11 September 2019

Sylvia Plath Collections: Philip Hobsbaum papers

Gail Crowther and I recently teamed up for a These Ghostly Archives-inspired archival research trip and thought we would share it with you.



PKS: The University of Glasgow has some Sylvia Plath archival material. In October 2018, a blog post entitled Philip Hobsbaum (1932-2005): Ghosts in the archive – Sylvia Plath was published about the Philip Hobsbaum papers that are in the process of being catalogued.

GC: Philip Hobsbaum (1932 - 2005) was a teacher, poet, and critic, and a contemporary of Ted Hughes’ at Cambridge where they were both interested in the oral power of poetry. It was here that Hobsbaum worked as the editor of delta, a small poetry magazine published by the University of Cambridge throughout the 1950s and 60s. After moving to London in 1955, Hobsbaum was instrumental in setting up The Group which was a regular meeting for poets and writers to share ideas and work. In the 1950s and 60s much of literary London would attend The Group, including Ted Hughes, David Wevill, Assia Wevill, and Peter Redgrove. When PKS contacted me with the news that there were some Plath related papers in Hobsbaum’s archive in Glasgow, we felt it was worth exploring to see what was contained there.

PKS: The extent of the collection is three boxes, but it seems filled with plenty of Plath-related materials. The most interesting for us are the Plath typescripts of four poems: "Vanity Fair", "Black Rook in Rainy Weather", "The Snowman on the Moor", and "The Lady and the Earthenware Head". The poems were written between 28 October 1956 February 1957. The first poem has Plath's Whitstead address typed at the top right and the other three her Eltisley Avenue address. delta published Ted Hughes in 1955, and "Winter Words" by Plath in their Summer 1956 issue.


GC: Organising a trip to the University of Glasgow Library was fairly easy, mainly because the librarians and archivists were so friendly, helpful, and efficient. I arrived at the archive under a blackening Glasgow sky and took a lift to the twelfth floor. Entering the Reading Room I was immediately struck by the view from the floor to ceiling windows which looked out across the city and the campus. After a brief introductory talk about archive rules and data protection, I was settled at a desk and given three brown boxes to examine one at a time. Inside each box were several white thinner cardboard folders, each thematically organised, such as press cuttings, typescripts, letters etc. It became clear almost immediately that Hobsbaum had been impressed with Plath’s work during her lifetime and continued to take a serious interest after the publication of Ariel. He followed the subsequent biography controversies over the years, and Ted Hughes’ dealings with the press. He was also an enthusiastic teacher of Plath’s work and enjoyed discussing Plath with his students in Glasgow who he said every year ‘insisted’ he covered Plath in lectures and seminars. He had students who lived as far away as India coming to study Plath at Glasgow.


PKS: Hobsbaum appears to have been genuinely fond of Plath's work. While they are copies, the precious typescripts have been added to the Sylvia Plath Archival Documents Hub and it is worth noting that it was the first instance of a typescript of "Vanity Fair".* It is always interesting to me to see just what Plath's friends and acquaintances collected in the years and decades after her death. What we do not know is whether Plath posted these poems to Hobsbaum for considering in delta or if she perhaps met with Hobsbaum in Cambridge or in London. But given the addresses and dates of composition we can deduce that they were given to Hobsbaum in late winter or early Spring of 1957. Plath was in London just a couple of times that spring, most memorable for me in April when they were in the capital to accomplish business related to Ted Hughes traveling to the US in June (medical exams and Visa).

GC: One of the most interesting documents in the archive was a letter Hobsbaum wrote to Trevor Thomas thanking him for a copy of his memoir Last Encounters. Although this correspondence is one-sided, Hobsbaum shares his memories of meeting Plath and his love of teaching her work. He recalls knowing Ted Hughes at Cambridge who he describes as very rough-looking with a bad case of dandruff and greasy hair (though a fine poet ‘at that time’). He also remembers meeting Assia Wevill for the first time who he describes as the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He ends his letter by describing Plath as a ‘legend’.

PKS: To read an acquaintance of Plath's refer to her with genuinely affection is a good thing; especially considering that some from the Cambridge period did not take to Plath (the person) very well. The Plath-related papers in Hobsbaum collection is small; however, the collection on the whole is massive and is undoubtedly is a valuable resource.

All links accessed 20 June and 4 September 2019.
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*I suspect a copy of the typescript is held by Smith College in the working papers for Plath's Collected Poems.

P.S. Interested in These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath? Please buy a copy!

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

I love it when you two whisper sweet Plathian nothings into one another’s ears! 😉😂

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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.

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