20 February 2014

Sylvia Plath Collections: University of Tulsa

Since October 2013, for American Archives Month, Sylvia Plath Info Blog has been highlighting various archives that hold Sylvia Plath archival materials. At the time twelve or so posts were planned, but that number has been far exceeded. It was certainly never imagined it would take this long to work through all the various collections, but in the process of looking, a number of additional places that hold documents were located that warranted inclusion. You can find all of them and more by searching the label "Sylvia Plath Collections". But despite finding still more additional caches of archival holdings --a man must be allow his little secrets for a rainy day -- this is the final post in the series. Knowledge of all these archival collections does benefit all of Plath's readers, and with rare exception, copies can be obtained of these materials for a small fee. Some of these places and the documents they hold discussed over the last five months I had been hoarding for potential inclusion in papers with the inimitable Gail Crowther, but decided to let it all hang out here on the blog as that series of papers for now has concluded.

You might not expect it, but the University of Tulsa has amazing Sylvia Plath materials in the Special Collections of their McFarlin Library. A search of their catalog, limiting results to Special Collections finds an impressive 64 titles. A few highlights of books/publications includes:

Pursuit (1973, one of 100 copies)
The Bell Jar (1963, Heinemann edition)
The Colossus (1960, Heinemann edition)
Sculptor (offprint, 1959)
"Dialogue en Route" (In: The Smith Review. Northampton, Mass. Exam blues issue, January 1955 p. 12-13.)

In addition to holding of number of very rare and limited editions and first editions, the Special Collections department of the University of Tulsa holds manuscripts of Plath's and a typescript as well. There are three separate collections that warrant our attention: the Stevie Smith papers; the Richard Murphy papers; and "Ocean 1212-W".

Stevie Smith
The Stevie Smith papers hold one letter from Plath written from Court Green and dated 19 November 1962. The letter was printed on page 6 of Stevie Smith's Me Again: Uncollected Writings (London: Virago, 1981 & New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982). The original letter is contained in Series I: Correspondence, Box 7, Folder 2.

In the letter, Plath writes that she had been listening to Smith's interview with Peter Orr, who gave Plath her address (this interview, along with Plath's, is included in the book Orr edited in 1966 The Poet Speaks (Routlege and Kegan). Plath admits that she is an "addict" of Smith's poetry, and for emphasis proclaims herself "a desperate Smith-addict." She says she really wants to get a hold of Smith's A Novel on Yellow Paper, writing that she just finished writing her own on pink (a reference to The Bell Jar which was largely drafts on pink Smith College Memorandum paper. Plath mentions her beekeeping and apple growing activities in Devon and that booksellers in that region are nil. She closes by saying she is hoping to relocate to London by New Year and invites Smith to tea or coffee and that she had wanted to meet her for a long time.

The Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College holds Stevie Smith's prompt 4-page, handwritten reply, written on 22 November 1962, thanking her for her letter and hoping they meet after she moves to London. The letter shows a great amount of humor and personality. Stevie Smith also writes that she hope Plath's move goes well, as well as the novel, too. I get the impression from the letter that Smith had heard of Plath, which if that is the case, must have been heart-warming to her.

Other Plath related item in this folder is a handwritten excerpt from Plath's London Magazine piece "Context". The bit noted down is where Plath talks about the poets she delights in such as Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, and, you might have guessed, Stevie Smith.

Richard Murphy
The Richard Murphy papers, which includes five letters from Plath to Murphy, and one letter from Plath to Mary Coyne. The letters to Murphy and Coyne are all dated from 1962 and were sent from Court Green. Letters to Murphy are dated 21 July, 17 August, 8 September, 21 September, and 7 October. The letter to Mary Coyne is dated 15 December, just after Plath moved to 23 Fitzroy Road, London. (Read more on Plath and Ireland in "The Irish Sojourn of Sylvia Plath" by Emily Houricane and in "'The wild beauty I found there': Plath's Connemara" by Gail Crowther.)

The letters to Richard Murphy offer a good look at Plath's reaching out to a fellow poet in the immediate aftermath of the revelation that Ted Hughes was having an affair. In her 21 July 1962 letter, Plath writes to let Murphy know that "Years Later", the epilogue to his poem "The Cleggan Disaster", had been judged the winner of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival (Plath's poem "Insomniac" was a winner the previous year). Plath also inquires about the possibility of herself and Hughes traveling to Ireland for some time on Murphy's boat, to be near the sea and away from screaming babies. Plath was looking at late August or early September (they eventually visited Murphy and Ireland from 11th September to roughly the 19th). Plath mentions her hopes of seeing Jack & Maire Sweeney in Dublin, too, impressing the point that boats and the sea were a central part of her early life.

On 17 August 1962 , Plath wrote saying she thought they could leave North Tawton on 10 September for the visit to Ireland and asking for advice on how to get to him. She added her classic Plathian humor by asking whether he had life preservers, saying that she did not want to be the subject of another of his sea-disaster poems and mentioned the sea boiling their eyes. She expressed distaste with the British seaside and caravans and wrappers floating on the tide lines (this is also how she described the coast north of Boston in Lynn in The Bell Jar).

On 8 September 1962, three days before they were to leave, Plath sent a brief letter detailing up-to-date plans: they had a nanny to mind the babies; were going to cross the Irish Sea from Holyhead to Dublin on that Tuesday night (11 September); see the Sweeney's in Dublin; travel by train to Galway on Wednesday evening; and that they were looking forward to seeing him and staying in his cottage (The Old Forge) (for more on The Old Forge, see Gail Crowther's excellent "Sylvia Plath: The Playfulness of Time").

In her 21 September 1962 letter, the tone is different. Plath thanks Murphy for hosting them, and sent him an unused Galway-to-Dublin train ticket, the intention being maybe that someone from the Cleggan area might be able to use it. She then gets down to business: she states that getting to Ireland and away from England for the winter will mean a lot to her health and hopes that he will not be averse to her wintering so close to him, encroaching, if you will, on what he considered to be his turf (poetically and otherwise). Her desire is to be alone and independent; to recover her health and sense of self; to write; to be a mother. Murphy seems to have been sensitive to Plath and Hughes thinking about writing poems about Connemara, but Plath says they were kidding and that she cannot write poems when she is writing prose -- in this instance a novel set in Devon (a tantalizing thought: this would have been the once titled "The Interminable Loaf", and later titled "Doubletake" and "Double Exposure"). Plath ultimately rescinds her offer to show Murphy Court Green, as Hughes would not be around, and also based on the snub she felt he did to her.

The last letter from Plath to Murphy is from 7 October 1962. She mentions a review he had written, and something to do with jackdaws and black birds and rooks. Plath's plans at this point were to travel to Moyard, Ireland with Ted Hughes' aunt as a companion until she can get an Irish girl to help. She was interested in a Catholic who might save her damned soul. She mentions that she has resolved to get a divorce and that she is finally writing for what feels like the first time in years -- since her last letter to Murphy, Plath had written eight poems: "For a Fatherless Son", "A Birthday Present", "The Detective", "The Courage of Shutting-Up", "The Bee Meeting", "The Arrival of the Bee Box", "Stings", and "The Swarm" -- and that her real self is finally opening and breathing from being suppressed. She was not kidding!

The review Plath mentions is "The Empty Tower at Ballylee", in which Murphy discusses several books published in 1962 including W. B. Yeats: Explorations; J. M. Synge: Collected Works, Vol. I: Poems, ed. Robin Skelton; The Dublin Diary of Stanislaus Joyce, ed. George Harris Healey. The review was published in the 7 October issue of The Observer on page 29. (Source.)

In the 15 December 1962 letter from Plath to Mary Coyne, Plath informs Coyne that she has moved to London for the winter rather than Ireland, in part because Nicholas needed his eye seen to by a specialist. She asks that Coyne send on some clothing (sweaters) for Frieda and herself. She then asks Coyne to inform Richard Murphy that she is living in Yeats' house, with a blue plaque and everything.

These are wonderful letters that fill in important biographical information in a turbulent time. The power of the archive is that it does this time and time again. When we think we know all there is to know, caches of letters become available that helps to round out our knowledge of a subject.

Copies of Richard Murphy's letters are held in the Frances McCullough papers at the University of Maryland, College Park (more here).

"Ocean 1212-W", or "Landscape of Childhood"
As if the above was not enough, The McFarlin Library also holds a supremely rare BBC typescript of Sylvia Plath's "Ocean 1212-W", though under its original name, "Landscape of Childhood."

The full catalog title reads: "Ocean 1212-W / by Sylvia Plath ; producer Leonie Cohn ; read by June Tobin ; Recording: 23rd July 1963, Transmission: 19th August 1963 ; tape no. RO 16556 broadcast script."

More important information to consider is:

"Description: 9 leaves : 20.5 x 33 cm.

"Summary: "Broadcast script from the BBC series Writers on Themselves which was later published in 1964 under that same title with an introduction by Herbert Read. This script of Sylvia Plath's chapter includes material that does not appear in the published version."

Gail Crowther and I discuss the origins, title changes, history, and a host of other archival researches that we encountered with this title, including visits to Smith College, the BBC Written Archives Centre, and the British Library in "These Ghostly Archives", "These Ghostly Archives, Redux", and "These Ghostly Archives 3". Getting a copy of the BBC typescript from the British Library is not an easy process; however, Tulsa was happy to supply a high resolution PDF of the document. And they did so quite quickly which was much appreciated.

This particular typescript I believe is an exact copy of that which Gail worked with at the British Library (see "These Ghostly Archives 3" linked just above), and I note that in comparing this typescript to the first printings of the prose piece (The Listener in August 1963 and in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams in 1977) that the major textual differences aside from cut text are in the punctuation marks: commas for semi-colons, semi-colons for dashes and the like. I believe, however, that this typescript represents -- as near as is possible to determine -- the closest facsimile that we know of to what Plath's original typescript looked like.

A big thank you to Milissa Burkhart and Kristina Johnson for their assistance with these collections.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links and information accessed 24 September, 18 November 2013, and 15 February 2014.

11 February 2014

Sylvia Plath Collections: William Heinemann Ltd. Archives

The William Heinemann Ltd archives, which are a part of Random House Group UK, hold materials by and relating to Sylvia Plath. Included among the documents are letters to, from, and about Plath, her book contracts (The Colossus, 1960, and The Bell Jar, 1963). This post looks at the Heinemann archive materials both in the Random House Group UK archive and documents that are held in the Sylvia Plath Collection at Smith College.

The bar at the York Minster Pub (now
The French House), in March 2013
Plath signed her Heinemann contract for The Colossus on 10 February 1960 at the York Minster Pub (now The French House) at 49 Dean Street, Soho, London (map). She wrote proudly about the experience in a letter jointly addressed to her mother and brother the following day, 11 February: "picture (yesterday) your daughter/sister ... of enormous & impressive size, sailing into the notorious York Minster pub on Dean Street in Soho, just off Shaftesbury Avenue, about 12:15 & up to the bar to meet a pleasant half-American, half-Scots young editor for the wellknown British publishers, William Heinemann (publishers of Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, D H Lawrence, Erskine Caldwell etc. etc.) & taking out a pen thereupon & signing on the counter the contract for her first book of poems, namely THE COLOSSUS". Oh, I dislike ellipses but... And if you are checking the above quote against Letters Home please just stop as I used the original letter.

Some of the material in the Heinemann archive is closed (as in copies will not be made) because the documents contain sensitive information including financial and contractual information. Gail Crowther and I wrote about this and how frustrating it is to be denied access to Plath archival material in "These Ghostly Archives 3", published in 2011. However, for my work contributing to an edition of Plath's letters I was given permission to read the five letters by Plath that are held in the archive. As a result, I can share the below summaries of the letters, in date order, with you:

21 February 1960, to W. Roger Smith: A lengthy letter having to do with letting Heinemann know which poems were previously published, where, and when for copyright purposes and the Acknowledgements page of Plath's poetry collection The Colossus which had been accepted earlier that month.

11 March 1960, to W. Roger Smith: Writes back to his letter dated 8 March regarding copyright statements for her forthcoming book The Colossus, published later that year. She says she is an American citizen but that she plans to stay in England.

11 October 1961, to W. Roger Smith: Responding to a letter from Smith dated 10 October, in which he informed Plath that her poem "Medallion" was to be included in an anthology: The London Bridge Book of Verse (WorldCat). She lets Smith know her birthday and says that after her next one, the 30th, she will cease to acknowledge her age. It is a very funny letter, very warm, but chilling in some ways, too.

31 January 1962, to James Michie: Regarding a request from Meridian Books to reprint her poem "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" in an anthology. This was probably New Poets of England and America: Second Selection, which was edited by Donald Hall and published in 1962. Other poems of Plath were included in the anthology including "The Colossus", "Snakecharmer",  "Mushrooms","Blue Moles", and "The Ghost's Leavetaking". All these were also in The Colossus but for some reason the letter from Heinemann only asks about "Black Rook in Rainy Weather".

19 November 1962, to W. Roger Smith: Replying to a letter from Smith dated 5 November regarding a request to use a recording of Plath reading "Mushrooms" on an LP record. Plath grants permission but asks questions about the fee for the use, suggesting the possibility of getting more than the offered 2 guineas. In a Woolfian maneuver, she asks for 5 (a difference of three guineas). She wittily expresses concern about coming off as typically American and Capitalist!

There are additional letters to and from Plath and her Heinemann editors at Smith College. The Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith holds:

James Michie's 1 October 1959 letter asking Plath to consider Heinemann as a publisher for a collection of poetry;

James Michie's 5 February 1960 handwritten letter to Plath accepting The Colossus;

Elizabeth Alexander's 7 December 1962 letter informing Plath that Knopf will not be publishing The Bell Jar in America;

Elizabeth Alexander's 10 December 1962 letter saying that she has send The Bell Jar to Harper & Row for consideration; (the contact at Harper & Row, Elizabeth Lawrence, wrote to Plath directly on 16 January 1963 informing her that they would not be taking the novel and why, Smith College holds this letter, too)

David Machin's 12 December 1962 letter sending an advance copy of The Bell Jar and hoping that they can meet before too long;

David Machin's 30 January 1963 letter congratulating Plath on receiving excellent reviews and asking her for her telephone number so that they can set up an appointment to meet; and

David Machin's 12 February 1963 letter -- the most haunting, chilling, and emotional letter I have ever worked with -- asking if he messed something up about their scheduled lunch meeting the previous day, 11 February 1963.

David Machin's 15 March 1963 letter to Ted Hughes asking about a reprint of The Bell Jar and the 1964 Contemporary Fiction Book Club edition, which was printed in an edition of 4,000. The letter also discusses royalty matters.

The letter Smith holds from Plath to Michie is a carbon copy dated 14 November 1961 and deals with libel issues relating to The Bell Jar. The letter is fascinating and illustrates how much "real life" went into the novel, and the lengths to which Plath went to "control and manipulate" those personal experiences that informed the story she told. This two-page, typed letter is among the most fascinating Plath wrote. There is additional content in Smith's archives related to Plath and Heinemann in the Jane V. Anderson papers as concerns Anderson's defamation law suit against Ted Hughes and the film production company for the 1979 film version of The Bell Jar.

I was not able to consult the original contracts for The Colossus and The Bell Jar, but was informed of valuable information about them based on some of my very specific questions. My questions were:

Was Plath's pseudonym on the contract?  Answer: No; and

What was the date on the contract? Plath's own signature was not dated, but the contract itself was dated Saturday, 21 October 1961, by someone at Heinemann. Which is quite valuable information.

Also, it was stated on the contract that the novel was finished and submitted. One thing that we do not know is: Was 21 October 1961 the date on which Heinemann sent it to Plath; or, was it the date they received it back from Plath?

You can read more about the history of William Heinemann Ltd here.

Thanks to Jean Rose at Random House Group UK for her assistance.

Like many other posts on Plath and her archives, this post illustrates very clearly how the split archive requires one to piece together documents to acquire a fuller story by consulting two or more repositories. In doing so, a real sense for how things took place can help to contextual those events and yield an deeper understanding and appreciation for Plath's efforts at publishing. A universal Plath archive would be nice. What I mean by this is that each of the archives could potentially make available their holdings electronically in-house, or at a minimum, perhaps a database could be created that lists in full each repositories holdings. This way a full understanding of Plath's productivity --which was as impressive as it was voluminous-- might be possible and it would certainly help scholars access the location of manuscripts, typescripts, drafts and the like for targeted research, to access textual differences, and the like. An idea at the least but funding or volunteer crowd-sourcing and quality control would have to be obtained for sure.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 19 November 2013 and 5 February 2014.

01 February 2014

Sylvia Plath Collections: Letters to Philip Booth at Dartmouth

The Rauner Special Collections at Dartmouth College holds the Papers of Philip Booth, (Collection MS-426).

Philip Booth was an American poet (obit) and nephew of Plath's Smith College physician/psychiatrist Dr. Marion Frances Booth. In her journals, Plath first mentions meeting Booth in April 1958 during her teaching year at Smith College (see page 368). Booth was somewhat instrumental in Plath and Hughes being offered spots at Yaddo being somehow involved with the admissions process (see this post about the Yaddo Records at the New York Public Library). On 10 June 1959, Plath mentions trying to feel comfort from and learn from Booth's piles of rejection slips before the winning of a prize (page 493). In all, according to the index in Plath Unabridged Journals According to the Index, excluding the Notes, Booth is mentioned six times; his wife once; and his aunt Dr. Booth, twice.

The Papers of Philip Booth holds, in Box 12, Folder 1, letters from Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath from 1960-1961. There are five letters from 31 May 1960; 25 June 1960 (postmark date); 24 November 1960 (postmark date); December 1960 (holiday card); and 29 March 1961. One gets the sense from the letters that Plath, Hughes, and Booth were all comfortable and familiar with each other. Here is a brief summary of each letter:

31 May 1960: Typed letter with one handwritten line from Sylvia Plath: Booth had apparently found out about the birth of Frieda Hughes from Plath's mother, as Plath launches into a loving description of her first born child and the wonder that she was in her first two months. It is an endearing first paragraph, in which she chides herself and Hughes for expressing interest in only having a boy. Plath asks about Booth's poem "Spit", which was later published in the October 1961 issue of Poetry (Volume 99, Number 1). Plath describes their January 1960 frustrations looking for a flat, the energetic help provided by the Merwin's in getting them set up, Lupercal's publication, dinner with the Elitot's and the Spender's, and her becoming an Anglophile because of the crazy political things taking place recently in the United States, among other things.

25 June 1960 (postmark):Typed letter from Ted Hughes. This letter discusses Booth's thoughts about leaving academia and Hughes' feeling about the teacher and the writer. He sent Booth a copy of Lupercal and ask for his opinions, good and bad, on the poems. They are enjoying London, going occasionally to the theatre; they were attending the Auden party at Faber that day; and he writes about his daughter, too. Hughes talks about leaving Harper & Row in favor of Farrar, Strauss, saying that he was not happy with Harper's. But mentions the conflict of interest being a distant relation of Farrar, and closes discussing animals in poems, mentioning specifically a poem by John Holmes about animals in Harpers magazine (This might be "On a Cage of Mice Brought Home for the Week of School Vacation" from Harpers (May 1959)).

24 November 1960: Handwritten letter from Ted Hughes. Hughes waxes on astrology a bit as he sees it playing a role in peoples fortunes and fates; Booth had been having a bad run of things. He discusses opportunities for Booth in England, or lack thereof, based on Booth's enquiring about it, recommending he talk to Donald Hall. Booth had reviewed Lupercal ("The Instinct to Survive", New York Times Book Review, 14 August 1960: BR10), but Hughes had not read it, however he does say Plath read it and found it generous. He closes with a soliloquy on how sickness and flu affects him. I think, his handwriting leaves much to be desired.

December 1960: Handwritten letter (holiday card) from Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Sent from The Beacon in Heptonstall (her last Christmas there), they were recuperating from the busyness and life in London, enjoying the cold Yorkshire air. She gives an update on her daughter who was thriving and starting to stand, and is angelic. Hughes contributes a description of the card, making up a story about the image depicted on the front, which are two shepherds and three rows of sheep in a country/field/mountain setting with trees, and the sun.

29 March 1961: Letter from Sylvia Plath (typed) and Ted Hughes (handwritten). Plath's portion of the letter catches Philip and Margaret Booth up on their goings-on including her appendectomy, financial issues, other illness and the London winter. Philip had sent Plath some poems which Plath said she liked. Which poems those are is not known. One of them may have been on the subject of Insomnia (Plath would write her poem "Insomniac" within two months, on 23 May 1961). Booth had sent Plath some advice on American publishers, but at the time of writing Plath was in good talks with the eventual publisher of The Colossus in America, Knopf. She mentions hearing news of American poets and their successes such as Adrienne Rich's third book and winning an Amy Lowell Grant to go with her Guggenheim; Maxine Kumin; Anne Sexton and George Starbuck; and that Robert Lowell was back in McLean. Plath asks Booth if he'd be a reference for a Guggenheim, just as she would ask Theodore Roethke the next month.

Hughes' portion of the letter is most interesting when he discusses Plath's break-through in writing new poems post-appendectomy. While it is a bit out there, he argues that her illnesses (miscarriage and appendectomy and flu) disrupted her old self and forced a shift into a new state of mind, and that this shift has refocused her/changed her perspective and given her a fresh source of energy for creativity.
As is usual, a paraphrase may be a poor reflection of the original; I strongly recommend writing to the Rauner to request copies for yourself!

The Booth papers include correspondence with many other notable writers and artists, including Anne Sexton, Theodore Roethke, May Sarton, Robert Lowell, and Ben Shahn among others.

The Rauner Special Collections has a fantastic collection of Plath items: 62 of them at the time this blog post was written. Among those items are are most especial are uncorrected proofs of The Bell Jar (Heinemann 1962) and Ariel (Faber 1965); a first edition of The Colossus (Heinemann 1960); as well as many limited editions and periodicals in which Plath's works appeared. An altogether impressive collection of materials tucked away in New Hampshire.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 10 January 2014.
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