01 March 2018

Sylvia Plath Collections: Stephen B. Fassett correspondence

The Houghton Library at Harvard University recently received and processed the Stephen B. Fassett correspondence. Fassett lived at 24 Chestnut Street, Boston, just around the corner from Plath and Hughes. He was an audio engineer who recorded many of poets during the era. I worked the the papers in this collection on 29 August 2017.

There is a letter from Ted Hughes and a Christmas card signed by Sylvia Plath as well as letters from Dido Merwin, W. S. Merwin, John Lincoln ('Jack') Sweeney, and with the Estate of Isak Dinesen.

All text below from the "Scope and Contents" from the finding aid to the collection.

Ted Hughes correspondence

Item 1. Letter to Stephen and Agatha Fassett (from 3 Chalcot Square, London, England)
Date: 1960 May 14
Scope and Contents: Hughes provides an in-depth description of his and Sylvia Plath's return to England: "the perfect superhuman jungle, through which we have come" and the "two week ordeal of searching London for a flat" with the "baby so near." He credits "our saviors Bill & Dido [Merwin], & without them I don't know what we could have done." He describes how "Dido arranged for us to sign on with her doctor. He informed us that we were too late to get into any hospital--Sylvia would have to have the child at home." But, he states, "we had no home. " He recounts how "like Magic, at the last moment, Dido produced a small flat in a small square" and "Dido & Bill hovered like genuine angels." Then, he states, "at sunrise on April 1st, our little daughter arrived [...] We call the girl Frieda Rebecca. She has enormous eyes, of which she has just acquired free use: they stare at us in intense curiosity & amazement." He indicates that "Bill [W.S. Merwin] went off to their house in France last week, & Dido goes off today. He's lent me his study for the summer, for which I'm thankful. He had a burst of writing over the last three months & produced the best part of another book. He showed us the proofs of his new book, out this summer, his best by far. 'The Native' is dedicated to you both."

Item 2. Christmas card (see below) to Stephen and Agatha Fassett (from Court Green, North Tawton, Devonshire, England)
Date: circa 1960 December
Scope and Contents: Signed Christmas card "with lots of love from Sylvia, Ted + Frieda Hughes"

Item 25. Letter to Stephen and Agatha Fassett (c/o MacNeill, 49 Pembroke Rd., Dublin, Ireland)
Date: 1961 July 27
Scope and Contents: Sweeney describes the recent appearances of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath at the Mermaid Theatre Poetry Festival: "Last week in London ... Ted and Sylvia each read one of the commissioned poems and each read beautifully a fine poem. After the reading we had a happy supper, with yourselves in our thoughts and greetings for you from Ted & Sylvia given to me to deliver. They're a great couple of young ones. And it was for me very moving to hear and see Sylvia --- the only woman on the stage that evening and the only American on the stage! She read with great grace and clarity and command and the poem she read is a humdinger. You'll soon hear it I hope for I've asked the recorders of that session to let the Poetry Room have a transcription of their tape. And Sylvia has promised to lend the Poetry Room the worksheets of the poem she read."

Item 28. Letter to Stephen Fassett (from Invernane, Corofin, Co. Clare, Ireland)
Date: 1963 July 8
Scope and Contents: Sweeney apprises the Fassetts of Ted Hughes' condition after Sylvia Plath's death. He states that "Ted is in good health and (all things considered) good spirits. He is concerned about finding a right nanny for the children. At present they are with Ted's aunt who enjoys them and is enjoyed by them so all seems well for the present." Sweeney indicates that "Ted asked warmly for you and Agatha and begged me to beg of you a tape copy of a Japanese monastery and gong record which you played for him."

Hughes is also mentioned in two 1977 letters relating to his Gaudete. News of the collection was made by the curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room, Christina Davis, in May 2017.

All links accessed 29 August 2017 and 28 February 2018.


Anonymous said...

I'm wondering which of her poems Plath read at the festival! Thanks for posting these!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hi Anonymous! Plath read "Tulips". It was recorded by the British Library and released on The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath, in 2010. ~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.