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.

2 comments :

Eva Stenskar said...

Oh, Paul Roche - he so fascinates me! Are you coming back to NYC soon, Peter?

Amy Rea said...

Oh, wow, Elizabeth Sigmund? On Feb. 4? Wow. Just wow.

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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