31 March 2011

Plath Profiles 4 Deadline Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the deadline for Plath Profiles 4 submissions. If your submission is received after tomorrow it may be considered for the issue, but will more than likely have to wait until Plath Profiles 5 in the summer of 2012.

27 March 2011

Bonhams Sylvia Plath Sold Lots

Earlier I've gone through the sold/past lot of Sotheby's and Christie's. Today it's Bonhams & Buttefields. B & B's sold lot archive only goes back to 2003 as of right now.

In lot 418 on 29 June 2004, a Heinemann first edition of The Bell Jar by Victoria Lucas sold for £1,673.

In lot 89 on 11 May 2005, a threesome set of First Faber editions sold for £165. The three titles were Ariel, Crossing the Water, and Winter Trees. A steal...

It is likely we all remember lot 73 in the 3 October 2005 sale of a hand-drawn portrait of Ted Hughes by Plath that sold for £27,600.

A handsome edition of the first Faber Bell Jar (1966) sold for £264 in lot 85 on 20 May 2008. Also on this day in lot 146 a Heinemann first of The Bell Jar with a truly terribly dust-wrapper failed to sell.

Then there is that letter from Sylvia Plath to "Miss Reutlinger" that failed to sell in lot 2211 on 13 February 2011. I'm beginning to think that Kim's idea of a few people pitching in $1,000 wasn't such a bad idea after all. Maybe if it comes up for auction again we'll take her up on that, though I think the letter should be given to an archive and the donated can write it off for a tax deduction.

Most recently a first Faber of Ariel failed to sell in lot 6174 on 9 December 2010. This edition is kind of identity-confused as a slip glued in by Harper & Row indicates that it is actually to be considered the uncorrected proof, presumably of their 1966 edition. This item reappeared at their 27 February 2011 in lot 7205 for a lower estimate and sold for $195, inclusive of buyer's premium.

This book seems unique. I had emails with the sales people at Bonham's and they were kind enough to send images (posted here) and a little more description. It's the Faber edition of Ariel, first edition, second impression, but contains a glued in slip acknowledging it as the uncorrected proof of the Harper & Row edition. The second impression contains the same text as the first issue (in fact, a first edition, second impression copy is currently for sale on eBay, thanks RM) To someone like me, I wonder about the obvious differences between the British and American editions: the Lowell introduction at the start, and then the presence of poems like "The Swarm," "Mary's Song," "Lesbos." Does this Ariel have notations indicating the need to add the new poems? No, according to Bonhams. But note that in the image the page count is 102 pages! The first Faber is 86 pages; the first Harper's is 85. From where did they get that 102 pages?

Uncorrected proofs are an interesting aspect to Sylvia Plath book collecting. Very few American edition proofs are out there: I've never seen one for The Colossus, Ariel, Winter Trees, or The Bell Jar, for example. There are some reasonably priced proofs of Johnny Panic and The Journals (1982) on the market. I have written to booksellers with Plath proofs for sale in the past and they have been kind enough to supply images for my website for all our enjoyment. You can see some of the poetry volumes here and prose volumes here. And I guess this seems as good a time as any to mention I have an article coming out in the spring Fine Books & Collections on uncorrected proofs of the Heinemann edition of The Bell Jar.

On March 29, 2011, the Roy Davids collection will be going to the block, here is a review of the sale. And here is an introduction to the sale, written by Roy Davids. There is no Plath stuff in the auction, but there is a photograph of Hughes with the other giant Faber Poets. And Plath was in the room then, wasn't she?

I'll try to stay on top of all the auction websites going forward to let you know of Plath items. Save you money: Buy Plath!

25 March 2011

Heads Up!

Be on the lookout for an article on Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson, forthcoming this weekend on BiblioBuffet. The article title and direct link will be placed here once it's up... UPDATE: Rollyson's article "Revisionist Biography" is now online.

Rollyson is working on a biography of Plath scheduled to be published in 2013, around the time of the 50th anniversary of her death. You can learn more at Carl's website.

23 March 2011

Heritage Auctions: Sold Sylvia Plath lots

Just a brief auction sold lot to mention today. Heritage Auctions.

On one of the most Plathian days in 2009, June 16, a lovely Victoria Lucas edition of The Bell Jar sold in Lot 37219 for $1553.50 inclusive of buyers premium.

The description from the sale reads:
"[Sylvia Plath]. Victoria Lucas [pseudonym]. The Bell Jar. London: Heinemann, 1963.

"First edition. Octavo. 258 pages. Dust jacket designed by Thomas Simmonds.

"Original black cloth with titles stamped in gilt on the spine. Small Grolier Book Shop sticker to the lower front free endpaper. Dust jacket price-clipped with some small folds at the lower front edge, trivial toning to the back panel, and light wear to the spine panel including a small round scrape mid-spine. Overall, a very good copy.

"An exceptional first edition of Sylvia Plath's first book written under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. Sadly it was to be her last book as she committed suicide a month after its initial publication. Truly a roman á clef as it describes the author's unhappiness and descent into mental illness. An uncommon book, the more so in this condition."

I'll have a bigger auction report at the weekend.

19 March 2011

Christie’s Sold Sylvia Plath Lots

In the past I have reported on Sotheby's Sold Lot Archive (see the 500th post and also the 598th post of this blog) and how it is a fascinating glimpse into one faction of the book markets' supply & demand. Here is a look at Christie's sold lot archive. There is some cool stuff...

First a hybrid book that was mentioned in the Sotheby's post a week ago...The Wilbury Crockett copy of The Colossus that sold in on 2009 at Sotheby's was sold through Christie's (seven years earlier if you want to know) in lot 53 on 11 October 2002 for $35,850. The sale price at Sotheby's was £17,500, or roughly $28,550, so it actually represents a loss of about $7,300. This copy is currently for sale for £37,500 (or $60,518.64) through the reputable and estimable Peter Harrington Rare Books of London.

I hope that you are seated...On 9 December 1998 - just 42 days after Ted Hughes passed away - this very unique copy of The Colossus sold in Lot 46. This was an inscribed copy that Sylvia Plath sent to her in-laws in Yorkshire! Included was a color picture of Plath with Frieda and Nicholas at Court Green that I imagine was inserted into the book after Plath’s death, but possibly before. It’s a touching gesture, if this is what happened. I weap that the price was $11,500 as that is freakin' dirt cheap. I miss 1998!

Are you still sitting? I also miss 1997, when a letter from a collegiate "Smithie" Plath sold for $1,840 on 12 November of that year in Lot 52. The details of this letter were: Autograph letter signed ("Your happy girl Sylvia") TO HER MOTHER Aurelia Plath, Smith College, Northampton, Mass., n.d. [Winter 1951 or 1952]. 2 pages, 8vo, both sides of a blue sheet of stationery with Smith College heading. The auction description goes on to say, “A rapturous account of "the nicest weekend I ever had" skiing in the New Hampshire hills near Francestown: "...Marcia and I...went out into the most beautiful world imagineable [sic]! Snow had fallen in a fine powder last night, and the sun was out in a snow-blue sky...it was one of those heavenly dry-cold days, with blinding sun and snow and sharp blue shadows. The air was swimmingly blue. A kind neighbor loaned me a pair of skis and I 'skiid' for the first time in my life...I have never been so thrilled in my life!...Skiing, if you can do it well, must be pretty close to feeling like God..." Not in Letters Home and presumably unpublished."

We know Plath went skiing with Marcia Brown in February 1951; and an image of the two collegians appears in a couple of biographies and in the Unabridged Journals. Over on Flickr, Enigma14 has a photograph of the house and trees where Plath & Brown had their picture taken! Thanks Engima14! And by way of comparison, Enigma14 has a scan of the photo of Plath & Brown there, too.

A number of Victoria Lucas Bell Jar's have sold through Christie's too at prices that would make your mouth drop at their un-high-ness. On 13 November 2008 a first edition sold for $557 in lot 220; on 8 April 2003, a copy sold for $777 in lot 195; and on 18 October 1991, a copy sold along with a first edition of Nadine Gordimer's The Lying Days for $342 in lot 253.

A copy of the limited edition Crystal Gazer and Other Poems sold along with an uncorrected proof of the Faber Winter Trees and another limited edition, Child, on 30 November 2005 for $866 in lot 52.

But wait, there's more.

A copy of the limited edition Fiesta Melons sold in lot 212 on 7 March 2007 for $694 as part of a lot of books; and truly drool-inducing is this copy of a proof of Lupercal which sold in lot 158 on 11 October 2002 for $11,950. Why the call an uncorrected proof with visible corrections an uncorrected proof escapes my logic, but whatever (it should have been called a corrected uncorrected proof)... a truly remarkable, fabled book... A point of contention after reading the auction description, I could not see the book sticking out of his jacket in the Faber Poets photograph, but it can be seen in this image which I presume was taken on the same day on Faber's Flickr thing.

A copy of that full Faber Poets photograph is going for sale in lot 107, via Bonhams, on 29 March 2011 as part of the Roy Davids Collection II sale.

This concludes this blogs 600th post!

15 March 2011

Tuesday Night Sylvia Plath links

Thanks to Jescie for the following two goodies:

1) Here is a mix of Sylvia Plath reading her poem “A Birthday Present” with mixed up with the Cure’s "Off To Sleep," Lost Wishes.

2) And, a couple weeks back Jescie sent me “Nude in a Glass Dome” (1916) by Richard Teschner.

And, there is a play out in Califnornia by Steve Lyons called Mystery Spot that features Plath coming back for “some unfinished business.” Here is an article about the play by Kel Munger from the Sacramento News & Review and a review of the play by Rachel Aquino in the Sacramento Press.

I will resume with the exciting auction recap in a couple of days...

12 March 2011

Sylvia Plath in Sotheby's Sold Lot Archive

A couple times since 2009, I have mentioned items at auction, including the Sotheby’s Sold Lot Archive which is an amazing time capsule into fine, unique, and rare Plath related items that have come and gone on and off the market. Below is a list of those items that can be found in Sotheby's Sold Lot Archive. Look! There is nothing wrong with looking! (On that note, I hope all the links work. It's been a while since I started this post...)

Over the next couple of weeks I will also highlight other archived auctions. I’m very interested in this kind of thing and having worked with many fine editions of Plath’s books in libraries and archives, and seeing a number for sale at book fairs, just knowing these things are out there (or were out there) gives me absolute hope that there is more! It’s also a glimpse into how the other half lives!

Not all of the auctions have images, but those that do are amazing, especially those that offer a zoom option. Book collecting is something I really do admire; though I'm financially limited to seeking out inexpensive reprints (particularly of The Bell Jar), I can dream...right? Most of the rare and limited edition book covers I have on my website were provided by generous booksellers, or by good old-fashioned image searching on "the Google" and other websites. In The Club Dumas, one of Arturo Perez-Reverte's book collectors says this of his books, "They are mirrors in the image of who wrote them. They reflect their concerns, questions, desires, life, death...They're living beings: you have to know how to feed them, protect them." I daresay one could say the same thing of the collectors: that they are images of those who collect them; mirrors into their lives & desires, etc. If you are a collector of Plath, by all means consider a Guest Post on what the hunt is like, and what the thrill is like of seeing a package arrive and opening it.

July 15, 1998
Lot 591: Plath (Sylvia) Pursuit, first edition, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, limited to 100 copies, original signed etching by Baskin loosely inserted, original olive morocco by Zaehnsdorf, slipcase, [Tabor A17], 4to, the Rampant Lions Press for the Rainbow Press, 1973 [1974]. This lot sold for £368, including Buyer's Premium.

Lot 592: Plath (Sylvia) Three Women. A Monologue for three voices, first published edition, limited to 150 copies, linocuts by Stanislaw Gliwa, [Tabor A3b.1], original cream coloured cloth stamped in gold, Oficyna Stanislawa Gliwy for Turret Books, 1968; Fiesta Melons, limited to 150 copies, original red cloth, dust-jacket, [Tabor A10], Exeter, the Rougemont Press, 1971; Crystal Gazer and other poems, limited to 400 copies, original quarter buckram with decorated Japanese paper boards, slipcase, [Tabor A9], the Rainbow Press, 1971; Lyonesse, one of 90 copies in full calf (of an edition of 400), slipcase, [Tabor A13], Rampant Lions Press for the Rainbow Press, 1971; first editions (4). This lot sold for £345, including Buyer's Premium.

Lot 593: The Colossus and other poems, her first collection of poems, original green cloth, dust-jacket (slightly soiled, a few small tears at the edges), [Tabor A2], Faber and Faber, 1960; Ariel, original red cloth, dust-jacket, [Tabor A5], Faber and Faber, 1965; Winter Trees, original blue cloth, dust-jacket, [Tabor A15], Faber and Faber, 1971; first editions, 8vo (3). This lot sold for £483, including Buyer's Premium.

Lot 594: A Winter Ship, first edition of the author's first separately published work, one of approximately 60 copies, single sheet folded once, [Tabor A1], 8vo, Edinburgh, the Tragara Press, 1960. This lot sold for £552, including Buyer's Premium.

Lot 595: Lucas (Victoria) The Bell Jar, first edition, original black cloth, dust-jacket (slightly creased, a few small tears and chips at corners), [Tabor A4], 8vo, William Heinemann, 1963. This lot sold for £862, including Buyer's Premium.

December 17, 1998
Lot 250: Plath (Sylvia) Lyonesse, number 3 of 400 copies, this copy one of 10, endpapers reproducing 2 of Plath's manuscripts, gilt vellum by Zaehnsdorf, top edges gilt, original clamshell box with gilt calf lettering-piece, light wear at extremities, [Tabor A13], folio in 4s, Rainbow Press, 1971; Crystal Gazer and other Poems, number 17 of 400 copies, this one of 20, plate after Sylvia Plath, ''Kelmscott style'' limp vellum gilt with silk ties by Zaehnsdorf, top edges gilt, original clamshell box, [Tabor A9], 4to, Rainbow Press, 1971 (2). This lot sold for £460, including Buyer's Premium.

July 12, 2002
Lot 525: Hughes, Ted and Sylvia Plath. First editions: The Plath items in this lot included: Ariel, (Faber, 1965, dust-jacket); The Colossus and other poems, (Heinemann, 1960, dust-jacket); 8vo. This lot sold for £1,792, including Buyer's Premium.

Lot 526: Hughes, Ted. A collection of the poet's works, together with those of Sylvia Plath and Thom Gunn. The Plath items in this lot included: Million Dollar Month (Farnham: the Sceptre Press, 1971, Limited to 150 copies); Wreath for a Bridal (Farnham: the Sceptre Press, 1970, Limited to 100 copies); Three Women (Turret Books, 1968, Limited to 180 copies); together with a set of the "Sycamore Broadsheets" 1968-1970, numbers 1 to 12 complete; FIRST EDITIONS, original bindings; 8vo (24). This lot sold for £896, including Buyer's Premium. The Sycamore Broadsheets are a series of poems, each printed singularly and does not appear to incude Plath.

March 23, 2005
Lot 199: Modern American Fiction: A collection of 39 volumes. Sold for £2,400 including Buyer's premium and included a 1971 Harper & Row edition of The Bell Jar.

July 13, 2006
Lot 288: River View Drawing of the Anchor Pub in Cambridge. This image was published in both the limited edition Fiesta Melons (1971) and the back of the American Harper & Row edition of The Bell Jar. This lot sold for £3,000 including Buyer's premium.

Lot 289: Preliminary Sketch Outline of Row of Buildings, Possibly a Cambridge River View.
This lot sold for £960 including Buyer's Premium.

Lot 290: Drawing of a Kettle. This lot sold for £1,140 including buyers premium.

Lot 291: Drawing of a Village Scene (Possibly Spanish), Depicting a Bell-Tower on the Left and Another Buildings on the Right, With a Cart in the Foreground. This lot sold for £900 including Buyer’s Premium.

Lot 293: Drawing of “Meadow-Flowers”. This lot sold for £1,800, including Buyer’s Premium.

In this auction there was one unsold lot. Lot 292, a drawing of Corn Vase girl. A different version of this sketch appears in Appendix II of Plath’s Journals (Kukil edition). This, and the Anchor Pub drawing, are by far among Plath’s best from this auction. I’m a little surprised this didn’t sell. The drawing has been published before, in the 1971 limited edition of Crystal Gazer and Other Poems.

July 14, 2009
Lot 107: Illustrated Typescript Poem in the Form of a Hand-Made "Get Well" Card ... This lot sold for £4,000, including Buyer's Premium. This item now held by the Lilly Library. See Plath mss. V.

Lot 108: Two Early Manuscripts. Including "Autograph manuscript with drawings, entitled "Christmas Booklet", signed "Sylvia Plath" " and "Autograph pencil manuscript, 11 leaves in a hand-made stapled booklet (110 x 85mm.), entitled "The Treasures of Sylvia Plath" on upper wrapper." This lot sold for £5,000, including Buyer's Premium. This item now held by the Lilly Library. See Plath mss. V.

Lot 111: The Colossus (William Heinemann, 1960). Signed and inscribed by Plath to Wilbury Crockett ("For Mr. Crockett -- In whose classroom and wisdom these poems have root -- from Sylvia London: October 27, 1960"); includes a Christmas card from 1960. This lot sold for £17,500, including Buyer’s Premium. This book is now for sale via Peter Harrington of London.

In this auction, Lots 109 and 110 did not sell. Lot 109 was and “Early typescript poem in the form of song lyrics entitled “Class Song.” It was estimated to sell for £1,500-2,000. Lot 110 was Path’s bookplated copy of The King’s Henchmen by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and was estimated to sell for £5,000-7,000. The book was a gift her her mother and bears a touching inscription, “To my imaginative, artistic Sylvia”. The book also bears her mother’s ownership inscription “Aurelia F. Schober,” and is dated with a very significant date “August 24, 1927”. It was of course August 24, 1953 of course that Plath first attempted suicide. The catalog description says it is dated August 27 but by zooming in on the date one can clearly see that it is a 24; especially when compared to the 27 in the year.

Another item mentioning Plath that is of note:
July 12, 2002: Lot 527: Hughes, Ted. Typescript of part of his radio play ``The Head of Gold'', together with four printed works. This lot sold for £956, including Buyer's Premium.

08 March 2011

Sylvia Plath Collections: Frances McCullough papers, 1915-1994

The Hornbake Library (left) at the University of Maryland at College Park now holds the Frances McCullough papers, 1915-1994. Below is an abstract of the collection.

"Editor and cookbook author Frances Monson McCullough began her career as an editor at Harper & Row in 1963, moved to Dial Press in 1980, and on to Bantam Books in 1986. She has worked with authors and poets including Djuna Barnes, Donald Hall, Ted Hughes, Laura (Riding) Jackson, N. Scott Momaday, Sylvia Plath, W. D. Snodgrass, and Robert Bly.

"The collection includes correspondence; manuscripts and proofs for The Telling (1972) by Laura (Riding) Jackson; Gaudete (1977) by Ted Hughes; Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (1977), the Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982), and Letters Home (1975) by Sylvia Plath; Sleepers Joining Hands (1973) by Robert Bly; Selected Poems (1987) by W. D. Snodgrass; and House Made of Dawn (1968) by N. Scott Momaday; artwork by N. Scott Momaday; and photographs.

"The collection is unprocessed, but a preliminary inventory is available."

In November I took a brief day trip down to the Hornbake Library to see what was in this collection. I arranged the visit well in advance with the archivist Beth Alvarez and though I did not get to meet her the day I was there, she has been a saint to deal with via email. As you might expect, there is a lot of stuff on Plath in these papers. Of the 14 boxes, Plath materials occupy boxes 6, 7, 8, and 9. In Box 13 there are a couple of photographs and in box 14 there are some oversized items like magazines and newspapers.

McCullough received a lot of correspondence from Aurelia Plath, Ted Hughes, and Olwyn Hughes in the course of the business side of the Plath estate and in her role as an editor at Harper & Row and The Dial Press. There is other correspondence, too. Reading the correspondence puts once in a frame of mind of being back in the 1970s or early 1980s. Many of the lost or forgotten names and issues resurface. McCullough's papers also include American edition proof copies of Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, Letters Home, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, and The Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982). There are reviews of Plath's work; as well photocopies of letters to Plath by Olive Higgins Prouty, Richard Murphy and others, and photocopies of poems and short stories by Plath. Some of the other materials in here are articles, essays and other manuscripts about Plath, written both by people that she knew as well as those studying her work.

McCullough has gone on to a good career as a food writer and I find this interesting, as Plath's editor at Knopf, Judith Jones, did to. Several Plath scholars have noted Plath's writing, most recently Lynda K. Bundtzen and Jessica Ferri.

This is perhaps the briefest of summaries but any Plath scholar would likely find a day or two in the ambiance of the very lovely Maryland Room at the Hornbake Library well worth the trip.

05 March 2011

Additional Book to Look Forward to in 2011

In addition to forthcoming books by Tracy Brain & Sally Bayley, Janet Badia, and Kim Crowley to look forward to in 2011, we now have Uta Gosmann’s Poetic Memory: Sylvia Plath, Susan Howe, Ellen Hinsey, Louise Glück (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 16 July 2011).

The first and last poets in the subtitle excite me beyond admission, and I look forward to learning more about the middle two in what promises to be an excellent summer read.

Gosmann is no stranger to Plath, or this blog. You will remember (of course) that at the 2007 Oxford University Plath Symposium, Ms. Gosmann gave a talk on “Double Inscriptions: Plath’s “Amnesiac” and Hughes’s “The Calm.” One can only hope this appears in her book.

01 March 2011

Review of Heather Clark's The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes

Sylvia Plath scholarship just got better. Heather Clark's The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes is one of those landmark publications; the one to which future works will be measured; the one that turns a corner. Clark's Grief continues a revisionary inspection of Plath's poetry that started in 2001, around the time of Tim Kendall’s Sylvia Plath: A Critical Study (Faber) and Tracy Brain's The Other Sylvia Plath (Longman).

For a long time it seemed as though writing about Plath and Hughes together was something that couldn’t be done, or shouldn’t be touched. Part of this has to do with the fact that Hughes was still living, and could therefore exert some control over what was being said. However, it seems like writing about Plath and Hughes together (in essay form) has found an market in books about Hughes, but not yet in those about Plath. For example Plath gets chapters in Neil Roberts’ Ted Hughes: A Literary Life (Palgrave Macmillan) and in Terry Gifford’s 2009 Ted Hughes (Routledge) and his forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Ted Hughes. These chapters are really very good. But I can’t recall necessarily such treatment and page-count/coverage dedicated towards Hughes and Plath, per se, in books (monographs or collections of essays) about Plath. While it would seem that Hughes scholars might be the ones to hold a long grudge on Plath, the opposite is the case: writers on Plath seem quite resistant to giving Hughes any more coverage than is obligatory. This kind of debate is old...let's move on.

Since the opening of the Ted Hughes papers at Emory in Atlanta, a new energy has infused critical interpretations of the two-faced nature of the Plath & Hughes manuscripts. While long-acknowledged, it has only been more recent that these papers - and their somewhat coded interactivity - have come under closer (and more intelligent) scrutiny. Decoding the conscious and unconscious interweaving of images is a great challenge, but Clark adeptly builds upon the earlier research of Margaret Uroff, Susan van Dyne, Lynda K. Bundtzen, and the late Diane Middlebrook, whose biography Her Husband (Penguin), seemed to re-introduce the couple as a couple. bringing this “call and response” way of looking at the poets and their poems to mass attention. Heather Clark acts a Justice of the Literary Peace and marries the two all over again.

One of the particular strong points of this book is its quoting from archival letters that are sadly not readily available. The quotes serve two purposes. The first is obviously to support Clark's arguments and the second serves to remind all of Plath's (& Hughes') readers that there is so much more "stuff" out there that can help us to understand what went on creatively and personally in these poets' careers. For example, when quoting from an uncollected letter of Hughes' held at the Lilly, I learned that Plath wrote a poem circa 1956 called "Evergreens" (114). Having read and enjoyed much of Hughes' Letters (edited by Christopher Reid, published in 2007), it was evident that the letters that were not included are still very ripe for the picking: especially if his estate will permit quoting. The same is true of letters written by Plath. There are ample examples of quotes from letters held primarily at the Lilly Library. It isn’t always possible to know if Clark’s quotes are from excerpted letters or from excluded letters, but they still open up newer words and ideas of our favorite poet. If her estate is relaxing some of their policies a hearty Bravo is due them. The good poems and stories and interviews are well worth knowing and repeating, but something of a revolution in scholarly Plath & Hughes research can and will benefit from quoting leniency for archival materials.

Clark acknowledges that previous scholarship has tended to focus on Hughes' influence on Plath. While her book agrees and supports this, it turns the tables and shows very convincingly how Plath influenced Hughes: and right from the beginning of their relationship too. There has been at the least a nearly fifty year critical he said/she said, he did/she did battle. At this point it is this reviewers opinion that the debate is rather hackneyed. Yes, it sells newspapers. It might sell books too. But what good does this really do? I cannot speak for Clark, but in reading her book I believe her general feeling is “Get over it.” And I would agree with her. This goes to both sides. Being someone who sits squarely in the Plath-camp, there were instances in this book where I thought to myself, "That's going to upset the Hughesies." But I also have some feelings that could be described as pro-Hughes, which I suspect would upset and/or frustrate some of this blogs readers so I’ll keep them private for now. And while I think both camps are protective and defensive of their interests, The Grief of Influence I feel is a kind of silo-busting study. I think Plath became a better poet because of Hughes, and likewise I think Hughes became a better poet because of Plath. The trouble is that both were talented geniuses. Plath’s poetry and other creative writings have an intensity and urgency that is frankly lacking from Hughes’s, but I suspect this fact is due to her much shorter life. Whereas Hughes’s works are massive and bulky; he simply had more time. In some ways it is truly like comparing apples to oranges.

What I took away from this book is a deeper appreciation for Hughes' work, an oeuvre of which I admit I am not as well-versed. Clark's readings of both poets poems is clearly presented and argued. The connections she finds in their word choices, cadences, rhythms, and other poetic devices left me nodding in my seat. There were many "Eureka!" moments for me. Perhaps my favorite quote in the book comes when Clark is examining Plath's influence on Hughes' Gaudete: "it is difficult to understand how critics have been able to persist in ignoring her role in this work" (208). This is the kind of thing that happens repeatedly in this book. I love the sass in this comment, as though after Clark wrote it she slammed down her fist on her desk in a "Take that" kind of way. This reminded me of "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Inspector Martin exclaims, "By George! How ever did you see that?" Holmes replies, "Because I looked for it."

The set up of the book, the order of the chapters shows the progression of influence, first in the direction of Hughes on Plath, then the other way, including Lawrentian and Nietzschean influences of both. Having read and enjoyed and admired Clark's "Tracking the Thought-Fox" when it was published in 2005, I wasn't too surprised to see that the chapter was slightly re-written. In the book, one of the the original theses - as I see it at least - is present in this chapter: that Plath's Ariel was not as liberating as she would like it to have been; that it "did not allow Plath to 'break' from Hughes" (153). This is not necessarily a bad thing and Clark's work on the mutual influence - and grief - is fully supportive of such an argument. In fact in her Introduction, Clark sums it up rather nicely, "Missing [from previous scholarship] is a thorough analysis of the ways in which Plath and Hughes looted each other’s poems" (2). Clark does this. Earlier in the text when commenting on Sandra Gilbert’s and Margaret Uroff's statements that "Plath 'triumphed' over Hughes in writing Ariel …" and "Not until such late poems as the bee sequence, 'Lady Lazarus,' 'Daddy,' and 'Ariel,' among others was Plath able to break clear of all influences," Clark says rightly, "While other critics have contested this 'breakthrough' theory, few observe that Plath did not turn away from Hughes during these months; instead, she plundered his poems for material" (131). But while I think Clark shows that Plath failed to break free of Hughes' influence the same can certainly says, and proves, the same for Hughes.

Clark's approach to Plath's poem "Ariel" in her chapter "Tracking the Thought-Fox" is really unique. I always imagined the speaker of "Ariel" almost at the same vantage point as that of "Sheep in Fog": out on the moors, perhaps atop "a hill of macadam" as Plath wrote it quite early one cold morning. Clark has it differently: "Plath's positioning of her speaker in a quiet room, presumably a study, sitting before a window as the sun rises and her child wakes suggests that the poem is a comment upon the imaginative ascent engendered by poetic inspiration: the speaker's journey upon Ariel parallels Plath's creation of the poem" (155-6). I find this quite a provocative and original interpretation.

One of my favorite parts of the book is in Chapter Eight, "Hughes's Plath." In supporting her claim that Hughes "believed Plath was a genius, and took his custodianship of her work and legacy seriously" she states that "It is ironic that [Hughes] found himself so at odds with feminist critics since both worked toward the same goal: to promote Plath's work and secure her a prominent place in the canon" (185). This is insanely important point to remember.

Back to archival holdings. Clark received permission - gracious and generous permission - to quote from an amazing amount material. You may recall that I loved Luke Ferretter's Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study when I reviewed it last year (N.B. I still love Ferretter's book even as I am reviewing this one). Aside from subject matter, there is a gigantic discrepancy in Luke's book and in Heather's: the quoting. So much so that I mourn for what might have been in Luke's book had he had permission to quote from unpublished, archival materials. Both books explore under-discussed aspects of these writers and both promotes Plath's (& Hughes') works in a way that will lead many to be eager for the publication of more material.

In her convincing look at how Plath influenced Hughes' poetry after her death, I couldn't help but wonder also how much of an influence his editorial work on Plath's posthumous publications affected that influence. In the works discussed by Clark, the following shows what Hughes was more or less working on while concurrently editing Plath's works:

Crow (and to a minor degree Wodwo) : the first four posthumous volumes Ariel, Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, and possibly The Bell Jar. Not to mention the many limited editions that Hughes published through 1971, as well.

& Remains of Elmet : Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams and The Collected Poems.

Moortown : The Journals of Sylvia Plath.

In her discussion of Birthday Letters, Clark draws comparisons between Hughes' "Fever" and "Sam" and Plath's "Fever 103°" and "Ariel," calling Hughes' poems a "revision" of Plath's (236). The one's influence on the other in this instance I feel is a bit of stretch for chronologically, the events they describe, are years apart and I really can’t reconcile this comparison in my head. Others might. "Fever" and "Sam" recall events from from early in their marriage from 1956 or so; while "Fever 103°" and "Ariel" describe, or at least have a sort of a literal background in events from 1962. I do see a kind of connection: fever/horse; but Plath's honeymoon hypochondria was not nearly the same sort of illness as that which she endured six years later. Likewise, the event that Hughes writes about in "Sam" more closely recalls or revises Plath's "Whiteness I Remember”, while his “Night-Ride on Ariel” is a more or less direct response to Plath’s “Ariel.” This is a minor criticism to make in an otherwise brilliant study.

The last thing I can say is that I am certain a book about Plath has never ended so beautifully.

The design of the book is good. The dust jacket is really lovely and the pages a nice, crisp white. Having footnotes rather than endnotes, I feel, encourages their being read. It makes the process of reading flow far easier than flipping back and forth. The font throughout the text is on the smaller side, with longer, block quoted text just being that much smaller. Also, the block quotes are not indented which rather has the effect of making them not stand out, thus harder to locate. These affect the books readability negatively, but thank goodness this well researched is written so well that the text holds our attention regardless.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...