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Showing posts from January, 2020

Sylvia Plath Collections: In the Grip of Archives Fever

Archives fever has set in which has led to some very terrible sleeps recently; mind aflame with the information it is taking in. Restlessness, wandering unfocused around home and work. And driving my car. Stay off the roads! Hell, and the sidewalks, too. I think I am broken. Heather Clark sent me a bottle of port and I am cracking that bottle open tonight. The files received in recent days run the length of Sylvia Plath's life from Winthrop (David Freeman) to Wellesley (Wilbury Crockett) to Northampton (Sally Rosenthal Brody) to Cambridge (Kay Burton et. al.) to London and North Tawton and London (Beckers, Frankfort, Secker-Walkers). There are a slew of still unread files and thank goodness the weekend is nearly upon us. Reading Jillian Becker's correspondence and memories has been eye-opening. She's often very funny. She is incredibly opinionated (negatively) about the Hughes clan. Reading this material shames her Giving Up , though it I am sure I am unfairly critica

Sylvia Plath Collections: "You can feel her poise wobbling"

The Alvarez folder in the Rosenstein papers left me feeling practically speechless. Hence, a shorter post today as I consider what he wrote and so that you can, too. On 20 December 1973, Rosenstein sent Alvarez a "simple" poem. It was something about which they discussed at some point in time and I presume it was by Plath. Rosenstein writes, "it had been pinned above Sylvia's work table in Devon". This letter mentions other things, too. Such as missing pages from a BBC novel talk. (On the surface this sounds like what was published as "A Comparison".) A little over a month later, on 25 January 1974, Alvarez wrote back returning the "simple" poem. He calls it "fascinating" even though "you can feel her poise wobbling, the enemies closing in, the truth receeding [sic.]. It was all she had left to hang on to." Later in the year they were discussing other things via letter including certain "facts" heard from T

Sylvia Plath Collections: "No"

There are a fair number of memories of Sylvia Plath in the Rosenstein collection now at Emory that are, for lack of a better way to put it, negative. I may be on an island about this, but I actually like that and appreciate it. I do not think Plath was a saint, and what I take away from these recollections is that she was, simply, complicated. That she made a different impression on different people throughout the course of her life is fine. I am also, possibly, on an island because the general tone of Bitter Fame is Olwynian, and I do not mind that book. For the simple fact that Sylvia Plath had flaws and I believe it is better to know them. In yesterday's post I related two such negative comments on Plath by former housemate Lisa Levy and friend Clarissa Roche. There are a number of negative comments, too, about Plath's parenting (see Leonard Baskin and Nancy Axworthy, among others). In addition to the positive and negative memories that Rosenstein (and others) have reco

Sylvia Plath Collections: "An incredible amount of methodical energy"

One of the ways in which I try hardest to operate involves organization and consistency. The Rosenstein collection is organized alphabetically, as are most collections. We got all of boxes 2 (H-O) and 3 (P-R) first and today, will start seeing the files in box 1 (A-G). There is amazing, interesting material in spread out. But as we started in the middle and as I have been jumping around I have honestly felt a little disjointed. But there is nothing that can be done about that. If I had patience and other druthers, however, I would have considered holding off reading anything until I had anything and then starting in. I think the way I would have approached it would be to start with the earliest materials (on Otto Plath in this instance) and worked my way up chronologically if possible. Ok, let's be honest... it is probably the England period from 1960 to 1963 that has the most interest for a lot of people. So reading the Roche and Macedo files were rich in this aspect (though the

Sylvia Plath Collections: "Tennyson was a dirty word"

There are a lot of files to go through which is great because what else can you really do that feels productive in the middle of the winter? One page per image; and I think Emily has been sending between 200 and 250 per day. Each set starts with a photograph of the the folder so that I know where the files start and end. It helps organize things and gives a real feel for the collection. And then the only other request I had to was to ensure that all edges of the page be visible. I do not know why I crave this, but I do. I suspect I have read about half of what has been sent. It takes me a while to read it... Most recently I read the big Macedo  folder and the moderately sized Roche one. I am rather enamored with the Roches as a result. They interviewed really well. Clarissa famously was featured in the video on Plath in the 1988 PBS  Voices & Visions series but this was the first time I recall reading anything by Paul Roche on Plath. One thing I particularly enjoyed in it was P

Sylvia Plath Collections: More from the New Haul at Emory

There is no experience like the experience of working with he actual papers in the archive. But this is not practical with these papers at this point in time. But I can safely safe archives fever can get a grip virtually, through surrogate researchers. This is what I am experiencing at the moment. The brain will not shut off; it keeps me up at night as if I were in the library itself during the day. And the anticipation stirs me before sunrise. Winter nights are long; but fortunately they are growing shorter. Emily has done so many kindnesses for me---and by extension you---with the work she had done with this collection. There are a few folders I have asked her not to photograph and sometimes I think this might have been a mistake. (But the materials are there now and in the future perhaps the part of me that is a completest will want them.) Anyway, boxes 2 and 3 have been thoroughly gone through and now it is a process of reading through these files. (Boxes 1 and 4 will be seen to

Sylvia Plath Collections: Even More from Emory, or, The Madness to my Method

It is rather exciting to be getting such immediate access to the papers in the Rosenstein research files on Sylvia Plath. Getting the email each day that the files are ready for me to download is a highlight. I appreciate more than I can say the help from Emily Banks ( Twitter ), the research proxy suggested by the Rose Library at Emory. She has been fantastic and patient and if you have research needs at Emory please try and get her. But downloading is just the beginning. So I figure I should explain a bit about the method to my madness; or, the madness to my method (they really are interchangeable). I am obsessed with order and organization. When the files come to me they are named IMG_3409. That is something done by the camera or by the people of developed...whatever it is they developed. That is not useful at all. That tells me nothing about what is depicted in image. So most of my efforts now have been looking at the files to glean as efficiently as I can what the image is of.

Sylvia Plath Collections: More from the Rosenstein Archive

At the time the Rosenstein archive of Plath related materials first appeared for sale , an inventory was published online very briefly. The lawsuit surrounding the Beuscher letters led to the micro-site on Ken Lopez's website being taken down. However, I saved all the content which gave me the opportunity over the months to scrutinize what was listed. In fact, it lead to a last ditch effort in 2017 to obtain the letters to J. Melvin Woody and that worked out nicely as he was kind enough to supply them (they are now at Smith College). So getting access to the archive now is really special and fulfilling. Yesterday I read four letters from Sylvia Plath to Suzette and Helder Macedo, which were identified in the inventory. Several requests to Rosenstein to share copies of the letters in the book were ignored. And not just made by me, but also requests made by Frieda Hughes, the copyright holder. Rosenstein's unwillingness to assist was frustrating and as such a tone of Plath in

Sylvia Plath Collections: First Impressions of Rosentein's archive

It really feels like this has been a long time in coming. I first learned of the Harriet Rosenstein materials in January 2016, within days of Olwyn Hughes' passing . The full extent was not made clear for quiet awhile, but it was evident the most important materials were those letter to Ruth Beuscher, which are now at Smith College. But what of the rest of the collection? Ken Lopez's inventory was tantalizing, though flawed. And in August 2019, I learned the collection had been sold. Shortly there after, I learned it was at Emory but it was their news to break, not mine, so I sat on it until they told me it was alright to publicize, which was a blog post published earlier this month. In that post, it was mentioned that a few select items from Rosenstein's papers were not included in what Emory acquired, and that it was for sale by Peter Grogan. A number of items, I noticed, have been removed from his storefront on ABE Books. So naturally my mind is wondering where thes

The Indefatigable Sylvia Plath

On Thursday, 9 January 2020, I had the privilege to share the stage with a panel of Sylvia Plath scholars--Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick (organizer and presenter), Heather Clark (presenter), and Janet Badia (respondent)---at the MLA conference in Seattle. Our topic was "New Developments in Sylvia Plath Studies: Archives, Biography, and Feminism". The audience was small, but that did not have any bearing on our passion for our respective pieces. After my talk, entitled "The Indefatigable Sylvia Plath", Heather presented "P(l)athography: Sylvia Plath and Her Biographers" which provided an overview of the role Plath biographies have played in pathologizing their subject. This was followed by Julie's "'Perfection is terrible, it cannot have children': Sylvia Plath's Representations of Assia Wevill", an investigation on Wevill's role as a muse in Sylvia Plath's poetry. Janet responded with an eloquent summation of our talks asking

Harriet Rosentstein's Sylvia Plath Collection

Harriet Rosenstein's Sylvia Plath collection  ( Update ) ( More Info ) has started to appear on the market nearly two and a half years after it appeared briefly for sale, en masse, online. Originally offered for $875,000, the collection was the subject of a lawsuit between Smith College, Rosenstein, and the bookseller, Ken Lopez. Famously the fourteen letters from Plath to Dr. Ruth Beuscher are now held by Smith College, and the letters themselves were included at almost the last moment to Volume II. However, the bulk of Rosenstein's collection was purchased by Emory University where it is now open for research. See the finding aid here , and please not it is also linked on the Sylvia Plath Archival Materials page on A celebration, this is . I am grateful to Carrie Hintz for the notice of the collections availability. Pieces of the Rosenstein Plath collection are for sale from Peter Grogan Rare Books ( ABE page ), a fantastic bookseller, based in England. One item, Grogan

Who's Who at Sylvia Plath's Smith College

Sylvia Plath mentions a lot of people in letters and journals that she studied under and worked with at Smith College. Our friend Tim, known on Twitter as @ProjectPlath , sent me a 1957 Smith College Hamper , their yearbook. This is the year before Plath began teaching there. As I was looking through it, a new world opened; faces attaching themselves to names familiar. So, here are some close-ups of people Plath knew. I do not have the Hamper 's for the years Plath was a student there, so undoubtedly there are more people that could be shown. But I hope this is a good start. The names identified are those Plath had as teachers or advisers (or otherwise knew) and mentioned in letters, journals, calendars, etc. either when she was a student or a teacher, or both! Alice N. Davis (standing, I think), Director of the Vocational Office Benjamin Wright, President Charles Jarvis Hill, English Department and Assistant to the President Dr. Marion Booth (standing, center), C