17 June 2019

ABC Radio's The Book Show: The Letters of Sylvia Plath

Back in April I had the privilege of speaking with Claire Nichols of "The Book Show" about Volume II of The Letters of Sylvia Plath on the ABC radio network. It recently aired.

Other than saying "um" quite a bit, I think, um, it is ok. I cringe a bit listening to myself, but maybe that is normal? Perhaps some of you might do a drinking game from it?

A little summary of the program was also published online.

All links accessed 14 June 2019.

10 June 2019

New Works by and on Sylvia Plath

Fun Fact: Did you know that Sylvia Plath uses the word "perched" seven times in The Bell Jar?

Right...

There is some new work to promote that has come out in the last week by and on Sylvia Plath.



The Hudson Review has published, in full, the text of Sylvia Plath's short story "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" in their Spring issue.

It was the intention all along that the story appear in the Hudson before the decision was made by the Estate of Sylvia Plath and Faber to publish it in book form. I was asked by the Hudson to cheer lead their effort, which I was happy to do, to have the story appear first in their pages. I guess I did too good of a job? There is an essay by Karen V. Kukil on the story, too.

Next, Marsha Bryant has recently published "Queen bees: Edith Sitwell, Sylvia Plath & cross-Atlantic affiliations" in Feminist Modernist Studies. The abstract reads,

Drawing on the convergence of Edith Sitwell and Sylvia Plath in the April 1963 issue of The Atlantic, this essay recovers a mostly forgotten affiliation between iconic poets of the twentieth century. Sitwell was modernism’s midcentury Queen of Letters, crossing over from the literary magazines to popular American periodicals. She rose to prominence as a poet-critic during the heyday of the New Criticism and its male purveyors, yet fell to marginal status in the women’s poetry anthologies of the 1970s and 1980s. Plath admired Sitwell and considered her a formidable modernist foremother. The younger poet owned a copy of The Canticle of the Rose, and assessed Sitwell’s work in two college papers. Adorned in accolades and brocades, Dame Sitwell was modern poetry’s ultimate Queen Bee. Focusing on Plath’s initial reactions to her predecessor’s poetics, this essay also considers her Atlantic bee poems in light of Sitwell’s earlier “The Bee Oracles.” In addition, the essay discusses American women poets’ reception of Sitwell – and vice versa. Reconnecting these iconic women poets prompts new understandings of female literary influence that prove more technical than experiential. The understudied lines of affiliation between Sitwell and Plath can reveal new plotlines in modernist literary history.
Marsha Bryant is Professor of English & Distinguished Teaching Scholar and Director of Graduate Student Teaching at University of Florida.

All links accessed 6 June 2019.

01 June 2019

Did you know... Sylvia Plath's Diaries at the Lilly Library

The Journals of Sylvia Plath (aka The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath in the USA) was and is a major publication; one that appreciates in value and importance on a daily basis. Sometimes it is hard to believe that they have been published for 19 years! And sometimes I struggle to fathom existing in a world where only the abridged version was available. I remember living in London in 1996-1997 and finding a copy of the abridged journals in a book stall at a bookstall in the Camden Market. The abridged version of the book, published in 1982, was never published in the UK, so seeing a copy was weird, but also kind of awesome. In my head, I had a vision that many copies were smuggled into the country and through a vast network of black market underground Plath scholars.

I know...I know...I need help.

The Journals should see renewed interest and importance with the publication of the two-volume Letters of Sylvia Plath. As we worked on the Letters, the Journals were a constant source of contextual information.

Anyway, The Journals of Sylvia Plath publishes all of those documents classified as journals that are held by Smith College from 1950 to 1962. But… Did you know… that the Lilly Library holds not one, but two 1951 journal fragments in their massive Plath mss II collection?

The first journal fragment (in the finding aid linked above, see Box 7, Folder 4: "Diary, Aug.-Dec. 1949-Mar. 1951") is dated by Plath simply March 1951. No day is given. It comprises the last four pages of a handwritten journal began famously on 13 November 1949. It was this diary where Plath states that she should like to called "the girl who wanted to be God" and later one of the first instances of her famous mantra, "I am I" (pg. 4). This "March 1951" journal entry sort of summarizes and closes off the narrative of some of the guys she dated that are mentioned throughout that particular journal (John Hall and Bob Riedeman; then Ilo and Emile). It is likely this was written during her spring vacation in the second semester of her first year (that year her spring break was from 21 March to 5 April 1951).

This journal (or, "diary") is thirty-five pages long. Here is a breakdown of the entries:

13 November 1949: pages 1-16
24 November 1949: pages 16-21
27 November 1949: pages 22-25
26 November 1949: pages 25-26
[27 November 1949]: page 26
22 December 1949: pages 26-28
19 December 1949: pages 28-31
20 December 1949: page 31
21 December 1949: pages 31-32
23 December 1949: page 32
March 1951: pages 32-35

Did you notice, as I did, that the dates are all over the place? Can't really think of how or why some of these dates appear this way. Can you? Possibly something was misdated? So the bulk of this journal is from Plath's senior year of high school, but there are those four pages at the end from her first year at Smith. If they were to be placed in the published Journals, they would go somewhere between entries numbered 59 to 62 on pages 52-54 of the printed book. Or, in the way the published volume was structured, they would have been tucked back as an Appendix.

Now for the second…

The second 1951 journal fragment is held in a non-diary series of the Lilly's Plath mss II. Researchers will find this one in Box 11, Folder 4, in a notebook Plath used for many things. (There are other notebooks in this folder for her courses in Art, Creative Writing, and Government.) In addition to the journal entry in said notebook, there are drawings, there are miscellaneous kinds of notes, and there are notes for press board assignments. But the focus here is not on those other writings, which are wonderful and useful and full of information the way any archival document is.


These journal fragments date to the summer of 1951 when Plath was living at 144 Beach Bluff Avenue taking care of the Mayo children: Frederic ('Freddie'), Joanne, and Esther ('Pinny'). Some of the entries are unique; but curiously some are re-written from her primary journals. Such as entries 105, 106, and some of entry 83.

In working on this post and reading through Plath's journals I was rather baffled to find some familiar text that was not actually in the journals the way that I remembered it. I knew the text, but could not place it. Then I searched the Letters (the light bulb which is my brain is dim, but it does burn at a low wattage) and found that the entry in this notebook fragment is a variation of Plath's 4 August 1951 letter to her mother. I cannot (or should not) quote the notebook entry; but the letter begins "Today is what would be termed, in the materialistic jargon peculiar to Americans -- a "million-dollar day." (Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, p. 360). Her "journal" entry varies from the letter, and also carries on quite a while.

Plath also mined her journal for the sake of poetry. Entry 110, written August 1951, was converted into a poem entitled "august night" which begins "and the wind has blown / a warm yellow moon..." The typescript of the poem has Plath's name and "Haven House / 1954" handwritten in the top right corner; and there are some different words and punctuation throughout the ten-lined poem (two stanzas of three lines; two stanzas of two lines).

All links accessed 15 December 2017 and 16 May 2019.

24 May 2019

Sylvia Plath's Cambridge

One of the things I did when working on The Letters of Sylvia Plath was to acquire copies of the Varsity Handbook for 1955-1956 and 1956-1957. Plath herself had these and used them like a bible for learning the ins and outs of life at Cambridge. I was particularly interested in the maps as they give the flavor and feel of the town, the colleges, and the university at that time period. They were indispensable for contextualizing some of Plath's experiences as I read them in her letters and worked on writing footnotes.

Here is the cover for the 1955-1956 Varsity Handbook.


If I remember correctly, this Handbook lacked the maps.

So that was why I bought the 1956-1957 one... because I did have the maps.


20 May 2019

Bonhams to Auction Major Sylvia Plath Items Formerly Belonging to Elizabeth Sigmund

Bonhams London will offer at auction some property formerly belonging to Elizabeth Sigmund, Sylvia Plath's friend and co-dedicatee of The Bell Jar.  The auction is part of the Fine Books and Manuscript auction (25355) in London (Knightsbridge) on 26 June 2019.

Links and images to the respective lots will be added when available. All text below gratefully provided from the auction catalogue by Luke Batterham, Senior Valuer at Bonhams.

LOT 238 • (24869413/1)

PLATH (SYLVIA)


THOMAS (DYLAN) The Collected Poems, SYLVIA PLATH'S COPY, ANNOTATED IN FIVE PLACES AND EXTENSIVELY UNDERLINED, with upwards of seventy sentences or passages underscored, marked or bracketed in the margins, in two places with Plath's distinctive "star" symbol in black ink, 13 poems in the Contents marked, photographic frontispiece, publisher's blue cloth, worn, spine soiled and split, 8vo, New York, A New Directions Book [by James Laughlin], [1953]

£3,000 - 5,000
€3,400 - 5,700

SYLVIA PLATH'S COPY OF DYLAN THOMAS'S COLLECTED POEMS. Writing to Ramona Maher, guest editor of Mademoiselle, on 16 March 1954, Plath stated categorically "Dylan Thomas is my favourite modern poet", and in her formative years he undoubtedly exerted an enormous influence on both her own poetry, and her sense of what a poet could be.

On May 20 1953 Plath went on "a literary pilgrimage" to hear Thomas give a poetry reading at Amherst, and early the following year reported to her friend Gordon Lamayer that she had been listening to recordings of Thomas ("the lyric Welshman I've been mourning for these past months" following his death the previous October) reading his own poems, "making me shiver and sometimes even to cry to hear ['Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night']" (The Letters of Sylvia Plath... 1940-1956, edited by Peter K. Steinberg & Karen V. Kukil, Faber, 2017); this a poem Plath has marked with a star symbol in this copy of the Collected Poems.

Two years later, in April 1956, it was Dylan Thomas that Plath used as a measure against which to judge the qualities of Ted Hughes when she first met him. In a letter to her mother Aurelia (19 April 1956, cf. Letters, p.1164/5) she wrote "His [Hughes'] voice is richer and rarer than Dylan Thomas, booming through walls and doors... He reads his own poems which are better than Thomas and Hopkins...".

Her copy of Thomas's Poems is extensively underlined throughout, with passages marked up in the margins. Beside 'The Hunchback in the Park' she notes "hunchback's vision-", "-That hunchback makes out of his vision", and "fantasy games of boys-"; alongside the text of 'Twenty-Four Years' she notes "Shroud of flesh - journey to the grave -", and, intriguingly, beneath the final stanza of 'Fern Hill', she states "Freedom with necessity".

Provenance: Sylvia Plath, ex-libris on front free endpaper, and annotations in her hand; Elizabeth Sigmund (1928-2017), co-author of Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning (2014), and under her former married name of Elizabeth Compton the co-dedicatee of The Bell Jar. Beneath Plath's bookplate Elizabeth has written in the quotation ("Even amidst fierce flames...") used for Plath's headstone; by descent to the present owner.

LOT 239 (24869413/3)

PLATH (SYLVIA)


Typed carbon copy of the essay-memoir "Landscape of Childhood" [published as "Ocean 1212-W"], on 8 sheets (recto only), each sheet with title "Landscape of Childhood", the first sheet headed "Sylvia Plath/23 Fitzroy Road/London N.W.1", the other sheets "Sylvia Plath" before the page number (i.e. 2 to 8), paperclip upper left hand corner, a few light single spots, folio (280 x 215mm.), [circa January 1963]

£1,500 - 2,000
€1,700 - 2,300

"My childhood landscape was not land but the end of the land" - Plath's essay-memoir, "Landscape of Childhood", was almost definitely the last prose piece she wrote. She sent the completed text, from her flat at 23 Fitzroy Road, to Leonie Cohn at the B.B.C. on 28 January 1963, just two weeks prior to her death.

In the essay Plath "reminisces about her childhood in the United States. The title of the piece refers to her grandmother's phone number at her home in the coast of Massachusetts, where Plath spent time when she was a young girl. The birth of her brother when she was aged two and a half is described as a particularly crucial moment in her childhood" (British Library website).

The essay was subsequently published, with the title changed to "Ocean 1212-W" in the B.B.C. periodical The Listener (August 1963), and the anthology Writers on Themselves (1964), on both occasions with omissions and amendments from the typescript. For a full analysis of these, and a detailed description of the genesis and progress of the essay, from its commissioning by the B.B.C. producer Leonie Cohn (who suggested the published title), to a final letter sent by her to Plath on 8 February suggesting a few alterations, see Gail Crowther and Peter K. Steinberg, These Ghostly Archives. The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath, 2017. It is thought that the typescript sent to the B.B.C. is lost, and the current carbon copy, retained by Plath, is therefore the only extant version of the original poem.

Provenance: Elizabeth Sigmund (1928-2017), co-author of Sylvia Plath in Devon (2014), and under her previous married name of Elizabeth Compton the co-dedicatee of The Bell Jar; by descent to the present owner.

LOT 240 • (24869413/2)

[PLATH (SYLVIA)]

The Bell Jar. By Victoria Lucas, FIRST EDITION, THE DEDICATEE'S COPY, ownership inscription "E.J. Compton. 1963. N. Tawton" in black ink on front paste-down, occasional light spotting, publisher's cloth, dust-jacket (unclipped, worn with some loss to extremities and spine and corners) [Tabor A4a.1], 8vo, Heinemann, [1963]; together with an autograph letter signed by Ted Hughes ("Ted") to "David & Elizabeth [Compton]", giving them permission to stay at Court Green, written from "23 Fitzroy Road, N.W.1", one page, in original envelope stamped 31 March 1963 (2)

£2,000 - 3,000
€2,300 - 3,400

THE DEDICATEE ELIZABETH COMPTON'S COPY OF THE BELL JAR, given to her after Plath's death by Ted Hughes.

'Elizabeth Compton and Sylvia Plath met in Devon in 1962 almost by chance after Plath and Ted Hughes's 1961 BBC radio interview "Two of a Kind: Poets in Partnership". As a result of that meeting, the two young women became immediate friends. Friends, indeed, with a bond so strong that within months Plath was to dedicate her novel, The Bell Jar, to Elizabeth and her then husband David Compton" (Peter K. Steinberg, Sylviaplathinfo website, 6 January 2018).

Elizabeth recalled that Plath had written to her "and said 'if you want I'll dedicate The Bell Jar to you, but it will be in a funny place because my decision has come rather late – opposite chapter one. Is that OK?' Of course, I said yes. But I didn't read it until she was dead." (The Guardian, interview, 18 January 2013). After Plath's suicide at 23 Fitzroy Road, her London flat, Elizabeth visited Ted Hughes there, at which time he "gave her a copy of the Bell Jar, just published and dedicated to her, saying 'It doesn't fall to many men to murder a genius..."' (Jonathan Bate, Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life, 2015). Elizabeth's recollections of this period subsequently led to controversy, as did the decision to excise Plath's dedication to the Comptons when Faber republished The Bell Jar under Plath's own name in 1966, but Hughes' letter, included in this lot, written from Fitzroy Road, posted on 31 March 1963 and signed "Love Ted", indicates that at this time relations were still very friendly. Hughes writes that "It was nice to see you up here...", adding "... Certainly you can stay at Court Green if you want", discussing the practicality of getting the key and checking the plumbing, before remarking "I am putting the place up for sale. If you're there to show enquirers around, all the better...".

Provenance: Elizabeth Sigmund, formerly Elizabeth Compton, co-dedicatee of The Bell Jar, ownership inscription on front paste-down, given to her by Ted Hughes; by descent to the present owner.

All links accessed: 18 May 2019 and 22 May 2019.

Please Note: The blog post was modified on 22 May 2019 to add links and images.

10 May 2019

Sylvia Plath in Granta (and Spare Rib)

One of the best things one can do is read the periodicals in which Sylvia Plath's work was published. Many are held in libraries and archives, some have even been digitized. Some exist, also, on microfilm or microfiche which is not the best product but will be useful and functional for a long time to come.

Several people sent me "tip" money last year for which I am grateful. I promised to use that for the benefit of my Plathing and perhaps it trickles down to you, too? With some of that money I recently acquired the 20 October 1956 issue of Granta magazine in which was printed Plath's short story "The Day Mr Prescott Died".


Looking at the table of contents two names ring bells with me. One is Michael Frayn, with whom Plath was friendly. Frayn is both mentioned in Plath's letters and was sent at least one letter, too, in March of 1957. The other name is Bamber Gascoigne, who is now a British television presenter and author, best known for being the original quiz master on "University Challenge". Did Plath know him? I am not too sure, but she recycled the name "Bamber" as one of the characters in her story "Stone Boy With Dolphin", which fictionalized the night of 25 February 1956. Plath also knew the editor Ben Nash and his name should be familiar to you, too.

Looking at a publication that Plath would have seen is fun; particularly seeing her contribution but also the advertisements as they bring to life that era.


"The Day Mr. Prescott Died" was written in January 1955 and is loosely based on experiences from June 1954 when Ruth Freeman's father died, suddenly, in Winthrop, Massachusetts. Plath write about it in some letters to Gordon Lameyer, printed in The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1. The story was reprinted in a magazine called Spare Rib in June 1973.


The story was hardly "unknown" as the cover led readers to believe. But, that was the 1970s and a lot was unknown about Sylvia Plath.



The magazine was digitized in 2015 and you can read some of the issue with Plath's story via the British Library's Journal Archives. Warning, much of the content is redacted.

All links accessed 8 May 2019.

01 May 2019

Guest Post: Aurelia Plath’s Shorthand, Now in English

The following post was submitted by Catherine Rankovic. Thank you Catherine for your work in deciphering, or, rather, transcribing Aurelia Schober Plath's Gregg shorthand into English, and for making it available to us. ~pks

Aurelia Plath hand-wrote hundreds of notes and comments on the nearly 700 letters she received from Sylvia, and on their envelopes and Sylvia-related correspondence archived at the Lilly Library. Most annotations are in plain English but some are in Gregg shorthand, a professional note-taking system Aurelia learned in business college and taught. I first saw (and was awed by) the original letters in 2012, began cataloging and transcribing Aurelia’s shorthand in 2013, and presented preliminary findings at the Sylvia Plath Conference in Belfast in 2017. The 159 shorthand annotations I found in the Plath mss. II correspondence and in Plath's personal library are now in a downloadable Excel file along with a short PDF “key” about the table.

Aurelia wrote in shorthand when pressed for time or space (that’s what it’s for), but as the transcripts show, also in retrospect and to keep private some letters and remarks. Sylvia never learned Gregg shorthand, instead teaching herself Speedwriting, a shorthand substitute, for temporary office jobs Sylvia held in 1959 and 1961. Gregg shorthand appears on other Lilly materials and also in the Plath archive at Smith College. Articles based on this project’s findings are forthcoming. I’m smiling. I’ve learned a lot and there’s more to learn.

Gregg, a language of symbols developed for secretarial work, cannot be spoken, so shorthand is “transcribed” rather than translated. Transcriptions are verbatim, not approximations. A single shorthand symbol is called a “character.” The Estate of Aurelia S. Plath granted me permission to release these transcriptions for scholarly purposes. I hold the copyright to the English transcriptions. Dozens of people kindly helped me and I thank them.

All links accessed 19 April 2019.

18 April 2019

Did you know...: Sylvia Plath on the Underground

On 28 January 1963 Sylvia Plath was hard at work. On that day she completed her "Landscape on Childhood" (later titled "Ocean 1212-W"). She may have also recently completed "Snow Blitz" and was hard at work on poems. She revised the ending of "Sheep in Fog" first composed about eight weeks earlier, and then wrote "The Munich Mannequins", "Totem", and "Child".

Did you know that "Child" was once featured at a "Poems on the Underground" in London? The program started in 1986.


In addition to being readable on the Tube, once upon a time, posters were sold for these, too. 

11 April 2019

Sylvia Plath Archives at Lilly Library (& Smith)


Recently the Lilly Library has been awarded a $10.9 million grant and part of these funds, given by the Lilly Endowment, will go towards renovating the library. The Library has created a special web page that will provide news and updates on the renovation.

This will have an affect on researchers going to look at the Sylvia Plath collection. And, because they do actually hold more stuff than Plath materials, it will also affect those collections, too.

Chances are if you have plans to visit the library this spring and summer you will be fine and not experience and delays or disruptions. But visitors later in the year and toward the end will definitely want to double-check their plans and thus plan accordingly.


Smith College is also in the midst of a several-year renovation project affecting their Sylvia Plath papers, too. (I presume they have non-Plath holdings, too, but let's be honest, they hardly matter.) Normally housed in the Neilson Library, their special collections are temporarily in the Young Library. Writing this now I realized that I have not been to Smith College since January 2017, before the Neilson closed, and now that I have moved away, I may never go back. Weird.

All links accessed 11 April 2019.

03 April 2019

Sylvia Plath's Postcards

David Trinidad's phenomenal essay "On the Road with Sylvia and Ted: Plath and Hughes's 1959 Trip Across America" was one of the best pieces I had to pleasure to read and work on when I was co-editor of Plath Profiles. And it in part led me to start thinking about Sylvia Plath picture postcards.

I got to see, as part of the Letters of Sylvia Plath project, as many postcards as was possible. And so now that her texts are available, I thought I might write a post that might become a series which looks at the picture side of the postcards Plath sent.

The idea came to me in June 2012, the year after publishing David's essay, when I did a little research into the postcard Plath sent to J. Mallory Wober circa 17 November 1955 of Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy. The letter is printed in Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, pp 1011-12.

The original painting is held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.


Plath visited the MoMA several times on various visits to New York City and during the autumn and winter of 1954-1955 made trips to the city with Richard Sassoon. The painting was exhibited from 19 October 1954 to 23 January 1955 as part of the "XXVth Anniversary Exhibitions: Paintings". According to her pocket calendar, Plath visited the Museum of Modern Art on 24 January 1955, the day after the exhibit closed! It could be that she purchased the postcard at that time. But she also visited in June 1953 and April 1954, and it is possible the painting was on general view.

All links accessed 2 June 2012 and 10 January 2019.

01 April 2019

New Letter from Sylvia Plath Found

The following letter was sent from Sylvia Plath to me via David Trinidad's Ouija board early this morning.

It will be included in the paperback edition of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 3: 1963-2019.



Sylvia Plath
7 Bright Stupid Confetti Lane
My Zen Heaven

Peter K. Steinberg
Earth

1 April 2019

RE: Cease and desist from everything

Dear Peter K. Steinberg:

This CEASE AND DESIST ORDER is to inform you that your persistent actions including but not limited to transcribing and annotating my letters; tweeting, blogging, websiting and otherwise attempting to represent me on the Internet (not for nothing, the wifi is awesome up here) have become unbearable. You are ORDERED TO STOP such activities immediately as they are being done in violation of the law.

I have the right to remain free from these activities as they constitute [harassment/stalking/etc.], and I will pursue any legal and spirituous remedies available to me against you if these activities continue. These remedies include but are not limited to: contacting law enforcement to obtain criminal sanctions against you, and suing you civilly for damages I have incurred as a result of your actions.

Again, you must IMMEDIATELY STOP these activities and send me written confirmation that you will stop such activities. You risk incurring some very severe legal and Godly consequences if you fail to comply with this demand.

This letter acts as your final warning to discontinue this unwanted conduct before I pursue legal actions against you. At this time, I am not contacting the authorities or filing civil suit against you, as I hope we can resolve this matter without authoritative involvement. I am not under any circumstances, however, waiving any legal rights I have presently, or future legal remedies against you by sending you this letter. I might smite you. This order acts as ONE FINAL CHANCE for you to cease your illegal activities before I exercise my rights.

To ensure compliance with this letter, and to halt any legal action I may take against you, I require you to fill in and sign the attached form and mail it back to me within 10 days of your receipt of this letter. Failure to do so will act as evidence of your infringement upon my legal rights, and I will immediately seek legal avenues to remedy the situation.

Sincerely yours,






Sylvia Plath




CEASE AND DESIST COMPLIANCE AGREEMENT

I, Peter K. Steinberg, do hereby agree to stop these unwanted activities which are in violation of Sylvia Plath's rights. I understand that this is my final chance to cease these activities. I understand that Sylvia Plath potentially has the right to pursue legal and smiting action against me relating to my engagement in these activities, but she will not pursue those rights in contemplation of my compliance with this written demand. I further understand that Sylvia Plath has not waived her rights and may pursue legal remedies against me if I fail to abide by this agreement. I understand that this agreement is not specifically limited to the activities named herein. I will not engage in any activity now or in the future done for the purpose of stalking/harassing Sylvia Plath. I furthermore agree not to engage in any activity, regardless of its official title, that is done in violation of Sylvia Plath’s legal rights. If I fail to cease performing these activities, Sylvia Plath may pursue legal action against me in accordance her legal rights. This agreement acts as a contract between Peter K. Steinberg and Sylvia Plath. Forbearing enforcement of legally enforceable remedies is sufficient consideration to support this agreement. This agreement represents the entire agreement between the parties. Any statements made orally, written, or otherwise which are not contained herein shall have no impact on either parties’ rights or obligations elaborated in this agreement.

Date: 1 April 2019

Peter K. Steinberg

18 March 2019

Sylvia Plath Letters Event: Stockton University

Emily Van Duyne (Twitter)—whose work on Sylvia Plath you should know (LitHub, Electric Lit, The Smart Set, LitHub again, and LitHub again as well as a forthcoming review of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2 in the Harvard Review and a monograph-in-progress on Plath entitled Loving Sylvia Plath)—invited me to give a talk on Sylvia Plath and the Letters at her university, Stockton University, in Galloway, New Jersey and it was an offer I could not refuse.

So, this is a blog post to inform and invite anyone who is in the area to attend the talk which is open to the public.

Time: 6 pm
Date: 1 April 2019
Place: Campus Center Theater


On that Monday before the talk I will be sitting on on two of Emily's classes to talk Plath. She is teaching the Beuscher letters and The Silent Woman as part of a comparative study. That afternoon, as well, I will sit in on a psychology class taught by Kaite Yang. On Tuesday, I look forward to sitting in on her colleague Thomas Kinsella's class.


Funding for this opportunity was provided by a 2020 Learning Grant, as well as the American Studies and Literature programs at Stockton.

All links accessed 28 February 2019.

13 March 2019

Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom Event

Last evening was the a wonderful WSJPlus/HarperCollins event on Sylvia Plath's recently published short story Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom at the showroom of MM.LaFleur on 42nd Street at Bryant Park. Manhattan is always a whirlwind experience--a hullabaloo, as Plath said.

It was a terrifically Plathian day all around, receiving interesting emails from people and also getting the proofs of the paperback editions of both volumes of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. When it rains, it Plaths.

My thanks to Carla Zanoni for asking me to participate and for being a wonderful host and conversationalist. The room was full of people and I enjoyed the rapport, the questions and chatting, and in particular just seeing and reading the genuine interest in peoples faces.

Here is a clip of Carla reading from the story.

My thanks, too, to Carl Rollyson for coming. It was awesome to chat with a familiar face before the gig started and was wonderfully calming.

Look for the next blog post on Monday...another event!

07 March 2019

Sylvia Plath Poems Published Today by Faber

Faber and Faber has reissued Sylvia Plath Poems Chosen by Carol Ann Duffy today.

The book is 160 pages, the ISBN is 978-0-571-34851-0 and it retails for £9.99.

Copies are available, as you might imagine, from the publisher as well as from sites like Amazon.co.uk.

All links accessed 6 March 2018.

05 March 2019

Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom Published in Hardback

In the United States, today marks the publication day of HarperCollins' hardback edition of Sylvia Plath's short story Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom.

Upon publication of the paperback in January, Parul Sehgal wrote in the New York Times: "[Plath's] story is stirring, in sneaky, unexpected ways…Look carefully and there's a new angle here — on how, and why, we read Plath today."


The list price is $15.99. The ISBN is: 978-0-06-294085-8. The front of the jacket features the same image as the paperback and the back of the book quotes the estimable Andrew Wilson from when news of the story's publication broken in October 2018.


The book itself is in a beautiful blue cloth with gold spine lettering.


Copies are available from HarperCollins (preferred), as well as via Amazon.com.

Event reminder: If you are a Wall Street Journal+ member, you can register to attend an event next Tuesday, 12 March, in Manhattan.

All links accessed: 28 February and 3 and 5 March 2019.

01 March 2019

Sylvia Plath Event in New York City

On Tuesday 12 March 2019, I will be joining Carla Zanoni, an editor at the Wall Street Journal, at an event discussing Sylvia Plath's short story "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom", recently published by HarperCollins. We'll be discussing other Plathian things and themes, too.

The event will be at the MM.LaFleur Bryant Park Showroom located at 130 W 42nd Street on the 13th Floor. It starts at 6 with registration and reception. The discussion and Q & A starts at 6:30 and a networking reception starts at 7:30.

This is a neat opportunity and I am grateful to Carla Zanoni, Amber Burton, and Alix Milne for organizing the event as asking me to be there. I am terrifically excited to participate in this event.

All links accessed 16 and 28 February 2019.

11 February 2019

"I am I": Sylvia Plath and E. M. Forster

Sylvia Plath's copy of Howards End by E. M. Forster is held by the Lilly Library. It is the Vintage 1954 edition printed with green wrappers as is seen here and "borrowed" from a random online source. On the cover are two white trees and a black tree which form a single, combined canopy of leaves. It was labeled V-7 and the price was $1.45. When not reading or proofing The Letters of Sylvia Plath last year, I have been making my way through a list of older books that for one reason or another I was always too afraid to read; or simply never thought of reading. I read Forster's A Room With a View and liked it well enough to continue on to Howards End.

Plath mentioned Howards End in a letter to her mother written from Cape Cod in August 1957. Plath's copy of the book is annotated with her usual bold, black ink pen. But also in the copy are markings in red pen, which is typical of Aurelia Schober Plath's annotation tendencies.

In Chapter 27 of the novel I was struck-dumb but a particular paragraph, and so I wrote to the Lilly Library to see if by chance Plath had made any annotations to it because, I think you will agree, it screams of Plath.

The paragraph reads,
If we lived for ever, what you say would be true. But we have to die, we have to leave life presently. Injustice and greed would be the real thing if we lived for ever. As it is, we must hold to other things, because Death is coming. I love Death—not morbidly, but because He explains. He shows me the emptiness of Money. Death and Money are the eternal foes. Not Death and Life. Never mind what lies behind Death, Mr. Bast, but be sure that the poet and the musician and the tramp will be happier in it than the man who has never learnt to say, 'I am I.'
It was, in particular, the "I am I" that got me unreasonably excited. The very excellent Sarah Mitchell of the Lilly wrote back confirming that Plath did mark up the passage. Likely one needs the context of the entire novel to this point to fully get the significance of the passage, but generally the "I am I" that caught my eye clearly caught Plath's, too. Years before she read the novel she famously wrote in her 13 November 1949 diary entry:
I think I would like to call myself "the girl that wanted to be God." Yet it I were not in this body, where would I be – perhaps I am destined to be classified and qualified. But oh! I cry out against it … I am I …I am powerful – but to what extent? I am I.

She later returned to the phrase "I am" in her poetry, "Suicide Off Egg Rock" (19 February 1959), and in her novel The Bell Jar (1961). And Plath considers the concept of "I am I" several times in her published journals (entries 31, 38, 49, 78, and 188).

I think Plath was channelling Forster and Howards End, too, in a short story she endeavored to write and which was mentioned in a 24 December 1960 letter to her mother and brother. She wrote that she was "beginning a longer more ambitious one today about a girl who falls in love with a beautiful old house & manages finally to possess it: a kind of parable for my loving this house with a bay tree in Chalcot Crescent" (The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 555). The story, if it was ever drafted or even completed, does not appear to have survived.

08 February 2019

On "What Happened to Sylvia Plath’s Lost Novels?"

Kristopher Jansma's recent article "What Happened to Sylvia Plath’s Lost Novels?" is the second article in the last couple of years about this subject. The first was Allison McNearney's "The Mystery of Sylvia Plath's Lost Novel" published on the Daily Beast in August 2017 which focuses on The Interminable Loaf/Doubletake.* Jansma's is a thoughtfully researched and written piece but contains a few minor mistakes or omissions that need correcting and/or clearing-up.

1.) Plath did not move into a "room" in London where Yeats lived. She wrote about it several times in letters to different people: she occupied two floors comprised of "3 beds, lounge, kit & bath." (Letter to Daniel and Helga Huws, 26 December 1962: Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, page 944)

2.) Ariel: The Restored Edition, was published in 2004. It was re-issued in 2007.

3.) The "Venus in the Seventh"/"Hill of Leopards" typescripts are generally confusing, but the nature and style of the prose undoubtedly dates it to 1957-1959 where there are ample references to its composition throughout Plath's journals and letters.


4.) Jansma neglected to include that a typescript page (numbered 62) of "Venus in the Seventh" is held in the Special Collections of the University of Victoria, British Columbia. This is well-known. If anyone is interested, I have assembled a spreadsheet of all of Plath's poetry and prose manuscripts and typescripts held publicly in a Google Doc called the Sylvia Plath Archival Hub. I welcome information about anything that is missing or in need of correction.

5.) There was no mention, either, of Plath's "Stone Boy With Dolphin" which is a rather lengthy fictional rendering of the famous first meeting of Plath and Ted Hughes.

6.) In general the Jansma's narrative conflates and confuses the chronology of how some of these documents were created.

7.) On her third wedding anniversary Plath settled on the name Sadie Peregrine for the heroine of her provisionally-titled novel Falcon Yard and that she hoped to start it at Yaddo (September-November 1959).

All links accessed 6 February 2019.

*Since Plath only refers to the novel as first The Interminable Loaf and then Doubletake, that is how I tend to refer to it.

04 February 2019

An Update on Sylvia Plath Books in 2019

Now that we are a full month plus into 2019, here is a look at what books are scheduled to be published this year by or about Sylvia Plath.

In the US:

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom (hardback), 5 March 2019

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1 (paperback), 15 October 2019

In the UK:

Sylvia Plath Poems Chosen by Carol Ann Duffy (paperback), 7 March 2019

Ariel (Faber Poetry, hardback), 24 September 2019

The Bell Jar (hardback), 5 September 2019

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume I (paperback), 19 September 2019

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume II (paperback), 19 September 2019

In France:
The first translation of Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom, into French, will be published in May.

I am still under the belief that Sylvia Plath in Context, a book of essays edited by Tracy Brain, will be published by Cambridge University Press this year and will post more information on that as soon as possible.

All links accessed 3 February 2019 via Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

22 January 2019

Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom Published in US Today

Today is the official publication day of the HarperCollins edition of Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom.

The ISBN for the HarperCollins edition of Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom is 978-0-06-294083-4 and copies are reasonably priced at $9.99.

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom is for sale via the link above to HarperCollins' website, as well as from Amazon and other booksellers. The book is also available in a Kindle edition.

For a short story, it has received an intense amount of press which is a fantastic thing, even when some of the press is bizarre, filled with mistakes, etc. But, the press is the press...

The first article appear was Richard Lea. "'It's about breaking out': Unseen short story by Sylvia Plath to be published." The Guardian. October 27, 2018: 3. Several other articles were published after but they did not present additional information, I don't think.

"Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" was then serialized in The Guardian and in the Wall Street Journal on 29 December 2018 in advance of Faber and Faber's publication of the story in the UK on 3 January.

Kim at HarperAcademic had a telephone call with Rebecca Baumann of the Lilly Library which posted on 17 January 2019. It is wonderful, so please give this a listen. Rebecca is the head of Public Services at the Lilly and we should all thank her and the staff at the Lilly for their help.

Here are some articles and reviews:

Leaf Arbuthnot. "Review: Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath — newly uncovered Plath story." The Sunday Times. January 6, 2019.

Sarah Bahr. "IU library says it has 'lost' story by Plath." The Indianapolis Star. January 14, 2019: 4A.

Oliver Bennett. "A love story that ended in suicide." The Express. January 4, 2019: 4.

Emily Bobrow, "A lost story by Sylvia Plath." The Economist. January 10, 2019.

Deborah Brown "Wellesley’s own Sylvia Plath: a newly released short story." The Swellesley Report. January 17, 2019.

Lillian Brown. "Newly found Plath story to be published." The Boston Globe. January 11, 2019: B12.

Mariana Fernandez. "Sylvia Plath’s Recently Discovered Short Story Reveals a Dark Literary Thread in the Writer’s Work." The Observer. January 12, 2019.

Elisa Gabbert. "Against Completion: On Sylvia Plath's New Short Story." Paris Review. January 14, 2019.

Paul Sehgal. "A Newly Published Story for the New Way We Read Sylvia Plath." The New York Times. January 15, 2019.

Katy Waldman, "A Lost Story by Sylvia Plath Contains the Seeds of the Writer She Would Become." The New Yorker. 7 January 2019.

Andrew Wilson, "Sylvia Plath's journey into the heart of darkness." Evening Standard. 

If you are interested about the real Mary Ventura, please make sure to look at Plath's adolescent diaries held by the Lilly Library, her published JournalsThe Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, and my blog post: "Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura".

All links accessed 7, 18, and 22 January 2019.

15 January 2019

There's Something About (Sylvia Plath's) Mary (Ventura)


There is something about Mary Ventura...

Sylvia Plath's recently published story, "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom", is the first new fictional prose of Plath's published in the US (or any country, really), since 1970s. As such, it is appropriate for there to be some media attention about it.

However, some of that media attention sprung up due to poor word choices and possibly a general ignorance or a misunderstanding about libraries, archives, typescripts, etc. It needs a hashtag and a -gate, though, in order to truly achieve the sublime and the ridiculous. Is it #MaryGate? #LostGate?

The Lilly Library raised questions about The New Yorker's use of the term "lost" in a series of tweets, which lead to an article by Sarah Bahr in the Indianapolis Star. (Please note that in the Star piece, Plath won Mademoiselle's College Fiction contest in 1952, not 1951. And The New Yorker incorrect reports that Judith Raymo found the story in the archives. She purchased it via auction. See below for more information on that.)

There are at least three histories to "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom". The first is its composition. The second is Plath's title change and revision. The third concerns its whereabouts.

The Composition of "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom"

Plath wrote "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" in December 1952 for her creative writing course English 347a, Style and Form, taught by Robert Gorham Davis. Attempts to locate the course syllabus have not been fruitful, but I thank Nanci Young at Smith College for searching on my behalf. The copy Plath submitted for her course, which has both her instructor's comments and her revisions, is held in Plath mss II at the Lilly Library.

Plath's notes for the course, also held by the Lilly, show perhaps some of the ideas she sought to incorporate into the story. There are two pages of notes though one page is torn and likely contained quite useful information). Her notes list words like symbolism, occult, fantastic, anxiety, fear, catharsis, pity, and terror. She cites E.T.A. Hoffman's short story "The Sandman" and "The Night of Storm", which may be referring to the poem by Paul Fort. In her notes she has something about the "east", and this is where the page is torn. The following line does mention "west"; but it is unclear due to the tearing if she made notes on the north and south. The north of course could be pertinent as this is where the train "Mary Ventura" is on which is hurtling towards the Ninth Kingdom.

Between getting the story back and January 1953, Plath revised it—what else did she have to do, what with her "FABULOUS FRACTURED FIBULA" and all (Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, page 538). On 21 January 1953, Plath wrote to her mother:
Here is the story: not as good as it looked when I first wrote it, but I’ll give it a try. After you type it, please send it right off in a brown envelope to [Mademoiselle]... Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, page 553.
That copy of the story was rejected by Mademoiselle in March 1953 and it became the copy text for the various 2019 publications. There are textual differences between the Lilly copy (19 pages and to Plath's count 5,000 words) and the revised copy (23 pages; 22 pages plus a title page, and about 5,400 words).

"Marcia Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom"

In December 1954, Plath massively revised story and changed its title to "Marcia Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" as she considered submitting it to the Christophers contest. (See Letters, Volume 1, pages 876-7.) Plath wrote a one-page introduction to the story entitled "Teen-Agers Can Shape The Future" which serves as a kind of authorial commentary on the text; however, it was clearly written with the Christophers in mind so may be read with that in mind.

"Marcia Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" is also in Plath mss II at the Lilly. There is a 13-page draft with much revision; and then a 6 page story, with a one-page introduction for which there is a top and carbon copy. The "Marcia Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" is so cut-down I consider it a separate story.

Mary's Whereabouts: Or, Mary Ventura: Typescript Detective

First up is the Lilly Library's draft. That was with Sylvia Plath and then Aurelia Plath from 1952/3 until 1977 when Mrs. Plath sold the papers to the Lilly Library. Not lost. Just unpublished and if you want to be honest, with the exception of Luke Ferretter's Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study (2010), largely critically ignored. I am guilty of this, myself, as I did not read the story until 2015 and that was on my fifth or so visit the the Lilly. The story has been available in the archive, cared for expertly by its custodians and used by some of its users.

I have been lucky in that I have known about this revised copy of the story, and have had access to it and the ability to do research on it, since 2016.

The press has frequently called the story "lost". This is a complete misnomer for it has never been lost; it has just been in private hands, which is not the same thing. In fact the story's whereabouts has a very clear line of ownership.

When Sylvia Plath received the story back from Mademoiselle, she took it home with her to Wellesley.  It remained in Wellesley for nearly thirty years, from 1953 until it was sold via a Sotheby's auction in 1982.

Thirty-two years later it was part of the big December 2014 Sotheby's auction which failed to sell (see this blog post also, please, which discusses the aforementioned 1982 auction). Then it then reappeared for sale as an individual lot in a Bonhams auction on 15 June 2016.

Since it has been publicized, the winner of that lot in 2016 was Judith G. Raymo, a graduate herself of Smith College who, in the spring of 1953, was also in the running with Plath for a Guest Editorship at Mademoiselle.

So the line of ownership is this:

1953-1982: Sylvia Plath/Aurelia Schober Plath
1982-2016: Private owner/collector
2016-    : Judith Raymo

In other words: not "lost". There has also been some confusion about the different copies of "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom". So, again, there are only two extant copies of the story "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom". There is the original version held by the Lilly Library. And, there is the revised, final version which is owned now by Judith Raymo and which provided the text for the published copy. That's it.

The typescript of "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" and the rejection letter were displayed in Raymo's 2017 Grolier Club exhibit: "This is the light of the mind . . ." Selections from the Sylvia Plath Collection of Judith G. Raymo. In addition to being published now, I have heard that "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" will appear later this spring in Hudson Review.

I am now off the soapbox.

If you are interested about the real Mary Ventura, please make sure to look at Plath's adolescent diaries held by the Lilly Library, her published JournalsThe Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, and my blog post: "Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura".

All links accessed 7 and 15 January 2019.
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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.

Interviews