15 July 2013

Guest Post: Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar: 50 years in covers"

The following is a guest blog post by Elena Rebollo Cortés and is written in both Spanish and English! The nature of the post concerns an exhibit on Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar that she curated at her university in Cáceres, Spain. I met Elena at the Sylvia Plath Symposium held in October 2012 but unfortuately missed her presentation on "British Thresholds of Interpretation: Faber and Faber's Ariel Editions." The post below is concerned however not so much with Ariel, but with editions of The Bell Jar. Her work is fascinating and important I am very grateful for this bi-lingual guest post!

Después de años sumergiéndome en las ediciones de las obras de Sylvia Plath para elaborar mi tesis doctoral, las reacciones surgidas alrededor de la última edición de Faber & Faber de The Bell Jar no hacían más que corroborar el punto de partida de mi investigación: que las formas tienen sentido, y los aspectos materiales junto con los paratextos que se encuentran en los libros de Plath importan, y mucho, si queremos entender cómo se ha construido su imagen desde 1960 hasta la actualidad. Los libros, como objetos históricos, han desempeñado un importante papel en su la construcción de su imagen, de su mito y en el proceso de su canonización.

En una fecha tan señalada como el 50 aniversario de la muerte de Plath, pero también de la publicación de The Bell Jar en Inglaterra, encontré el apoyo de todos mis compañeros cuando propuse organizar una exhibición de las portadas con las que se había comercializado la novela a ambos lados del Atlántico. Con el título The Bell Jar: 50 years in covers, queríamos que la exposición contribuyera a que nuestros alumnos descubrieran y leyeran a Sylvia Plath, pero también mostrarles el poder de las portadas para atrapar la mirada del lector y evocar una imagen determinada de la obra o de la autora. Una imagen que no es estática, sino dinámica y que, como la de un caleidoscopio, se transformaba con cada reedición de la obra.

Como parte de la actividad, me ofrecí a dar dos visitas guiadas para los estudiantes: una de ellas en español y otra en inglés. Atentos a mis explicaciones, nuestros alumnos contemplaban las distintas portadas como si fueran cuadros en una exhibición de un museo. Sus miradas pasaban de una edición a otra, en una sucesión de portadas, retazos de una historia, de ecos, de contactos entre dos mercados y sistemas literarios separados por un océano pero unidos por una misma lengua. La exposición aún decora el pasillo de mi centro, la Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Plasencia, donde sigue invitando a los estudiantes a detenerse un momento, antes de llegar a su clase, para escuchar su historia y leer The Bell Jar o La Campana de Cristal, como se ha traducido el título de la novela de Plath al español.

Gracias a mi directora de tesis, Dª Victoria Pineda González, fue posible también exhibir este trabajo en la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad de Extremadura. Frente a las imágenes de las portadas se congregaron ahora no sólo estudiantes, también profesores de distintos departamentos. Fue una de las experiencias más satisfactorias de mi vida. Pero siento que la conversación aún no ha terminado: llega ahora a este espacio, a esta entrada de blog gracias a la generosidad y apoyo de Peter K. Steinberg.

For those, like me, who cannot read Spanish, Elena was kind enough to translate her blog post for us...

After years looking into the different editions of Sylvia Plath's work in order to complete my PhD work and dissertation, I found my main thesis confirmed by the reactions provoked by the latest edition of The Bell Jar by Faber & Faber. In my research, I argue that forms make sense, that the material characteristics of books along with the paratexts found in editions of Plath's poetry and prose are very relevant if we are to fully understand how her image has been constructed from 1960 until now. As historical objects, books have played a major role in establishing her image, her myth and in the process of her canonization.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of her death, but also of the publication of The Bell Jar in England, I proposed a special activity in my school. The idea was to organize an exhibition titled The Bell Jar: 50 Years in Covers encompassing all the covers that have been used to market Plath's novel on both sides of the Atlantic. My colleagues embraced the idea and offered invaluable support and hands-on assistance, all of us driven by the same idea: that the exhibition would help our students to discover Sylvia Plath and her works. In addition to this, we wanted them to experience not only the power of book covers to catch the reader's eye and make them pay attention to the novel, but also how they conjure up a certain image of The Bell Jar and of Sylvia Plath. Such an image, I tried to point out at them, is not static but dynamic, and –like those created in a kaleidoscope—changes with every new edition of the novel.

To introduce students to the exhibition, I volunteered to give guided tours in two different languages: English and Spanish. They listened to my words attentively as they contemplated the covers like paintings in a museum, looking at each cover. I told them "These covers are pieces of a story, they interrelate and echo each other". And they tried to put together the scattered pieces of this story, the series of covers being part of a bigger narrative which has been taking place for decades in two literary markets, two literary systems separated by the Atlantic Ocean but connected by the same language. This exhibition can still be seen in the main corridor of my school, the School of Languages of Plasencia. From there, it invites students to stop for a moment in their way to class, to listen to the story, to read The Bell Jar or La Campana de Cristal, as Plath's novel title was translated into Spanish.

Thanks to my thesis adviser, Dr. Victoria Pineda Gonzalez, I had the opportunity to show the exhibition in the entrance of my University, in the Facultad de Filosofia y Letras de Caceres. This time, students and professors from different academic departments gathered, around the exhibition  in what has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Nevertheless, I know that the conversation around Plath's editions still continues. Now, thanks to Peter K. Steinberg's generosity and support, it reaches a new space: this blog entry.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Thank you Elena for this Guest Post, I really enjoyed reading it. I always found it interesting that certain editions of The Bell Jar featured pictures of Plath herself on the cover (not really discouraging an autobiographical reading of the book!). That said, I'd rather see a photo of Plath than the terrible cover Faber released earlier this year!
Thanks again,

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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.