28 September 2018

Happy Anniversary: The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume I

Just a brief blog post today to say Happy One Year Anniversary to the Faber edition of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume I: 1940-1956, published one year ago today.

All links accessed: 26 September 2018.

21 September 2018

Sylvia Plath and the Hurricane of 1938

One of the most indelible memories of Sylvia Plath's 30 years was the famous and fierce hurricane of 1938 which affected Winthrop, Massachusetts on the evening of Wednesday, 21 September 1938, eighty years ago today, when Plath was nearly six years old.

Plath wrote about the hurricane in a some of her works  but this post looks at just two. The first is her poem "The Disquieting Muses":

Typescript of Sylvia Plath's "The Disquieting Muses"

In this photo, showing the back of the 92 Johnson Avenue house in Winthrop, you can see the "study windows" Plath references in the poem. Facing the water are six, and on either side are three additional windows each. The math works out here: "twelve / Study windows..."

And another appearance of the hurricane was in her last prose piece, "Landscape of Childhood" (published as "Ocean 1212-W").

The title of Plath's prose piece comes from her grandparents phone number. Her grandparents house was 892 Shirley Street, on a thin strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Winthrop Bay.

892 Shirley Street, Winthrop.
Photograph ©Gail Crowther

In "Ocean 1212-W", Plath recalls:

Clips of the text from The Listener, 29 August 1963
In the above snippets, you can see Plath gets the year wrong by writing 1939; there were no hurricanes to affect Massachusetts that year. It should have been, of course, 1938.

 Below is the front page of the Boston Globe for 22 September 1938.

Winthrop was mentioned a couple of times, too.

Sylvia Plath, her brother Warren, and their friends David Freeman and Ruth (Freeman) Geissler were photographed in their neighborhood in the aftermath of the storm. These photos are supplied by Ruth and used with her kind permission.

The first one here I believe shows a felled tree across Somerset Avenue pretty near the intersection with Somerset Terrance where David and Ruth lived. I base this on the house in the background and compared to a current Google Street View image.

The second image features a dog! It has been harder to try to trace where this is from but you can clearly see a huge bit of earth behind Plath's right shoulder and it appears they are in someone's front or back yard.

All links accessed: 8 September 2018.

16 September 2018

Sylvia Plath Finding Aid at Smith College

Smith College has recently published online finding aids to two collections.

Sylvia Plath collection, ca.approximately 1930-1998
Collection number: MRBC.MS.00045

Abstract: The Sylvia Plath collection contains writings by and about the American poet, novelist, and Smith College graduate, including poems, journals, articles, and correspondence to and from Plath. The bulk of the collection is manuscript, printed, or published materials but also includes realia, and audio/visual materials.

The collection is held by the Mortimer Rare Collection in the Neilson Library. Currently the library is under construction so the collection is accessible in the Young Library, 4 Tyler Drive.

The second collection is the papers of Plath's psychiatrist, Ruth Barnhouse (a.k.a. Ruth Beuscher).

Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse papers, 1915-1999, 2008
Collection number: SSC.MS.00202

Abstract: Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse was a psychiatrist, theologian, and ordained Episcopal priest known for being poet Sylvia Plath's psychiatrist, and for her theological publications related to homosexuality, sex, and women in the Christian church. This collection contains materials reflecting both her personal and professional lives, most of it from about 1970 and later. The collection contains a small amount of materials related to Sylvia Plath, which have been put in separate series for ease of access and reference.

The Barnhouse papers are held by the Sophia Smith Collection which is also temporary located in the Tyler Library.

It's simply fantastic that this resource is now available online.

The Special Collections website should have all the information you need if planning to visit. These finding aids are now listed on the Archival Materials page of A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 12 September 2018.

12 September 2018

Sylvia Plath Collections: Letters to Ruth Beuscher

The court case Smith College brought against Harriet Rosenstein concerning the fourteen letters from Sylvia Plath to Dr. Ruth Beuscher was settled on 27 December 2017. The court case docket number is/was 1784CV00769-BLS; the case was dismissed with prejudice, the outcome of which was negotiated between the two sides. Anyone can visit the courthouse and review the records generated in the case. In the settlement, Rosenstein surrendered the letters she had been a custodian of since the early 1970s to Smith College. I have known about the fate of these letters since early January 2018 and that they would be allowed in the second volume of Plath's letters shortly thereafter.

I must, at this point, apologize to anyone and everyone who has asked me about them for I have lied my face off. But you have to understand, please, that I was expressly forbidden to discuss this matter.

However, as of 6 September 2018, when the second volume of The Letters of Sylvia Plath was published in England, these fourteen letters from Sylvia Plath to Dr. Ruth Beuscher will be open for research at Plath's alma mater, Smith College.

The Rosenstein archive, which I believe is still for sale though possibly not with the original bookseller and now without the letters, is a rich resource for the Plath scholar. It includes materials--including letters that Rosenstein denied us access to for inclusion in our volumes--that no one has ever had access to and we can only hope end up in a public archive. During the lawsuit, I was regularly going to the courthouse in Boston to review the documents that were being filed. To be honest I was hopeful that copies of the letters would be submitted as evidence. Perhaps that makes me a fool. I photographed a lot of the files in the docket and as the records are public documents, if anyone wants to see my photographs please let me know. The contents of the Rosenstein archive, though quite badly & sloppily cataloged by the original bookseller who tried to sell them, were briefly listed online. The lawsuit meant this inventory had to be removed from his website and the sale paused. Before this happened, though, I took a copy of it which will be the subject of a future blog post.

But this post is about the fourteen letters which were written between 18 February 1960 and 4 February 1963. Excerpts of them were serialized along with a hodgepodge of other letters on 27, 28, and 29 August 2018 in London's Daily Mail newspaper. The  letters are dated 18 February 1960, 2 April 1960, 7 November 1960, 4 January 1961, 27 March 1962, 11 July 1962, 20 July 1962, 30 July 1962, 4 September 1962, 22 September 1962, 29 September 1962, 9 October 1962, 21 October 1962, and 4 February 1963. They are initially rather social in nature but then naturally shift to concern over the upset in the marriage. Normally I would like to provide brief annotations on each letter but I think the wiser way to go about it in this instance is to encourage anyone interested to read the letters for themselves. And, if you can exhibit the patience of a saint, to read them as they come up in the chronological run of letters in the book. They form an integral part of Plath's epistolary life. Of course they can be made sense of on their own, but I found, having read them both ways, that reading them in the ordered narrative of the book provides much more of an understanding of the information they contain.

I am very happy that Frieda Hughes allowed the letters to be included and fully support her decision to do so. When you think about it, Plath's full journals, published in 2000, included her typed-up notes after therapy sessions, so there is a precedence for this kind of material to be made available to the public in print and at via the archive.

All links access 4 May 2018 and 29 August 2018.

06 September 2018

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963 Published Today

Today, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume II: 1956-1963 is published by Faber and Faber in England. The book, edited by myself and Karen V. Kukil, concludes a very long journey that was years and years in the making. Before I forget---a reminder: the HarperCollins edition is scheduled for publication on Tuesday, 30 October. If you cannot wait until then, the Faber edition ships internationally via Amazon.co.uk and Book Depository, to name two sellers.

The Full Faber Cover
Volume II picks up on 28 October 1956, the day after Plath's 24th birthday, with the following exclamation: "What a lovely birthday I had!" (3). She's living still at Whitstead at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, and shortly into the volume she is moving in with her husband Ted Hughes to 55 Eltisley Avenue. The epistolary journey covers the conclusion of Plath's Fulbright; a teaching year at Smith College in Northampton; a writing year in Boston; a cross country journey and residence at Yaddo; moving back to England, the birth of two children and a miscarriage; the publication of two books and a lot of other writings; and the breakdown of her marriage and death.

There are 575 letters in Volume II to 108 correspondents. A breakdown of some of the letters:
  • 18 letters to her parents-in-laws Edith and William Hughes (held by Frieda Hughes and previously unpublished and unknown to SP scholars); plus 8 other letters to Edith and William Hughes (also unpublished, but held in archives so possibly known);
  • 11 letters to Olwyn Hughes; 12 letters to Gerald Hughes;
  • 230 letters to Aurelia Schober Plath;
  • First publication of Plath's professional correspondence with publishers and editors, sometimes revealing authorial intention of her works: 
    • 18 letters to the BBC;
    • 19 letters to The New Yorker
    • 11 letters to the Critical Quarterly, primarily re: American Poetry Now, a pamphlet of poems edited by SP (1961) 
    • 5 letters to Heinemann 
    • And more! 
  • 14 letters to Dr. Ruth Beuscher, her psychiatrist from 1953 onwards; and 
  • 4 letters to Dido and W. S. Merwin.
There are five line drawings and many previously unpublished photographs. The images include some of the supporting documentation that was invaluable as I wrote the footnotes such as one of Plath's pocket calendars, a page of her submissions list, two pages from her Letts Diary Tablet for 1962.

The best part about having two different publishers in two different countries is there are twice as many reasons to celebrate. On 30 October 2018, when HarperCollins publishes their edition, featuring Plath's 1959 passport photo as the cover image, we can do this all over again!

All links accessed 31 July 2018.

01 September 2018

This is Number Three: The Sylvia Plath Auction

The Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Bonhams auction in March is the gift that keeps on giving, it seems. Because nearly one-quarter of all the lots were purchased jointly between two booksellers, dozens of items are appearing now individually for sale. This is how I procured two additional possessions of Frieda Hughes' in addition to Plath's fishing rod. In July I posted about the presentation copy of Alan C. Jenkins's White Horse, Black Bull, acquired from Modern First Editions. This blog post is about the third, and perhaps final, item from the auction which I have purchased.

I have always had an interest in uncorrected proofs of Plath's books. They represent a pre-first edition state, were printed in extremely limited quantities, and often serve as a bridge state between manuscript and first edition. Peter Harrington Books of London acquired Lot 377 which was comprised of thirteen total books. Eleven of them were lightly described in the Bonhams catalog leaving two out.

From the catalog:
1). The Bell Jar, small piece cut away from upper fore-corner of front free endpaper [Tabor A4a.3], 1966; 2.) idem, paperback edition, 1966, each signed by Frieda Hughes; 3.) idem, [Tabor A4b], New York, 1971; 4.) Crossing the Water, [Tabor A11a], 1971; 5.) idem, light marks at gutter margins of endpapers [Tabor A11b], New York, 1971; 6.) Winter Trees, [Tabor A15a], 1971; 7.) idem, [Tabor A15b], New York, 1972; 8.) Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, introduction by Ted Hughes [Tabor A21a], 1977; 9.) idem, [Tabor A21b], New York, 1979-- 10.) Sylvia Plath: Drawings. Introduced by Frieda Hughes, signed by Frieda Hughes, 2013, unless otherwise stated publisher’s cloth with dust-jackets, 8vo; and 11.) 3 others, including copy 121 (of 400) of Lyonnesse, Rainbow Press, 1971 (13)
So two books were not described. One of them appeared in a small catalogue Harrington produced and it had all the hallmarks of being something that would tempt me:
PLATH, Sylvia.
Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams and Other Prose Writings.
London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1977

Octavo. Unbound and untrimmed sheets. Some light soiling, else in good condition.

Uncorrected proof copy, from the library of Ted Hughes, who collected the writings and contributed the introduction. Signature P is duplicated, with one signature having manuscript corrections by Hughes, corrections which were transferred into the final text. The sheets, without being marked with Hughes’s ownership, passed by descent to his daughter Frieda Hughes, and were auctioned at Bonhams among other Hughes family items in 2018.
The book was delivered to me in June and in July I sent it out to have a custom box made for it. I really adore having this, especially with the few hand-corrected typesetting mistakes.

And now for the box!

I needed a box for this as the signatures were unbound. This one I wanted in orange to kind of match the first Faber edition. It is a different color orange, but I'm ok with that. This box is stunning and it is not temporary.

All links accessed: 23 July 2018.
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