18 December 2019

Sylvia Plath Year in Review 2019

So what did you think of Sylvia Plath in 2019?

It seemed to be a year dominated by Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom, the short story published in the UK and the US in January and then which started appearing in translations. It is wonderful a newly published short story could kind of captivate its readers across the globe, which I think is a great sign that Plath--and her work--is in demand. As in the past, this is a look back at the year as I lived it.

It seems I spent most of January publicizing the story on the blog, as well as the real Mary Ventura, who was a friend of Plath's in Wellesley in the mid-to-late 1940s. I spent most of the month of January, too, packing up my belongings and changing jobs and states. Sadly I still do not feel settled but, well, I will get there eventually. It is weird not being in Plath's backyard any longer after twenty years… But, you probably do not want to read my moaning, you want to read about Plath.

At any rate, I think Mary Ventura stole the year for the most part and already a number of translations have been published or are forthcoming (French, Catalan, Portuguese, Spanish, German, and Dutch. The Dutch edition is included in a reissue of The Bell Jar.). This was the first new creative writing (prose, short fiction) published by Plath since 1979. That is a forty year famine.

February was a slim month in many regards. The only blog post worth re-mentioning is the one on Plath and Forster which I loved writing. I loved Howards End, too. I spent February adjusting to my new life and reading the manuscript of Carl Rollyson's forthcoming The Last Days of Sylvia Plath.

In March, HarperCollins kept the Mary Ventura train rolling (see what I did there?) by issuing a hardback edition. I like that they flipped the normal publication cycle by issuing a paperback first. I was also asked to meet with Carla Zanoni, then of the Wall Street Journal, to discuss the book in NYC. What a privilege that was. This was followed in early April by a Letters of Sylvia Plath talk at Stockton University, coordinated by my good friend Emily Van Duyne. She and her school completely spoiled me and I had a really wonderful time attending classes, giving the talk, meeting new people, and seeing Carl Rollyson (a true glutton of punishment who was also at the Mary Ventura event in March).

In April I received a letter from Plath herself via David Trinidad's ouija board. Following that I did a post on a postcard that I hope will become a series. I have not let that slip! I have others drafted but just have not found the right time to put them online. So, look for more in 2020! Somewhere along in there from the late winter to early Spring I was at work on the paperback editions of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. In addition to updating some mistakes and providing some new information, I found nine new letters and got them squeezed into the volumes in an Appendix, which were published in England only in September. It was awesome to again find, transcribe, proof, annotate, and index these letters for you. Like the rest of the project I completed the majority of this work. Oh! I also did a phone interview/chat with Claire Nichols, in Perth, Australia, which aired in June. That was a lot of fun.

May was a varied month with a guest post on Aurelia Plath's shorthand notations as well as news breaking about a forthcoming Bonhams auctions of things belonging to Plath's late friend Elizabeth Sigmund. I am sure the auction winners love their items but feel the same as me: I would much rather have Elizabeth.

In June, I did a fun post on some of Plath's journals that are held by the Lilly Library. This was a sort of continuation on some Journals related posts trying to date undated entries by using Plath's letters and a host of other resources. Additionally, the Plath related bits of Elizabeth's estate were sold.

Now I am sure it is not right to pick favorites, but in July my birthday-twin Amy C. Rea did a guest blog post on Cornucopia, Wisconsin and it has to be one of the best ever. I let that one stay up on the blog for more than half the month---which allowed me to take a breather. Also, I dusted off a very old blog post on Plath's appearance on the BBC's "The Living Poet" series back in 1961.

August was wicked busy with some publications as well as what has become an annual post on Plath's first suicide attempt. Though I found just one new article, it brings the total to 253. I need better hobbies. I think the publication of a book of essays called Sylvia Plath in Context, edited by Tracy Brain (and reviewed exclusively on the blog by Amy C Rea) is August's highlight though. I attended an awful conference in an awful city, and took advantage of being miserable for that week to draft nearly two dozen blog posts. Most of which still have not been posted. I like having a backlog. Some of these blog posts contain some new information which is really tough to sit on. But some of the information is not mine to break first.

A book of essays was published in Hungary, too! The title is A képzelet kockázata: Sylvia Plath életműve, élettörténete és betegsége---which translates to The risk of imagination: The oeuvre, life history and illness of Sylvia Plath---and it is edited by József Gerevich. My thanks to Dora Ocsovai for letting me know about the volume.

Gail Crowther and I co-wrote a joint blog post on her experience with the Philip Hobsbaum papers in Glasgow. This was a collection I found out about and since she is closer to Scotland than I am, she graciously offered to go. It was a reprise of our series "These Ghostly Archives" and was a super-happy-fun time. Faber & Faber issued the paperbacks of The Letters of Sylvia Plath in September. They also put out a fine Liberty edition of The Bell Jar and a new edition of Ariel (1965 contents) as part of the company's 90th anniversary. All handsome editions. Al Alvarez passed away on 23 September. Elaine Feinstein, who wrote the first biography of Ted Hughes, passed away on the same day.

What can one say about October. This was a momentous month. Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick had her book Reclaiming Assia Wevill published by LSU Press early in the month. In mid-October I gave--perhaps for the last time--a talk on my role in working on The Letters of Sylvia Plath in New York City at the Grand Central branch of the NYPL. I took the opportunity while being there to do some archiving too, which included a Living Archive experience of staying in the Roosevelt Hotel, which is where Plath saw a fashion show in June 1953. Speaking of which. I find it really annoying when people refer to her month at Mademoiselle as her "summer" as a guest editor. It was only a month. Not the summer. Sorry.

The month closed down with Plath being honored with a Google Doodle (above), and a blog post on the actual site where Plath rode the horse Ariel that inspired two poems. Another example of the Living Archive, and another post I started working on years ago but which got lost in several shuffles. Gail Crowther, Heather Clark, and Tracy Brain joined Sarah Corbett and many others for a Plath party in Hebden Bridge. I got texts and saw tweets about it and was filled with envy.

Throughout October and into November I read the manuscript of Heather Clark's forthcoming biography of Sylvia Plath, Red Comet (Knopf, 2020). It is a monumental work which took me about five weeks. Also, I am at work with Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick on our forthcoming book, The Selected Writings of Assia Wevill. The manuscript we thought was in fine shape until we learned of more than a dozen new letters which we feverishly transcribed, annotated, and mixed into the book. (We learned of 13 other new letters but we may not gain access to them in time. Hope springs eternal though so please cross your fingers, toes, and eyes (if you can).)

In November I launched what I hope will be a new series showing off the supporting documentation that went into writing the footnotes of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. As much as I want to put that project to rest (forever!)--because I just feel like I talk about it too much--there is a lot of stuff I want to get out there because I believe in sharing information. And I believe this information is interesting. I would like to make some of these posts timely, to coincide with a particular anniversary on which Plath wrote the letter. That will not always be the case but the timing in this instance was intentional so that I could post this one on some of the information Plath mentioned to Olive Higgins Prouty on 20 November 1962.

And now it is December. It was recently announced on Twitter and then on this blog that a Sylvia Plath Society is being formed. This has been something that many have wanted for many years to be established and it is happening. The year is winding down on a great note! Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick and I will be submitting our manuscript for The Selected Writings of Assia Wevill to LSU Press by the end of the month.

In 2020 are you looking back at Plath, or are you looking ahead?

In early January I will be meeting Julie, Heather Clark, and Janet Badia in Seattle to talk Plath and Wevill (and maybe Hughes) at the MLA annual conference. I will post the text of my talk after the event, and maybe some tiny slide images so you can see generally what those look like.

In 2020 we already look forward to seeing a couple of translations of Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom and a reissue of The Silent Woman in the UK. In the realm of new work about Plath there is Carl Rollyson's The Last Days of Sylvia Plath (March, the University of Mississippi Press). Later in the year we have Heather Clark's highly anticipated Red Comet: A Life of Sylvia Plath (Knopf/Penguin).

There are a couple of works that is in progress that are worth mentioning. First announced is Kicking at the Door of Fame: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton by Gail Crowther (Simon & Schuster) that looks at the social rebellion of Plath and Sexton. Look for this in Spring 2021. More recently, Emily Van Duyne announced she is under contract with W. W. Norton for her book Loving Sylvia Plath. A book of essays is in the works to be published by Bloomsbury. Essays were due at the beginning of the month. They are largely pooled from the 2018 Belfast Plath conference, I think. We wish Gail, Emily, and the Bloomsbury-book crew all the most wonderful thoughts and vibes as they tackle these works. It is nice to have something to look forward to in the new decade.

Recently I renewed the domain for my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is, for another two years. I have been working on this website since 1998 which rather hard to fathom sometimes. Between the website and the blog and Twitter it is safe to say Plath is always on my mind and I am constantly working to bring you new content. Metrics have changed over the last few years with how "hits" are measured. Nowadays it is all about "impressions". The website and blog had, respectively, 3.54 million and 655,000 "impressions" from 1 December 2018 to 30 November 2019. That is more than 4 million. Impressions just means how many times a user saw a link to my sites. The most popular pages on A celebration, this is, were the Biography, Poetry Works, Thumbnails 1960-1963, Prose Works, and Johnny Panic Synopses.

Thank you all so sincerely for visiting the website and the blog, for sending comments, and replying to posts via the blog itself, email, and Twitter. Thank you for your friendship and encouragement. I would like to ask that for any content which you may have enjoyed or benefited from, please consider sending me a tip via PayPal. There are expenses associated with the work I do on Plath and while it is something I love, it does take a financial toll. Thank you for at least considering! All funds will be put towards making the website, the Sylvia Plath Info Blog, and Twitter better.

This is the last year of the 2010s! It has been an incredible decade for me Plathfessionally with writing and publishing several essays and introductions, joyfully collaborating on a book with Gail Crowther, speaking at numerous events in Indiana, Vancouver, Chicago, New York City, London, Boston, Stockton, and Belfast, and editing Plath's letters. Believe me when I say the honor and joy I take in my work is due to the fact that you are out there. The work I do is for you. You inspire me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank. You.

Thank you also for your patience in this year of changing jobs and states in which I went about nine months without access to my files and books.

Whatever you celebrate do it well, with love and family and friends, do it safely and with as much happiness as you can. Happy New Year. See you on 1 January 2020.

All links accessed 4 and 5 November, and 3, 10, and 18 December 2019.

09 December 2019

Amy C. Rea Reviews Sylvia Plath in Context, edited by Tracy Brain

The following guest blog post book review of Sylvia Plath in Context is by Amy C. Rea. Thank you, Amy.

Sylvia Plath in Context, edited by Tracy Brain, is a set of wide-ranging explorations of influences that have played a role in Plath's development as a writer. The book is grouped into sections covering literary, literary technique and influence, cultural contexts, sexual and gender contexts, political and religious contexts, biographical contexts, and Plath and place. While there are topics that have been covered in depth in the various biographies (the role of women in the 1940s and 50s, for example), this collection goes further by looking at topics like food, teaching preparation, scrapbooks, and the book packaging of various editions of Ariel and The Bell Jar. It's a valuable continuation of the process of extracting Plath's form of genius out of the strict biographical contexts she's been all too often forced into. To keep this post from falling into TL;DR territory, I'll look at a handful that I found most insightful.

First, however, a caveat and a scolding to Cambridge University Press: There are numerous factual errors throughout. Perhaps the most egregious is Plath reported to be on the Smith faculty in 1953. Another spot noted her turning 21 in 1952, and elsewhere her birth year was reported as 1933 (and these are just a few that I noted). Hopefully if there's a second edition, the publisher will take the time to correct these errors.

Now on to the good news:

Andrew Walker's "Plath and the Radio Drama" looks at Plath's views and history with the form and how it influenced her writing of Three Women, from eagerly listening to The Shadow as a child to using Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood as inspiration for her own radio play. Walker points out that Three Women has been underrated critically and says: "Three Women presents Plath's voice at its most simple but also most dramatic, revealing her shift towards a more direct treatment of psychological processes. In her decision not to give the characters conventional first names but instead designate them as voices, as well as her avoidance of direct dialogue and causal plotting, Plath's experimental turn towards the dramatic is influenced by a host of early police procedurals like The Shadow."

Will May's "Plath's Whimsy" explores Plath's earlier work (as well as her work for children) through the lens of whimsy, and why that shouldn't necessarily be given the critical cold shoulder. This piece is followed by Tracy Brain's excellent "Sylvia Plath and You," a look at Plath's use of the second person, especially in iconic pieces like "Daddy" and in spots in The Bell Jar. Brain finds surprising sources in Plath's archives for this work, including the somewhat imperious second person point of view used by none other than Irma Rombauer in The Joy of Cooking.

The back-to-back pieces on Plath and Food (Gerard Woodward) and Plath and Fashion (Rebecca C. Tuite) are both worthy of even deeper exploration. Anyone who's read Plath's journals and collected letters knows of her passion for both, right through to the end of her life. Studying the food and fashion trends of the time really rounds out how we view Plath's writings about both.

Several cultural explorations either start or expand greatly on culture around Plath's work. Beatrice Hitchman does a deeper dive into lesbian culture during the Bell Jar period and provides some much-needed nuances to those themes in Plath's novel. Laura Perry's piece on the culture of hygiene in the 1940s and 50s shows a direct correlation between themes of purity and cleanliness in Plath's poems to advertising and culture mores of the times. Robin Peel's piece on the Rosenbergs persuasively argues that Plath was not just using their execution as an attention-grabbing opening to her novel, but as one of its underlying themes (and in her poetry as well), something echoed in Anita Helle's examination of electroshock therapy in Plath's poetics. Peter K. Steinberg takes a much-needed look at Plath's scrapbooks and successfully posits that they deserve the same close scholarly attention as Plath's writings. After all, Plath was not the kind of person to just randomly paste things in a scrapbook without thinking about deeper meaning.

The final section of the book is themed on the creative afterlife of Plath's work, and it's worth the price of the book. Gareth Farmer pushes to look beyond Plath's biography and see the quality of the writing itself (and introduced me to Veronica Forrest-Thomson), while Elena Rebollo-Cortes delivers a thoughtful analysis of the various British and American editions of Plath's books, which have a great deal to say about the culture of the times they were published. Fiona Sampson takes a different approach to influence and context, illustrating how Plath's work may have influenced various writers who came after her. And finally, Heather Clark takes on the thorny issue of Plath's biographers, assessing what's out there from the good to the bad to the downright ugly. Her final statement ends the book on a note calling for even more research and discussion:

"She was no Medea, no Eurydice, no Electra. Rather, she was a highly disciplined writer whose singular voice helped transform American and British literature, and whose innovative work gave new energy to the burgeoning literary and cultural revolutions of her time. This Sylvia Plath waits to be recovered, and brought forth." Amen.

Sylvia Plath in Context, edited by Tracy Brain. (Cambridge University Press, 2019. ISBN: 9781108470131.

All links accessed 9 December 2019.

05 December 2019

The Sylvia Plath Society is being formed

For more than a decade---and possibly longer---there has been interest in the formation of a Sylvia Plath Society.

For the past few months, I have been in contact with Kitty Shaw (Twitter) and Dorka Tamás (Twitter) and they have been really making astounding progress contacting people, institutions, and the like the get this thing off the ground. We have the support of many people, including the scholar Tim Kendall. In addition, we have reached out to both the Estate of Sylvia Plath and Faber and Faber.

Earlier this week, the Society got a Twitter handle which is one of the first steps. The Society looking to create a newsletter, a website, and eventually a journal, too.

If you have an interest in following the Society, please do so via Twitter. We are looking to start getting members, volunteers, and the like to fill other roles in the running of it. So please feel free to email (plathsoc AT gmail DOT com) if you have any interest at all in Sylvia Plath.

All links accessed 3 December 2019.

03 December 2019

New book of essays on Sylvia Plath published in Hungary

A new book of essays was recently published in Hungarian out of Budepast. A képzelet kockázata: Sylvia Plath életműve, élettörténete és betegsége---which translates to The risk of imagination: The oeuvre, life history and illness of Sylvia Plath---and it is edited by József Gerevich. The ISBN is 978-963-51-7050-0 and it is published by Kossuth Kiadó.

Here is the table of contents. I am grateful to Dóra Ocsovai for letting me know about the title and, as well, providing English translations of the titles.

József Gerevich: Psychiatric aspects of confessional poetry


Enikő Bollobás: Mask and Self—and the Illness: Injuries of the Soul in Sylvia Plath's Poetry

Antal Bókay: Failure in the construction of the ego in confessional poetry – Sylvia Plath and Attila József

Zsófia Demjén: "Drowning in negativism, self-hate, doubt, madness": Linguistic insights into Sylvia Plath's experience of depression

Júlia Lázár: What Is This Face So Murderous?

Dóra Ocsovai: From womb to 'wave-yard': The poetics of Water in Sylvia Plath's oeuvre

Life history

Balázs Matuszka: From the experience to anger: The elaboration of the feelings against the parents in the art of Sylvia Plath

Dóra Ocsovai: Devil and God – The double role of Ted Hughes in Sylvia Plath's life and death

Kinga Fabó: On Sylvia Plath's Personality

Krisztina Zsédel: The "price" of creativity? Predictive and protective factors in the suicide of Sylvia Plath


Attila Németh: Psychiatric disorder of Sylvia Plath

Magdolna Moretti: "The grasses unload their griefs on my feet": The psychiatric therapy of Sylvia Plath

József Gerevich: The Broken-necked Deer. Trying to reconstruct and understand the Sylvia Plath-phenomenon

All links accessed 3 December 2019.

01 December 2019

Sylvia Plath Collections: University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Whoever says that you cannot learn something on Twitter is wrong?

So, Chris Caldwell is a Sylvia Plath influencer.

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has a several precious Sylvia Plath items in its Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives.

The first two items mentioned here are a part of the Patricia Cornwell Collection. The first item they have is a manuscript copy of Plath's poem "King of the Ice" written on 10 January 1945. Plath wrote about the poem in her diary that day saying that once she got home from school and a music lesson, she set to work on a letter, story, or poem for the Phillipian, her junior high school newspaper. The assignment required writing about a "star" with a "right good will". "King of the Ice" was that poem. (Plath also started on writing another poem, "The Snowflake Star" the same day, which, according to her diary, she finalized on 21 February 1945. "The Snowflake Star" was published in February 1946.)

"King of the Ice" was first offered for sale at London Olympia's Antiquarian Book Fair in 2003 and made headline news in "Sylvia Plath's schoolgirl love poem goes on sale for £4,500" from The Telegraph and, as well, on the BBC. As you can see from the articles, two other Plath poems and a lock of her hair were also offered. The other two poems were "Hear the crickets chirping" and "I saw a little birdie" held by the Beinecke Library, Yale.

The other Plath-related item from the Cornwell collection is Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath by Jillian Becker. It is signed by the author.

I met Cornwell at one point when I was working at the hallowed Woodberry Poetry Room. She was at Harvard doing some research. While the subjects of conversation escape me now---I vaguely remember asking her not have have balding archivist murdered---we must have talked about Plath based on this inscription to me in this book she sent afterward.

But that is not all. The Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections has three limited editions from the 1970s: Child, Wreath for a Bridal, and Million Dollar Month. These are lovely books for any fan or collector of Sylvia Plath.


You can see all the known Sylvia Plath archival collections on my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 13 November and 1 December 2019.
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