28 September 2017

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, Published Today

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1: 1940-1956 is officially published today by Faber & Faber in the United Kingdom. It is the moment many of us have been waiting for for a very long time.

The 838 letters in Volume 1 begin on 19 February 1940 and end on 23 October 1956. The cut off date was intentional as that is the last letter Plath wrote before her 24th birthday. Thus Volume 2, you can deduce, begins with the first letter Plath wrote after turning 24. The book was edited by me (that's Peter K. Steinberg in case you forgot) and Karen V. Kukil.

A number of readers of this blog and followers on Twitter have sent me messages and the like that the book is on the way. I find this level of excitement and enthusiasm for The Letters of Sylvia Plath so wonderful. So, thank you all for being patient as we built the book. There is more to come.

Buy it from Faber, Amazon.co.uk, Book Depository. The HarperCollins edition will be published in the United States on 17 October 2017.

All links accessed 20 and 27 September 2017.

24 September 2017

Guest Post: Gesa Matthies on her Sylvia Plath Film

The following is a guest post by Gesa Matthies...

The lady in the book – Sylvia Plath, portrait(s)

Peter K. Steinberg generously proposed that I write this guest post. I met Peter when I started doing research for what was then a vague project: "a film on Sylvia Plath in the places where she lived and with people who live there today". Peter took me on a tour to some Plath places around Boston and Winthrop. We stopped in front of Plath's old house close to the waterfront on Johnson Avenue, at Yirell Beach where he showed me the house where Plath's grandparents lived and at Winthrop cemetery to see her father's grave. The tour went on to Mclean Hospital where Peter pointed out the network of subterranean passageways that connect the different houses. That was in 2012. The film is now finished and is called The lady in the book – Sylvia Plath, portrait(s).

I filmed this at places where Plath had lived or stayed and I filmed women who live there today. They perpetuate her presence and above all her writings. It is a film about how Plath's voice continues to echo with contemporary women's lives.

At the beginning of this documentary film project, like at the beginning of many projects, there was a coincidence: In 2008, Rachel, an old friend of mine whom I had met when I was a student in California and who in the meantime had moved to the East coast, was about to get married. The address on the invitation card sounded somewhat familiar: 24 Prince Street, Jamaica Plain, Boston. The house where Sylvia Plath first lived.

© drawing by Lawrence Fane
When Rachel confirmed that she and her husband Dimitri had in fact bought the downstairs apartment where Plath had lived until the age of three I realized I had found the pretext and starting point for a film about my favorite author. I went to Boston that same year and spent three weeks in the house of Rachel/Sylvia. The Jamaica Plain house with its wooden floors, its spacious rooms and my friend's decoration was a beautiful place for me that summer, but I didn't feel any closer to Plath by being there. I decided to leave it at what it was in the first place: a pretext to make a film inspired by Sylvia Plath.

Two years later, with the kind help of Richard Larschan, I had the occasion to visit the house on 26 Elmwood Road in Wellesley where Plath had lived from the age of nine until she left for Smith College. When owner and resident Linda Gallo invited me to see the upstairs bedroom that Sylvia had shared with her mother, I felt I was leaving the sphere of fiction in which until then my connection with the author had developed. I was now entering the "real world" of Sylvia and I could feel "the warm feminine atmosphere of the house enveloping me in its thick, feathery smothering embrace." (Journals, p. 16)

The non-fictional experience with Sylvia Plath continued for me when I spent a week in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College in front of the original manuscripts of her journals. I think everyone who has had the chance to read these hand-written pages, must have had this sensation of closeness and authenticity. I also found that her writings took on a physical dimension. Photographs of Sylvia Plath represent her physical characteristics and her surroundings, but the pages and pages of hand- and typewritten documents are a very concrete by-product of her thoughts and the act of creating. That's why I loved filming these pages. In my documentary you see the hands of Karen V. Kukil, Associate Curator of Special Collections at Smith College, turning the pages.

At Smith College, I also met Kyle Kaplan, a student and young writer who that year was living in a room in Haven House. Someone had told her it used to be one of Plath's rooms. For me, it was not so much the room that made the connection with Plath as this young woman who had decided to become a poet and who was living in this room and writing at its desk in 2014.

That same year, I met Emmett and Jennifer, two students and residents of Lawrence House where Plath had her room during her junior and senior years. We had a long conversation about the pressure they feel to choose from the variety of career opportunities they theoretically enjoy today as Smith students. At the time Plath graduated, women were expected to get married shortly after college. They became mothers and caretakers and as Plath put it might only "pick up Bergson, or Kafka, or Joyce" while "I am stumbling up to cook eggs and feed milk to the baby and prepare dinner for my husband's friends". (Journals, p. 225)

Today, women who are studying at prestigious colleges are educated to pursue leadership positions. Yet, it seems that a lot of these young women see themselves also as future mothers. Whereas "wanting everything" is not considered inappropriate any more for women as it used to be when Plath graduated, "a life of conflict, of balancing children, sonnets, love and dirty dishes" (Journals, p. 225) is still an important issue for women today even if traditional gender roles have shifted and gender itself has become an option to choose in progressive environments like Smith College, as Emmett Wald points out, sitting in the Lawrence House study room in 2014.

In spring 2016 I met Janelle Tan, English major in her senior year who had come to Smith because of Plath. She said that Plath has been "a big part of what she is as a person" and reading the Journals while living at Smith had helped her to cope with everyday life. Janelle had also started writing poetry when she had discovered Plath. Some images as well as the violent and unapologetic tone of her poem "Motherland" which she reads in my film, remind me of Plath's "Medusa".

For a long time, Plath's readers have been stereotyped as unstable and frustrated young women in need for a silent idol. As a matter of fact, young women like Janelle Tan and the other people in my film as well as older women like me and countless other readers (women and men) of Plath identify with her. However, we identify with her writings not with her person and we identify with her because she is all but silent. She has never stopped speaking to us or, in other words, her words have the capacity to "put our feelings into words" as Janelle Tan puts it in one of my interviews with her.

My first English copy of The Bell Jar (I had already read a German one at 14) I bought at a yard sale in San Francisco in the late 1980s when I was a foreign exchange student in California. Inside the cover a former reader had left the following note:
"I often felt like the lady in the book, but it is good reading.
Cheers, love, Laurie"

In the very elaborate Voices & Visions documentary film Sylvia Plath from 1988 (to watch on YouTube) we can see a long and very moving interview with Aurelia Plath and many other interviews with people who had known Plath and/or who had written about her. Besides this film in which we also get to hear a great number of her poems, there seems to be no other documentary on Plath.

I did not want to make a film about her life. I think there are enough well researched and detailed biographies out there to be read. Films are not for people who don't want to read. Films are about images and sounds and I wanted to show my searching for images and sounds of Sylvia Plath in places where she had lived and that had influenced her. In my film it's the people who I met at these places who carry something of Plath within themselves as if they were figures in her stories. Like the unknown Laurie who wrote in my copy of The Bell Jar, the women in my film, without saying it explicitly, have already felt like "the lady in the book".

The lady in the book – Sylvia Plath, portrait(s) has been produced in France by a French production company and a small local TV station. I live in France and so I had proposed it to French film funding institutions who found it an interesting project. Their funding allowed me to do several research trips to Massachusetts. Plath is not very known in France. Feminists know her or people who are into poetry or English-language literature. In 2011, Gallimard issued Ĺ’uvres with her essential works: the poems, The Bell Jar, several stories and the abridged journals all translated into French, for some of it for the first time and for some of it newly translated. Plath also appears in a few recent publications on women poets. I hope with this film a French audience will find the way into her books. I also hope an American audience will enjoy the film and recognize one of their culture's most important writers.

The lady in the book – Sylvia Plath, portrait(s)
60 min, France 2016,
A film by Gesa Matthies

There will be a screening at Smith College October 21, 2017 for the 20th anniversary of the Poetry Center at 2.30 pm (screening time to be verified shortly before the event) in the Weinstein Auditorium.

All links accessed 12 and 20 September 2017.

20 September 2017

Sylvia Plath Exhibit at the Grolier Club

The Grolier Club in New York City will host the exhibition "'This is the light of the mind': Selections from the Sylvia Plath collection of Judith G. Raymo" which opens today, 20 September 2017, and runs through 4 November 2017.

On Thursday, 12 October, the Grolier will host a Sylvia Plath Symposium from 6:00 PM-8:00 PM. Speakers include Karen Kukil, Associate Director of Special Collections, Smith College; Peter K. Steinberg, co-editor of The Letters of Sylvia Plath; and Heather Clark, Fellow, Leon Levy Center for Biography, CUNY Graduate Center. Moderator: Judith Raymo. Other details TBA. No charge, but reservations are requested. RSVPs from non-members should go to Grolier Club Administrative Assistant Maev Brennan, tel. (212) 838-6690, or e-mail mbrennan@grolierclub.org.

A stunningly produced catalog has been printed and copies will be for sale via Oak Knoll. Looking forward to giving a talk and to meeting who ever shows up!

The Grolier Club is located at 47 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022.

All links accessed 6 and 20 September 2017.

11 September 2017

The Education of Sylvia Plath, Smith College, 1952-1953

For her third year at Smith College, Sylvia Plath changed houses from Haven to Lawrence. Lawrence House is a co-operative house and residents performed jobs in exchange for a reduced tuition. Plath roomed this year with Mary Bonneville, a senior. The room numbers have changed, but from descriptions, Plath and Bonneville lived in either room 6 on the second floor or room 24 on the third floor.

With a major of English declared, Plath's studies this year were dominated by courses in this subject. She was required to take a Science course and this caused her quite a bit of concern. Plath was heavily involved with Press Board and other extra-curricular activities. During the first semester, her more-or-less steady boyfriend Richard Norton was diagnosed with tuberculosis while a student at Harvard Medical School and was treated at a sanatorium at Ray Brook, New York.

Plath's notebooks for Medieval Literature, Milton, Modern Poetry, and Physical Science are held in Plath mss II, Lilly Library. Papers or works created for a course which are held by the Lilly Library and listed in their finding aid have been added beneath the course.

English Unit, Medieval Literature: Seminar in Middle English Poetry. Emphasis will be placed on the works of Chaucer, medieval romances, or medieval drama, according to the special needs of the students. Attention will be given not so much to the reading of texts as to problems of research. Mr Howard Rollin Patch.

English Unit, Modern Poetry: Taught by Elizabeth Drew

Edith Sitwell and the Development of Her Poetry, 25 March 1953

English 39b, Milton: Milton. W Th F 2. Eleanor Terry Lincoln.

Chiaroscuro and Counterpoint, 11 May 1953

English 347a, Style and Form: The expression of different kinds of experience. By permission of the instructor. W Th F 2. Mr Robert Gorham Davis.

"Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom"; 12 December 1952; and
"Dialogue", 19 January 1953

English 347b, Techniques of Fiction and Criticism: Techniques of fiction and criticism with some consideration of poetry and expository form. By permission of the instructor. W Th F 2. Robert Gorham Davis.

"Doomsday", 21 February 1953;
"Incident", 21 February 1953; and
"To a Dissembling Spring", Spring 1953;

Physical Science 193 (a) World of Atoms: The World of Atoms. An introductory study of modern atomic theory by means of relevant aspects of chemistry and physics, including developments of current interest. Emphasis is placed on the logic of science and the nature of the evidence rather than on technical applications. Three lectures and one discussion. Lee. Th F S 9; Dis. W 10, 2. Mr Sherk (Director), Irving L. Kofsky. (Division III)

In the spring semester, Plath audited the following course:

English 44b, Twentieth Century British Literature: Joyce, Yeats, Eliot: M T W 10. Miss Drew.

Her notebook from this course, concentrating on James Joyce, is held by the Lilly Library.

See the other posts in the Education of Sylvia Plath series: 1950-1951; 1951-1952; 1954; and 1954-1955.

All links accessed 9 August and 7 December 2017.

01 September 2017

The Persistence of Sylvia Plath

For a long time now, 2017 has appeared to be a banner, monumental year for Sylvia Plath with so much happening. So, last winter I pitched an article idea to the good people at Fine Books & Collections on Sylvia Plath and to my absolute happiness, they said yes and made it a feature-like story. Thus I got to work on what became "The Persistence of Plath" which is out now in the Autumn 2017 issue.

My article discusses the National Portrait Gallery's One Life: Sylvia Plath exhibit; a member exhibit titled "This is the light of the mind: Selections from the Sylvia Plath Collection of Judith G. Raymo at the Grolier Club in New York City; and the publication of the Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1. I also mention conference Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words, Fragments.

One Life opened on 30 June and runs through 20 May 2018 and by now you know a lot about it. Raymo's exhibit runs from 20 September to 4 November 2017. The Letters of Sylvia Plath are published on 5 October in the UK and 17 October in the US. The Plath Conference is to be held at Ulster University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 10-11 November.

If you want to read more, you need to buy the magazine!

All links accessed 27 August 2018.
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