19 November 2018

Sylvia Plath at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair

What a weekend in Boston! It was the annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fiar and as usual I browsed through booksellers stock looking specifically for Sylvia Plath books. But this fair had particular targets in view... I was particularly keen to see some of the volumes for sale that were part of the big Sylvia Plath/Ted Hughes auction at Bonhams of the property of Frieda Hughes. As such, I spent some time at a few booths. Apologies in advance for all the super dodgy cell phone photographs.

But before I get to those, the primary reason for my attendance this year was to promote, sell, and sign (if wanted) some copies of both volumes of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. I was in Jett Whitehead's book for a good few hours promoting this book, talking to Jett and to many customers that stopped by. To my happiness some books sold and even some of the book dealers were buying copies. Sometimes it is hard to really consider just how many people are interested in these books. I just feel so genuinely happy to see copies walking away. I was really happy, too, to meet Rebecca Rego Barry, the editor of the excellent magazine Fine Books & Collections. It is always lovely to meet the real person behind the emails.

Jett is the current owner of a unique manuscript version of Sylvia Plath's poem "The Snowflake Star" and so to be near it for so many hours was a righteous privilege.

After my time in Jett's booth on Saturday I went to Peter Harrington's booth and also Jonker's, to see their wonderful items. In Peter Harrington's, I got to see the copies of RS Thomas that Hughes gave to Plath for her birthday in October 1961, her first in Devon. Some of books were copies that Hughes signed and inscribed to his sister, Olwyn, too. And these were also excellent and interesting to see as the inscriptions were in some ways more original and personal than those he signed to his wife.

According to the books' catalog/sale slip, the copy of Tares includes to scraps of Ted Hughes handwriting. It appears to be for some prose, possibly a draft of a review or a broadcast?

Jonker's was a particular delight because in addition to purchasing Plath's proof copy of The Bell Jar and displaying it at the Book Fair, they had some exceedingly recent acquisitions on show, too. So I was fairly taken aback whilst talking to Tom about these new books. The first is a signed and inscribed copy of The Colossus (Heinemann, 1960) to Hilda and Vicky Farrar. Dated 1 January 1961, it is an additional copy of the book that we now know about (and, yes, I've already amended the footnote about known signed copies of The Colossus on pages 530-1 in The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, so look for this update in the paperback!). Plath's Colossus was reviewed on the BBC on 18 December 1960 when Plath and Hughes were in Yorkshire. It is possible the whole extended family heard the broadcast. And it could be that Hilda and Vicky requested a copy.  Plath and Hughes returned to London from Yorkshire on 31 December 1960, so it seems the first thing she did in London on New Year's Day 1961 was sign this book. Currently priced fairly at $40,000, I am quite grateful to whomever purchases it for me.

And then there is the following, which found me suddenly cotton-mouthed, weak-kneed, and with a fuzzy, stumbling brain. A copy of the anthology Light Blue, Dark Blue, inscribed to Hilda and Vicky and signed by BOTH SYLVIA PLATH AND TED HUGHES. At just $10,000, this is priced to sell and would be considered, by me, to be an absolute steal.

In addition to the above, from Vicky Farrar Watling, Jonkers has lovely copies of Ariel (1965), Three Women (1968), and some Ted Hughes books. Amazing.

Lucius Books of York was on hand and they have some rather extraordinary books including a Victoria Lucas edition of The Bell Jar which I saw in their case. They also have the copy of the Knopf edition of The Colossus that Plath signed to Winifred and Garnett Davies, too.

In general, it's an excellent time to be a reader and fan and collector of Sylvia Plath. The variety of books available, if one has the means (I do not, which is mean), makes for exciting times.

Sunday was the Big Day! I got to the fair early and was permitted the opportunity by Jonkers to go through the proof of The Bell Jar page by page comparing my paper from a few years ago on the "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications". This was awesome because it proved my earlier paper crap. I joke, I got a lot of them right, but learned that I missed a few for which I am grateful. But what I was really surprised by was learning that some corrections from the proof to the first edition were the publishers, Heinemann, and not, evidently, by Plath. I am exceedingly grateful and like an idiot did not take pictures of the book. But it is, however, indelibly stained in my mind. At any rate, I need to revise that paper but do not plan to re-publish it until after Jonkers' copy sells. So, someone buy it!

But time was ticking on to my talk at 3 on "Sylvia Plath's Letters & Traces" which is the same title as previous talks but did contain very different content. I do not like to give the same talk twice and generally find revision keeps it fresh. It was a nice group of people who came to the talk, and there was a good batch of questions afterwards. I really cherish the opportunity to talk Plath and talk about the process of editing the Letters and other Plathian things. And even more, I covet meeting like-minded, passionate people such as L, E, and H; and even ran into an old co-worker from my previous life which was really cool. It was all quite special.

This was my favorite Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair yet and I did not even walk away with a book (or books) wrapped in brown paper bag with an orange SOLD sticker on it.

All links accessed 17 November 2018.

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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.