10 April 2018

Go Fish with Sylvia Plath

Going into Bonhams fascinating Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, The Property of Frieda Hughes auction I was completely torn about bidding. Of course Plath herself, in the guise and persona of "Lady Lazarus", predicted how her readers would covet "a piece of my hair or my clothes". And having been lucky enough to acquire, previously, something that Plath created as well as being gifted a typescript story, there is always the desire to have more.

I ranked some of the lots that most interested me and that would not completely destroy my meagre piggy bank from the moment I saw the draft sales catalogue in January. I was completely taken with the idea of owning something as random and frivolous as Plath's fishing rod (Lot 351). But something in me said go for something else. So I marked down Lot 334 ("A Winter Ship") as being idea. Copies are available but not one that was retained for 58 years by the family. I was interested also in the small lot of books (381) and well as the lot of 6 editions of The Colossus (336). So, yea, I was all over the place.

I discussed with a few friends what they might be interested in bidding on so as to not bid against a friend. It was also interesting to see what other items people were attracted to. So I put in a bid on those Colossus editions but then immediately cancelled it and went for "A Winter Ship". I put in the low estimate and had no faith it would hold. And it didn't… it sold for £5,500 (£6,875)... five and a half times the low estimate.

Watching the auction live was an event; an experience. Truly glued to my seat and incapable of leaving it, I weighed my other option. I put a bid in that held for about 2 seconds on the Oxford Book of Wild Flowers (340), misheard the bidding price on the wooden tray (350) which sold for what I consider to be "chump change". I did bid a couple of times on Lot 380 as I have convinced myself some of those items were actually once the property of Sylvia Plath directly… Of course I could be and probably am delusional… The mind is a funny thing. The last things I bid on were lots 400 and 401, the Laureate's Choice sherry. I lost those, too, as I just could not make myself click "bid" once more. For what they were I felt the went for reasonable prices of, respectively, £187 and £112.

After the auction ended I reached out to Frieda Hughes about the unsold lot 328 of "Tobias and the Angel" by Leonard Baskin. But, because I did actually win a lot in the auction I opted in the end not to try for the additional item. I regretted it the minute I passed on it, and still do. Massively. The extra expense just could not work itself out in my mind. I regret it more and more and more each day.

If you read that previous paragraph you will see that I did successfully bid on one of the lots. In the end it was the first thing that I was initially drawn to that saw me walking away slightly lighter in my wallet but with an item that is to me both bizarre and unique. The catalogue description of the fishing rod read, "Sylvia Plath's 2-piece cane fishing rod, made by Forrest & Sons, Kelso, 5 loops, cork handle, length approximately 1220mm." And it was accompanied with a footnote: "Ted Hughes wrote to his brother Gerald in late summer 1958 that 'Sylvia loves fishing, and has luck' (Letters of Ted Hughes, Faber, 2007, p.131)". In addition to this in Hughes' letters, there is more than likely additional material about fishing in Plath's forthcoming letters.

Gail Crowther took this photo which shows many
lots, including the fishing rod in the back corner.

Like my "Dark River" experience in December, this item had me on tenterhooks. It was collected on the 28th of March and so should have shipped on the 29th. However, the shipper had a "glitch" that coincidentally lasted the entire four-day Easter weekend. This delayed delivery by several days which I am not impressed with. But, the fishing rod made its way from Bonhams in London, to Oxford where it was packed, then to Stansted and on to Indianapolis before coming back east to me in Massachusetts.

The day it was delivered was comical. I knew it was nearby but the scheduled delivery date was Tuesday 10 April. So, I went to work thinking it would frustratingly hang out for a few days and collect dust. But by the time I got to work, it had moved to a distribution center two towns from my house... Once it was marked as out for delivery I knew I had to leave work to try to be home to sign for it. I had wanted it sent to work, but Bonhams failed to follow my instructions.

Anyway, I get off the train and start walking home. Huffing and puffing up a hill I see a FedEx truck pull onto my street. So naturally I start running after it. I am not faster than a truck. And it wasn't, in the end, my FedEx truck. No, my truck came conveniently about 20 minutes after I got home. Had I stayed home from work I do fully believe it would not have been delivered that day.

The tube in which it came and the padding...

The fishing rod in in two pieces that fit together. It came with a nice dark green carrying bag that has "Shakespeare 1575-240" on it. I have to ask Frieda Hughes about this!

When together, the rod is just shy of seven feet long... here it is on the floor and then propped up by a bookcase.

Now for some close ups...

I am really thrilled about this and will have to figure out what, exactly, to do with it. I have heard from some friends about their winnings; so of course I am pleased for them too.

Did you win something? Do you have it? Do you want to write a guest blog post about it? It can be anonymous if you want. Contact me via this page if you are interested.

All links accessed: 22 March 2018.


A Piece of Plathery said...


Amy P said...

I didn't have the resources to do more than fantasize about what I would bid on if I participated in this auction. The items that interested me the most were the fishing related ones. Oh! How I covet this fishing rod! I'm an avid fisherman and I envisioned my first cast this year (assuming I had bid and won this lot )using this rod...imagined the magical, monster catch I would make, as if somehow the rod had imbued something of the spirit of dear Sylvia herself. Lucky lucky you! I'm truly envious. Now I must go fishing and try to get my mind off my covetous feelings ;)

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you Plathery and Amy for your comments! There is a photo of Plath holding a fishing rod in Letters Home and I was hoping it was the one I won; but I do not think it is. Rather, I do believe it was one in the Hughes lot of fishing rods. I'm sorry to have made you jealous. I'm sure it's still a functional rod but I have no idea how to use one. And as a vegetarian with vegan-leanings, it really won't get much use! Though I suppose I could release the fish, if caught, back. I hope you were able to get out fishing and that you caught some. ~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.
  • 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.