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.


Peter Fydler said...

I have been very patient and haven't skipped forward (although Frieda's introduction, I assume, sums them up well). I've made it to Yaddo so far and am off to the British Library today (book in hand) to read another 200 pages!

A test match (cricket) and the vuelta (cycling) have got in the way a bit...


Anonymous said...

Which courthouse should one visit to view the case documents?

Peter K Steinberg said...

Peter -- No need to apologise at all! I appreciate your patience and wish upon you the resolve and fortitude to remain so. The letters I feel make the most sense, initially, when considered in their natural place in the narrative.

Anonymous -- John Adams Court House, Pemberton Square, Boston. I believe it's the 12th floor, but the security guard at entrance can advise where to go to look at trial dockets.

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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.