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)


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)


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)


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.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Here's hoping the Dylan Thomas winds up at an academic library.

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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.