20 July 2018

Sylvia Plath Collections: Letters to Melvin Woody

At almost the eleventh hour in working on Volume 1 of The Letters of Sylvia Plath (above) I received PDF's of the letters Plath wrote to Melvin Woody. There was a mad scramble to get the letters transcribed, proofed, annotated, and integrated into the volume before we reached the point of no returns (a.k.a. Indexing). But, they made it. And in my correspondence with Mr. Woody, he let it be known that he planned to give his original letters to Smith College. I got him in touch with Karen Kukil, and later in the year, Karen visited Mr. Woody in New Haven to officially acquire the originals for the collection at Smith College. They join other caches of letters Plath wrote to friends she made during her Smith College years (Ann Davidow-Goodman, Marcia Brown Stern, Elinor Friedman Klein, and Philip McCurdy).

This blog post is simply done to announce that the letters are now formally a part of the Sylvia Plath Collection at Smith and open to researchers. They are physically stored in box 16.1, folder 19.1.

There are 8 letters which date from 1951 to 1955:

22 June 1951, written from Swampscott, Mass.
24 March 1954, written either from Smith College or Wellesley, Mass.
5 May 1954, written from Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
7 May 1954, written from Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
circa 20 May 1954, written from Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
5 July 1954, written from Wellesley, Mass.
17 December 1954, written either from Smith College or Wellesley, Mass.
26 January 1955, written from Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

The June 1951 letter was something of a revelation to me as if I had known that he was in the Plath picture at that time I had forgotten it. In my emails with Mr. Woody he let me know that he hitchhiked up to Massachusetts that summer and that he was the inspiration for "Cal" in The Bell Jar; that that scene was inspired by that visit he made to Plath and Marcia Brown Stern in Swampscott.

Mr. Woody and Plath appear to have met for the first time slightly earlier than that summer during Plath's spring break from Smith College when Plath went with Marcia to her home in New Jersey (also visiting New York City). He appears on her calendar on 31 March 1951 as part of a double-date: Mel and Marty, Ted and Me. Not sure who Ted is. It's obviously not that Ted.

Naturally the letters are published, but the originals provide information missing from their printed siblings. At least I think seeing Plath's original handwriting and typewriting offers information, or rather, intimacy, that is unfortunately lacking in a printed book. The December 1954 letter, for example, is in a Christmas card designed by Rosalind Welcher, an artist whom Plath certainly appears to have liked as a number of letters were sent in Welcher's cards. Here is a copy of the card (edited to obscure Plath's handwriting).

I am very grateful that Mr. Woody answered my email query about the letters and believe that they add quite significantly both to The Letters of Sylvia Plath and the Sylvia Plath collection at Smith.

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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.