20 September 2014

Sylvia Plath's Arrival in England, 20 September 1955

The first poem in Ted Hughes' 1998 collection Birthday Letters is "Fulbright Scholars" which begins:
Where was it, in the Strand? A display
Of news items, in photographs.
For some reason I noticed it.
A picture of that year’s intake
Of Fulbright Scholars. Just arriving -
Or arrived. Or some of them.
Were you among them? I studied it.

No doubt I scanned particularly
The girls. Maybe I noticed you…
Yet I remember
The picture: the Fulbright Scholars. (Faber, 3)
Sylvia Plath sailed from New York City on 14 September 1955, arriving in Southampton, England, 6 days later on the 20th. She was one of many on board the Queen Elizabeth travelling to universities spread across the United Kingdom to a destination in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, and maybe beyond.

The Queen Elizabeth made a brief stop in Cherbourg, France, before arriving early in the morning of the 20th. Plath's pocket diary, held by the Lilly Library at Indiana University, notes that she had breakfast at 7, and between disembarking from the ship and going through customs, Plath notes down that once in port her picture was taken by a photographer from the Evening Standard. Was she in a group? Alone? Plath boarded a train bound for London, and then took up temporary residence first at Bedford College (now Regent's University London) in Regent's Park, and then at the YWCA 57 Great Russell Street, London (map), across the street from the British Museum, before heading to Cambridge on 1 October. Between 20 September and 1 October, Plath took advantage of London, seeing movies (Shadow of a Doubt and Rififi); plays (Waiting for Godot, The Count of Clérambard, Separate Tables, The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, and The King & I); going on dates; meeting people; and as you may imagine, sending letters home.

At first glance, it looks like this post might be about the discovery of a new, long-lost photograph of Sylvia Plath. One that lends credence and the potential of biographical authenticity to a reading of Ted Hughes' poem "Fulbright Scholars". Would that it were. Certainly Plath's notation does this, in the absence of the photograph. Hughes cannot (or does not) in the poem remember the name of the newspaper, but we have every reason to believe some of what he does write is true: sizing up the ladies, for example, as many might do.

Unlike my post from August, this post, as of now, does not have a happy ending. I have not found the picture. I searched two microfilm versions of Evening Standard for this time, September and -- to be thorough -- October 1955. Once at the British Library in March 2013 and once via interlibrary loan in May 2014. Here is what I did learn, though!

The microfilmed version of the Evening Standard was the "Final Night Extra" edition. This leads me to conclude that there were other, earlier editions throughout the day. I have been unable to confirm how many editions were printed daily, but if they are anything like the Boston daily papers from this time period, there could be three to five or more editions per day. In the research I did looking for newspaper articles on Sylvia Plath's disappearance during her first suicide attempt in August 1953, this was certainly the case (read my paper "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath"). In the articles on Plath's disappearance and discovery, her news story sometimes appeared on the same page for each edition, but sometimes her story was bumped or moved to another page, for space or due to other hot and urgent news items.

In the 20 September 1955 issue of the Evening Standard there are two provocative news stories regarding the docking of the Queen Elizabeth in port at Southampton. In the first story, passenger Archibald Campbell was found dead in his cabin on the night before docking at Southampton. The second story involved the arrest of a man from London on board the Queen Elizabeth at the time the ship docked. The man was arrested in his bed in his cabin under suspicion of having received £196 under false pretenses. There were no reported stories of female passengers biting male passengers on the face.

The strongest indication to me that the Evening Standard might have covered the arrival of Fulbright scholars at Southampton is a nearly full page story on the arrival, in Liverpool, of 13 Beaverbrook scholarship winners including teachers and scholars from Canada aboard the Empress of France. If this ship arrived later in the morning or day than the Queen Elizabeth, it is conceivable to me that the Fulbright scholars story simply was usurped, after possibly running in one or a few previous editions. This story about the Canadians includes a photograph of three females on the gangway. It does not take too much imagination to think of a similar situation in Southampton, Plath among them.

So close! If you, valued reader, have any knowledge of the number of editions of the Evening Standard in September 1955, please do let us know. Also, if anyone knows of the existence in particular of other editions (other than the "Final Night Extra") of the paper from 20 September 1955, please do also let us know.

Thanks to Petter Naess, Executive Director U.S.-Norway Fulbright Foundation, and Andrew Wilson, author of Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted, for their help with this post.

All links access 9 May 2014 and 26 August 2014.


azadeh feridounpour said...

Dear peter,
for sure your detailed details have always been more than interesting to me. When i read your detailed posts on her, i just wonder at the avalanche of the information an average reader does not know about her. We, the people who have spent years to study her, understad her, would be always surprised at the turn of each corner which would be absolutey stuck with a new sign leading us to a new door into her life. This is a very interesting point you just raised here because i always wondered where Hughes had seen this mysterious photo and what was the source of the photo, let alone my curiosity about the photo itself. To my ignrance, i had considered the name "Strand" to be the name of the magazine/newspaper as the source of the photo! Well, i was not completely off the point since googling the name "Strand" shows that it was the name of a british monthly founded in 1890 (named after the road in London) which ceased publication in 1950! & this is exactly the point i couldn't glue myself in since Plath arrived in E in 1955. Well, we should wait and see if the collections will produce anything anywhere. Thanks once more.

N.B. i had sent you two emails in the last month which just went unanswered. Well, i'm sure you are pretty busy but would be more than grateful since they are on some important deatils for the reseach i am conducting right now.

Peter K Steinberg said...


Per your request, I won't post your comments, but I would like to reply in some small way. The photograph of Plath on board ship is from June 1957, upon her arrival in New York City. You can see them here (link accessed 22 September 2014).

Azadeh, I am glad that you find the details interesting. I do too. Hughes would have been referring only to The Strand (the road) and not the eponymous periodical. But obviously you sussed that out.


Anonymous said...

Oh thank you,Peter! Thank u for understanding,for "protecting"me,and correcting me about the picture i had in mind. And i apologize again for the mess. Hope you're having a great time at Yaddo,if u still there.
My best regards

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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. Forthcoming.
  • 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.