18 December 2019

Sylvia Plath Year in Review 2019

So what did you think of Sylvia Plath in 2019?

It seemed to be a year dominated by Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom, the short story published in the UK and the US in January and then which started appearing in translations. It is wonderful a newly published short story could kind of captivate its readers across the globe, which I think is a great sign that Plath--and her work--is in demand. As in the past, this is a look back at the year as I lived it.

It seems I spent most of January publicizing the story on the blog, as well as the real Mary Ventura, who was a friend of Plath's in Wellesley in the mid-to-late 1940s. I spent most of the month of January, too, packing up my belongings and changing jobs and states. Sadly I still do not feel settled but, well, I will get there eventually. It is weird not being in Plath's backyard any longer after twenty years… But, you probably do not want to read my moaning, you want to read about Plath.

At any rate, I think Mary Ventura stole the year for the most part and already a number of translations have been published or are forthcoming (French, Catalan, Portuguese, Spanish, German, and Dutch. The Dutch edition is included in a reissue of The Bell Jar.). This was the first new creative writing (prose, short fiction) published by Plath since 1979. That is a forty year famine.

February was a slim month in many regards. The only blog post worth re-mentioning is the one on Plath and Forster which I loved writing. I loved Howards End, too. I spent February adjusting to my new life and reading the manuscript of Carl Rollyson's forthcoming The Last Days of Sylvia Plath.

In March, HarperCollins kept the Mary Ventura train rolling (see what I did there?) by issuing a hardback edition. I like that they flipped the normal publication cycle by issuing a paperback first. I was also asked to meet with Carla Zanoni, then of the Wall Street Journal, to discuss the book in NYC. What a privilege that was. This was followed in early April by a Letters of Sylvia Plath talk at Stockton University, coordinated by my good friend Emily Van Duyne. She and her school completely spoiled me and I had a really wonderful time attending classes, giving the talk, meeting new people, and seeing Carl Rollyson (a true glutton of punishment who was also at the Mary Ventura event in March).

In April I received a letter from Plath herself via David Trinidad's ouija board. Following that I did a post on a postcard that I hope will become a series. I have not let that slip! I have others drafted but just have not found the right time to put them online. So, look for more in 2020! Somewhere along in there from the late winter to early Spring I was at work on the paperback editions of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. In addition to updating some mistakes and providing some new information, I found nine new letters and got them squeezed into the volumes in an Appendix, which were published in England only in September. It was awesome to again find, transcribe, proof, annotate, and index these letters for you. Like the rest of the project I completed the majority of this work. Oh! I also did a phone interview/chat with Claire Nichols, in Perth, Australia, which aired in June. That was a lot of fun.

May was a varied month with a guest post on Aurelia Plath's shorthand notations as well as news breaking about a forthcoming Bonhams auctions of things belonging to Plath's late friend Elizabeth Sigmund. I am sure the auction winners love their items but feel the same as me: I would much rather have Elizabeth.

In June, I did a fun post on some of Plath's journals that are held by the Lilly Library. This was a sort of continuation on some Journals related posts trying to date undated entries by using Plath's letters and a host of other resources. Additionally, the Plath related bits of Elizabeth's estate were sold.

Now I am sure it is not right to pick favorites, but in July my birthday-twin Amy C. Rea did a guest blog post on Cornucopia, Wisconsin and it has to be one of the best ever. I let that one stay up on the blog for more than half the month---which allowed me to take a breather. Also, I dusted off a very old blog post on Plath's appearance on the BBC's "The Living Poet" series back in 1961.

August was wicked busy with some publications as well as what has become an annual post on Plath's first suicide attempt. Though I found just one new article, it brings the total to 253. I need better hobbies. I think the publication of a book of essays called Sylvia Plath in Context, edited by Tracy Brain (and reviewed exclusively on the blog by Amy C Rea) is August's highlight though. I attended an awful conference in an awful city, and took advantage of being miserable for that week to draft nearly two dozen blog posts. Most of which still have not been posted. I like having a backlog. Some of these blog posts contain some new information which is really tough to sit on. But some of the information is not mine to break first.

A book of essays was published in Hungary, too! The title is A képzelet kockázata: Sylvia Plath életműve, élettörténete és betegsége---which translates to The risk of imagination: The oeuvre, life history and illness of Sylvia Plath---and it is edited by József Gerevich. My thanks to Dora Ocsovai for letting me know about the volume.

Gail Crowther and I co-wrote a joint blog post on her experience with the Philip Hobsbaum papers in Glasgow. This was a collection I found out about and since she is closer to Scotland than I am, she graciously offered to go. It was a reprise of our series "These Ghostly Archives" and was a super-happy-fun time. Faber & Faber issued the paperbacks of The Letters of Sylvia Plath in September. They also put out a fine Liberty edition of The Bell Jar and a new edition of Ariel (1965 contents) as part of the company's 90th anniversary. All handsome editions. Al Alvarez passed away on 23 September. Elaine Feinstein, who wrote the first biography of Ted Hughes, passed away on the same day.

What can one say about October. This was a momentous month. Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick had her book Reclaiming Assia Wevill published by LSU Press early in the month. In mid-October I gave--perhaps for the last time--a talk on my role in working on The Letters of Sylvia Plath in New York City at the Grand Central branch of the NYPL. I took the opportunity while being there to do some archiving too, which included a Living Archive experience of staying in the Roosevelt Hotel, which is where Plath saw a fashion show in June 1953. Speaking of which. I find it really annoying when people refer to her month at Mademoiselle as her "summer" as a guest editor. It was only a month. Not the summer. Sorry.

The month closed down with Plath being honored with a Google Doodle (above), and a blog post on the actual site where Plath rode the horse Ariel that inspired two poems. Another example of the Living Archive, and another post I started working on years ago but which got lost in several shuffles. Gail Crowther, Heather Clark, and Tracy Brain joined Sarah Corbett and many others for a Plath party in Hebden Bridge. I got texts and saw tweets about it and was filled with envy.

Throughout October and into November I read the manuscript of Heather Clark's forthcoming biography of Sylvia Plath, Red Comet (Knopf, 2020). It is a monumental work which took me about five weeks. Also, I am at work with Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick on our forthcoming book, The Selected Writings of Assia Wevill. The manuscript we thought was in fine shape until we learned of more than a dozen new letters which we feverishly transcribed, annotated, and mixed into the book. (We learned of 13 other new letters but we may not gain access to them in time. Hope springs eternal though so please cross your fingers, toes, and eyes (if you can).)

In November I launched what I hope will be a new series showing off the supporting documentation that went into writing the footnotes of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. As much as I want to put that project to rest (forever!)--because I just feel like I talk about it too much--there is a lot of stuff I want to get out there because I believe in sharing information. And I believe this information is interesting. I would like to make some of these posts timely, to coincide with a particular anniversary on which Plath wrote the letter. That will not always be the case but the timing in this instance was intentional so that I could post this one on some of the information Plath mentioned to Olive Higgins Prouty on 20 November 1962.

And now it is December. It was recently announced on Twitter and then on this blog that a Sylvia Plath Society is being formed. This has been something that many have wanted for many years to be established and it is happening. The year is winding down on a great note! Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick and I will be submitting our manuscript for The Selected Writings of Assia Wevill to LSU Press by the end of the month.

In 2020 are you looking back at Plath, or are you looking ahead?

In early January I will be meeting Julie, Heather Clark, and Janet Badia in Seattle to talk Plath and Wevill (and maybe Hughes) at the MLA annual conference. I will post the text of my talk after the event, and maybe some tiny slide images so you can see generally what those look like.

In 2020 we already look forward to seeing a couple of translations of Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom and a reissue of The Silent Woman in the UK. In the realm of new work about Plath there is Carl Rollyson's The Last Days of Sylvia Plath (March, the University of Mississippi Press). Later in the year we have Heather Clark's highly anticipated Red Comet: A Life of Sylvia Plath (Knopf/Penguin).

There are a couple of works that is in progress that are worth mentioning. First announced is Kicking at the Door of Fame: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton by Gail Crowther (Simon & Schuster) that looks at the social rebellion of Plath and Sexton. Look for this in Spring 2021. More recently, Emily Van Duyne announced she is under contract with W. W. Norton for her book Loving Sylvia Plath. A book of essays is in the works to be published by Bloomsbury. Essays were due at the beginning of the month. They are largely pooled from the 2018 Belfast Plath conference, I think. We wish Gail, Emily, and the Bloomsbury-book crew all the most wonderful thoughts and vibes as they tackle these works. It is nice to have something to look forward to in the new decade.

Recently I renewed the domain for my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is, for another two years. I have been working on this website since 1998 which rather hard to fathom sometimes. Between the website and the blog and Twitter it is safe to say Plath is always on my mind and I am constantly working to bring you new content. Metrics have changed over the last few years with how "hits" are measured. Nowadays it is all about "impressions". The website and blog had, respectively, 3.54 million and 655,000 "impressions" from 1 December 2018 to 30 November 2019. That is more than 4 million. Impressions just means how many times a user saw a link to my sites. The most popular pages on A celebration, this is, were the Biography, Poetry Works, Thumbnails 1960-1963, Prose Works, and Johnny Panic Synopses.

Thank you all so sincerely for visiting the website and the blog, for sending comments, and replying to posts via the blog itself, email, and Twitter. Thank you for your friendship and encouragement. I would like to ask that for any content which you may have enjoyed or benefited from, please consider sending me a tip via PayPal. There are expenses associated with the work I do on Plath and while it is something I love, it does take a financial toll. Thank you for at least considering! All funds will be put towards making the website, the Sylvia Plath Info Blog, and Twitter better.

This is the last year of the 2010s! It has been an incredible decade for me Plathfessionally with writing and publishing several essays and introductions, joyfully collaborating on a book with Gail Crowther, speaking at numerous events in Indiana, Vancouver, Chicago, New York City, London, Boston, Stockton, and Belfast, and editing Plath's letters. Believe me when I say the honor and joy I take in my work is due to the fact that you are out there. The work I do is for you. You inspire me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank. You.

Thank you also for your patience in this year of changing jobs and states in which I went about nine months without access to my files and books.

Whatever you celebrate do it well, with love and family and friends, do it safely and with as much happiness as you can. Happy New Year. See you on 1 January 2020.

All links accessed 4 and 5 November, and 3, 10, and 18 December 2019.

09 December 2019

Amy C. Rea Reviews Sylvia Plath in Context, edited by Tracy Brain

The following guest blog post book review of Sylvia Plath in Context is by Amy C. Rea. Thank you, Amy.

Sylvia Plath in Context, edited by Tracy Brain, is a set of wide-ranging explorations of influences that have played a role in Plath's development as a writer. The book is grouped into sections covering literary, literary technique and influence, cultural contexts, sexual and gender contexts, political and religious contexts, biographical contexts, and Plath and place. While there are topics that have been covered in depth in the various biographies (the role of women in the 1940s and 50s, for example), this collection goes further by looking at topics like food, teaching preparation, scrapbooks, and the book packaging of various editions of Ariel and The Bell Jar. It's a valuable continuation of the process of extracting Plath's form of genius out of the strict biographical contexts she's been all too often forced into. To keep this post from falling into TL;DR territory, I'll look at a handful that I found most insightful.

First, however, a caveat and a scolding to Cambridge University Press: There are numerous factual errors throughout. Perhaps the most egregious is Plath reported to be on the Smith faculty in 1953. Another spot noted her turning 21 in 1952, and elsewhere her birth year was reported as 1933 (and these are just a few that I noted). Hopefully if there's a second edition, the publisher will take the time to correct these errors.

Now on to the good news:

Andrew Walker's "Plath and the Radio Drama" looks at Plath's views and history with the form and how it influenced her writing of Three Women, from eagerly listening to The Shadow as a child to using Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood as inspiration for her own radio play. Walker points out that Three Women has been underrated critically and says: "Three Women presents Plath's voice at its most simple but also most dramatic, revealing her shift towards a more direct treatment of psychological processes. In her decision not to give the characters conventional first names but instead designate them as voices, as well as her avoidance of direct dialogue and causal plotting, Plath's experimental turn towards the dramatic is influenced by a host of early police procedurals like The Shadow."

Will May's "Plath's Whimsy" explores Plath's earlier work (as well as her work for children) through the lens of whimsy, and why that shouldn't necessarily be given the critical cold shoulder. This piece is followed by Tracy Brain's excellent "Sylvia Plath and You," a look at Plath's use of the second person, especially in iconic pieces like "Daddy" and in spots in The Bell Jar. Brain finds surprising sources in Plath's archives for this work, including the somewhat imperious second person point of view used by none other than Irma Rombauer in The Joy of Cooking.

The back-to-back pieces on Plath and Food (Gerard Woodward) and Plath and Fashion (Rebecca C. Tuite) are both worthy of even deeper exploration. Anyone who's read Plath's journals and collected letters knows of her passion for both, right through to the end of her life. Studying the food and fashion trends of the time really rounds out how we view Plath's writings about both.

Several cultural explorations either start or expand greatly on culture around Plath's work. Beatrice Hitchman does a deeper dive into lesbian culture during the Bell Jar period and provides some much-needed nuances to those themes in Plath's novel. Laura Perry's piece on the culture of hygiene in the 1940s and 50s shows a direct correlation between themes of purity and cleanliness in Plath's poems to advertising and culture mores of the times. Robin Peel's piece on the Rosenbergs persuasively argues that Plath was not just using their execution as an attention-grabbing opening to her novel, but as one of its underlying themes (and in her poetry as well), something echoed in Anita Helle's examination of electroshock therapy in Plath's poetics. Peter K. Steinberg takes a much-needed look at Plath's scrapbooks and successfully posits that they deserve the same close scholarly attention as Plath's writings. After all, Plath was not the kind of person to just randomly paste things in a scrapbook without thinking about deeper meaning.

The final section of the book is themed on the creative afterlife of Plath's work, and it's worth the price of the book. Gareth Farmer pushes to look beyond Plath's biography and see the quality of the writing itself (and introduced me to Veronica Forrest-Thomson), while Elena Rebollo-Cortes delivers a thoughtful analysis of the various British and American editions of Plath's books, which have a great deal to say about the culture of the times they were published. Fiona Sampson takes a different approach to influence and context, illustrating how Plath's work may have influenced various writers who came after her. And finally, Heather Clark takes on the thorny issue of Plath's biographers, assessing what's out there from the good to the bad to the downright ugly. Her final statement ends the book on a note calling for even more research and discussion:

"She was no Medea, no Eurydice, no Electra. Rather, she was a highly disciplined writer whose singular voice helped transform American and British literature, and whose innovative work gave new energy to the burgeoning literary and cultural revolutions of her time. This Sylvia Plath waits to be recovered, and brought forth." Amen.

Sylvia Plath in Context, edited by Tracy Brain. (Cambridge University Press, 2019. ISBN: 9781108470131.

All links accessed 9 December 2019.

05 December 2019

The Sylvia Plath Society is being formed

For more than a decade---and possibly longer---there has been interest in the formation of a Sylvia Plath Society.

For the past few months, I have been in contact with Kitty Shaw (Twitter) and Dorka Tamás (Twitter) and they have been really making astounding progress contacting people, institutions, and the like the get this thing off the ground. We have the support of many people, including the scholar Tim Kendall. In addition, we have reached out to both the Estate of Sylvia Plath and Faber and Faber.

Earlier this week, the Society got a Twitter handle which is one of the first steps. The Society looking to create a newsletter, a website, and eventually a journal, too.

If you have an interest in following the Society, please do so via Twitter. We are looking to start getting members, volunteers, and the like to fill other roles in the running of it. So please feel free to email (plathsoc AT gmail DOT com) if you have any interest at all in Sylvia Plath.

All links accessed 3 December 2019.

03 December 2019

New book of essays on Sylvia Plath published in Hungary

A new book of essays was recently published in Hungarian out of Budepast. A képzelet kockázata: Sylvia Plath életműve, élettörténete és betegsége---which translates to The risk of imagination: The oeuvre, life history and illness of Sylvia Plath---and it is edited by József Gerevich. The ISBN is 978-963-51-7050-0 and it is published by Kossuth Kiadó.

Here is the table of contents. I am grateful to Dóra Ocsovai for letting me know about the title and, as well, providing English translations of the titles.

József Gerevich: Psychiatric aspects of confessional poetry


Enikő Bollobás: Mask and Self—and the Illness: Injuries of the Soul in Sylvia Plath's Poetry

Antal Bókay: Failure in the construction of the ego in confessional poetry – Sylvia Plath and Attila József

Zsófia Demjén: "Drowning in negativism, self-hate, doubt, madness": Linguistic insights into Sylvia Plath's experience of depression

Júlia Lázár: What Is This Face So Murderous?

Dóra Ocsovai: From womb to 'wave-yard': The poetics of Water in Sylvia Plath's oeuvre

Life history

Balázs Matuszka: From the experience to anger: The elaboration of the feelings against the parents in the art of Sylvia Plath

Dóra Ocsovai: Devil and God – The double role of Ted Hughes in Sylvia Plath's life and death

Kinga Fabó: On Sylvia Plath's Personality

Krisztina Zsédel: The "price" of creativity? Predictive and protective factors in the suicide of Sylvia Plath


Attila Németh: Psychiatric disorder of Sylvia Plath

Magdolna Moretti: "The grasses unload their griefs on my feet": The psychiatric therapy of Sylvia Plath

József Gerevich: The Broken-necked Deer. Trying to reconstruct and understand the Sylvia Plath-phenomenon

All links accessed 3 December 2019.

01 December 2019

Sylvia Plath Collections: University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Whoever says that you cannot learn something on Twitter is wrong?

So, Chris Caldwell is a Sylvia Plath influencer.

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has a several precious Sylvia Plath items in its Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives.

The first two items mentioned here are a part of the Patricia Cornwell Collection. The first item they have is a manuscript copy of Plath's poem "King of the Ice" written on 10 January 1945. Plath wrote about the poem in her diary that day saying that once she got home from school and a music lesson, she set to work on a letter, story, or poem for the Phillipian, her junior high school newspaper. The assignment required writing about a "star" with a "right good will". "King of the Ice" was that poem. (Plath also started on writing another poem, "The Snowflake Star" the same day, which, according to her diary, she finalized on 21 February 1945. "The Snowflake Star" was published in February 1946.)

"King of the Ice" was first offered for sale at London Olympia's Antiquarian Book Fair in 2003 and made headline news in "Sylvia Plath's schoolgirl love poem goes on sale for £4,500" from The Telegraph and, as well, on the BBC. As you can see from the articles, two other Plath poems and a lock of her hair were also offered. The other two poems were "Hear the crickets chirping" and "I saw a little birdie" held by the Beinecke Library, Yale.

The other Plath-related item from the Cornwell collection is Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath by Jillian Becker. It is signed by the author.

I met Cornwell at one point when I was working at the hallowed Woodberry Poetry Room. She was at Harvard doing some research. While the subjects of conversation escape me now---I vaguely remember asking her not have have balding archivist murdered---we must have talked about Plath based on this inscription to me in this book she sent afterward.

But that is not all. The Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections has three limited editions from the 1970s: Child, Wreath for a Bridal, and Million Dollar Month. These are lovely books for any fan or collector of Sylvia Plath.


You can see all the known Sylvia Plath archival collections on my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 13 November and 1 December 2019.

20 November 2019

Sylvia Plath's Excerpted Reviews

You might think that because The Letters of Sylvia Plath has more than 4,300 footnotes it would be hard to pick a favorite. But you would be wrong. One of my favorite footnotes falls in Volume 2, late in the book.

In her 20 November 1962 letter to Olive Higgins Prouty, Plath writes still not knowing if she would be getting the flat at 23 Fitzroy Road, London. The letter breathlessly recaps, among other things, her 5-7 November visit to London when she found the flat and talks about all its advantages: "right round the corner from my old panel of wonderful doctors & the park & minutes by bus from the BBC" (910).

But the part that had me most allured when I transcribed, proofed, edited, and annotated came somewhat towards the end of the letter when Plath talks about her reviews of children's books. She enclosed a clipping of one from the New Statesman which the periodical titled "Oregonian Original" (9 November 1962, p.660).

"Oregonian Original" discusses nine books in total: E. S. Bradburne, Opal Whiteley; Evan Hunter [Ed McBain], The Wonderful Button; Leo Lionni, Little Blue and Little Yellow; and Elizabeth Rose and Gerald Rose, Punch and Judy Carry On; Tomi Ungerer, The Mellops Go Flying; H. E. Bates, Achilles the Donkey; Dr Seuss, Horton Hatches the Egg; Gaby Baldner, The Penguins of Penguin Town; and Reinhard Herrman, The Creation. Plath provided the stars at the top left and bottom right; Prouty annotated the clipping in pencil: "Would like to know more about the introduction". Prouty also underlined in pencil the words "splendid" and "curious" in the first paragraph. There is a pencil doodle beside the review of Punch and Judy Carry On and underlining, in pen, next to Horton Hatches the Egg.

This is nifty information, but still not what I want to highlight. No, it is just after this when in the letter Plath types, "My children's reviews are beginning to 'take'---Faber & Faber quoted one in an advertisement & I opened one book to find a former review of mine of an earlier one in the series on the back jacket" (912).

They were rewarding days when I found both the advertisement Plath mentioned seeing as well as landing on the book in which her review was blurbed.

I knew that Plath read The Observer and The Guardian but honestly who has the time to look through all those issues? I have free time. But not that much free time! Plath had been reviewing books for about a year at that point... 365 issues? No thanks.

This is where modern technology rocks. Some geniuses used Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software on digitized microfilm and it (the OCR) was cleaned up enough so that when I searched a database holding these two newspapers I got a hit for "Sylvia Plath" 17 June 1962, page 27.

I was familiar enough with Plath's periodical publications that I knew it was not a hit for a poem published. As well, based on the date it would not be for The Colossus. But it might very well have been that she or her work was mentioned in an article. In this case I hit the nail on the head, though, and it was the excerpt from her review of Elizabeth & Gerald Rose's The Big River which was quoted in The Observer: "A clear, poetic account of a river's genesis and progress to the sea, with superb illustrations—Sylvia Plath, New Statesman."

Here it is:

The other one proved to be trickier as Plath had reviewed a dozen or so children's books. So it meant making a list of all the books she reviewed as well as both those books that may have been reprinted as well as subsequent books by these authors and illustrators. As luck would have it, the way I approached this was the very long way around so that it was literally the last author and book I went after that was the one to which Plath referred: Plath's review of Wanda Gág's The Funny Thing (published on 18 May 1962 when the Wevills were visiting Court Green) quotes on the rear jacket flap of Plath's review of Gág's The ABC Bunny (London: Faber & Faber, 1962): "'An excellent read-aloud adventure for very young children . . . all the finality of a good fable.' New Statesman".

Frankly, I should have guessed it would be a Faber publication as the gesture may have been one of respect for the quality of Plath's review but also because of the publishing house's relationship with her husband.

17 November 2019

Books about Sylvia Plath for sale

I have extra copies of the following books about Sylvia Plath that I would like to see in new homes. Proceeds will go directly into my Sylvia Plath work (including renewing the domain for my A celebration, this is website for Plath www.sylviaplath.info).

Prices include shipping. 

The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath. 2 copies available. $15 each. (Retails for $28.99)

The Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath. 2 copies available. $15 each. (Retails for $37.99)

Critical Insights: Sylvia Plath. 1 copy available. $30. (Retails for $105)

Representing Sylvia Plath. 1 copy available. $35.  (Retails for $113)

Thank you!  US only.

15 November 2019

Elizabeth Sigmund's Copy of Sylvia Plath's Copy of Dylan Thomas

Back in late June, Bonhams had a small series Sylvia Plath lots in their auction.

Lot 238 was Plath's copy of the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. It sold for a handsome £11,312 (roughly US$ 14,519) including the buyer's premium.

That copy is now for sale through the awesome Peter Harrington Rare Books in London for the even more handsome £27,500 (roughly US$ 36,409.61).

Peter Harrington also has Elizabeth's copy of Last Encounters by Trevor Thomas. That is listed for £1,250. It is featured in their Christmas 2019 catalogue (image below).

All links accessed 12 and 13 November 2019. All images shamelessly pilfered from Peter Harrington's  ABE page and Christmas catalogue.

12 November 2019

Auction Results: Sylvia Plath's membership cards

On 14 May, via Heritage Auctions, Sylvia Plath's membership card to the Poetry Society of America sold for $1,875. This was originally part of Lot 330 in the massive Bonhams auction of the Property of Frieda Hughes, held in London on 21 March 2018.

More recently, on 26 October 2019, Heritage offered Plath's Massachusetts driver's license for sale and that went for $3,000. I learned of this auction from my friends at the great Fine Books & Collections magazine.

Some of the other cards from Plath's wallet are presently on eBay. (Well, presently on eBay being in August when I drafted this post)...

Mutual of Omaha

Social Security card

Plath's Boston Public Library card was also up, but that auction ended on 22 September 2019 and the card sold for $7,500.

All links accessed 13 August and 12 November 2019.

06 November 2019

Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura in Other Languages

Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom was published in October in a Catalan language edition. Mary Ventura i el Novè Regne is the title and was brought out by Edicions del Periscopi. The book was tranlated by Marta Pera Cucurell.

Germany is getting onto the Mary Ventura train, too, and will publish Mary Ventura und das neunte Königreich on 8 March 2020 (Surkampf Insel Verlag). The book was translated by Eike Schönfeld.

Oh, that Catalan cover is righteous.

All links accessed 6 November 2019.

01 November 2019

Footnoting the Letters of Sylvia Plath

One of the things I loved most about my work on The Letters of Sylvia Plath was the footnotes. A friend wrote to me in an email and said that she could "hear" me in them, which was the highest compliment. Periodically, I intend on showing some of the materials I acquired in the research process of annotating Sylvia Plath's experiences. For me, it adds so much contextual information about how Plath lived. What she read and saw and what made an impression on her life.

Today I am showing the article Plath read on Sunday, 23 September 1962, which she wrote about in the letter to her mother the next day. She typed, "I would love to go on a skiing holiday in the Tyrol with them someday. I just read about it in the paper" (836).

The article Plath referred to must have been, I think, published in The Observer, her Sunday paper of choice. The article appeared on page 37 of the Travel section. The quality below is wanting, please accept my apologies.

Full Page

The article on Austria
I cannot think of this letter, or the article, without then thinking about "Daddy" written a couple of weeks later with the lines: "The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna / Are not very pure or true."

What do you think? Is this something you would like to see more of?

27 October 2019

The Site of Sylvia Plath's "Ariel"

This is a blog post I started several years ago (in 2013!!!) but never posted for a variety of reasons. Today seems like a good day to publish it…

In the morning before a Sylvia Plath archives talk Gail Crowther and I gave at Plymouth University in England---please see the March 2013 Blog archive for a bit about that presentation.---Gail and I did a bit of Plathing in the villages of Belstone and Corscombe in Devon. Belstone is were Susan O'Neil-Roe lived at "Pear Trees" cottage. (For more on Belstone and "Pear Trees" please click here.) It took two trips to the village to find the house, but thanks to the marvel that is Google we were able to locate the house.

From there, we went onto to nearby Corscombe, where was Plath took horse riding lessons on an older, docile horse called Ariel. Being there, the poems "Ariel" and "Sheep in Fog" take on a whole new meaning, as does her December 1962 introductions that she wrote about the poems. (The broadcast was never-realized her then new work.) These introductions are reprinted in Ariel: The Restored Edition (both) and in The Collected Poems (just "Sheep in Fog"). Tellingly, the order in which Plath introduced the poems had "Sheep in Fog" first, followed by "Ariel". For "Sheep in Fog" Plath wrote: "In this poem, the speaker's horse is proceeding at a slow, cold walk down a hill of macadam to the stable at the bottom. It is December. It is foggy. In the fog there are sheep." For "Ariel", she said, "Another horseback riding poem, this one called 'Ariel', after a horse I'm especially fond of."

Plath's visited Miss Redwood, her riding "mistress", regularly in the autumn of 1962. Miss Redwood lived at a farm called Lower Corscombe (top left). From Lower Corscombe one can go up that hill of macadam (top right -- the camera's point of view looks downhill towards Lower Corscombe) where the road makes a sharp right turn and then goes higher still before plateauing and continuing further on with one or so turns, directly to North Tawton. From the plateau here you can see several Dartmoor tors including Cawsand Beacon and Yes Tor (lower left), as well as the valley below. The Dartmoor rail line runs quite close to these farms though when we were there, there were no trains running (lower right).

In the map above the red line is the train line, the white arrow points approximately to Lower Corscombe farm; and the yellow arrow is the hill of macadam. That is the train line that rain through North Tawton.

Among other things on her 30th birthday, 27 October 1962, Sylvia Plath had her charwoman Nancy Axworthy over from 10:15 to 12:15. From 11 to 12 that morning, Plath was at Miss Redwood's for her horse riding lesson. That morning, also, Plath wrote "Poppies in October" and "Ariel". Later on she picked apples, baked bread. She also ironed and washed a sweater.

As you should know by now, I find being in or at a place Plath wrote about enhances the experience of reading the poem. This is a different form of interpretation than a biographical reading which is a sound approach, but which has come under intense scrutiny and criticism over the years. Plath was influenced by a place or a thing almost as much as she was by the events of her life and both undergo a beautiful transformations from the lived-experience to the art of the creative work. This is, in part, the living archive, a concept Gail and I developed in our papers and subsequent book, These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath.

All links accessed 21 March 2013, 19 June 2019, and 26 October 2019.
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