05 December 2018

1951 Sylvia Plath Letter at Bonhams

A six-page handwritten letter that Sylvia Plath wrote to Katherine Benion on 3 March 1951 appeared at auction today at Bonhams, New York. Lot number 212 was estimated to sell for $7,000-$10,000 dollars, which averages to a minimum of $1,166.6666666667 per page!

The lot sold for $10,000 which includes the buyers premium. Hammer price was $8,000.


Images from Bonhams

From the catalog description:
Autograph Letter Signed ("Sylvia Plath"), to Miss Katherine Benion, concerning how she got started in writing, 6 pp (on 2 pairs of conjoining leaves), 8vo, [Northampton, MA], March 3, 1951, in ink on blue-bordered patterned stationery, folded, light handling smudges.
Provenance: Family of the recipient, by descent.

A remarkable early Plath letter discussing her budding career as a writer, written when she was just 18 years old and attending Smith College. "... that's the total of my 'published' record — two poems, a story, an article and a story to appear in May." The recipient was a teacher and freelance writer, who was a young mother at the time. Responding to an inquiry about her writing, Plath seems unsure about whether it is her true calling: "I read one choice little article about me titled 'Born to Write.' That, I think, was rather too bad, because I just happened to get a few little things published, and I was born for reasons other than writing, I'm sure." She seems a little surprised to have anyone ask about her, saying "... I don't consider myself anything unusual...." and "When I am asked to talk about myself, I always stop with a start and wonder — Who am I anyway? I am afraid sometimes that I am writing about a fictional character that exists only in my mind." On the last page she talks about her development as a writer, saying "As I grew older, I found that I could sustain a story mood for more and more pages. I could assimilate more experiences with a greater depth of feeling, and so here I am, now eighteen, hoping that I have something worthwhile to say...."
Sylvia Plath received a letter from Benion on 17 February 1951. Plath replied in this 3 March letter and received a second letter from Benion on 24 March 1951. Both letters from Benion are stored in Plath's High School Scrapbook held by the Lilly Library. (See a catalog of the scrapbooks contents.) Benion sought information about Plath for a proposed article on a young writer but it is not clear whether said article was ever written or printed.

All links accessed 26 November and 5 December 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. 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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