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.
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