15 July 2015

Sylvia Plath: Did you know...

The Bell Jar, published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, received mixed reviews when it was published on 14 January 1963. Within a month after Plath's death, Ted Hughes gave Heinemann permission to publicly release Plath's name as the author. That did not stop Heinemann from releasing a book club edition of Victoria Lucas's The Bell Jar under the Contemporary Fiction imprint in 1964. Strangely, though, on the back of that dust wrapper it reads, "Victoria Lucas is a pseudonym, and we are not in a position to disclose any details of the author's identity."

Do you know what's on the inside flap of the dust wrapper of the first, Heinemann edition (pictured left)?

"Esther Greenwood's story began before her visit to New York, but it was during those strangely unreal weeks - when with eleven other winners of a fashion magazine contest, she was offered the riches of the city as a gift - that her growing feeling of unease an inadequacy began to oppose her. Life for Esther had been a history of success: at school, at college, even with Buddy Willard, that superb, all-American symbol of success; but the value of these achievements seemed now to retreat from her, leaving her to focus on those vast territories where she would never tread with confidence of anything but failure. Back from New York, cramped by her mother's sympathetic watchfulness, Esther felt herself withdrawing into a private world, and in chapters of wonderful lucidity and vividness the author describes that borderland between sanity and insanity, whose only promise of escape is violence and death.

"This is a remarkable first novel by a young American woman - remarkable both for being a novel which uses detail and imagery to evoke a concrete, recognisable world and never to obscure it, and because it treats the subject of break-down with unusual directness and understanding."

The front and rear flaps of The Bell Jar (Heinemann, 1963)

Swell! This is a summary of the novel before the legend of Plath was widespread; before the nearly one to one association of Plath's biography to the novel. I have often wondered if Plath wrote this, or someone at Heinemann?

Just to round out the dust wrapper, designed by Thomas Simmonds, the back of the dust wrapper lists recent Heinemann fiction publications.

The front and rear covers of The Bell Jar (Heinemann, 1963)

These titles, in order of appearance, are:

Michael Noonan - The December Boys
Paul Smith - The Stubborn Season
Alison Lurie - Love and Friendship
Anthony Burgess - The Wanting Seed
Edward Upward - In the Thirties
Barbara Comyns - The Skin Chairs
Alfred Grossman - Many Slippery Errors
Jerome Weidman - My Father Sits in the Dark
Eric Ambler - The Light of Day
S. J. Perelman - The Rising Gorge
Paul Gallico - Coronation
Anthony Powell - A Dance to the Music of Time

Though I have never checked with any systematic focus or determination, I have often wondered if The Bell Jar by "Victoria Lucas" is listed on the back(s) of any Heinemann publications.

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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.