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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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.