15 December 2016

Sylvia Plath Year in Review 2016

2016 saw the passing of Ted Hughes' two siblings: Olwyn Hughes in January and Gerald Hughes in August. May they both rest in peace.

I would like to issue a very special thank you to R. M. for his very generous monetary gift to me this year. It was the first time anyone has sent me money via PayPal for the work I do on Sylvia Plath and meant so incredibly much. Thank you R.

I always wonder which posts on this blog readers found the most interesting during the course of any year. This year, the Sylvia Plath Info Blog turned 9 which means next year will be the 10th anniversary. Seems hardly possible! But, I would love to know from you, the readers of the blog, which posts in particular you liked the best -- from 2007 to the present. Are there particular areas of focus that you miss from the early days? Or are there things you feel are being ignored outright? Are you tired of the blog? The blog archive is all available so please do click through each month and leave a comment. It might help me to write/research for new content! The Year in Review is always Sylvia Plath from my perspective and experiences and culls through the months to refresh what went on for me. But we have different lenses through which we read, journey, research, and write about Plath, so I apologize if your particular leaning is not a part of the following.

There were two bigger stories this year. The first I think was the British Library publishing a website that features a slew of Sylvia Plath archival documents in their Discovery Literature: 20th Century micro-site along with all the very good metadata such things require and some contextual essays. Here's a list of them:

British Library holdings:
Smith College holdings:
Contextual articles:
I never blogged about these documents or what the British Library did but instead used Twitter to broadcast the availability of them. This is an interesting way to spread news but I find it a lot more difficult to use as a resource than, say, putting things on this blog or over on my website A celebration, this is. It feels more "placed" in the blog. On the concept of digitization, though, this sort of cooperation between Plath's estate and the repositories that hold her archives is a wonderful step forward for Plath scholarship. I hope there will be more of this kind of thing in the future. It should also be stated, of course, that the British Library also digitized many Ted Hughes papers as well.

Speaking of digitized materials... Washington University at St. Louis also has a small digital presentation celebrating their "Modern Literature Collection : The First 50 Years". They have a page for Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. On the right hand side, scroll down, you will see separate links for Correspondence and Poetry Collections. In the former, there are one letter each from Ted Hughes to Graham Ackroyd and Ian Hamilton; as well as four letters from Sylvia Plath to her late sister-in-law Olwyn Hughes. The poetry collection features "Typescript and autograph drafts with corrections of Adam and the Sacred Nine by Ted Hughes". The exhibit features, also, "May Swenson's recollection of meeting Sylvia Plath at Yaddo in 1959".

The other big news story this year dropped in July when Kirsten Dunst and Dakota Fanning announced they will direct and star and produce a new adaptation of Plath's novel The Bell Jar. We can only hope and pray it is a far better attempt than the 1979 version. I have high expectations for this film, as do many of you I am sure. In August I was honored to give Dunst and Fanning, as well as Lizzie Friedman and Brittany Kahan, two of the film's producers, a tour of the Plath sites in the Boston area that are important to the novel. This was truly one of the most amazing experiences in my 22 years of Plathing. I found all four engaging, inquisitive, and very fun to be around. Casting is ongoing and filming is anticipated to begin in the first months of 2017.

Archives feature, as usual, on this blog. Get ready for a blitzkrieg of links! The year started with a post about the guest book Plath signed at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. A neat find, for sure. And in October I posted on some of the police records held by the Wellesley Police Department that show the then "live" tracking of Plath's disappearance in August 1953. Puts things into perspective. In February I posted what might be the last on the topic of Plath's work for the Press Board at Smith College. The culmination of six years of off-and-on research yielded 55 articles we can more than likely attribute to Plath based on archival evidence. This added voluminously to our understanding of her extracurricular work while an undergraduate, as well as to her practicing the craft of writing in many different genres. Other archival themed posts involved Plath's work on a Smith College publication, Campus Cat, and Smith's recently acquired Letters to Marion Freeman, which I assisted in them acquiring by befriending Ruth Geissler, Plath's great childhood friend.

Photographs of Plath in Venice, Italy, held by the Lilly Library were the topic of an April post and I used Google StreetView to approximately place Plath on the Grand Canal where the snaps were taken. In July I highlight all the old copies of The Bradford that Sylvia Plath would have read and many of which she contributed to when she was a high school student from 1947 to 1950. Like the press releases, this post brought to our attention several new Plath publications that were previously not recorded in any bibliography. I broke the posts up into thirds, one for each academic year: 1947-1948; 1948-1949; and 1949-1950. Photographs and movies of 1950s Benidorm were the topic of a post in August – thanks again need to go out to Gail Crowther for finding them. And also in August I made available PDF's or JPG's of all the articles I found on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt (website). In fact, after reviewing most of the posts this year, it seems like the gross majority of them are listed here. I know I post far less frequently than I used to, but at the same time I hope that these are of higher quality and content.

There were a couple of major auctions this year. Bonhams held sales on 16 March (results) and 15 June (results). Additionally, a rare proof of The Colossus (Heinemann) sold for well above the estimate in a Freeman's auction on 30 September.

This next sale tickles me… In July I found out about an extra special copy of The Bell Jar (Heinemann, 1963, reprint) and tweeted about it. The book was given by Ted Hughes to Nicholas Hughes, and upon his death Frieda Hughes inherited it. It was damaged, so artist that she is, Frieda drew in clever sketches attempting to metaphorically repair them. That tweet led to the University of Victoria in British Columbia acquiring the copy and I was able to see the book in person in October. As part of their announcing the acquisition and celebrating the special collections 50 year anniversary, I was invited out by Christine Walde and Lara Wilson to give a talk. I wrote a 45 minute talk entitled "'She wants to be everything': Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Letters, and Archives". I gave approximately 15 minutes to each subject in their sold-out basketball gym stadium that seats 2,100. Just kidding. To this day I am still surprised at the turnout, which I wrote about in a post on 1 November.

We had a guest post this year from Annika Lindskog (Sweden) of her visit in June to Heptonstall to see Sylvia Plath's grave. Thanks, Annika!

As mentioned above, I added PDF's to my main Sylvia Plath website, A celebration, this is, of all the articles I have acquired on Plath's first suicide attempt. That was the only major update to the website this year, but I am working on something additional for the first suicide attempt page and will unleash that on you shortly. From 1 December 2015 to 30 November 2016, the more popular pages on the website were: Biography, Poetry Works, The Bell Jar, Johnny Panic Synopses, and Prose Works. I thought I would also look at a different metric this year and that metric is duration. The pages that visitors to the website spent the most time on are: Biography, Johnny Panic Synopses, The Bell Jar, Publications, and Works Index. Between the website and the blog there were more than 90,000 hits. That's just incredible: Thank you!

2016 was rather skinny on monographs about Plath. In January and February, two academic press books were published: Sylvia Plath and the Language of Affective States: Written Discourse and the Experience of Depression by Dr. Zsofia Demjen (Bloomsbury Academic) and Mirrors of Entrapment and Emancipation: Forugh Farrokhzad and Sylvia Plath by Leila Rahimi Bahmany (Leiden University Press). In April we learned that Tracy Brain is set to edit a collection of essays called Sylvia Plath in Context to be published by the Cambridge University Press. This is exciting and should provide a variety of essays on wonderful topics. I am working at the moment on two pieces for the book: fingers crossed they are accepted! Gail Crowther's second book, The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath, was supposed to come out in August but there were delays and as of today I am still impatiently waiting for this work. As are you, I am certain. In early December, a book edited by Amanda Golden was published by the University of Florida Press. It is not about Plath, per se, but Plath features in some of the essays in This Business of Words: Reassessing Anne Sexton. The essay "'Two Sweet Ladies': Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath's Friendship and Mutual Influence" by David Trinidad is wonderful: it's my favorite. But also find essays by poets Kathleen Ossip and Jeanne Marie Beaumont and academics Jo Gill, Anita Helle, and Amanda Golden. With so few books coming out recently I feel that Plath scholars are anxiously waiting for something big to happen...

But there were two books that I was involved in that came to their fulfillment, of sorts. In late May, The Letters of Sylvia Plath was submitted to Faber & Faber. The book has been edited by myself and Karen V. Kukil and we hope to see it out in 2017. We submitted a beast of a book that included all the known letters that we could get our hands on and the manuscript swelled to nearly 3,400 double-spaced pages. This book had been in the works for more years than I can remember so it was wonderful to bring it to completion. I cannot wait for you to read it. At this point in time I am still unable to answer any questions about the book, so please do not ask!

Then in August, on the heels of the Letters book, Gail Crowther and I submitted a book of essays entitled These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. We heavily revised our original essays which were published from 2009 to 2013, and wrote much new content detailing our Sylvia Plath archival research. We present a lot of new information. We hope to see this book out in 2017, too.

Speaking of 2017: this should be an interesting and busy year. If the Letters are published I would expect this to be big news. Also, look for a long-term exhibit to open at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., in June. Dorothy Moss and Karen V. Kukil will bring off One Life: Sylvia Plath and will feature many items from the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College, the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington, Emory University, and private collections. It is going to be amazing. Another, smaller Sylvia Plath exhibit will be on view at the Grolier Club in New York City from 21 September for a month or two. As part of this, Karen V. Kukil, Heather Clark, and I will be panelists on a small symposium at the Grolier in October. More details on these as I learn about them. And, speaking of Heather Clark, she is still hard at work on her literary biography of Sylvia Plath (Knopf). More information on this when I have it, too. Lots to look forward to in 2017, for sure.

Thank you all again for reading the blog and for commenting. Thank you to all the librarians and archivists I have bothered ceaselessly this year asking for information, copies, scans, etc. Be safe this holiday season, be happy and healthy, and read Plath. And look forward to the next post on 1 January 2017!

All links accessed 18 and 22 October, 15 November, 11-14 December 2016.

PS: I see it written a lot, on the internet, that Plath's poem "November Graveyard" was about the cemetery at Heptonstall where she is buried. This information likely has come from Ted Hughes' note in the back of the Collected Poems in which he states that the poem was set in Heptonstall. This may be incorrect. A note in Plath's pocket calendar indicates she began this poem on 9 September 1956. This was three days after a walk to a "green lichengrown graveyard" where she read and "pondered" the old stones. In her pocket calendar, Plath did not an indicate where this graveyard was that she visited.

"November Graveyard" was first published in Chequer in the winter of 1956-1957 under the title of ... "November Graveyard". A typescript copy held at Smith indicates she sold it to Mademoiselle in 1958 -- but the poem was not published in that magazine, seemingly, until November 1965! On 18 April 1958, Plath recorded the poem as just "November Graveyard" for Lee Anderson in Springfield, Mass. A short time after this Plath added in the ", Haworth" to the title as when she read the poem for the Woodberry Poetry Room on 13 June 1958, she recited the title as "November Graveyard, Haworth". When Plath made her recording at Harvard, she even wrote the titles out on the reel-to-reel case (below), which is held by the Woodberry Poetry Room. "The scene stands stubborn", indeed.


A Piece of Plathery said...

Congratulations on another wonderful year of Plathing Peter!

Annika J Lindskog said...

Thank you for this blog, Peter! I always enjoy reading your posts. My favorites this year were the ones on Venice and the recent one on 'A Winter's Tale' - I loved the way you situated and contextualized Plath (and her writing) in those posts. But in general, I greatly appreciate the variety in your topics - you write about so many different things. Keep up the good work!

Eva Stenskar said...

Definitely NOT tired of the blog! I'm so grateful that you're keeping it up and keep providing us with fascinating material. From the past year I especially liked the Venice entry, A Winter's Tale Illustrated, the one about your lecture at Uni. of Victoria, and S.P. and McLean. I also very much enjoyed Annika's guest blog. I'm so looking forward to the letters of S.P.
Also looking forward to what's coming up here on the blog next year.
Thank you Peter!

Eva Stenskar said...

Also, thank you for the links to various recipes used by Plath. I have baked Plath's Heavenly Sponge Cake on a number of occasions as well as the tomato soup cake (no one can guess what's in it) with and without frosting. I have also made a pineapple upside down cake in honor of Plath, and will over the holidays try to cook blanquette de veau, after having seen it come up several times on her 1962 Letts tablet. Are there any more recipes out there? Anyone else here tried baking and cooking a la Plath?

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you Plathery, Annika and Eva for your comments. I appreciate then very much. Am quite glad to know which posts are interesting to you and also that you are not tired of the blog (yet)!!!!

I have only ever made the Heavenly Sponge Cake which was a lovely creation. I know people have made the tomato soup cake but have not attempted that to date. Good luck if you do bake the pineapple upside down cake: please let me/us know how it turns out. I cannot recall any other recipes from Plath's writing (like I got from that one letter to Olwyn Hughes were the steps were all listed). But if you can obtain a 1950s era Rombauer Joy of Cooking you could probably find a host of things she made. If her copy of Rombauer was in an archive I bet it would be laden with annotations. Do not know where it is, though.


Annika J Lindskog said...

Thank you, Eva, for your kinds words about my guest post. Och god jul!

steve said...

Looking forward to reading your blog in 2017, Peter! Steve Gorrell

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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.