31 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 critical of, whilst being grateful for, that book. There are some details in the Becker file that, alone, provide an explanation as to why the Hughes' fought so hard to squash her endeavors to write a critical biography of Plath.

The Becker file includes a copy of the Coroner's Inquest report to Plath's suicide. Some of the information is included in another book that was never published authored by Elizabeth Hinchliffe (copies are in Alvarez papers at British Library and the McCullough papers at University of Maryland). But it was interesting--if distressing--to read it in full, and all the other details that Rosenstein, with great assistance by Becker, acquired. However, what those details are---and this really applies to other obvious silences on my part from these papers---I do not want to get into now as some of it might be being incorporated into Heather Clark's forthcoming Plath biography Red Comet. Thank you in advance for your understanding. If I catch wind of some material that is not being used, I will blab.

One thing that I learned that I truly most grateful for was in the Patric Dickinson file. Plath first met him on 30 October 1962 in regards to a poetry festival scheduled for July 1963; she would host an American Poetry night. She mentions being "produced" in several letters.  It turns out that she met Dickinson on Friday the 8th of February at a pub called the Running Horse, around the corner from his men-only club. She had some lager. But this fills in a gap... we know that day she returned to Fitzroy Road from the Beckers and posted that letter to Dr. Ruth Beuscher. And we know that evening she had dinner over at the Goodalls in Sussex Gardens, near Paddington (as revealed in These Ghostly Archives). We also know she posted a letter, now presumably burned, to Ted Hughes, and saw him that afternoon---probably after meeting Dickinson---at Fitzroy Road and was the subject of Hughes' "Last Letter". So she was in an out and all around central and northern London that entire day.

I was truly jazzed to read the file for Catherine Frankfort as you get a wonderful impression of her and her family from Plath's letters. And she comes of really nice in the interview notes and letter contained in the folder. I corresponded with her son Nicholas during the Letters project and found him really gracious. Just good people.

This January has been memorable, certainly. It did not go as quietly as one might either want or expect for the middle of winter. From Seattle with Julie, Heather, and Janet to this Rosenstein stuff to meeting Gail and Emily and Suzanne in New York City... A big, full month, logging a stupendous number of miles and files.

For all of these posts I should express my being thankful, with more regularity than I have been, to Emily Banks for her meticulous, steady-handed photographs. And for her patience in dealing with me and my complete persnicketiness. Thank you, Emily!!

All links accessed 31 January 2020.

30 January 2020

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 Ted Hughes about Plath's final days and actions. Alvarez wrote the following:
The thing to remember is that the whole affair has become like the Russian version of history: facts can simply be obliterated – so can poems – by the official custodians and nobody, but nobody, can do anything about it. That's one of the reasons why I wrote my memoir: to publish something about the poor girl that hadn't been censored and sanitised beforehand by the family.



29 January 2020

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 recorded, there is a third category of memory: those who refuse to give them. Two people that opted not to answer any questions, though they had the decency to respond to inquiry letters, are Carol LeVarn McCabe and Richard Norton. Both were parodied in The Bell Jar, as Doreen and Buddy Willard, respectively.

In the Knopf folder (Box 1, Folder 1), McCabe wrote on 28 June 1974:
It is a source of deepening depression to learn the number of ambitious persons who are anxious to use Sylvia Plath's life for their own personal gain, as she used our distress for hers.
Perhaps that's a kind of Amerlit justice. Be that as it may, I want no part of it and my answer to you is the same as my answer to the other hundreds of hopefuls who have written similar letters: No.
Rosenstein wrote to Richard Norton in 1971 and 1973 and received two replies declining to help. In the first instance, Norton replied that he has "a firm policy of not discussing Sylvia Plath". In the second instance Rosenstein asked specifically about their experience of seeing a baby born and working on cadavers. She was hopeful he might write his memories---anonymously if so desired---for a book that, like her biography of Plath, was never accomplished. He wrote that he did not have the time to help her and claimed "I recall no details of her watching either a birth or dissection".

Boston Lying-In Hospital
Plath visited the Boston Lying-In hospital with Norton on 1 February 1952. She was home after taking finals in January, between semesters. She wrote about going with Norton in a letter to Ann Davidow-Goodman, saying "Dick & I stood two feet away to watch a baby born" (Letters, Volume I, 416). She held test tubes for blood being drawn and later found out Norton was not a virgin. A few years later, Plath wrote to Gordon Lameyer on 6 February 1954 that two experiences she can lay claim to was "seeing a baby born . . . [and] cutting up the lungs of a human cadaver" (680). Plath mentioned both events, too, in her Smith College scrapbook on page 5. Featured on that page is a photograph of the said Norton dissecting lungs...


While Norton had memories to give he chose not to do so, which we must respect, he has maintained a steadfast silence---which has lasted as long as Warren Plath's. McCabe reversed her 1970s decision when she opened up and spoke to Elizabeth Winder for her Pain, Parties, Work (2013).

All links accessed 28 January 2020.

28 January 2020

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 Roche stuff dipped back in time a bit to Smith in 1957 and 1958). But then, after that, I read the interview notes with Lisa Levy and Connie Taylor Blackwell, both of whom meant nothing to me before. Neither of them were mentioned in Plath's journals or letters or even, I do not think, in her pocket calendars. Maybe that does not mean anything, though?

Levy and Blackwell were Smith classmates of Plath's. Levy was a resident of Lawrence House and Blackwell was dating a roommate of Richard Sassoon. So, I went back in time from the London period which is a hard shift in time. I find the Smith period (and for that matter, Cambridge) endlessly fascinating. These years (1950-1957) represent, perhaps, the middle of Plath's life in a manner of speaking.

Levy talked a lot about being in Plath's presence, about her talking and listening. How she held her neck and moved her hands. How she asked for more information than she offered. She believed Plath was a manipulator; something that is mirrored by Clarissa Roche (she recalls instances were Plath was "getting one over on" someone, be it Prouty, Stephen Spender, or others).

Blackwell's interview I found really good. The information on the time spent at Smith, at Yale, in rooms, on trains, is beneficial. I liked a lot of what she said, particularly about her dedication to writing two hours a day at Smith, that she had "an incredible amount of methodical energy". This was a newsflash: Learned that she met Plath and Hughes at Yaddo. However, it was not explained in the typewritten notes what Blackwell was doing there, and she was not listed as being in residence the autumn that Plath was. Perhaps an explanation is in the Blackwell file in Box 1, which leads me to wonder why this material is stored separately?

These new voices---as well as additional people whose folders I have not yet seen---join other Smith students such as Marcia Brown Stern and Elinor Klein in the choir relating memories of Plath's years there. And it must be said that these new memories of people long forgotten or ignored, or even dead, is where a real value makes itself apparent in this collection.

All links accessed 27 January 2020.

27 January 2020

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 Paul Roche's description of the famous (or infamous, depending on your interpretation) Oedipus reading at Smith College in the spring of 1958. (I wonder if Smith College has any materials related to that event. A program? A poster? Other documentation? Was it, for example, reviewed in the school newspaper?)

We know about the event from Plath's journals about how she was "superstitious about not hearing Ted read" (Journals, 387) How she raced through marking papers and tip-toed into the auditorium, and calm her racing heart and breath. How Hughes was not feeling it, Plath said he looked "slovenly" (388). How he had sensed Plath's presence and that his voice "let the reading down" (388); and the weirdness of the atmosphere in the room where the readers congregated afterwards.

Paul Roche tells Rosenstein that Hughes did not turn up for the one rehearsal they had, his excuse being that he was given a different information about it. Paul thinks it was because Hughes' role was not central to the performance; that Hughes did not like being the focal point. He said, "There were a lot of people who would have done it better than Ted, even at his best. I never said anything to Sylvia about it." However Plath knew this, as she wrote in her journal, "Paul would love to have Philip Wheelwright read Creon." (Wheelwright was a research professor at Smith.) Anyway, so it is interesting to see these alternate perceptions on the events that took place. And this is where, perhaps, the richness of the interviews and letters comes into play. It fills in and rounds out the portraits of Plath's life.

At the end of the typed interview notes, there is a summary of the course structure for Freshman English with this lovely commentary: "Reining novelists were Joyce and Lawrence. Poet was Donne. Woolf beginning to be read. 'Certain poets were never talked about. Tennyson was a dirty word.'"



To be honest, I am having some trouble coming up with titles for these blog posts about the Rosenstein research files on Sylvia Plath at the Rose Library, Emory. I thought of using something worse than yesterday's "More from the new haul" but I did not want to be that boring. Plus, it just is not grabby. Which is why I took a quote from some of the papers for this one.

The reason why I closed my laptop so suddenly---as I ended yesterday's post with---is that I wanted to read the letter with Gail. I thought the timing of it was too great not to take advantage of it. It was instantly the most important of the dozen new letters found so far in the collection. And the recipient is one who holds a very special place in our hearts.

The letter was often referred to the recipient in our conversations and in fact it had been quoted before too. I sought to include the available excerpts in the Letters but it was voted down. Which was fine. But this is a letter that had a mythical air to it. And suddenly here it is. And to see a digital image of it (Rosenstein had a copy of it; the location of the original is presently unknown) is exceptional. The letter is dated 4 February 1963 and joins others written that day---a week before Plath's death---to Aurelia Plath, Marcia Brown Stern, Michael Carey, and Ruth Beuscher.

After Gail's meeting with her editor---who is delightful---concluded I busted out my laptop and with glasses of wine consumed or half consumed on the table, and with the sun setting and the lights of New York City turning on at the corner of 5th Avenue and E 50th Street, we silently read the two-paged letter to the late Elizabeth Sigmund.


All links accessed 26 and 27 January 2020.

26 January 2020

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 next.)

Picture the scene last Friday... I've take a couple of modes of transportation to get to New York City to see Gail Crowther on her visit to the US. She is meeting with her editor going over some chapters of her new book manuscript. I have some minutes to kill, so I take advantage of free wifi at a place that specializes in selling expensively priced burnt-tasting coffee to see if there are new files for downloading. There were. These were from Box 3, folders 7 through 14 (folder 10 was previously done; folder 11 skipped, those this one is really gnawing at me).

Anyway... so I start downloading. Emily is great and sends me a file count each night so that I can be certain to have downloaded everything. So going into this, around 3:30 in the afternoon, I realize not all the files may have synced up. But folder 9 has me so impatient; I was itching like a rash to see what is in it. I downloaded that one first. I saw many new letters that are not in The Letters of Sylvia Plath. I thought how unfortunate it took so long for these papers to find a home; and how sad it was the Rosenstein refused to help us with the project when I first requested help in 2013. Well, no use in crying over spilled soy milk...

In looking through the letters, the new recipients were familiar names: David Freeman (two letters); Anthony Thwaite (five letters); those letters to the Macedos (four letters); and then letters that I had seen already to Marcia Brown Stern (Volume I) and to Michael Frayn and Wilbury Crockett (both in Volume II). There are two letter excerpts from 1954 and 1955 sent by Claiborne Philips Handleman...all pieces of the Plath puzzle. But there was one letter that instantly swelled my heart when I saw it and lead my eyes to water and to also slam my laptop shut.

24 January 2020

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. Is is a letter? A pamphlet? A newspaper article? An interview? And then it's renaming the files so that it does mean something; so that the computer can search for and find it once those files have been indexed.

I set up some folders and sub-folders on my computer to match the Emory finding aid. This is the first thing I do with archival materials -- try to match the physical arrangement of the collection in a digital setting. It looks like this (I put the screenshot together badly, forgive me):



Once all the files are renamed, they look like below. This is from Box 3, Folder 6, on papers dealing with Otto Plath. There is a chance in the future I may tweak something once I have the time to read through everything. Everything. Ha! That is a lie. Shame to say it, but there is some stuff likely I will not ever read. But you get the point. 


Yesterday I was reading the Norton file and a letter from Plath was included. Oh was I excited because there was not a Plath letter from 11 September to any Norton in The Letters of Sylvia Plath. But as I started reading it, my heart sank because I recognized it. Looking into Volume I, I saw that it was a letter to Marcia (Brown) Stern from 1951. That was a stinker. How Perry Norton got that letter is beyond me. It is about him and his brother & Plath's recent trip to Cape Cod after her summer babysitting in Swampscott. I guess it's possible Rosenstein put it there; or it is possible even that through the years Perry met Marcia as they both lived in the greater Boston area.

Today promises more files.

All links accessed 24 January 2020.

23 January 2020

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 these letters is absent from the beautiful chorus of voices in Volume II.

The four letters are wonderful and fill in biographical and other details that even in their brevity fill in gaps and add value to our understanding of Plath's life in Devon. There is a two page typed letter from 29 September 1961; an undated Christmas card with handwritten comments from December 1961; a one page typed letter from 31 January 1962; and then a final undated, one page handwritten letter from just after Easter 1962. These letters will hopefully appear in print in the future. I'm anticipating that this archive will yield about a new dozen letters based on the Lopez inventory and the Emory finding aid. But I am hopeful that number might be low.

I have not spent much other time on the other documents from box 2 I received in the recent cache because reading Plath's own words is really, truly, an experience and I have been taking that information and kind of processing it, realigning the order of things as I am used to them. Which is wonderful.

All links accessed 23 January 2020.

20 January 2020

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 these items are going. For a few months, I have been hemming and hawing about one item. I wrote Grogan to see if it was still available and it turned up a few days ago. It was the specimen page of the limited edition of Crystal Gazer and Other Poems which featured, on the back, one of the poems in that collection: "The Dream of the Hearse-Driver". You can view the table of contents to this book on A celebration, this is. Included with the specimen was prospectus for it, complete with order form, and a letter from Olwyn Hughes to Rosenstein. (A copy of the letter is included in the Olwyn Hughes folder in Box 2, Folder 5.)


In the last few days, I have started seeing some of the Rosenstein collection of research files on Sylvia Plath. These files include Plath's McLean record. It is not the complete record, I do not imagine, but it is an interesting glimpse into Plath's time at McLean, her diagnoses, her treatments, etc. My initial take-away from it is that Rosenstein was looking for corroboration with The Bell Jar and some of Plath's other creative writing. There is more to it than that, obviously, but that was stood out on my initial read; my mind-abuzz with the novelty and weirdness of seeing the records. Additionally, the files for John Horder, Elinor Klein, Aurelia Plath, various Hughes family members, and a few others. The overwhelming feeling I get from reviewing these papers are that Sylvia Plath was a different person to different people. Which is brilliant, as it complicates the impressions I hold on Plath after 25+ years research.

Time permitting I hope to highlight additional resources as I gain access to them. There are particular folders I think I am really excited to see, but I am trying to temper my eagerness in hopes of not being disappointed (some of the materials have been which is natural, I think).

Is anyone out there as eager to work with this collection? I looked into flying down to work with the materials immediately but it would be, in a word, irresponsible, financially. Therefore, I am grateful beyond expression to the few people who sent me some "tip" money in December as these funds are enabling me to hire a research proxy to photograph parts of the collection. Thank you so much for your generosity.

All links accessed 19 January 2020.

15 January 2020

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 the question "Who is Sylvia Plath?". This was poignant, because the more we think we know, the more we must realize that we have not yet come close to pining down who Sylvia Plath is. (I follow Janet's use of the present tense here).

The below is the text of my talk which was vastly different from my proposal. Sorry. Not sorry. I planned originally to discuss my role in editing The Letters of Sylvia Plath but I struggled to effectively get a more-or-less, tried and true, 30-45 minute talk down to about 12 minutes and have it hold together.

The bold font is an indication to me to advance the PowerPoint slides. I have included, in most instances, very small jpgs of the slides. They are so small for copyright reasons, but I hope give a flavor what the audience and panelists saw. Some quoted text has also been redacted, also due to copyright. Thank you for your understanding. Some slides are full-size, though likely not the ones you really want to see. I have placed these slides in the text as close as possible to their relevance. And, I have decided to enhance it in parts to links that you may find useful and/or helpful.


The Indefatigable Sylvia Plath

Peter K. Steinberg, MLA Seattle, 9 January 2020

In working on the two-volumes of Sylvia Plath's letters, I had the privilege of full access to her archival papers which are dispersed among more than 50 libraries, archives, and private collections around the world. I was permitted to have photocopies and scans made of the materials, as well as to take photographs. Acquiring thousands of pages of paper and digital files enabled me to have at my fingertips unparalleled access to documents Plath created. This talk seeks to illustrate just how industrious Plath was.

Sylvia Plath was born on the 27th of October 1932 in Boston and died on the 11th of February 1963 in London. That is 11,064 days. At six weeks old, she began imitating vowel sounds; at six months, she could say "gully-gully" when offered a bottle. Mrs. Plath thought it was an attempt to say "goody-goody", which is what she typically said to her daughter at feeding time. At 15 months Plath recognized the mailman – a practice she would continue for all of her days waiting on acceptances, rejections, and payments for her work, as well as letters from the various people with whom she interacted.


 Plath started writing at an early age. Her first dated and saved poem that we know of is titled "Thoughts" and was written in 1937 when she was five years old. It reads: "[redacted]". It is a simple poem of two unrelated lines and it is certainly deeper in meaning, I am sure, than anything I can come with, even at my advanced age. The themes of her earliest finished poems were predominantly nature, the weather, fairies, friends, and her family. Her first published poem appeared in August 1941. She was nearly nine years old.

By 1945, Plath was making final, fair copies of her poems in a notebook and illustrating them. In her diary that year, Plath wrote on the 17th of August: "[redacted]". That notebook is held by the Morgan Library.


From 1937 to 1963, poetry was a constant endeavor for Plath. In her lifetime, she saw her poems appear more than 200 times in newspapers, journals, magazines, and books. Her 1955 poem "Prologue to Spring" was printed and reprinted seven times in newspapers, journals, and pamphlets. Her Collected Poems—which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1982—did not even print all of the poems Plath wrote in her lifetime. It published 226 poems written between early 1956 and February 1963 with an additional 50 written from before 1956. There are two full poems, pieces of five poems, and a translation tucked away in the Notes section at the back. That is a total of about 284 poems. The volume failed to include many previously published pieces. Did you know she wrote at least 600 poems? Doing the math, 47% were in Collected Poems. This means that 53% of Plath's poems remain either uncollected or unpublished to general readers who do not have ready access to archives.



Plath's prose is even more interesting. In 1979 Plath's estate published Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams which assembled 23 pieces of short fiction, 4 works of nonfiction, and some journal entries. Removing the journal entries, that's 27 prose works. Dozens of works she published were left out of that book, including the majority of stories she published in Seventeen magazine such as "And Summer Will Not Come Again", "Den of Lions", and "The Perfect Setup". "Den of Lions" won third prize in the magazine's short story contest, earning Plath a $100 prize. "The Perfect Setup" received honorable mention the following year.

Here is a breakdown of Plath's prose.

She wrote at least 76 short stories; at least 50 pieces of nonfiction; more than 50 press releases during her time at Smith College; as well as 8 book reviews. That's a total of at least 184 works of prose in various genres. Also, there are almost 30 extant prose fragments—works she created and probably completed but for which there are only smatterings of pages remaining. There are many works she wrote that simply do not appear to survive. Compared to what was in Johnny Panic, and including the recently published short story Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom, just 15% of Plath's prose is widely available in bookstores and libraries.

Plath was a dedicated diarist who began keeping a log of her life in 1944, initially and dutifully recording her days with the greeting, "Dear Diary". However, once she was nearing the end of junior high school, she said "When the big moments come, one page is not enough." So until she got her first undated journal for Christmas 1946, Plath often had to shrink her handwriting down to get double the text on her ruled pages. Her published journals cover 1950 to 1962, but the period covering 1944 to 1949 is only to visitors to the Lilly Library.


Plath took an early interest in art and the visual representation of the things of this world. She studied art in school and even received private instruction in the summer of 1949. At Smith College she took courses in basic design, medieval art, and drawing and painting. In addition to her journals and letters, Plath graffitied her college notebooks and books in her personal library with scores of uncatalogued pieces. In all, Plath created hundreds of line drawings and sketches with pen and pencil, collages, and watercolors, pastels, woodcuts, charcoal, and paints.

I could easily talk for forty-five minutes on Plath's letters but I am compassionate and will spare you that grief. The two volumes of The Letters of Sylvia Plath publish more than 1,400 letters to about 150 recipients. But based on the references in her letters, diaries, and archives, Plath likely wrote at least 700 more letters to dozens of other people that are either lost, or destroyed, or being cruelly, nefariously, hoarded by private owners. In tracing her letters, I found them in archives between Jerusalem and Seattle. In transcribing them I sought to be as faithful as possible to get you—the readers—as close to the original letters as I could. In researching and writing the majority of the 4,300 or so footnotes, I endeavored to provide contextual and relevant information to further bring Plath's vigorous experiences to life. But all that work came with a cost.

Plath read or worked with more than 1,200 books which I have compiled and made accessible on LibrayThing.



Plath was the subject of more than 300 photographs.


There have been nearly 200 books about Plath published and more than 2500 articles written about her. She is regularly on Jeopardy! Her work has been translated into nearly 50 languages, as well as Braille.

Sylvia Plath wrote poems. A lot of them. She wrote prose persistently, experimenting in several different genres. She wrote letters incessantly. She kept diaries for about twenty years, and created several personal and publication-related scrapbooks. For the majority of the last 12 years of her life, Plath kept detailed wall, desk, and pocket calendars which record a tornadic A to Z of events in her life including: acceptances, assignments, auditions, baking, baths, books, cities visited, clothes bought, childbirth, concerts, conversations, courses, daffodils picked and sold, dances, dates, deadlines, doctor and dentist appointments, earnings, employments, encounters, exams, exercise, finances, gardening, hair washings, heartbreaks and a kaleidoscope of other emotions, hospitalizations, illnesses, instructions, interviews, laundry, lectures, letters written, marriage, martinis, meals, meteorological observations, movies, naps, papers, people, phone calls, piano playing, planes, plays, radio programs, rejections, reminders, schedules, scrapbooking, sex, showers (alone), showers (not alone), sightseeing, singing, submissions, sunbathing, therapy, tears, trains, visitors, and works created, to name but a few. Sylvia Plath was a sunrise, always. Sylvia Plath was indefatigable.

Thank you.



It is a really brief overview of Plath's personal and creative writing life. But I feel it very well represents an energy, a drive, that is often overlooked, or even ignored, in considerations of her life.

A post panel drink and conversation was very nice. I bailed early but heard later that Julie, Heather, and Janet closed the joint down.

07 January 2020

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's Item #20198, does not appear to have any relevance to her research on Plath.

Winter Trees
PLATH, SYLVIA

Published by Faber & Faber, London (1971)

US$ 93.17

About this Item: Faber & Faber, London, 1971. First edition. Plath's putative first biographer Harriet Rosenstein's copy, with her note laid-in. An excellent copy in very slightly rubbed and nicked dustwrapper. Seller Inventory # 20194


Crossing the Water
PLATH, SYLVIA

Published by Faber & Faber, London (1971)

US$ 310.56

About this Item: Faber & Faber, London, 1971. First edition. Plath's putative first biographer Harriet Rosenstein's copy, with her occasional markings and one or two notes to text. A very good copy in somewhat soiled and rubbed dustwrapper chipped at head and base of spine. Seller Inventory # 20195


Wreath for a Bridal
PLATH, SYLVIA

Published by Sceptre Press, Fransham, Surrey (1970)

US$ 242.23

About this Item: Sceptre Press, Fransham, Surrey, 1970. First edition - one of 100 copies on Glastonbury paper, this copy out-of-series (Tabor A7). An excellent copy with one or two tiny spots of soiling. Seller Inventory # 20197


Elsa's Housebook: A Woman's Photojournal
PLATH, SYLVIA). DORFMAN, ELSE

Published by David R. Godine, Boston (1974)

US$ 155.28

About this Item: David R. Godine, Boston, 1974. First edition. Laid-in are two autograph postcards signed by the author to academic and Sylvia Plath scholar Harriet Rosenstein of whom there is a photgraph in the book, with an accompanying note. Wrappers faded around spine but a very good copy. Seller Inventory # 20198


Specimen page and publisher's prospectus for Crystal Gazer and Other Poems
PLATH, SYLVIA

Published by Rainbow Press, London (1971)

US$ 186.33

About this Item: Rainbow Press, London, 1971. Promotional materials for the first publication from Olwyn and Ted Hughes's private press venture. Together with an a.l.s. from Olwyn to Harriet Rosenstein. Small area of foxing to specimen page else in excellent condition. Seller Inventory # 20199


Tri-Quarterly: The Art of Sylvia Plath
PLATH, SYLVIA

Published by Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, Fall (1966)

US$ 62.11

About this Item: Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, Fall, 1966. First edition. Plath's putative first biographer Harriet Rosenstein's copy, with her ownership signature and a few notes on a 5 x 3 card laid-in. Includes a selection of eighteen poems by Sylvia Plath - still little-known in her own country, despite the publication of Aerial and with the first USA edition of The Bell Jar still five years distant - plus critical essays by Ted Hughes, A.Alvarez, Anne Sexton and a biographical essay by Lois Ames. A very good copy in somewhat soiled and rubbed wrappers. Seller Inventory # 20200


15 original photographs of Plath and her children taken in December 1962
PLATH, SYLVIA

Published by 5 x 3 inches, North Tawton, Devon (1962)

US$ 5,590.03

About this Item: 5 x 3 inches, North Tawton, Devon, 1962. Sylvia Plath poses with her children for a poignant series of snapshots taken in the sitting room at Court Green by Susan O'Neill Roe (nanny and dedicatee of "Cut") shortly before the final flight back to London. In excellent condition. Sample images available upon request. Seller Inventory # 20201


Seven early poems to `The Harvard Advocate'
PLATH, SYLVIA (CONTRIBUTES)

Published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May (1967)

US$ 62.11

About this Item: Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May, 1967. First edition. Includes a series of seven early poems (including `Danse Macabre' and `Mad Girl's Love Song') by Sylvia Plath. A near fine copy in stapled wrappers and quite scarce. Seller Inventory # 20202


Four early poems to `Cambridge Review'
PLATH, SYLVIA (CONTRIBUTES)

Published by Cambridge, 7 February (1969)

US$ 93.17

About this Item: Cambridge, 7 February, 1969. First edition, edited by Simon Schama. Includes four early poems (written at Cambridge and including `Street Song' and `Natural History') by Sylvia Plath and a piece about them by Al Alvarez. A near fine copy in stapled wrappers and distinctly scarce. Seller Inventory # 20206


Sylvia Plath's Growing Popularity with College Students" to `University - a Princeton Quarterly'
PLATH, SYLVIA). HIGGINS, JUDITH - CONTRIBUTES

Published by Princeton University, New Jersey, Fall (1973)

US$ 31.06

About this Item: Princeton University, New Jersey, Fall, 1973. First edition. An extended `Inquiry into a Literary Phenomon' with two illustrations and a potted biography of Sylvia Plath. A near fine copy in stapled wrappers and quite scarce. Seller Inventory # 20207


Two reel-to-reel tapes of a reading by Sylvia Plath and an interview with her by Peter Orr
PLATH, SYLVIA

Published by The British Council - Recorded Sound Section, [London] (1962)

US$ 1,552.79

About this Item: The British Council - Recorded Sound Section, [London], 1962. Later dubbings made in 1969-70 by Peter Orr of The British Council of two tapes: i) Plath's reading of 15 poems as part of the "Contemporary Poets" series (31 minutes and 55 seconds); and ii) her interview with Orr for the series entitled "The Poet Speaks" (14 minutes and 30 seconds) both recorded in London on 30 October1962. In original British Council boxes with internal labels. [Together with] Copies of various BBC records of Plath and Hughes's work for them comprising lists of broadcasts and repeats, scripts, transcriptions of broadcasts etc. All in very good condition. Seller Inventory # 20212


Original negative of a photograph of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
PLATH, SYLVIA

Published by image size 3.5 x 3.5 cms c.1958-9, [Yorkshire] (1958)

US$ 931.67

About this Item: image size 3.5 x 3.5 cms c.1958-9, [Yorkshire], 1958. Original negative of an unknown photograph of Plath and Hughes taken in Yorkshire, most likely before their departure for the USA in June 1957. A double-exposed image showing Edith Hughes hovering above the apparently happy couple. It would be foolish to speculate whether this image may have been influential in Plath's choice of Double Exposure as the working-title of her final, lost novel. In excellent condition, together with a modern b&w print (somewhat creased). Seller Inventory # 20218


Original photograph with signature of Otto Plath
PLATH, SYLVIA). PLATH, OTTO

Published by image 4 x 3 inches c.1920?? (1920)

US$ 1,180.12

About this Item: image 4 x 3 inches c.1920??, 1920. Original print of a black-and-white photograph of Otto Plath with his autograph signature "Otto E. Plath" attached alongside. A little-known fact is that Sivvy's wannabe-Fascist daddy was once described by a senior colleague as "the most dedicated and bitter misogynist whom I have known" [and that Otto repeatedly said] "all women are evil." Go figure. Image and signature taped to card backing but in very good condition. Seller Inventory # 20219


A small collection of photographs of North Tawton
PLATH, SYLVIA

Published by various sizes c. 1948-1962, v.p., v.d. (1948)

US$ 310.56

About this Item: various sizes c. 1948-1962, v.p., v.d., 1948. Seven small original b&w prints of North Tawton (and distant views of the beehives at Court Green) taken by John Avery. MORE. Seller Inventory # 20220

All links accessed 14 August 2019 and 7 January 2020.
All items prices listed were obtained on 14 August 2019.

01 January 2020

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), College Physician and Professor of Bacteriology and Public Health

Eleanor Terry Lincoln (seated, hands together), Class Dean (1959) and English Department

Helen Whitcomb Randall, English Department, Dean of the college, and director of Honor Board

Mary Mensell, Director of Scholarships

William Bodden, Treasurer and Controller -- Plath liked him because he paid her award and prize money.

Here are the departments for the 1956-1957 year.

Art: Priscilla Paine Van der Poel (seated, second from left), Mervin M. Jules (standing third from left), and Mr. H. George Cohen (not pictured)

Botany (left image): Kenneth E. Wright (left image, man in the middle), also her adviser Freshman year.
Psychology (right image): Elsa Margareeta Siipola (seated, by window).

Chemistry: Kenneth Wayne Sherk (seated, hand on paper).

Classics: Edward Washburn Spofford
Not in 1956-1957 yearbook

English: Plath had and mentioned a ton of them. She replaced Betty Isobelle Bandeen as English 11 and shared an office with Katherine Gee Hornbeak. Anthony Hecht is rocking that beard.

French: Madeleine Guilleton (standing, far left).

German: Marie Schnieders (seated, left) and Marion Sonnenfeld (standing, right).


History: Elisabeth Ahlgrimm Koffka (seated, third from right) and Klemens Van Klemperer (standing, second from left, just his head is visible), Sidney Monas (standing, second from right).

Physics William Taussig Scott (standing second from left, with bow tie)


Religion: Virginia Corwin (seated, middle) and Stephen Trowbridge Crary (standing, second from left).


Russian: George Gibian (seated, left)

Sociology: Neal Breaule DeNood (bottom right photo, seated second from left, with mustache)

Spanish: Manuel E. DurĂ¡n (seated, left, with pipe)


All links accessed 18 December 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.

Interviews