01 February 2018

Sylvia Plath Bonhams Sale Result

Due to a busy November I missed posting on the outcome of the Bonhams auction of a Sylvia Plath typescript on 15 November 2017. And with the recent news about Frieda Hughes putting to auction some of the items she inherited from her parents, it seems like a rather timely time to mention this auction result now. Fresh back from Belfast and London and filled with memories that are insatiably fine, it slipped my mind that I had typically posted on the results. The result of the auction was that the item, an unpublished short story called "The Dark River", sold for the minimum bid, which after premiums and everything came out to £750 (about US $1,001 at the time of writing).

Part of the oversight also stems from the fact that the winner of the auction notified me a couple of days afterwards to inform me that she was giving the typescript to me as a gift. Since that time I have been rather befuddled, occasionally weepy with happy disbelief, and completely staggered at her kindness. The giver of this gift is Suzanne, whom I met in late 2013 in advance of our 2014 tour of Sylvia Plath's England. We have maintained the friendship and kinship since then, reconnecting finally in person recently in Belfast. To this very moment and as far into the future that I can see, I will never, ever, ever feel really worthy of this degree of kindness. Thank you, Suzanne.

I was notified that the story was to ship on 20 December---the red tape surrounding an export of cultural heritage is necessarily long. I had it sent to my parent's house, thinking I could just collect it at Christmas. The estimated delivery date was just two days later so I was stoked as I might actually have it before Christmas. But, unfortunately, it was not as easy as all that… The box containing the typescript was sent, firstly, to the wrong airport in the US. Then, after being re-routed to the right airport for distribution, the box actually went missing for more than two days. You can imagine I was hitting refresh on the shipper's website about every 12 seconds! I called on the morning of Boxing Day and got a completely unsympathetic person. I called later that day and got a really helpful person who put a trace on it. Literally within the hour of calling, there was activity on the tracking webpage. They were scheduled to call me at 10 am on the 27th with an update. Sadly, this did not happen and around 11:20 I called them back. They were in the process of transferring me to my case agent when, looking out of my childhood bedroom window, the delivery van pulled up to the house.

This was funny. My mom yelled up to me "It's here!" I hung up the phone and walked as casually as I could downstairs. We stood at the window in the dining room, looking at the driver. He took a sip of water. He put lotion on his hands. He took out his phone. It seemed he texted a few people. He took another sip of water. He took another sip of water. He took out his phone and did something else. He took another sip of water. And another. And another. After about five minutes of making me wait longer, he finally got out of the van, opened the side door, found the box (which was so big I'm baffled how something of its size went missing---like Plath, actually---for more than two days) and brought it to the front door.

In general the tracking was a failure. No indication, for example, that it departed from England; no notification that it was actually out for delivery. Or, if "with delivery courier" means "Out for delivery", then having it be updated at the exact time it was delivered is hardly useful. Enough complaining...it was delivered! Ought I to write a poem titled "The Arrival of the Typescript Box"? The box was only temporary...

The story was packaged really well, so at least there was that. Here are some images from my methodically opening it up.

The Arrival of the Typescript Box

An illicit amount of bubble wrap

Fine British-made cardboard

Getting there

What's one more obstacle?

The folder slipped into a mylar sleeve

The folder

The folder, again

THE typescript...worth the wait? Yes.

I am in the process now of having someone to make a custom box to house the typescript and when it is made I will show it off. If you want?

This copy of "The Dark River" is the carbon copy of a copy held by the Lilly Library. It is just over six pages long (so, numbered to page 7) and was at one point folded in half lengthwise. It has red pencil notations, probably by her English teacher Wilbury Crockett on pages 1 and 4; as well there is typing mistake on page 5. Throughout on the carbon there is residue from typing errors where Plath had to type over a blunder; and along the margins there is further residue from the platen. The Lilly Library copy has a cover page that reads "THE DARK RIVER / a story by / Sylvia Plath" and is dated in black pen at the top right, in Plath's hand "1949". The cover page is lacking from this carbon copy. The Lilly Library also has a second copy of this story that reflects the corrections suggested by the red pencil in MY copy. But what I do not know is if this was written during Plath's junior year at Bradford (now Wellesley) High between January and June 1949, of during her senior year from September to December 1949.

Interestingly, this is an early instance of Plath titling a short story the same title as a poem. In 1948, she wrote a poem called "The Dark River / (P. N.)"  The "P. N." is undoubtedly Perry Norton. This sixteen line work is an early love poem if ever there was one and bears thematic resemblance to the short story. Luke Ferretter summed up the story nicely in his "Introduction" to his brilliant Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study (2010), writing:

In 'The Dark River', from 1949, a woman tells the narrator about a mysterious river which has come between her and those she wants to love. When she was young, she was sure that her dreams and desires were would all be fulfilled, but she has come to realise that the strange dark river that fascinated her will always prevent her from true communication or relationship with others. At the end of the text, the woman who tells the narrator her story fades into the narrator's own imagination, which has been playing upon the real river in front of her. (3)
And Kathleen Connors also wrote on "The Dark River" in Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual (2007: 58-59, 67-68).

I cannot thank Suzanne enough for this unique, cherished, ultra rare Sylvia Plath gift. I doubt there are words that justly convey my sincere appreciation.

All linked accessed 19 and 30 December 2017 and 30 January 2018.


Anonymous said...

Apologize I *panted not "paInted", sorry.. not my mistake but my mobile phone stupid autocorrector's


Anonymous said...

Oh wow oh my God I panted(i swear) and sweated through the story of how u got to receive the parcel. I felt a suspence and it was really an adventure to get it but finally u got it and that's what it counts. I'm so happy for u to have this in your hands, it must be so thrilling and exciting I imagine, and I feel ,I must admit, a bit jealous of u ;-) (winking smiley face) happy for u, Peter, enjoy it!
xx Alina

Rehan Qayoom said...

If it's any consolation, I had a similar ordeal sending off a small package to Greece! Total cold-blooded purgatorial murder. Glad yours finally got there in the end as did mine, in the end.

A Piece of Plathery said...

Simply wonderful xxx

Eva Stenskar said...

This is wonderful! I cannot think of anyone more deserving of that Plath story. Thanks for sharing.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Alina, Rehan, Plathery and Eva! Thank you all so much for your comments. Hope you are each and all doing well. ~pks

Anonymous said...

Yes, thank u for your kindness, u are cute and kind and caring as always, I'm doing well thank u, a bit stressed out these days but oh well.. not something that can't be solved ;-) Hope u're doing well yourself too, take care, Peter, see u on Twitter as always ;-) Can't wait to see what next blog post is about! Have a great week and thank u for all the plathing xx


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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.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • 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.