15 June 2013

Uncorrected Proof of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (Victoria Lucas) to appear at Bonham's Auction

On 19 June 2013, Bonhams (Kensington, London) will auction in lot 202 a rare, uncorrected proof copy of The Bell Jar by Victoria Lucas (Sylvia Plath). Printed in 1962 in an unknown, but limited number of copies, the uncorrected proof of The Bell Jar is the pièce de résistance and also the holy grail of books for a Plath collector. For that matter, one might also want to include the uncorrected proof of The Colossus (1960), too. These books are most desirable, as in possessing more intrinsic--as well as monetary--value as they were printed during Plath's lifetime.

The catalog entry for the auction reads:
The Bell Jar by Victoria Lucas, UNCORRECTED PROOF COPY, publisher's wrappers, lettered "(Not for Sale) Uncorrected Proof Copy" on upper cover, light spotting, slight wear at extremities of spine, 8vo, Heinemann, 1962

Estimate: £2,000 - 4,000; €2,300 - 4,700; US$ 3,000 - 6,000


Uncorrected proof of Sylvia Plath's only novel, issued under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas.

There are upwards of more than seventy textual variations between the uncorrected proof (1962), and the final published first edition released by Heinemann in 1963. "These textual differences are the result of edits made either by Plath herself when she reviewed the proof or by the editors as they prepared the final typesetting. This shows that Plath read her proofs of The Bell Jar very carefully and extends our understanding of her involvement in the creative process beyond the composition of the work itself" (Peter K. Steinberg, Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications, online resource University of Indiana). For instance in this proof copy on two pages (pp.187/188) the name of the novel's heroine Esther Greenwood remains as "Miss Lucas", the pseudonym under which Plath published the novel.

I was quite surprised and honored to have my paper "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications" (Plath Profiles 5, Summer 2012: 104-139) quoted in the catalog and hope that it both helps them sell this copy and encourages someone to purchase it. In addition to the paper on "Textual Variations," I also published a short article in the Spring 2011 issue of Fine Books & Collections entitled "Proof of Plath." You can still purchase a copy of this issue directly from Fine Books if you are interested in reading it. As you might imagine, I encourage people to do this... And you might as well subscribe to the magazine while you are at it as it is a fantastic publication.

Auctions are a wonderful way to acquire Plath materials if you are a collector as the items trend towards the really collectible/rare. There are the odd first Heinemann edition copies of The Bell Jar and The Colossus that have come up. But also even more rare things like a letter from Plath to her mother, her artwork and some childhood creations, and a copy of The Colossus that belonged to her in-laws.

The last time that I found an uncorrected proof of The Bell Jar was up for auction was on 15 December 1992, when Sotheby's auctioned an "Advance Proof Copy, without preliminaries and final blank, inscription on first page, some staining, disbound but with backstrip largely present." Even calling this an "Advance Proof Copy" might mean in fact that it was not even an "Uncorrected Proof" : it might have been altogether a different thing. This copy sold to a dealer who in turn sold it off as they do and its whereabouts is not known.

The last copy that I know of to come up for sale at all was in May 2010 when London-based bookseller Peter Harrington offered a copy for sale. It was snatched up quickly at a price well above the high estimate of this acution. That copy in particular was more or less "unique", if you will, having promotional/marketing-like text typed on the cover, presumably by someone at Heinemann.

This 19 June auction represents the eighth copy of an uncorrected proof known to exist. Three are in rare books libraries (Indiana University, Dartmouth College, and UNC at Chapel Hill); two copies are known to be in private hands;and two are known to exist but their location is unknown.

The date of the auction is very timely: 19 June 2013. This is the 60th anniversary of the the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in New York, which Plath commemorates on the very first page of her novel. It is also therefore, the 60th anniversary of Plath's own "Bell Jar" summer, when she was guest managing editor for Mademoiselle magazine in New York City.

Like drinking, you should bid responsibly. All links accessed 4 June 2013.


Melanie Smitj said...

Keeping an eye on this auction

suki said...

It'll be interesting to see who gets it!

suki said...

Someone must have wanted it!!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Yes, she/he/they sure did.

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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.