16 June 2015

Sylvia Plath's Two Lovers and a Beachcomber

Last December, a fellow Sylvia Plath reader Peter Fydler asked me a question about Sylvia Plath's English tripos book "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber" submitted as part of her Fulbright fulfillment at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, in May-June 1957. Specifically the contents list of the volume. I did not know the answer. Turns out we took a convoluted route in trying to piece it together.

First looking at the Cambridge Review from 7 February 1969, which focused on the recent find of the manuscript of the book in the English faculty library at Cambridge and featured both some essays on Plath and printed several poems by her that were included in the manuscripts.

The manuscript contained 43 poems. Though initially Plath envisioned it being slightly larger. On 21 November 1956, Plath wrote to her mother, "My own book of poems (now titled "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber") grows well, and I should have 50 good poems by the time I submit it to the Yale Series of Younger Poets in February" (Letters Home, 287; please note this is the text from the book, but the original letter varies slightly). Plath submitted the book to the Yale Series on 16 February 1957. Anyway, back to the Cambridge manuscript. Smith College has most of the originals, holding 31 poems that probably came from the manuscript. From the finding aid, the manuscript of "'Two Lovers and a Beachcomber' (book) by Sylvia Plath Hughes" includes typescripts of the following poems: "Wreath for a Bridal", "Monologue at 3 a.m.", "Street Song", "Strumpet Song", "Two Sisters of Persephone", "Spinster", "Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats", "Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper", "To Eva Descending the Stair", "Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives", "The Snowman on the Moor", "Apotheosis" ["To a Jilted Lover"], "Mad Girl’s Love Song", "Recantation", "Mad Maudlin" ["Maudlin"], "Epitaph for Fire and Flower", "Metamorphosis", "Go Get the Goodly Squab", "Sow”, "On the Plethora of Dryads", "Soliloquy of the Solipsist”, "On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad", "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea", "Natural History", "Aerialist", "Dream with Clam-Diggers", "Black Rook in Rainy Weather", "November Graveyard", "Temper of Time", "All the Dead Dears", "Doomsday". For those savvy enough in math, there are 12 poems missing.

Three of the poems for which typescripts are not present in the collection at Smith College, but are mentioned in the Cambridge Review essays, are: "Complaint of the Crazed Queen", "resolve"; and "Shrike". But at first glance we are not sure where they fit.

After some time, Peter Fydler found the full table of contents of the book in Gary Lane and Maria Stevens' Sylvia Plath: A Bibliography (1978), on pages 56-57. Which for me is embarrassing as I have a copy of that book. Based on a comparison of what is in the Plath papers at Smith College and what is listed in Lane's bibliography, the pagination of "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber" looked like the below (please keep in mind that those poems enclosed in brackets are the poems for which the original typescripts are missing).

Wreath for a Bridal, page 1
Monologue at 3 a.m., page 2
Street Song, page 3
Strumpet Song, page 4
[Letter to a Purist, page 5]
[The Glutton, page 6]
[The Shrike, page 7]
Two Sisters of Persephone, page 8
Spinster, page 9
Ella Mason and her Eleven Cats, pages 10-11
Miss Drake Proceeds, to Supper page 12
[Vanity Fair pages, 13-14]
To Eva Descending the Stair, page 15
Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives, pages 16-17
The Snowman on the Moor, pages 18-19
Apotheosis, page 20 (variant title: To a Jilted Lover)
[Complaint of the Crazed Queen, page 21]
Mad Girl's Love Song page, 22
[Pursuit, page 23-24]
Recantation, page 25
Mad Maudlin, page 26 (variant title: Maudlin)
Epitaph for Fire and Flower, pages 27-28

Metamorphosis, page 30 (variant title: "Faun")
"Go Get the Goodly Squab", page 31
Sow, pages 32-33
[Touch and Go, page 34]
On the Plethora of Dryads, pages 35-36
Soliloquy of the Solipsist, pages 37-38
On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad, pages 39-40
Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea, page 41
[resolve, page 42]
Natural History, page 43
[Dream of the Hearse-Driver, pages 44-45 (variant title: "The Dream")]
Aerialist, pages 46-47
Dream with Clam-Diggers, page 48
[Pigeon Post, page 49]
Black Rook in Rainy Weather, pages 50-51
[Lament, page 52]
November Graveyard, page 53
Temper of Time, page 54
[The Lady and the Earthenware Head, pages 55-56]
All the Dead Dears, pages 57-58
Doomsday, page 59

I wonder where those missing pages are! Of those missing twelve, the Lilly Library has paginated typescripts for "Lament" and "Pursuit", but the page numbers on those are not from the manuscript of "Two Lovers", but from another assembled book.

When comparing the contents of "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber" (May 1957) to Plath's first book The Colossus (1960), it is stated in the Cambridge Review that "[o]nly six were included in The Colossus (Heinemann, 1960) and this number was reduced to four in the American edition (Knopf, 1962)" (244). However, there were eight poems carried over from the 1957 book to the Heinemann edition. As well, there were five carried through to the Knopf edition in 1962. The eight poems brought through the years were: "All the Dead Dears"*; "Black Rook in Rainy Weather"; "Mad Maudlin" ("Maudlin"), "Metamorphosis" ("Faun")* , "Sow" *, "Spinster"*, "Strumpet Song"*, and "Two Sisters of Persephone". The * indicates that the poems appeared in both the English edition and the American edition of The Colossus.

Lastly, to make a long story short, Fydler recently found that a complete manuscript copy of the book is held in the Alvarez papers at the British Library.

Thanks must go to Peter Fydler for inspiring this blog post.


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Any thoughts on "Dream of the hearse-driver" and "Pigeon Post", Peter? Could those be poems we know now that have been retitled?

Peter K Steinberg said...


"Dream of the Hearse-Driver" is now just "The Dream"; and "Pigeon Post" retains its title, though copies of that poem are scarce.


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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.