19 October 2019

Recap: Letters of Sylvia Plath Book Talk and More

Thanks go to Gregory Stall at the Grand Central branch of the New York Public Library for asking me to come and give a talk about my work on The Letters of Sylvia Plath. I did so Thursday and had a good time talking to the crowd. And it was terrific to see some familiar faces such as Eva S. and Richard L. I appreciate the rapport of the Q & A afterwards, and am grateful to Liz for lugging copies of the Letters from Staten Island.

After the talk I retired to my room at the nearby Roosevelt Hotel. I chose it for its Plathian association. On 2 June 1953, her second day as Guest Editor at Mademoiselle magazine, Plath wrote in a letter home: "Yesterday a.m. we saw our first (my first) fashion show at the Roosevelt Hotel" (p631). The hotel is located at 45 E. 45th Street.

Her calendar for the day calls it a "College Clinic" that started at 10:15. In a document from Plath's Mademoiselle papers held by the Lilly Library, we can learn a little more:

The Grand Ballroom is located on the Mezzanine Level, is 5,696 square feet and features twenty-seven feet high ceilings. I could not access it as there was a private event going on and I was asked politely to leave. Felt it was better to admit defeat than be escort outed.

After the Fashion Show, Plath had lunch at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station and then went to Richard Hudnut for hair and make-up consultations. Since it was effectively next door, I visited Grand Central and the awfully smelling Oyster Bar.

Before the long journey home yesterday morning I spent some time in the Berg Collection at the main branch of the NYPL. I had visited this archive once years ago and decided it was worth a trip to look again at the following Plath materials:

Cartoon of a koala bear (Juvenilia)
Alphabet and birthday quatrain (Juvenilia)
"Trixie and the balloon" (Story, Juvenilia)
Camping list (Juvenilia)
Pencil drawing of campsite (Juvenilia)
"Winter and magic" (Story, Juvenilia)
9 pencil tracings and drawings (Juvenilia); and
Notebook of copied poetry (With "Activities and Awards" sheet)

The Berg also has some drafts of "Brasilia" and "Insomniac" with other Plath works on the versos but I already have copies of those. In addition, they have a letter from Plath to her grandmother but that's in the Letters (Volume 1).

I wrote about the Berg Collection in this previous blog post. Some of the Berg's holdings were highlighted in this Gothamist piece. Which leads to another document I worked with: a letter from Plath to Alfred Kazin from 26 April 1961. In 2011 when I first visited the Berg I was told this letter was "lost". In 2013 I followed up and it was still "lost". In 2015, when that video was aired, they had the letter. Perhaps I should have followed up again? It is disappointing it is not in Volume II of the Letters, but at least we know it has been found.

One of the main things I wanted to see again was Plath's copy of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. I did work with it ages ago but once was not enough and I have long dreamed of seeing it again. The book was given to her by Richard Norton. I love the fact that the first Quartet is "Burnt Norton", and using modern parlance for insulting someone... she burned Norton, alright, in The Bell Jar.

I also spent heaps of time with Plath's sporadically heavily annotated copy of Louis Untermeyer's Modern American and British Poetry (1955 edition). I have not yet really worked with the photographs I took but there are probably annotations to north of 180 pages.

I find it so useful and important to visit and revisit (and revisit again) archives. Don't you?

Before leaving I looked in at the JD Salinger exhibit which opened that morning. Lots of great stuff in there but my time was running out before I had to go. I felt goddamn phony, if you want to know the truth.

All links accessed 16 and 19 October 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.