp allowing her to stay in England for "twelve months" from 20 September 1955 with the added condition that she register with the police, three stamps saying she cannot stay in England beyond 20 September 1956, and a final stamp saying that she cannot stay in England beyond 20 September 1957. Each stamp corresponds either to a visit abroad that Plath made or to other official requirements as a Fulbright student.

Here is a breakdown of relevant dates in Plath's first passport.

Plath arrives in England on 20 September 1955. (Receives first Immigration stamp)

Plath registers with Cambridge City Police on 5 October 1955.

Plath leaves England on 20 December 1955 from Folkestone to travel in France, Monaco, and Italy and returns on 9 January 1956 via Newhaven. (Receives second Immigration stamp)

Plath leaves England on 24 March 1956 from Dover to travel to France, Germany, and Italy and returns on 13 April 1956 via London Airport. (Receives third Immigration stamp)

Plath leaves England on 22 June 1956 from London Airport to travel to France and Spain and returns on 29 August 1956 via Newhaven. (Receives fourth Immigration stamp)

Plath re-registers with immigration on 10 October 1956 which allows her to stay in England as a student until 20 September 1957. (Receives fifth Immigration stamp)
Plath re-registers with Cambridge City Police on 29 October 1956.

Plath leaves England on 20 June 1957 from Southampton to travel to New York, receiving a stamp on 25 June 1957.

Plath embarked or re-entered from Southampton, Newhaven, London Airport, Folkestone, and Dover, in England. There are 16 stamps for France, Spain, Germany, and Italy; there might be one for Monaco, however, many of the stamps are difficult to read. Based on the above, I do feel confident that in reviewing the stamps in Plath's passport and the passenger manifests available on Ancestry.com, Plath was in England from 29 August 1956 until she departed on 20 June 1957. Furthermore, Pitchford's memory of Plath's last words, "Listen, some day I'll marry a poet like you and kill myself" is far too neat and convenient (similar to having "Edge" be the last poem Plath wrote). It inflates his own poetic reputation to that of Ted Hughes', which it just isn't.

Sylvia Plath's passport was issued on 29 June 1955 from Boston. She traveled under the name "Sylvia Plath" from her first trip to England in September 1955 until she reached Paris, when on 26 June 1956 at the American Embassy, she commenced traveling under the name Sylvia Hughes. Changing her name in her passport might have proved problematic to her status as a student, but fortunately it did not. Remember Plath wanted the marriage to be a secret, fearing her Fulbright would be revoked. As it turned out everything was fine and the authorities were quite supportive. Had Plath married someone from Oxford it is possible she would have been thrown out on her ass.

Although she traveled under the the name Sylvia Hughes upon her return to the United States on 25 June 1957, she did not receive a new passport, under this name, until September 8, 1959 (also issued in Boston). She traveled to England on this passport on the S.S. United States, arriving in Southampton on 14 December 1959. She made two trips to the Continent on this passport: to France in 1961 to eat all the Merwin's food and to Ireland in September 1962. The trip to Ireland was not one in which she received a stamp. Plath's first passport is held in the Plath collection at the Lilly Library at Indiana University; her second passport is held at the Woodruff Library at Emory University.

As for the second part which this post addresses, the supposed abortion... Alexander momentarily critiques Pitchford's story commenting that Plath never discussed this potential pregnancy and abortion with either family or friends. We assume he finds this out of character. However, he brushes these concerns aside immediately and leaps to referencing a rather famous sentence from Plath's Journals, "Paris & Benidorm - to master these places and the people. Abortion. Suicide. Affairs. Cruelty. All those I know." (January 4, 1958, p.307)

Plath had ample experience in college with hospitals thanks to boyfriends such as Richard Norton and Myron "Mike" Lotz. Plath saw live births, cadavers, and a host of other medical things during her relationship with Norton. We know enough about Plath to trust that certain scenes in The Bell Jar actually happened though under the guise of fiction. In Chapter Six, Esther Greenwood recalls one such trip, wanting to see "some really interesting hospital sights." She saw fetuses in bottles in one a hallway that "died before they were born". In all she kept her calm in the face of "all the gruesome things." One of the closest examples of similiar imagery in her poetry appears in "A Life", which like The Bell Jar was written in 1961.

Throughout her life, the medical profession interested her, she says as much in her interview with Peter Orr from 30 October 1962, "
I much prefer doctors, midwives, lawyers, anything but writers." Her poetry is rife with medical imagery and terminology and because her mind was like a sponge, something she learned in 1951 or 1952 may well have been available to her as total recall, or near total recall, later on in life.

Plath and abortion came up as a discussion topic on the Sylvia Plath Forum about a year before Pitchford's post. On 5 June 2002, Kate Moses points out that "Plath makes a reference to 'Elly's abortion' on p.404." Amy C. Rea points out that abortion might also have figured in "Three Women" had she "known" about it in the same way that the first, second, and third voices "know" about their experiences with pregnancy and childbirth. See her post from 3 June 2002. Unless someone can find the lost manuscript of "Four Women"... Elsewhere in her poetry, plath uses each of the following words only once, "aborted" in "Totem", "abortions" in "Winter Trees", and "aborts" in "Thalidomide". All instances occur quite late in her poetry, between November 1962 and January 1963.

So much of Plath's imagery comes from her own experiences - this doesn't make her confessional as such, just exceedingly resourceful. Her journals acted as a drafting board for her creative writing; they also, in 1959, captured very detailed notes of her "interviews" with Dr. Ruth Beuscher. One would think that this sort of experience may have been mentioned had it happened, especially given the difficulty she had in conceiving a child.

It is possible I haven't gone as far with this aspect of Pitchford's and Alexander's claims as I could have, but I generally feel uncomfortable about the subject. I do feel though that Plath's knowledge of abortion stems from earlier experiences with budding (pun!) doctor boyfriends and not from direct, personal experience.

I'd like the thank the archivists at the Lilly Library at Indiana University and the Woodruff Library at Emory for their assistance regarding Plath's passport. I'd also like to thank Gail Crowther for reading an earlier draft of this and suggesting a few things.

10 December 2009

Sylvia Plath & Ancestry.com

Many people are interested in genealogy. Ancestry.com is the place for this. They have an amazing amount of archival "stuff" available either to those that subscribe or have access through school or work or sign up for a trial.

In October, Ancestry.com announced via their blog, among other things, the availability of "Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad,1963-1974". This time period would include Sylvia Plath. And, to boot, they made it so easy as to include a link to Plath's report! No wait... come back... Before you click away, I just wanted to let you know that this post is a set-up! Unless something major happens between now and Sunday, check back late in that day for my next post, a long one, aided immensely by Ancestry.com's archive, the good people at the Lilly Library and Emory University, and money ("For money, Lord, the crowds are fierce!").

There are a couple of interesting anomalies with the information on the report. Such as Plath's birth date is one day off and the date of notification sent to Plath's aunt and uncle, Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Benotti. The report lists the date sent as 11 February 1963; however sources such as this and biographies that mentions it was sent the following day, the 12th, as the telegram/cable read "Sylvia died yesterday". Also her daughter Frieda's name is misspelled.

07 December 2009

Update on Narbeshuber's Confessing Cultures

Out just in time for the holidays is Lisa Narbeshuber's Confessing Cultures: Politics and the Self in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath (E L S Monograph Series).

Whilst Amazon says they are out of stock, and the book is not listed on ELS's website, I've heard the title has been published. You can order through Amazon above or through the publisher at els@uvic.ca.

For more information, please see my previous post from 21 August.

05 December 2009

Frieda Hughes' space

In today's Observer is "My Space: Frieda Hughes, poet and painter."

The article subtitle is "The daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes on the Welsh home she shares with three dogs and an owl." This must be ironic as as in the article Hughes writes, "I hate forever being known as Sylvia Plath's daughter – I'm my own person."

03 December 2009

Ted Hughes in the News

This seems to be a week for Ted Hughes. In today's Times, Ben Macintyre writes "Ted Hughes was a prophet of climate change".

Also, someone put two readings of Sylvia Plath poems by Ted Hughes on YouTube. The clip features Hughes reading "Wuthering Heights" and "Crossing the Water". "Wuthering Heights" is likely from the British Library CD Ted Hughes: Poetry in the Making - The Spoken Word. Haven't yet sorted out the origin of "Crossing the Water". Thanks to Gail Crowther for pointing out the availability of this.

There is no stopping people from doing this kind of thing, but I'd encourage people to buy the CD or borrow it from the library.

01 December 2009

Two articles

Two articles to bring to your attention today.

The first is "Icons Among Us" by Caleb Daniloff in BU Today (or, yesterday, or 30th November 2009, depending on when you view). This is about Room 222 at Boston University, where Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, among others, attended Robert Lowell's poetry courses. Please note, I've found the link to be nomadic and slightly problematic. If it doesn't work please accept my apologies.

The second is from today's Evening Standard. Geordie Greig gives us "Time to give Ted Hughes his rightful place in Poets' Corner, say laureates."

A third article appeared in the 2 December 2009 issue of The Times: Fiona Hamilton's "Put Ted Hughes in Poets' Corner, writers urge Westminster Abbey."

26 November 2009

Ariel Mug

Now that the holiday season is upon us...

Do you have 10 quid hanging around. If so, you might think about getting yourself a Sylvia Plath Ariel coffee mug. The mug reproduces Faber's 2001 publication and woud likely make drinking coffee, tea, hot chocolate (with Bailey's) a more intense experience.

This also seems an appropriate time to give notice that according to Amazon.co.uk, look for a new hardback edition of Ariel on 6 May 2010.

See Plath's pages on Faber's website here.

21 November 2009

A Queen is Crowned: August 24, 1953

In October, my review of Alix Strauss' Death Becomes Them, led to some temporary uncertainly over Aurelia Plath's whereabouts on 24 August 1953 - the afternoon of Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt. Was she at the theater? Was she at a friends? In Wellesley? Or in some other town? Thanks to BrigetAnna, ~VC, and Jim Long for pointing out that this is something Strauss got right (see the comments section). I recently had occasion to review the Boston Daily Globe for August 24, 1953. I learned that the film Aurelia Plath saw was called A Queen is Crowned. (Amazon.co.uk)

A Queen is Crowned was playing at the Exeter Street Theater, at 26 Exeter Street, at the corner of Exeter and Newbury Streets in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood. That day, Aurelia Plath likely saw the 2:10 p.m. showing. (Sylvia Plath was born at ... wait for it ... 2:10 p.m. She was 20 years old (or, 2 x 10). Plath signed the contract for The Colossus in London on 2/10 (1960). And, 2/10 (1963) was the last full day of her life. Ok, enough?). A Queen is Crowned was narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier and presented by ... wait for it ... J Arthur Rank. It was the same J Arthur Rank that would employ Ted Hughes as a script reader within a few years.

The exterior of the building is still standing (see image below) but it is no longer a cinema. The theater is approximately 13.1 miles from 26 Elmwood Road by way of Route 9/Boylston Street.

17 November 2009

Elena Ciobanu's Sylvia Plath's Poetry: The Metamorphoses of the Poetic Self

Elena Ciobanu, Lecturer at Vasile Alecsandri, University of Bacau, Romania, recently had her book Sylvia Plath's Poetry: The Metamorphoses of the Poetic Self published by Casa Editoriala Demiurg in Romania.

Elena's book is an excellent study of Sylvia Plath's poetry. She builds upon previous critical works and theoretical approaches whilst infusing it with her own original reading.

Ciobanu's Sylvia Plath's Poetry: The Metamorphoses of the Poetic Self is a serious work. I'll be honest, much of it was over my own limited intellect. But be that as it may, I found her writing clear and her approach fresh. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the third chapter, "The Phenomenological Unfolding of Sylvia Plath's Poetic Existence", on pages 132-135, which deal with Plath's "Empty Ectasy". Here Elena details "the five poems in which we can find Plath's most famous trademark images of so-called transcendence". She takes us carefully through the chronological order of these poems, constructing for me a crystal clear pathway from "Stings" to "Fever 103" to "Ariel" to "Purdah" to "Lady Lazarus" that best exemplifies Plath's poetic achievements in October 1962. It is writing and criticism at its finest.

Potential readers should know that the book has some typographical errors and some imperfect quotes introduced during the editorial process. A familiarity with the quoted work will alleviate any confusion but does lead to a little frustration. But, let this not dissuade you from reading this work.

The website for the publisher is: http://www.ceddemiurg.ro/. Please note, the publisher's website is in Romanian; however, the book is in English. If you are interested in ordering this title, please email Elena who will be able to assist. The book is 10 Dollars or 7 Euros or 6 Pounds, plus shipping.

13 November 2009

Sylvia Plath: Did you know...

Sylvia Plath has been the subject of numerous interpretations. Plath's life and works have been adapted and performed both in dramatic and cinematic fashions, as well as in other ways. Some are remembered, some are not...

Did you know that in 1976 and 1978, the dancer/actress Margaret Beals put on "Stings" in New York? "Stings" co-starred Lee Nagrin and Brooke Myers, and first appeared at the Kauffmann Concert Hall at the 92nd Street Y (1395 Lexington Avenue). The first performance was on 23 May 1976. It was revived briefly in 1978 for 16 performances beginning on 9 May, this time at Beals' own Theater in the Loft.

09 November 2009

Sylvia Plath: The Disquieting Muse

At 5 p.m. on 13 November 2009, Catherine Bowman will be at the Woodberry Poetry Room. She will be both reading from her collection of poems The Plath Cabinet and playing recordings of poems by Plath (and possibly Ted Hughes and Anne Sexton, too). If you are in the area, please come to the informal event, it is free and open to the public. The Woodberry Poetry Reading is in Room 330 of Lamont Library at Harvard.

In conjunction with this event, I've created a little exhibit entitled "Sylvia Plath: The Disquieting Muse". Items featured in the exhibit include a first edition Heinemann The Colossus, a typescript of "The Disquieting Muses" with a typo, the reel tape boxes from Plath 1958 and 1959 Harvard recordings, and a few other items and photographs. The exhibit will be up for a while. The picture here is intentionally small...

Also coming up next weekend, 13-15 November 2009, the 33rd Boston Antiquarian Book Fair is on at the Hynes Convention Center (T to Copley, Back Bay, Prudential or Hynes). It'll be your chance to start or build upon your collection, or to just gaze and drool over the fine books. Be forewarned, most book sellers have a "You drool, you buy" policy. Pretty Colossus signed by Plath for Theodore Roethke.

07 November 2009

Links, reviews, etc. - week ending 7 November 2009

More items of interest to pass on in addition to the recently published articles I posted on yesterday...
  • EvaClaire Albion Wright, at the Sophian, the weekly student press at Smith College, ran an article this week on the Mortimer Rare Book Room, "Rare Book Room allows student interaction with charming collection". As someone who has worked a lot in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, I can't say enough how wonderful and accurate this article was to read.

  • Thanks to Gail Crowther for sending on "Church featured in BBC's Jam and Jerusalem desecrated by vandals", an article that ran in The Telegraph. This is the Church that Court Green faces; and about which Plath wrote about in the poem "The Moon and the Yew Tree" and the short story "Mothers".

  • On 25 November, Olivia Cole of The Spectator reports Frieda Hughes will read with Don Paterson, herself, and others at the The Spectator Boardroom, 22 Old Queen Street, London, SW1H 9HP between 6:30pm and 9pm. I'm confused, however, because although Frieda Hughes is the first poet named in the blog article, she is not included on the poetry events page linked from the blog.

  • Hilary Stout at the New York Times reports on "Where the Boys Aren't". The article discusses ye olde women's only hotels, and mentioned The Barbizon, where Plath stayed in the summer of 1953 during her guest editorship at Madmeoiselle. There is a lovely slideshow.

06 November 2009

New Publications

Recently published is Jane Hedley's I Made You to Find Me: The Coming of Age of the Woman Poet and the Politics of Poetic Address (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2009). In this work is an essay titled, "Sylvia Plath's Ekphrastic Impulse" (pgs 71-102). Other poets examined in I Made You to Find Me are Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich and Gwendolyn Brooks.

The chapter on Plath appears to have grown from Hedley's essay "Sylvia Plath's Ekphrastic Poetry" which appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of Raritan (Vol 20, No. 4), pages 37-73. Hedley's is a good article. While the original was written prior to Eye Rhymes, it doesn't seem to acknowledge this important work when it may have benefited from it.

Also, out now is an essay by Arielle Greenberg and Becca Klaver in the Fall 2009 issue of College Literature (Vol 36, No 4). "Mad Girls’ Love Songs: Two Women Poets—a Professor and Graduate Student—Discuss Sylvia Plath, Angst, and the Poetics of Female Adolescence" appears on pages 179-207. Here follows the abstract:

"The legacy of Sylvia Plath’s poetry and the received notion of the teenage girl writer wallowing in self-pity are discussed in terms of their significance to adolescent female readers and their ramifications for girlhood culture at large. Plath’s legacy endures in part because of the recognition that a fluctuation in moods and personas is often the experience of young women, of writers, of those who struggle with depression or anxiety (and the overlap between these populations), and also because of Plath’s ability to craft the fever of her emotions into poems that rely on bold and rich figurative language. This essay uses memoir, a survey of Plath’s popular and critical reception, and a close reading of Plath poems that take on more adolescent concerns and themes, then concludes by looking at contemporary women poets whose aesthetics, attitudes and themes are relevant to contemporary teenage girl readers."

While I've yet to finish the article, I like the style; with each author contributing thoughts, as if in conversation or discussion, much like my article with Gail Crowther in Plath Profiles 2.

03 November 2009

Published Today: Olive Edition of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Today, Harper Perennial publishes the Olive Edition of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

The The's:
The book format is trade paperback.
The ISBN is 0061849901.
The price is $10.
The cover is purple.
The addition of this edition to my collection is welcome.

UPDATE: 4 November 2009: On the back cover of the book it says that this Olive Edition is a Limited Edition.

01 November 2009

Sylvia Plath Collections: T. Thomas papers, mss

The good people at the Lilly Library quietly acquired some of Trevor Thomas' papers earlier this year. The T. Thomas mss, ca. 1976-1990, "consist of the correspondence, writings, legal depositions, poetry, typescript of his autobiography, and poetry of Trevor Thomas, b. South Wales, 1907. Appointed Keeper of the Department of Ethnology in the City of Liverpool Free Public museum, Thomas became a nationally known specialist in primitive art and for his innovative exhibition displays at the museum. Thomas was living in the apartment below Sylvia Path at the time of her death by suicide.

"The collection includes correspondence between Thomas and Aurelia Plath following her daughter’s suicide; correspondence with Linda Wagner–Martin, a biographer of Plath, including a typescript copy of parts of her book and an inscribed hard copy of the published text, Sylvia Plath: A Biography. It also includes legal documents, news clippings and testimony regarding Ted Hughes suit against Mr. Thomas for aggravated libel for comments made by Thomas in his self-published memoire, Sylvia Plath: Last Encounters."

In all the collection is about 200 items. An interesting association collection. To see the finding aid and to access other holdings at the Lilly, click here. This looks like the papers that bookseller Richard Ford was selling, which I posted on 25 April 2009. (It appears his copy of Last Encounters is still for sale.)

Thanks to Sophie Eleanor Turner for leading me to learn about this acquisition.

28 October 2009

Frieda Hughes' Book of Mirrors out now

Bloodaxe Books published The Book of Mirrors by Frieda Hughes earlier this month, on 10 October, in the UK.

The Book of Mirrors, packaged with Hughes' Stonepicker, was published earlier this year in the US.

There are many poems of interest in this collection to readers of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

27 October 2009

Picture Post

At Starbucks this morning, I couldn't help but notice what the person in front of me was reading. I just had to take a picture of "Words Read, by accident, Over the iPhone"...

H.B. S.P.

26 October 2009

Mademoiselle August 1953 on eBay

Sylvia Plath was guest managing editor the August 1953 issue of Mademoiselle. Currently on eBay, someone is auctioning this issue. The auction ends tomorrow, October 27 (Plath's birthday no less)!

P.S. - it should be noted that I am not the seller and that I do not personally know the seller.

21 October 2009

Sylvia Plath: Double did you know...

Since October is, for us, unequivocally associated with Sylvia Plath, I thought I'd offer a special double did you know. I spoil you, I know.

In 1994-1995, Tim Kendall founded the magazine Thumbscrew. His hope was that it would be an "antidote to a London poetry scene which appeared to outsiders as cosy, self-savouring, mediocre." Did you know that
Thumbscrew 9, Winter 1997-1998, was a special issue on Sylvia Plath? The following is a list of citations for those articles which appeared in issue 9:

  • Adcock, Fleur. "Why Plath is (Not) Very Important to Me." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 2-3.

  • Korelitz, Jean Hanff. "An Inexcusable Thing." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 5-9.

  • Quinn, Justin. "Plath as Exemplar." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 11-12.

  • Tyrrell, Patricia. "The Semtex Poet." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 27-29.

  • Kinsella, John and Tracy Ryan. "'Farther Off Than Australia': Some Australian Receptions of Plath." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 43-49.

  • Gammage, Nick. "Reading Sylvia Plath: An Unrecorded Publication of 'The Rabbit Catcher'." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 55-56.

  • Phillips, Ivan. "A Mixed Marriage: The Strange Affair of Sylvia Plath and Paul Muldoon." Thumbscrew 9. Winter 1997-1998: 58-65.
The next issue, 10, featured two letters in response to issue 9, and a new essay by Rosemarie Rowley. Here are the citations for Thumbscrew 10.

  • Scammell, William. "Letters." Thumscrew 10. Spring 1998: 31.

  • Adcock, Fleur. "Letters ." Thumscrew 10. Spring 1998: 32.

  • Rowley, Rosemarie. "Electro-convulsive Treatment in Sylvia Plath's Life and Work." Thumbscrew 10. Spring 1998: 87-99.

The tone of these essays in
Thumbscrew 9, taken as a whole, is completely mixed, leaning towards the negative.

Little did you know that I hinted at the second "Did you know..." in the first group of citations from
Thumbscrew 9. Did you know that "The Rabbit Catcher" was published in The Observer on February 7, 1965? It was! On page 26. Gammage's revelation, not in Stephen Tabor's authoritative bibliography, could change the way some look at this poems supposed omission from the Plath's works prior to its appearance in Winter Trees in 1971/1972. Of course, it isn't likely Hughes sent/gave it to The Observer - more likely it was held over by a submission of Plath's from 1962. The history on that is as follows...

According to Plath's submission list (held by the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College), she did send to Alvarez "Event", "The Rabbit Catcher", "Elm", "Crossing the Water", "An Appearance", and "Little Fugue" on June 30, 1962. Plath's practice was to underline those works which were accepted (sometimes she starred them as well). For this submission, "Crossing the Water", "Event" and "The Rabbit Catcher" were underlined. "Elm" was as well, but the underline was struck out. "Crossing the Water" appeared on September 23, 1962 on page 25. "Event" appeared on December 16, 1962, on page 21. It's a good bet that "The Rabbit Catcher" appearing in
The Observer prior to Ariel's publication in on March 11, 1965, was a surprise to Ted Hughes. Did The Observer print "The Rabbit Catcher" in anticipation of its (presumed) appearance it was going to be in the forthcoming Ariel?

The "Elm" strike through is interesting. Plath sent "Elm" to the
New Yorker on June 8, 1962 (along with "Three Women", "The Rabbit Catcher", and "Event"). By July 10, they were returned as rejected. Plath re-sent "Elm" on August 31, 1962 (along with five additional poems). This time it was accepted, on September 26. It would be interesting to look at the poems in the two batches to try to determine what made "Elm" stick out the second time around. Anyway, the New Yorker wanted to change the title. On October 10, 1962, Plath sent a letter to Howard Moss at the New Yorker accepting the title change from "Elm" to "The Elm Speaks". With this in mind, Plath probably crossed out the "Elm" acceptance from the Observer shortly after September 26; she did have a first reading contract them, after all. "The Elm Speaks", along with 6 other poems, were published in the New Yorker on August 3, 1963. One of these six poems had been held since being accepted in July 1960 (before Plath had her first reading contract with them)!

17 October 2009

Event of Plathian Interest at Columbia College Chicago

If you are in Chicago, or near Chicago, you may be interested in the following event sponsored by Columbia College, Chicago. If you have frequent flyer miles, I'd suggest redeeming them for this event.

Karen Kukil will give a talk, “Sylvia Plath's Women and Poetry”, on Wednesday, October 21, 5:30 p.m. at the Music Center Concert Hall,1014 South Michigan Avenue. Click hither for more information.

If anyone sees Eddie Cohen, can you please give him my number?

13 October 2009

Yaddo at Smith

The exhibit "Unconquered by Flames: The Literary Light at Yaddo at Smith College" is one of 15 around the country celebrating the artist colony in Saratoga Springs, New York.

The exhibit is all over the library, which I think is a wonderful use of their limited space. The Plath/Hughes experience is the largest of the exhibits, with the most "stuff" and the most cases. In addition to "Sylvia Plath '55 & Ted Hughes at Yaddo, 1959", which is in the Book Arts Gallery, Neilson level 3, there is the Exhibit Overview, Neilson Library, 1st floor entrance, Lola Ridge at Yaddo, 1929-1930, Sophia Smith Collection, Alumnae Gym, Newton Arvin at Yaddo, 1928-1960, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Neilson level 3, and Constance Carrier '29 at Yaddo, 1975 & 1978, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Neilson level 3. Each exhibit illustrates the subjects relationship with Yaddo as well as the results, or products, of the stay. Often a manuscript is side by side with the published, final work.

Plath and Hughes were guests at Yaddo from September to November 1959; it proved to be a pivotal residency for Plath, as she wrote the poems that would complete her first book, The Colossus, and also wrote short stories that got her closer to her true voice, which manifested itself in The Bell Jar and Ariel.

The 14 display cases dedicated to Plath and Hughes are wonderfully clear, with a careful narrative constructed by the exhibit's mastermind, Karen V. Kukil. Each case displays a couple of pages of Plath's journals, and a mixture of photographs, poetry and short story manuscripts and typescripts, typed drafts, galley proofs, printed works, and correspondence with editors and mentors. First editions of The Colossus, The Bell Jar, Ariel and Birthday Letters can be seen, as well as other texts from Plath's library, such as her red cloth German in Review, complete with gouge marks. What Karen has done is taken material we are familiar with and assembled an intimate portrait of the poets as writers, as creators. This portrait itself allows for a new investigation and consideration of the way Plath worked and her output. Also it is clear just how professional and resourceful she was in marketing her work.

Along the wall are images of Plath and Hughes taken from Kukil's other exhibit, "No Other Appetite", which was hosted at the Grolier Club in New York City in 2005. (The catalog of "No Other Appetite" is for sale and is worth every single penny.)

The exhibit will start coming down in pieces later this month. If you're near Northampton, I recommend you stop by and see it. You'll see Plath in a new light, unconquered, even amidst fierce flames.

10 October 2009

American and British Poetry: A Guide to Criticism, 1925-1978

There is a book called American and British Poetry: A Guide to the Criticism, 1925-1978, which was compiled by Harriet Semmes Alexander and published in 1984. It is a 2 volume book. Sylvia Plath is covered on pages 298-303. What this bibliography does is list works by Plath, and then gives citations of essays that discuss or mention the work. Of course, it only goes to 1978, so it is "older", but nevertheless I think it is an interesting reference tool. I don't think it's nearly complete either - based on what I've seen published before 1978, it seems skinny. But, it's a cool resources nonetheless. As the title indicates, it is only looking at Plath's poetry. Funnily enough, "Three Women" is not listed under "Three Women", but under "Poem for Three Voices."

If your local town or college library doesn't have it - no worries. Google does!

05 October 2009


If the article on "Sylvia Plath" in Alix Strauss' Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, & the Notorious (Harper Collins, 2009) is typical of the others in the book, the general population that reads this work will, in the company of those who know something of the subject discussed, make fools of themselves.

There are some truly heinous mistakes in the Plath piece. I forced myself not to jump right to Plath and read with interest about Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and Hunter S. Thompson. I looked forward to Anne Sexton after Plath. I admit I don't know much about the suicides of the other people in the book, but after the Plath chapter I was so completely turned off to the point that the book in my hand was replaced by chocolate.

There are far too many errors for me to try to correct here, but I'll just list a few because I cannot help myself. Before I continue, however, I do have to say that the book I received, kindly from Strauss' publicist, is an advanced, uncorrected proof. Some of these errors may have been corrected before the book was published. The copy of the book I browsed briefly in a Borders book store seemed to be very similar, textually speaking, to my proof copy. In writing this, I am reminded of something my mother always said to me: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." I've always been a bit stubborn (comments to the blog on this point will be removed).

The format will follow my previous reviews that have warrented such scrutiny. I'll list the page number, the quote from the book, followed by the "correction" or some other snarky or potentially offensive comment.

Pg 57
"Born: October 27, 1932, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts." - Nope. Born in Boston, Massachusetts.

"Died: February 11, 1963, Court Green House, Devon England." - Nope. Plath died at 23 Fitzroy Road, London, England. Inconsistently, the location was correct later in the text.

"Discovered by: The nanny" - Nope. Myra Norris was a nurse not a nanny; and the construction person was a construction person. Inconsistently, Norris' occupation was correct later in the text.

"Funeral: Among the long list of eminent writers present at her funeral, close friend Anne Sexton gave a touching eulogy and talked openly about the two women's attraction to suicide." - Seriously? Is this fiction? This is grotesquely inaccurate and unintentionally laughable. The only eminent writer at her funeral was her husband.

At the risk of this review starting to look like Letters Home or The Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982), ... ... (omission) ... ...

Pg 61
"It took only a few months [following their wedding] for Ted to have an affair, with Assia Wevill..." - Nope. Way wrong.

"By 1960 Sylvia and Ted each had dueling books of poetry published..." - Not really. Scales were heavily in Hughes' favor.

Pg 62
"[At the time of her death Plath left] Ariel and Other Poems... on the table near the front door, like a present waiting to be opened." - No. The manuscript was in her study.

Pg 63
"...a folded towel acted as a substitute for a blanket, which she used to support her head on the stove's open door." - No. A report at the time of her death indicates that her head was deep in the oven.

Pg 64
"On February 15, friends and family piled into St. Pancras County Court..." - Not quite accurate.

"Shortly after Sylvia's funeral, her friend Elizabeth was sent a letter by Assia, now Ted's wife." - Nope. Ted Hughes never married Assia Wevill. He did refer to her in a letter as his "true wife" at one point, but as far as I know astrological or cosmic marriage is not a recognized form of marriage.

There is more, the following comments on inaccuracies and errors in the book are from Gail Crowther. I'd quote at length from Strauss' text but likely won't obtain permission to reprint the WHOLE THING.

p. 61 The order of the writing of the poems is just all wrong, wrong, wrong.

p. 62 SP moved to London with the "naivete of a child" - What??? Has Strauss never read her letters?

p. 62 I believe from other sources that Horder sent SP the name of a female psychiatrist who he thought would be suitable but that the letter arrived after her death.

p. 62 SP 'wrote several notes' the night of her suicide - Sources/Evidence for this claim?

p. 63 'tea soaked clothes' - This detail is not mentioned in the inquest notes or the recording of the inquest. They were simply described as clothes and tape.

p. 63 'as if finishing the botched job she began twenty years before' - 20 years after her first attempt? ... So she was 10 then the first time she tried??? You're reading "Lady Lazarus" too literally.

p. 63 Plath was on the National Health Service, thus pills were free. Thus, gas was more expensive than pills.

p. 63 SP died at 6am? I thought Horder claimed she was still warm at 10.30 and therefore he thought she had died around 8am?

p. 63 Trevor Thomas was neither unconscious nor taken to hospital. According to his account he woke groggy in the afternoon, went to work to apologise and Horder looked him over and told him he had been affected by the gas.

p. 63 The quote on SP's grave is not from the Bhagavad Gita but from the Buddhist text 'Monkey' by Wu Ch'Eng-En.

p. 65 Assia Wevill was not "expecting TH home" they had just got back from a trip to Manchester and they didn't live together anyway.

p. 66 Assia Wevill didn't use water to wash down her pills - it was orange juice for Shura and whisky for herself.

And, there is still more! I'd include them but don't want to appear to be too nit-picky.

Each article in Death Becomes Them includes an "Unearthed" section as well as other bits of information such as career highlights. The Unearthed section, I thought, would reveal something new about the Plath's death, but for Plath is was just a summary of or brief history of British suicides by coal gas. Like Plath when she visited her father's grave in Winthrop, I felt cheated. Following the main text on Plath, there is a section called "Two Wives, Same Method" - which of course is wrong from the start as, we know, Ted Hughes's second wife - at this time of writing - is still living. Thus also, Hughes could not have been Assia's fourth husband, as is claimed on page 66.

The section on Nicholas Hughes' suicide earlier this year is painful to read. I suppose Strauss couldn't help herself? Lastly, the Career Highlights is equally flawed. According this this, The Journals of Sylvia Plath won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982. No. That would be Plath's Collected Poems. The final sentence is off the mark, as well, "Today, two of her journals are on exhibition at Smith College, where they will remain until 2013, the year marking the fiftieth anniversary of her death." What I think she meant was that two journals were sealed until 2013; however, 11 years ago these were unsealed and were included in Karen V. Kukil's The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath published in 2000. The reliance on earlier Plath biographies is apparent.

Even a little carefully conducted research could have avoided 95% of these errors. It's really a shame that some bad facts just keep getting recycled by careless, clumsy, or otherwise lazy, presumably hasty writing. There is very little either new or interesting or unearthed about Plath or her suicide in this chapter - which is really, as a coworker of mine said, the only thing I care about. It is writing like this that pulls the focus clearly away from Plath's writing and wrongfully places it after her life. Perhaps I'm just over-deathed at the moment, having just finished a book about Jack the Ripper, but I found the work excessively and obsessively morbid. Alix Strauss' coverage of Sylvia Plath in Death Becomes Them is potentially one of the worst pieces of writing on Plath I've ever read. Big statement.

Stepping off the soapbox now.

I promise a positive review of something later this month.

29 September 2009

Teenage Plath writing & artwork acquired by the Lilly Library

On Tuesday 22 September, at a one day book conference entitled "Books in Hard Times" held at the Grolier Club in New York, I had the chance to speak briefly with Breon Mitchell, director of the Lilly Library. He mentioned during his talk - on libraries collecting during 'hard times' that they still add to their collections when possible. Acquiring is just more strict. Of their impressive holdings, he singled out their Plath materials as being a collection that is still growing, mentioning their recent acquisition of some Plath juvenalia. I asked him during a break what they acquired, and I am exceedingly happy to report that they are the holders of the Plath manuscripts that were just up at auction from Sotheby's in July.

So, although that signed copy of The Colossus is now for sale - and will be presumably for a while - these "juvenalia" are available - right now - for researchers to use. One of the manuscripts Mr. Mitchell particularly mentioned was the list of books read that Plath made.I couldn't agree more that knowing what Plath read in her adolescent, formative years, is of infinite importance.

The items purchased at Sotheby's make up Plath mss. V, 1944–1945. From the IU catalog, Plath mss. V "consists of three items of early Sylvia Plath juvenilia: an autographed manuscript with drawings, entitled "Christmas Booklet", signed "Sylvia Plath" (with 9 illustrated leaves beginning with an illustrated wrapper decorated with paper cut outs of a candle and holly branches, an illustrated title page followed by a thank–you letter to "Aunt Frieda" dated December 26, 1944, a short story and two poems); an 11–page, pencil manuscript hand–made stapled booklet entitled "The Treasures of Sylvia Plath," with her notes on several book titles she apparently read while participating in a reading club including treasures or maxims from each work such as "The Silver Pencil," "The White Stag," and "Stand Fast and Reply" among others; and an illustrated, typescript poem in the form of a get–well card."

It is wonderful that these items found their way to an institution and particularly to one that is continuing to grow its collection. As this blog and my website have documented, Sylvia Plath's papers have found their way to dozens of repositories. One can really add to their frequent flyer miles!

In addition to hearing from librarians, the conference heard from book dealers and book collectors. Each aspect of the book world detailed how collecting has had to change its ways and means in these "difficult economic times". It was particularly illuminating hearing from the dealers and the collectors as each needs the other so much. If you are a book dealer, librarian, or collector, you may be interested in reading more on Philobiblos.

26 September 2009

Alix Strauss' Death Becomes Them

I just received an email regarding the new book by Alix Strauss entitled Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous and the Notorious, published September 2009, by Harper Collins. Death Becomes Them is available in paperback and e-book for $14.99.

The following post is excerpted from the press release for the book.

The weather in Sussex, London is brisk; the sun shining. The large stones are smooth in her hands. Solid and heavy in her pockets. They bulge from her coat. Though she found herself in this exact position, standing by the river, ready to end her life days ago, she failed. She returned home drenched, body shivering from the cold. But today she knows more. Today she has the rocks.

Virginia Woolf spent most of her life in one of two states: writing or fighting a bipolar/manic depressiveness which went undiagnosed until after she’d drowned herself on March 28th, 1941. Three weeks later her body was discovered by a group of children playing near the water.

Each of the 20 legendary luminaries unearthed in Alix Strauss’ Death Becomes Them was brilliant, creative and of course, suicidal. Manic, bipolar, depressed and suffering from addiction, these geniuses were also self-destructive.

Death Becomes Them is an eye-opening and intimate portrait of the lonely, sad and nightmarish lives these famous folks led. Along with being an historic overview of suicide, Strauss’ book delves into the deaths of our most influential cultural icons: Sylvia Plath, Adolf Hitler, Diane Arbus, Sigmund Freud, Vincent van Gogh, Abbie Hoffman, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Cobain, Spalding Gray, and Anne Sexton, among others. The deaths are as diverse as the person that killed themselves. Some are tragic -- Dorothy Dandridge was found naked on her bathroom floor, a handful of anti-depressants swimming in her system. Others are bizarre -- Hunter S. Thompson shot himself while on the phone with his wife in an eerie, copycat tribute to his hero, Ernest Hemingway who killed himself in a similar way forty-four years earlier.

While Strauss explores some of the most talked about and monumental suicides of the past she examines our own morbid fascination, asking why we have become so fixated on these tortured souls. While paying tribute to their lives, focus is placed on their final days and the incidents that led up to the moment when they took their last breath. Strauss decodes their suicide notes, touches on their accomplishments and delves into the methodology of their deaths by documented autopsy and police reports, death certificates, obituaries, and personal photos. Lists regarding controversial, bizarre, famous and poorly executed suicides along with unusual facts and statistics are found in this mammoth tome.

Written in a creative, descriptive and informative tone, Death Becomes Them is a private, provocative and personal tribute to these lost souls—a fond remembrance and a final goodbye.

Alix Strauss: A media savvy social satirist, Alix has been a featured lifestyle and trend writer on national morning and talk shows including: ABC, CBS, CNN and, most recently, The Today Show. Her articles cover a range of topics, from beauty, travel, and food trends to celebrity interviews, which have appeared in the New York Times, New York Post, and Daily News, as well as national magazines: Time magazine, Marie Claire, Entertainment Weekly, Self, Esquire, and Departures, among others. Her collection of shorts, The Joy of Funerals, was published by St. Martin’s Press. Her latest book is an anthology of mother coordinated blind date horror stories called Have I Got a Guy For You. Alix lives in New York City.

For more reviews and information, or to watch Alix’s TV appearances, learn more about her upcoming projects, recent articles and events, please go to her web site: http://www.alixstrauss.com/

23 September 2009

Sylvia Plath at the Morgan Library

On Monday, 21 September, I was able to spend a couple of hours at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.

Of the vast holdings at the Morgan is a smallish collection of Sylvia Plath books and a rare manuscripts. The books form part of the Carter Burden Collection of American Literature. The manuscripts, on which I have posted a couple of times on this blog (here and here), are of 40 or so "juvenile" poems, written between 1937 and the mid-1940s. Previously, I have seen only a black and white photocopy, from microfilm, but on this research visit I was given permission to see the original. Plath illustrated her early journals, which are housed at the Lilly Library (more on Plath and the Lilly later this week!) at Indiana University, but I don't recall seeing many illustrated poems. What a treat this turned out to be.

The books I looked at were:

The 1972 proof of Winter Trees published by Harper & Row; the 1976 proof of The Bed Book published by Faber & Faber; the long galley proof of Crossing the Water published by Harper & Row; and the British magazine Nova, which published Plath's "Heavy Woman" and "Mirror" on page 37 of the May 1970 issue. Inserted between pages 48 and 49 Nova was an article by Amanda Craig entitled "Children of the Lesser Gods." The subtitle is "Crow Baby? Amanda Craig meets the Laureate's Daughter." It is an article removed from Tatler magazine, I believe, page 172. The date wasn't discernable. In all, there are 55 Sylvia Plath items to look at at the Morgan.

I selected these to look at as, in my travels to different libraries and to book stores and book fairs, I had not seen these. But the real star was those manuscripts. If you are ever in the New York City area, or planning to visit, you should try to see these. One must plan in advance though as the Reading Room is small and tends to fill up. Information on applying is available through the Morgan's website, see link above.

19 September 2009

New Sylvia Plath article

Just a little post today to say that Sally Bayley has a new article published in Women's History Review, Volume 18, Issue 4. The date on this issue is September 2009, and it appears on pages 547-558. Here is the title and abstract:

"'Is it for this you widen your eye rings?' Looking, Overlooking and Cold War Paranoia: the art of the voyeur in the poetry of Sylvia Plath and the films of Alfred Hitchcock"

This exploration of the shared culture of suspicion of Cold War America centres on the poetry of Sylvia Plath and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. A cinema enthusiast, American poet Sylvia Plath was invested in the dominant cultural conceit of domestic surveillance. Her late poems, the posthumous Ariel collection (1964), share much in common with Hitchcock's films, Suspicion, Rear Window and Marnie—films in which the culturally rarefied experience of the home life is open to scrutiny—and found lacking. Both Plath and Hitchcock employ the figure of the voyeur whose penetrating angles unsettle the stability of the Ladies' Home Journal view of domesticity. For Plath and Hitchcock domestic relations often descend into something more often resembling a Cold War tribunal: with suspicion leading the enquiry.

16 September 2009

Crockett's Colossus

On 17 July, 2009, I posted the results of some Sylvia Plath materials at Sotheby's in London. In this auction, Plath's The Colossus went on the block; this copy being quite special as it was the copy she signed and inscribed to her English teacher Wilbury Crockett. A Christmas card was included. The selling price was £17,500.

Well, the buyer of the was Peter Harrington, of London. I've seen his books at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair for the last few years - he's got great stuff and he's a high end dealer. Those interested now in owning Wilbury Crockett's former copy of The Colossus will have to shell out £37,500. The other items that sold have not yet surfaced in bookseller inventories so it it possible these went to private owners or other places.

Ian MacKay also wrote about this in the September 2007 issue of Fine Books Notes. See "A Colossal Colossus" here.

Crockett lived, at the time, at 9 Summit Road in Wellesley, according to Plath's address book, which is housed as part of the Sylvia Plath Collection at the Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College.

12 September 2009

Links, reviews, etc. - Week ending 12 September 2009

  • There is an article in The Times by Ben Hoyle today on Ted Hughes and his recently discovered children's story, Timmy the Tug, written in 1956. The article, "Ted Hughes’s first children’s story has emerged after 50 years" is online here. This is the first time I remember reading about Jim Downer - and that Plath visited down in the winter of 1963 shortly before she died. Downer, and his wife Wendy, lived, according to Plath's addressbook (housed at Smith), at 214 Old Brompton Road in London. The article includes some of Downer's illustrations. Look for Timmy the Tug on 21 September.

    There is a companion article to the one above, entitled "Jim Downer and Ted Hughes's excellent adventure" by Alan Franks.

  • An article that ran in the Marin Independent Journal mentions one of the most unique uses of Plath's poetry I can remember. In Jane Scurich's "Master Gardener: Garden Show focues on climate change, drought and sustainability", she talks about "A Garden of Mouthings", a garden "complete with garden complete with a honeycomb structure, bee-friendly plantings and a sound installation based on a poem ["The Beekeeper's Daughter"] by Sylvia Plath." The garden designer is Shirley Alexandra Watts. I'd love to see some pictures or video of this.

    Garden designer Shirley Alexandra Watts, will work with bee expert Jaime Pawelek, architect Andrew Kudless and builder Ross Craig to create "A Garden of Mouthings." Visitors will have an opportunity to seek advice from bee experts and enjoy some honey tastings. Watts says she "seeks to inform, delight and inspire its viewers by celebrating not only honey bees, but also our often overlooked native bees." Now, this is creative.

  • Catherine Bowman is scheduled to read from The Plath Cabinet on Friday 13 November, 2009, at 5 p.m, at the Woodberry Poetry Room. The Woodberry Poetry Room is located at Room 330, Lamont Library, Harvard University. In addition to reading from her recent collection of Plath, she will curate a close-listening experience to the recordings of Plath held by the Woodberry Poetry Room. This comes a semester after my own curated stroll through Plath's voice. I'm also planning to curate a little exhibit of some of the Woodberry's non-audio Plath holdings. If you're in the Eastern Massachusetts area please come - the event is free and open to the public.
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