20 December 2011

Did you know... Sylvia Plath's Mid-Life

Sylvia Plath lived from 27 October 1932 to 11 February 1963. This was 11,064 days; or 30 years, 3 months, 15 days. Sylvia Plath's mid-life was, then, 5532 days.

Did you know that that date -Sylvia Plath's mid-life - fell on 20 December 1947 (a Saturday that year). She was 15 years, 1 month, and 23 days; in tenth grade, in her first year at Gamaliel Bradford High School, and it was during this school year she took her first class, English 21, with Wilbury Crockett. In this class, the readings and assignments were vigorous, and not for those seeking only to be generally educated. Many of Plath's papers from this class are now held at the Lilly Library, and from examining them, we know which books she read, many of which are cataloged in LibraryThing.

One of the poems Plath wrote this year was "I Thought That I Could Not Be Hurt." Her activities that year included basketball, orchestra, and she worked for the school newspaper, The Bradford. It was in this first year at Bradford High, Plath also went through an initiation process that she later remembered in her story "Initiation."

By this point, Plath had published poems and artworks 21 times in national (Boston Herald) and local (Wellesley town and schools) publications, and she had written and assembled a number of poems into a book she called "Poems" (now held by the Morgan Library: click here and  here and here for more information). Plath was also in correspondence with her German pen-pal Hans-Joachim Neupert. Photocopies of these letters are held by Smith College, and some of the topics of which they discuss are education in America, student life, her hopes, fears, religion, and personal philosophy. Some letters also contain drawings by Plath.

So much attention is paid to the last seven years of Plath's life: the poems and other writings, the letters, the drama of her meeting Ted Hughes, her marriage and its breakdown, etc. But it would be interesting to compare the subjects above and sentiments Plath presented as an early-to-mid teenager with what we know of Plath's later politico-historico interests, involvement, and opinions. An examination of Plath's creative writings at that time would also be interesting: it is where she learned the skills she would use throughout her life to create poems, to market them, and to assemble and order them in collections. It serves a reminder that her life was so short but that she accomplished so incredibly much.

For Christmas that year, five days after she hit her mid-life, Plath received a copy of the Stephen Vincent Benet Pocket Book.


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

It's shocking to think how short her life was - it's easy to forget when reading poems of such maturity and individual vision how young Plath was when she wrote them.


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

I love that you wrote this. I have spent a great deal of my scholarly work in that time period, proving her early interest in occult, alchemy and hermeticism (as well as her Mom's interest).

As far as life-length and production, I think of Plath in much the same way that I think of van Gogh: sometimes they live so fiercely, and produce a lifetime of work within such a few small decades that they just could not sustain that pace and survive. Some geniuses were meant to do it big, short and fast--it is Kerouac's "Roman Candle" (although I hate to mix her in with a beat reference, having just read Davison's "The Fading Smile" about the Boston poets trying to make it in the Beat era).

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.