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.

07 January 2019

Dating Sylvia Plath's Journals: Part II

Back on 15 April 2014, I did a blog post on "Dating Sylvia Plath's Journals". The point of it was to show how the Letters of Sylvia Plath, in conjunction with additional archival resources--Plath's and otherwise--could be used to date undated entries in Plath's journals. Now that both volumes are published and I had a bit more time on my hands, I revisited Plath's published Journals to see how many more entries could be dated exactly, approximately, or just not at all.

There is not much to criticize about the published Journals, but I have always wished there were supplied dates for undated entries. Using a variety of resources, including Plath's letters, wall and pocket calendars, and other archival resources, I have gone through the book and assigned exact and circa dates for the undated entries. I hope that you find this useful. And, please let me know if I am incorrect with any of these, or if you have information which can help more accurately date an entry or date one I did not.

The structure below is the journal entry number, the page number from the 2000 Faber/Anchor edition on which the entry begins, and then the supplied dates. Journal entries where no date could be established are not included here; but they will be added in the event information can lead to doing so.

1950-1953 Journal

Entry Number        Page Number        Date(s)
4 8 ca. 11-15 July 1950
6 9 1 August 1950
10 12 19 or 26 August 1950
11 13 ca. 20 August-4 September 1950
13 16 ca. 26 August
15 16 ca 27 August 1950
20 19 ca. 11 September 1950
28 21 ca. 21 September 1950
31 23 ca 4 November 1950
34 27 ca. 4 October 1950
35 28 20 November 1950
36 29 26 November 1950
37 31 ca. 15 December 1950
38 33 ca, January 1951
39 34 ca. January 1951
40 34 ca. 21 January 1951
44 39 ca. 21-24 January 1950
45 40 ca. 3 December 1950
49 44 after 11 January 1951
51 46 ca. 29 January 1951
56 50 ca. 10 March 1951
57 51 ca. 10 March 1951
58 51 ca. 10 March 1951
59 52 23 March 1951
62 54 29 March 1951
63 54 ca. 29-30 March 1951
63 54 ca. 30-31 March 1951
64 56 9 April 1951
65 57 ca. 18 April 1951
71 59 ca. 4 May 1951
82 66 15 June 1951
83 67 ca. 8-10 July 1951
85 70 ca. 12 July 1951
86 70 ca. 12 July
87 71 ca. 14 July 1951
90 74 ca. 14 July 1951
91 75 ca. 17 July 1951
93 77 ca. 17-18 July 1951
94 77 19 July 1951
95 78 19 July 1951
96 78 ca. 19 July 1951
97 80 ca. 20 July 1951
98 80 ca. 25 July 1951
99 81 ca. 30 July 1951
100 82 ca. 30 July 1951
101 82 1 August 1951
102 83 1 August 1951
103 83 ca. 1 August 1951
104 84 ca. 4-5 August 1951
106 85 ca. 3 August 1951
107 86 19 August 1951
115 89 ca. 24 August 1951
117 90 30 August 1951
118 93 ca. 31 August 1951

In the above section, one of the more fun finds was in entry 107, which reads in part:
In the newspaper, the dead lock over a Korean armistice is still going on; a widow Tabor's letter about saving face and squeezing out more than a stalemate of the Chinese forces is getting a big play; Anglo-Iranian crisis is still rampant; senate voting a cut in foreign aid . . (bad sign?) and on page 14 Mrs. MacGonigle, age 103, tells how to live to a ripe maturity: "Eat lots of fish and keep away from busses and trains."
As Plath was in Swampscott, I figured she was reading The Boston Globe. So I went to their online archive and found the story on Mrs. McGonigle which was published on 19 August 1951. Back when the Journals were being prepared this would have been required using microfilm, but still the information was then available.

The article  was on page 41, not page 14 as Plath wrote. Some of the other articles mentioned are:

There were a couple of articles on the Korean situation. As Plath was in the C-Section of the paper, a possible article mentioning the armistice is "Reds Threaten Air Attacks If Truce Talks Fail" on C1. This may also be the second article Plath refers to about the stalemate and saving face... I found nothing in the paper by or about a 'widow Tabor'.

"Counter Offer by Iran Keeps Oil Talks Alive" (page C65).

"More Foreign Aid Cuts by Senate Units Seen" (page C1).

Beginning with journal entry number 122, still in the 1950-1953 journal, and continuing through the end of her available journals, Plath more regularly, more religiously, dated her journal entries. So there are fewer in the below table that were undated by Plath.

Entry Number         Page Number        Date(s)
131 122 6 August 1952
132 122 ca. 6 August 1952
139 131 ca. 18-19 August 1952
144 138 ca. 25 August 1952
150 143 after 1 September 1952
152 147 20 September 1952
153 148 20 September 1952
170 174 ca. 18 February 1953

The following are for the Appendices. I flit between half-wishing and full-on wishing that they would have been inserted into the main body of the text so that there would not be the need to flip back and forth. In fact, the necessity of doing that for the endnotes, alone, in the Journals encouraged me to press for footnotes rather than endnotes in the Letters so that all relevant information would be on the immediate page(s).

Appendix 2

Entry Number        Page Number        Date(s)  
Appendix 2 538 ca. 7 January 1953

Appendix 5

Entry Number        Page Number        Date(s)
Appendix 5 543 ca. 4 July 1953

Appendix 10

Entry Number        Page Number        Date(s)
Drawing: Shoes 572 26 June 1956
Drawing: Kiosk 573 ca. 26 June 1956
14[b] 574 26 June 1956
17 [b] 574 3 July 1956
19[b] 575 ca. 6 July 1956
31[a] 579 ca. 19-20 September 1956
31[b] 580 24 September 1956
32[a] 581 24 September 1956
32[b] 581 24 September 1956
40[a] 586 ca. 1 September 1957-31 August 1958
42[b] 588 ca. Spring 1959 (before 20 May)
44[a-b]-46[a] 589 ca. 30 December 1958
47[a]-[b] 594 ca. 16 January 1959
52[a]-55[a] 595 ca. 27 October 1960

Appendix 11

Entry Number        Page Number        Date(s)
4[a] 609 ca. 19-20 June 1957
5[a]-7[b] 609 ca. 20-25 June 1957
12[a-b] 612 ca July-August 1957
26[b]-27[a] 612 ca. July-August 1957
41[a] 615 ca. August 1957-ca. 19 July 1958
41[b or c] 615 cac. 16-17 January 1959
97 [a-c] 616 ca. June 1957-ca. June 1960

Appendix 15

This appendix is largely dated. However the initial entries for many of the dossier-like impressions on Plath's North Tawton acquaintances are not. Plath's 1962 Royal Letts calendar has 'NT Notebook' listed on two days: 12 and 14 February 1962. The entry for 14 February also indicates Plath wrote in her 'DIARY'. O! To have that diary... So it is clear from the Letts and from her journal entries on the Tyrers, Winifred Davies, Mrs. Hamilton, the Webbs, and the Keys that she was getting into the swing of her surveillance at this time. Several North Tawtonians and other Devonians then came onto the scene such as the entries for the Watkins', Nancy Axworthy, Mr Ellis, Charlie Pollard, and the Billyealds are all fully dated. Mr Ellis, from 4 July, is the last dated entry in the 'journal' as clearly the disruption in the marriage several days later likely prevented Plath from maintaining her pace and contacts with her neighbors. A lot of episodes recorded in this Appendix can be dated using a variety of sources. I wish Plath had written up her visits with Elizabeth Sigmund and David Compton.

All links accessed 30 September 2018.

03 January 2019

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

Though it has been available for a week or so in the United Kingdom, today is the official publication day of the Faber & Faber edition of Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom.

It is a small format paperback of 40 pages. The ISBN is 978-0-571-35173-2 and copies are reasonably priced at £3.50.

The book is for sale via the link above to Faber's website, as well as from Amazon.co.uk, Waterstones, and other booksellers.

If you are interested about Mary Ventura, please make sure to look at Plath's Journals, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, and my blog post: "Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura".

All links accessed 2 January 2019.

01 January 2019

Sylvia Plath's Mary Ventura

With the imminent publication of Sylvia Plath's short story "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom", her readers may wonder about the name "Mary Ventura". Any reader of her diaries, journals, and letters will recognize it as that of a girl with whom Plath attended Wellesley public schools. Here is the real Mary Ventura's story.

Mary Ventura was born Maria Domenica Ventura in Natick, Massachusetts, on 21 February 1932, daughter of Italian immigrants Joseph (1901-1977) and Adelia Di Giacomantonio (1910-1994) Ventura. According to information recorded in the 1930 Census, Joseph and Adelia married around 1925; he was 24 and she was 15. Joseph's occupation was listed as Gardener and in the Industry of "Odd jobs". Delia was not employed and the couple resided at 4 Waban Street, Natick.

Sometime between 1932 and the mid 1940s, the Ventura family moved to Wellesley, the next town over. It was at Junior High School where Plath and Mary Ventura met each other. The Venturas lived at 357 Linden Street, which backs onto the main train line between Boston, Worcester, and beyond.

Mary had literary aspirations. She was published a few times in the Wellesley town newspaper, The Townsman, authoring three reports: "Junior High Briefs" on 16 January 1947 (p.11) and two "High School Highlights" on 29 September 1949 (p. 4) and 10 November 1949 (p. 7). In May 1948 Plath and Ventura co-wrote a radio play called "The Island"; a typescript copy with holograph corrections is held by the Lilly Library. At some point in 1950, Mary wrote a beautiful 34 line poem entitled "sylvia". Composed of one four-line stanza and six five-lined stanzas, the poem shows Mary meditating on Plath, with most first lines in each stanza beginning "i think of her…". Mary's last published article that I could find was a letter to the editor which appeared on 27 January 1972 in the Townsman.

In the autumn of 1949, in her senior year at Bradford (later Wellesley) High School, Mary Ventura and her family moved back to Natick. The Townsman reported on 24 November 1949 that her English class held a "Mary Ventura Day" in which the class, at Mary's request, listened to Bach recordings. Plath noted Mary's absence in her High School scrapbook (p. 25). And she appears several times in Plath's early diaries, as well as in her published Journals. Mary graduated from Natick High School in 1950. Though she was in the class of 1950, circumstances in her life lead to a delay in matriculating into college, graduating from Boston University in 1958.

Mary Ventura married her Natick High School sweetheart John P Detore, Jr. (1933-2008) in December 1952 at St. Paul's Church, Wellesley. By this time the Venturas had moved back to Wellesley and were living at 440 Washington Street, which faces the railroad tracks, in Wellesley Hills. At the time of her wedding, Mary was taking evening courses at Boston University and Detore was at Northeastern. After a honeymoon in Vermont, the Detores settled in Natick.

However, by 1954 and 1955 Mary Ventura appeared as Mary V Detore in the Boston City Directory as a typist in Boston at the YMCA. Yet in both directories, her home is listed as the old 440 Washington Street in Wellesley which we can deduce indicates that her marriage was short-lived.

By March 1955, Mary was taking courses at the Newton Junior College, having worked for the previous few years. By October 1957, she was again just Mary Ventura. She was elected to the executive board of the Student Christian Association at Boston University. She was at this time a senior at BU in the college of Liberal Arts majoring in American Literature and History. Mary was awarded a Bachelor of Arts from Boston University at their summer commencement in 1958. In 1961, there is an immigration card for a "Maria D. Ventura", with "our" Mary's exact birthday and birthplace, recording that she arrived in NYC on the SS Independence from Naples, Italy, and which lists her home as Malden, Mass.

Between 1958 and her death in 1973, little is known about Mary Ventura. At the time of her death, Ventura was listed as a social worker in Natick who had lived in Wellesley for 36 years. She died at her home, 29 Kingsbury Street, Wellesley, at the age of 41, where she was living with her parents. In her Townsman obituary, it is listed that she died "after a long illness." Her death certificate lists the cause of death as Hodgkin's Disease. Mary was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery with a lovely headstone engraved with "Till we meet again". She was joined by her parents five and twenty-two years later, respectively. I visited the cemetery in Wellesley on a below-freezing morning in November 2018 to find the final resting place of Mary Ventura and her parents.

Sylvia Plath used Mary Ventura as a character and name in two stories written for courses at Smith College in her second and third years. Her "Mary Ventura", written for English 220a "Practice in Various Forms of Writing", is probably an exercise in the genre of nonfiction as other pieces written just before seem also to fall into this category. While a very crude summary… in "Mary Ventura", Mary and the narrator meet for lunch after a chance encounter. Mary works at Filene's, and the narrator has been away at college. They discuss their once close but now divergent lives after the passing of a year. In the story Mary admits to having an affair with a married man, and likes to watch trains go by her house with the narrator, hoping one day to be on one and ride it "to the end of the earth." A typescript, dated 14 December 1951, is held by the Lilly Library.

The following year, Plath wrote a story called "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" for English 347a "Style and Form". That typescript, also held by the Lilly, is dated 12 December 1952. In January 1953, Plath revised the story and asked her mother to retype it and submit it immediately to Mademoiselle (see Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, p. 553). Mademoiselle rejected the story in March 1953 and it is this copy of "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom"—the only known existing copy of the story in this form—that Faber and Faber is printing in their Faber 90 series (press release), commemorating the 90th anniversary of the firm. Plath later revised the story in December 1954, changing the title to "Marcia Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" and considered submitting it to the Christophers contest, ultimately selecting a different story for the competition.

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom will be published in the UK by Faber on 3 January 2019 and by HarperCollins in the USA on 15 January 2019. Excerpts appeared in the 29 December 2018 issues of The Guardian (UK) and Wall Street Journal (US).

All links accessed 16 November 2018 and 1 January 2019.
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