20 February 2017

Gail Crowther's The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath: An interview with the author

In August, after submitting the manuscript for her third book on Sylvia Plath, Gail Crowther took some time to answer some questions about her recently published book The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath (10 February 2017), her second on the poet.

1. Pretend, please, that this was Twitter... In 140 characters or less how would you describe your new book The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath?
#ICYMI stories about Plath and her readers #sylviaplath

2. Now, feel free to expand a little bit regarding its about-ness!
The book is a really an exploration of what Plath means to some of her readers and why she plays such an important role in their lives. It's divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 begins with stories about the first time readers encountered Plath and then the book moves through the concept of doubling, Plath pilgrimages, Plath photographs, and Plath's objects. The book is framed by Freudian notions of identification, narcissism, mourning and melancholia, while also making use of Otto Rank's idea of the double.

3. How did you go about modifying your PhD thesis for publication? What were some of the challenges and what might have been kind of a relief to shed?
The first major challenge was cutting the word count from 110,000 down to 70,000. Luckily it was fairly obvious what needed to go which was mostly the extended academic stuff (technical terminology) you have to do in order to get a PhD, such as massive lit reviews etc., so that was a bit of relief, to be truthful. I also changed the structure slightly, cutting out my own stories and incorporating them in a different way. Then I changed most respondents' names to protect their identities and removed any photographs that would have compromised their anonymity. I was at the time, and remain, concerned about my respondents and how they will be received. I feel protective of them and I feel deeply honoured that they trusted me to share their stories, so I really hope that they are read in this spirit.

4. In the original research, how did you find your respondents?
I began by reading the ten years of archived forum entries that the wonderful Elaine Connell had maintained and I made a note of the main contributors and their contact details. I also did some general online research about people who seemed to be involved with Plath studies generally. Then I sent out a batch of emails outlining my research and asking if people would be interested in taking part. I also met further respondents at the 2007 Sylvia Plath Symposium at Oxford University.

5. Following on this, as you sought out participants, were there people who declined to participate? And, were there any stories that you found didn't fit in to your research?
Yes. Some people just didn't answer my email or others replied saying they were too busy to participate. Others had certain conditions, which seemed fair enough to me. I was a complete stranger and they were about to tell me some really personal stuff. Amazingly, the stories had a really interlinked set of themes. I did not choose my chapters, the data from respondents chose them. The convergence and similarity was uncanny – especially since I had not set any questions at all. I just asked for open, free, creative bits of autobiography outlining their attachments to Plath. There was sadly too much data to include in both the thesis and the book, so the stories are edited stories. Perhaps one day the full versions can be made available without my fiddling about with them being an issue.

6. On your website your write "Developing and extending Rose's notion of haunting I am increasingly interested in place and spaces haunted by Plath and ways in which this impacts on readers who not only form close attachments to Plath, but equally carry out secular pilgrimages to places in which Plath lived and wrote." Do you see The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath as a compliment to Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath or as building on it?
I love Rose's book. I read it when I was a teenager and it really captured, and continues to capture, my imagination. What I hope The Haunted Reader does is to continue Rose's story. Once a cultural figure haunts our imaginations – what happens? What do people do with this figure and how does it impact on their lives? Janet Badia's wonderful book Sylvia Plath and The Mythology of Women Readers was also really important – the brilliant way she explores the kind of narratives that exist about readers. What I then wanted to do was personalise it and collect actual in-depth reader life-stories. The book wouldn't have existed without my respondents so my main aim is that readers of the book enjoy reading these stories and perhaps while they do reflect upon what Plath means to them.

Thank you, Gail, for taking the time to answer these questions!

Gail Crowther, The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath (Fonthill, 2017). Available in paperback from Amazon.co.uk and other online retailers. Crowther is also the co-author of two books about Sylvia Plath. With Elizabeth Sigmund, Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning and, with Peter K. Steinberg, the forthcoming These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath.

All links accessed 8 August 2016 and 15 February 2017.


Amy Rea said...

So excited to read this! And a little heart tug at seeing Elaine Connell's name. Man, I loved that forum. And she was great. Interviewed her a couple of times for stories I was writing. So helpful and thoughtful.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Amy! I'm excited for you to read Gail's book too. Such a unique approach to Plath via her readers. The Forum was so wonderful. ~pks

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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.