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.

2 comments :

Annika J Lindskog said...

Oh, what lovely pictures of Plath & co.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you Annika! They are lovely photographs for sure. ~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.

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