21 December 2014

Sylvia Plath 2014: Year in Review

After the chaos of 2013 in the world Sylvia Plath, I think I was not too surprised that 2014 was a far quieter year. In fact, I think a lot of us needed that from what was an over-saturation of stuff.

Unlike last year, there were very few major newspaper articles about Plath, as well as fewer scholarly essays published during the course of this year. At the present time just one new book published about Plath. Squeaking in under the wire, Gail Crowther's and Elizabeth Sigmund's biography & memoir of dual authorship Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning (Fonthill Media) was published in December. The book features some of Elizabeth's memories of her friend, and an excellent, full length biographical treatment by Gail of Plath's time in Devon from September 1961 to early December 1962. It is the best assessment of that amazing year and period in Plath's life I have ever read, and was honored to be asked by both Gail and Elizabeth to write the "Introduction" to the volume. I hope you enjoy the entire book. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning can be purchased via Amazon.co.uk AYTAmazon.com AYT, and other booksellers, and it available both in print and in various electronic formats.

Julia Gordon-Bramer's Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath (Stephen F. Austin University Press, Amazon), was scheduled to be published this year but publication has been delayed. Though last reports were that the book had gone to the printers, I do not think it is officially available as of now. Although, I guess maybe there were some books about Plath published as 2013 biographies by Carl Rollyson, Andrew Wilson, and Elizabeth Winder were all released in paperback format. Sally Bayley (contributor to Eye Rhymes and co-editor of Representing Sylvia Plath) is working on seeing published her new book The Private Life of the Diary: From Pepys to Tweets (Unbound Books). Plath necessarily features in this work.

There was only one book by Plath issued this year, and that was late in the year. In November, Faber released The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit and Other Stories. This is a compilation of all of Plath's children's stories which numbers to just three: "The Bed Book", "The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit" and "Mrs. Cherry's Kitchen" and features illustrations by David Roberts. The book was released simultaneously in England and America, both in paperback and in Kindle editions. It is the first time that "Mrs. Cherry's Kitchen" has been published in the US! For purchasing, visit Faber's website, Amazon.co.uk (UK paperback - UK Kindle), or Amazon.com (US paperback - US Kindle).

As mentioned above, highlights and newsworthy events for Plath this year were fewer than last year, but 2014 closes out with a bang. In November we learned of a major Sylvia Plath archive to be sold at Sotheby's on 2 December. In obsessing over this auction, and its original appearance on the block in 1982, I learned much including the existence of four new Plath letters, as well as additional early poems and stories that were largely unknown.

It was also a good year for tours. In February, I flew to London to give a Plath tour to three Americans. that included London, Devon, and Heptonstall. It was timed to be at Plath's grave on 11 February. On that trip, Gail Crowther and I were shown Plath and Hughes' flat at 3 Chalcot Square. In September, I got to tour Yaddo as they opened their doors to the public for a weekend; and in November, I gave a tour of Winthrop, Anne Sexton's house in Newton, and McLean Hospital to Australian scholar Sarah-Jane Burton.

In looking back through each month, certain posts for me stand about among others. The following posts either took a lot of time to research and gave me a sense of accomplishment, or simply the topic seemed more interesting or garnered more attention:

In January, my wife and I made Sylvia Plath's Heavenly Sponge Cake. It was some good.

February 2014: Concluded a 4 month project to highlight Sylvia Plath collections. The three discussed in February were Martin Booth papers, William Heinemann Ltd. archives, and holdings at the University of Tulsa.

March 2014: The unanimous most popular post this year was "Sylvia Plath and the SS United States". Another neat one with lots of good information was Sylvia Plath's Passport, Part 2. This was following in April with a Part 3 and a fun post on "Sylvia Plath: Three Women and The Journals.

In May and June and July, several posts highlighted newly found articles authored by (or very likely authored by) Sylvia Plath. See posts on 20 May; 8 June; and 7 July. Poet and Plath scholar David Trinidad was the featured blogger for the month of June for the Poetry Foundation. All of his posts are wonderful, but concentrated on Plath: "More is More: Sylvia Plath's Letters" and "Collecting Sylvia Plath".

If you missed "Sylvia Plath & the Mystery of the Ad in the Paper" or "The Search for Sylvia Plath continues..." in August, shame on you.

This blog would not be as successful without the guests posts! Deep, sincere thanks to Christine Walde for her fascinating "Signal to Noise: Reading Ted Hughes papers at the British Library" and to Gail Crowther for her "Sylvia Plath, Bell Jars and Bowen" post from September. In October, November, and December there were some fun posts, too, so be sure to check each month out.

For the sake of consistency, I will report on the popular pages on my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is and give a summary of total hits. I find the metrics behind the website and blog really interest because it helps me to look at how people are finding the site, and also helps me to think about the areas that might need improving (or even removing). Visitors most likely used the keywords "Sylvia Plath", "Sylvia Plath Biography" or "The Bell Jar". The top six pages of the website for the year beginning 1 December 2013 and ending 30 November 2014 are:

1) Biography
2) Poetry Works
3) The Bell Jar
4) Prose Works
5) Thumbs books (SP's prose works
6) Johnny Panic synopses

One improvement to the website this year, and it is still a work in progress, is that on the Works Index page, where known I have added a date, or dates, of composition. As with everything on either the website or this blog, I hope it is useful, and if you notice something missing or wrong, please let me know. And, between the website and the blog, there were a total of at least 90,541 hits. Thank you!

My own blog activity this year was way down from previous years. Why? Mostly because I spent a massive portion of the year transcribing, annotating, and proofing all of the letters written by Plath not held by Smith College (in the neighborhood of 1200), conducting research on these letters for the notes, building the index for these letters, and other duties. This took an enormous amount of time and energy, but I hope that what posts I did do on this blog, and what additions I did make to the website, were useful, interesting, informative, and that they will contribute in some fashion to a better understanding of Plath's life and her creative works. It is a privilege to get to work with these documents so closely and hope when the book is published (when, I'm not sure, so don't ask!) it will be a significant contribution to Plath studies.

Looking ahead to 2015! It will be the 50th anniversary (not another one!) of
Ariel in March. Intentional or not, Faber is releasing a beautifully repackaged edition of Plath's most famous volume of poetry in April as compiled and published after Plath's death by Ted Hughes. (Read their 29 September 2014 announcement on this here.)

I learned so incredibly much about Sylvia Plath this year. Biographically and otherwise. In large part my motivation to research and to try to learn more is because of you, the fine readers of this blog. Thank you all for reading, emailing, and sending me links via Twitter and other means. Thank you also to those who comment and for occasionally discussing some of ideas, issues, and topics brought up in posts. Happy Holidays!

All links accessed 24 October; 21 November; and 4, 8 & 11 December 2014.

15 December 2014

Sylvia Plath scholar Sally Bayley's The Private Life of the Diary

The author, Sally Bayley
Teaching and Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford and a Lecturer in English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, Dr. Sally Bayley, contributor to Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual, co-editor of Representing Sylvia Plath, and author of several other articles on Sylvia Plath, is in the process of seeing her most recent bookThe Private Life of the Diary: from Pepys to Tweets (Unbound Books) through to completion. As you might expect from Sally and a book of diary writing, the book features Sylvia Plath who was a dedicated diary writer and journalist for nearly 20 of her 30 years.

Here are some excerpts for you from the book; specially selected and published here with permission from the author and publisher:

"...Plath, on the other hand, wants to be a good witness of life; she wishes to see and tell things as they are, and so her adolescent journals, kept from the age of fifteen, are filled with carefully composed word-sketches of the world around her: the ‘big, beautiful world as it really is’. Plath’s eye is that of an artist-in-training, and her diary entries often read like a lesson in drawing from John Ruskin..."

"...Plath is a chatty diarist. Her tempo and register are rapid and colloquial; she is excited and at times she babbles. Comparing some of her novel drafts to a form of diary writing, she calls it ‘sentimental’ and ‘vain’, too one-sided. It is true that Plath’s diary-voice is repeatedly preoccupied with one subject: herself and her future and an overwhelming fear of compromise. Too many passages spin around mutually exclusive choices: either to sublimate her egotistical self and lead a life in service to others, or to choose to write, for her own sake..."

"...What Plath claims to lack she in fact shows in abundance: endless self-critical diagnoses that turn in upon themselves. The girl who wants to be God has created an uncanny critical persona, a divine being who reads over her shoulder and delivers a short-sighted reading of her self. Nothing seems very accurate or true. The facts of the matter are all submerged – to use one of Plath’s favourite verbs…"
Stills from Suzie Hanna's The Girl Who Would Be God

Unbound is a new independent crowd-sourced publisher and represents a new model of publishing. They "connect authors and readers. Authors present a pitch, you pledge, and when the goal is reached the book is written. It's really that simple." For those interested, and you really should be as the book sounds fascinating, there is a range of ways for you to acquire Sally's book. For just £10 you get a digital copy of the book; £20 will get you hardback copy to hold, covet and cherish, as well as the e-book edition, access to the "shed", and your name in the back of the book. For £35 you get everything that's come before which includes a signed edition. The £50 option trumps what's come before by the inclusion of a digital copy of Suzie Hanna's The Girl Who Would Be God, which was inspired by Plath's journals and created especially for the 2007 Sylvia Plath 75th Year Symposium at Oxford University. There are other options too, which really lets you control what you get. An important pledge level involves school workshops. Sally will take diary writing into schools as a means of helping teenagers find a writing and speaking voice that is not necessarily related to social media texting/blurting. See the books webpage for more information.

All links accessed 9 & 12 December 2014.

08 December 2014

Signal to Noise: Reading Ted Hughes papers at the British Library

The following is a guest post by the poet and Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes scholar Christine Walde. Thank you, Christine!

As a poet, librarian and researcher, I have been fortunate to visit Plath's archive at the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College and at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. Each site, owing to the scope and extent of their collections, has their own depth and complexity. And each time, whether I have expected it or not, each visit has bore new discoveries and revelations, both surprising and serendipitous.

It's not uncommon that a special kind of magic happens in the archive. What makes Plath's archive unique — with its drafts and diaries and letters and essays and art and ephemera— is that it is, quite literally, a hive, a site of noise, made all the more audible by her silence in death.

I admit to being seduced by this opposition of volumes. Reading poetry often involves the decoding of noise and silence, sifting through the information that is available to make meaning. In her 2011 essay "Noise that stays noise," Cole Swenson likens the first reading of a poem as noise — an experience of confusion or nonunderstanding — that works in concert with the information contained in the text. This state of suspension as the reader tries to decipher the information, attempting to find ground in the topography of its syntax, is a complex negotiation. When one visits the archive, a similar sensation embodies the visitor, conflating time and space. Looking to words to make sense of the moment, the researcher in the archive is a reader of poetry, suspended in history, between prolonged states of both being and becoming.

What makes Plath's archive all the more magical, then, is the presence of Ted Hughes; whose silence is just as complicit as Plath's, but for different reasons. Plath researchers exposed to Hughes' writing on the verso of Plath's manuscripts become uneasily accustomed to his presence: the chaotic black strokes of his handwriting underlying scores of her neatly typewritten pages. Together, Plath and Hughes orchestrate a unique sound in the archive: one that, like their individual poetry, is nothing less than extraordinary.

The last time I went to the UK was in 2008, and when I was there, I visited Primrose Hill, to see the neighbourhood where Plath and Hughes lived. It was a kind of pilgrimage: visiting addresses on Chalcot Square and Fitzroy Road, while wandering up to the top of Primrose Hill park, looking out over London. This May, I had the opportunity to go back to the UK, and decided this time I would visit the British Library, where I knew some of Plath's papers were held. What I didn't realize was that they were part of Ted Hughes' archive at the British Library, a labyrinthine collection of immense complexity.

Initially, I had a hard time trying to make sense of what it was that I was supposed to be doing at the British Library. I was on holiday with my husband. It was a gorgeous sunny day in May. What was I doing in a library? Something was wrong with me. And yet, when the folders came, I sat down dutifully at a desk and began sifting through them, carefully reading each piece of paper, trying to decode a new information, a new poetry.

At the recommendation of a friend and Plath scholar, I was looking into a collection of papers (MS 88918/129/2) that Hughes kept after Plath's death; a diary that was mentioned by Jonathan Bate in The Guardian, and not " organised and systematic like Plath's, but ... thousands of pages of memorandum books, loose leaves and pocket notebooks." (Bate, "How the actions of the Ted Hughes estate will change my biography," The Guardian, Wednesday, April 2, 2014)

As I held Hughes' papers in my hands —what Bate identified as being the real record of Hughes' inner life— I was astounded. On every page, Hughes was writing back to himself, in desperate urgency, to order the events of Plath's death within a way he could understand. Just like the researcher in the archive, Hughes was attempting to make sense of what happened; except that he was performing it within his own archive, in his own papers, conversing with the past — and not just to himself, but to an invisible audience that attends him in a future he can't possibly foretell.

After working previously with Plath's archive, and with other special collections, I thought I was somewhat immune to the experience of working in the archive, that I could somehow be safe, untouched by what I read. As I continued to read the diary, transcribing it as I went through it, I thought I knew the story of what happened to Plath and Hughes. I was wrong. As I sat in the reading room of the British Library, I found myself pulled into Hughes' writings, simultaneously angry and sympathetic to him; scared, confused, confounded, and awed.

In another part of the folder, Hughes talks about the last time he saw Plath, and the letter that she had written to him; a last farewell love letter to him, which Plath burned in an ashtray. I had read Hughes' poem "Last Letter": this was obviously the experience to which he was referring. But to read about the original moment, in Hughes' hand, was very moving. As a series of papers, they speak to Hughes' restless need to document events as he perceived them — and indeed, to the absence of Plath's diary from this time, which he famously destroyed.

I dangerously assumed that I would know what perceptions or emotions I would experience, and I underestimated how affected I could be by Hughes' papers. In many ways, his diary at the British Library is more than a recollection, but a way to summon the events of those hours and days leading up to Plath's death, and in his own life, as a kind of necromancy, an experience which profoundly affected me.

From the very beginning of her life, Sylvia Plath was, by her mother's hand, archived into a great existence. Every drawing, poem, essay, and photograph was collected, curated, and eventually, through Aurelia Plath's obsessive dedication to the memory of her daughter, classified and described within multiple libraries and archives. To this end, I've often thought that Plath's archive, as an entity, in all of its locations and as an entirety, is the last great modernist collection of pre-digital, analogue culture, which accurately memorializes the literary output of a remarkable 20th century writer. To this end, there's something pre-determined in Plath's archive, a self-conscious logic which manifests itself in an audience; or as a kind of theatre.

By contrast, Hughes' papers are vast, sprawling, deeply interior: a black lake with no bottom. Drafts of poems, readings of books, pages upon pages, are worked and reworked endlessly; leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit to fully explore whatever subject or topic he turned his hand, including himself. If Plath's archive is a site of noise, then Hughes' papers are a signal to that noise: validating, or interfering, with the signal they transmit.

What made reading these entries in the British Library all the more unbearable was that Hughes obviously wanted, somehow, in some way, to reconcile with Plath, but her anger and sadness —in being quite literally, broken by him and his heartlessness in his infidelity— also had no bottom, and was permanent, which only death could quell.

Later that day, I met my husband at Camden Town and we walked along the Lock to Primrose Hill, to visit Plath and Hughes' neighbourhood, as I had done in 2008. Coming up unto the street from the water was different from what I had previously remembered and nothing looked the same. When we got to Fitzroy Road, it felt strange to stand beside my husband, staring at the house where Plath died, someone who we had both never known, where now someone else obviously lived. He seemed so nonplussed about it all. The neighbourhood streets were eerily empty, and grey; filled with that flat, silvery white light of London. I felt a little bit lost and was still shaken from my time at the library: I hadn't properly identified my thoughts or feelings and was awash in raw emotion. We walked to the Chalk Farm tube station in silence.

In my notes from the experience, I wrote: "I did not take enough care to protect myself from the psychic energy of Hughes' papers, not knowing how deeply they could affect me." But what was I supposed to do? Refuse that power? The reality was that I had I felt similarly affected in Plath's archive. And when you are confronted in isolation by the hand of a stranger confessing their innermost thoughts, fears or desires, you cannot help but be affected.

Nothing prepares you for what you will find in the archive, or what you will encounter within yourself within it. This is the gift of doing archival research, of working with special collections. In working with original documents, you are lead to a way of seeing a new kind of reality, some other way of being. That is why research in the archive is so important: it moves us from our rational centres of intellect towards the unknown and the unexplainable, a noise that, like poetry, informs who we are as human beings.

Christine Walde's research interests range broadly within literature, libraries and archives, and intersect with her interdisciplinary work as a poet, artist and librarian. In addition to her work within the library, she has been published in a variety of print and online journals in both Canada and the US, including appearances in Branch, Carousel, The Fiddlehead, Lemonhound, The Malahat Review, The Rusty Toque, Plath Profiles and Vallum. In 2011, Baseline Press published the chapbook The Black Car, based on her research with Sylvia Plath's archives at Smith College and Indiana University, which culminated in the recent completion of a full-length poetry manuscript, Cloud Country, exploring Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes' camping trip to Canada in 1959. She lives in Victoria, BC.

02 December 2014

The Sylvia Plath Time Machine: Sotheby's 6 April 1982 & 2 December 2014

The 2 December 2014 auction of Sylvia Plath manuscripts, typescripts, lecture notes, artwork, a letter and photographs, among other items, is a massive treasure of her "early" works. The auction was held today in New York City as Lot 121 of the Fine Books & Manuscripts, including Americana Sale N09237. The lot came in at an estimate of $150,000-$250,000 and was one of the highest estimates to its point in the auction. While there were bids, starting at $90,000 and ending at $120,000, the lot unfortunately failed to sell, likely not meeting a reserve.

Who wants to take a trip on the Sylvia Plath Time Machine?

A provenance note on the auction catalog indicates the material originally sold, also by Sotheby's, at auction on 6 April 1982. The auction took place around the time of some major Sylvia Plath publications: The Collected Poems came out on 25 November 1981; The Journals of Sylvia Plath (abridged) came out on 31 March 1982; and the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize going to Plath was made a week after the auction on 13 April 1982. Curious about reading the original cataloging descriptions, I was able to obtain a scan of the auction catalog from the great Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was glad I was sitting down when I read the details on the lots for if I wasn't, I might have fainted.

The Plath papers were spread out into nineteen lots were 96, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, and 115. There was seemingly no lot 97.

The items currently up for auction were listed specifically in eight of those nineteen lots 98, 99, 102, 103, 104, 106, 113, and 115. Where are the other eleven lots??

Two of the eleven lots are now in libraries:

That leaves nine.

One of these lots I think has been dispersed into three separate publications:
  • Lot 111 Autograph manuscripts of three apparently unpublished poems as follows: "Something there was about the time", 26 lines, 1 page 8vo, in pencil [star] "The sweet sickish female odor", 37 lines, 1 1/2 pages 8vo, in ink, the last 6 lines in pencil, possibly incomplete, 4 lines of another poem deleted at head of the page [star] "A time of clear white understanding", 34 lines, 1 1/2 pages, 8vo, in ink."

    APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED. Not in The Collected Poems. Each poem is written on a sheet torn from a different spiral notebook. The handwriting indicates that they are not contemporary though it may be conjectured that they all date from the period of Sylvia Plath's education at Smith (1950-1955)"
These poems were published as Trois Poèmes Inedits by JJ DuFour in Paris. There is no publication date on the book which was published in a limited edition of 100. There were 97 normal copies and three 'especial" ones. The bookseller  James Cummins seems to have command of the whole run of copies and has assigned the publication date of circa 1975. Though given the above description from the 1982 Sotheby's auction, I question the supplied publication date unless there were multiple copies of the manuscript poems? Which seems unlikely as there are few, if any, manuscript or even typescript drafts of Plath's early poems. (There is differential between typescript drafts and typescripts - by typescript drafts I mean a typescript poem with changes in Plath's hand.) If there were drafts of these early poems, Plath did not tend, at this time, to keep them.

Smith College holds one of these special copies of Trois Poèmes Inedits, which includes the original manuscript of the poem "A time of clear white understanding". I wrote about these poems on this blog on 19 November 2012. But, as happens time and time again, with the passage of months and years more information can be learned. Smith College's copy is numbered "3" and was acquired in July 1996. The other known copy, via WorldCat, is held by University of North Carolina. They obtained their copy on November 20, 1998. As stated above, there is no publication date in the book. Also, it does not appear in Stephen Tabor's excellent Sylvia Plath: An Annotated Bibliography. So perhaps it is a case that the book was published after the 1982 Sotheby's auction? It seems remarkable to me that a book could be published in or around 1975 and go completely unnoticed in the book trade for 20 years before Smith College acquired their copy, and another couple of years before rare book dealer Rick Gekoski found a second copy in 1998 (see article mentioned in link above), and when UNC obtained theirs. Seems unusual. Especially in the height of limited edition publications of Plath's work which was in its heyday in the 1970s.

This feels like an Agatha Christie mystery, and then there were eight.

The location of items in these eight lots remains unknown and are presumably held in private collections. These are:
  • Lot 101 "Autograph draft of a letter written on behalf of members of Class English 31, Gamaliel Bradford Senior High School, Wellesley, Massachusetts, 1 ½ pages 4to, {15 March 1949}, in pencil, to Irwin Edman, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University [star] Together with a typed copy of the final letter

    "A letter sent by member of Sylvia Plath's English class, but drafter by her (with many deletions and corrections) in which they 'challenge a few of your statements' in his article 'A Reasonable Life in a Mad World' published in Atlantic Monthly, March 1949 "

The final, signed copy of this letter is held in the Irwin Edman papers at Columbia, but the whereabouts of this lot are unknown.
  • Lot 105 "Autograph letter signed ("Your happy girl Sylvia"), 2 pages 8vo, Smith College, {winter 1951 or 1952} to Aurelia Plath

    "A rapturous account of 'the nicest weekend I ever had' skiing in the New Hampshire hills: 'we went out into the most beautiful world imagineable! {sic} snow had fallen in a fine powder last night, and the sun was out in a snow-blue sky. A white-new-england church is so lovely - and it was one of those heavenly dry-cold days, with blinding sun and snow and sharp blue shadows . . .'"

    "Not in Letters Home"
This item, from February 1951 when Plath and Marcia Brown went the Francestown, New Hampshire, sold again at auction via Christie's on 12 November 1997 in Sale 8055, Lot 52. The price for the letter was a reasonable $1,840 and its location is not currently known.
  • Lot 107 "Autograph postcard signed ("sivvy"), 22 lines, {McLean Hospital, Belmont, Mass.}, "Thursday", postmarked 18 December 1953, to Aurelia Plath

    "Written when Sylvia Plath was in hospital recovering from her first breakdown and suicide attempt, at the end of her Junior year at Smith, she writes that she will be able to come over for tea on Saturday and come home for two days at Christmas. ' . . . I am doing occasional work over at the library - and am having my 6th treatment tomorrow I hope I won't have many more ...'"

    "Not in Letters Home"
  • Lot 108 "Typed letter signed ("sivvy"), 4 pages bvo, Wellesley, 9 August {1955}, to Aurelia Plath, with envelope

    "A detailed account of her social life including a metting with Padraic and Mary Colum, referring to the publication of her poem 'Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea' in Mademoiselle ('its my favorite of the later ones') and to her 'platinum summer' story

    "Not in Letters Home"
  • Lot 109 "Typed letter signed ("sivvy"), 2 pages bvo, Wellesley, 10 August {1955}, to Aurelia Plath, with envelope

    ". . . I finished my story today . . . It is exactly 20 pages and I ironed out the two places which bothered me. Tonight it goes to Collier's. Bless it! I'll need the money, and I am sure it must sell somewhere . . .' The remained of the letter concerns family news, dresses and a forthcoming dinner in Cambridge with Peter [Davison]: '. . . It is enormously stimulating just to know him. I must never be away from that wonderful 'bookish' environment where everybody knows and loves writing and thinking . . . '"

    "Not in Letters Home"
  • Lot 110 "Annotated copy of Modern Abnormal Psychology, ed. W.H. Mikesell (New York, 1950), with Plath's underlinings or marginal markings on approximately 235 pages (of 880) and her annotations on 8 pages, with her bookplate.

    "Most of the 24 essays in this collection bear some markings and two are particularly noted in the Table of Contents - H.M. Graumann's 'Disorders in Perception and Imagery' and E.W. Lazell's 'Schizophrenia'; the latter bears more markings and annotations than any other in the volume. See especially pp. 592-3 which bear annotations relating schizophrenic symptoms to Plath's own experience in New York in 1953 and to 'G' (perhaps her friend Gordon Lameyer)"
  • Lot 112 "Typescript (carbon) of an article entitled 'Poppy Day at Cambridge', 8 1/2 pages large 4to, 4 Barton Road, Cambridge, England, {1956}, with many autograph corrections and deletions

    "An evocative account of the celebration of Armistice Day (11 November) in Cambridge"
  • Lot 114 Self portrait, head and shoulders, pencil on paper, 12 x 9 inches, stamp of Sylvia Plath estate on verso"

There is a ton of information in the above catalog descriptions. I am interested in all these items, but given the work I am doing with Karen V. Kukil on Plath's letters, learning of the existence of four new letters by Sylvia Plath is particularly tantalizing. The February 1951 letter about being in Francestown, New Hampshire; two from August 1955; and then the whopper: one sent from McLean Hospital dated "Thursday" (17 December 1953) and postmarked the 18th.

In the brief excerpts from that letter we learn that Plath was set to have her sixth round of ECT treatment, which is double, the generally accepted "few" that biographies report she had. In Paul Alexander's Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath, he reports that shock treatments commenced around 15 December and ended by Christmas eve and he reports that Dr.Ruth Beuscher recalled "I don't think she had more than two or three" treatments (1999: 134). Dangerous to draw attention and parallels to The Bell Jar, but in the novel Esther Greenwood is set to receive "shock treatments three times a week - Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday" for an indeterminate period of time (1963: 227). These treatments in the novel concluded "after a brief series of five" (228).

If you are reading this and you are the holder/owner of one of these four letters: Please, please, please consider sharing scans or photocopies with us so that they can be considered for the Plath letters book!

On the subject of Plath's correspondence. There is no known correspondence from Plath before this 17 December 1953 postcard to her mother during her recovery at McLean. There are two letters to Gordon Lameyer from late August & early September 1953, sent mostly likely from Newton-Wellesley Hospital where she first recovered. After this December postcard, however, Plath wrote a letter to Gordon Lameyer on Christmas (from Wellesley) and a letter to Eddie Cohen on 28 December in 1953 (from McLean). In early 1954, Plath wrote to Lameyer again on 10 January; to fellow student Enid Epstein on 18 January; and to a prospective Smith student called Sally Rogers on 21 January (undated, date from postmark).

All links accessed 18 November 2014.
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