24 February 2020

Sylvia Plath's copy of e.e. cummings' i six nonlectures

Several years ago I worked with Sylvia Plath's copy of Ayn Rand's novel The Foutainhead. In a blog post about that experience, I made a table listing the page numbers on which she made annotations and comments. Too little attention has been paid to Plath's annotations.

I had in mind when I did the aforementioned blog post to spend more time with Plath's library but the whole Letters of Sylvia Plath project kind of took over my life. Part of the thrill of The Fountainhead was that it was, and still is, held privately so it was a privilege to both work with it and present the information to you.

However, for this blog post, I chose to do a book held by Smith College: e.e. cummings i six nonlectures (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954). Plath was given this copy in 1955 by her Smith classmater Sue Weller with the inscription:
for Syl,
in memory of a
delightfully, indolent
spring vacation.
I should remind you that I reassembled, via LibraryThing, a catalogue all the books Plath owned, read, used for papers, mentioned, etc.).

Below is a table of page numbers and the kinds of annotations that appear on each page respectively.

 Annotation type (underline, star, marginal line, text)
Inscription by Sue Weller
Vertical line in left margin
Underlines; two stars: one in left margin; one in
right margin
Underlines; Vertical line in left margin
Underlines; Double vertical line in left margin
Underlines; Vertical line in left margin
Underlines; Vertical bracket in left margin;
Vertical line in left margin
Underlines; Vertical line in left margin
Underlines; Star in right margin

All links accessed 31 July 2019.

22 February 2020

Sylvia Plath reading her poems

On 22 February 1959, Sylvia Plath read seventeen of her poems which Stephen Fassett recorded for Harvard University. The original reel-to-reel tapes are held by the Houghton Library and were digitized back in the early 2000s. When I worked for the Woodberry Poetry Room I would relish any opportunity I had to go and see the tapes, still in their original boxes.

Plath wrote the names of the poems she read on the back of the box. Beneath the last poem, "Point Shirley" she added a little flourish. And dividing the columns, she drew a little face. Fassett (presumably) even wrote along the side of the box "(Titles listed by Sylvia Plath)."

The Fassett recording studio was located at 24 Chestnut Street, Beacon Hill, just around the corner from Plath's apartment at 9 Willow Street.


If you are interested in Plath's poetry recordings, please consider heading over to A celebration, this is to read more.

All links accessed 12 February 1963.

18 February 2020

Sylvia Plath's Funeral

Sylvia Plath was buried in Heptonstall on this day, 18 February 1963. Very little has been published about the funeral. It was touched upon in Jillian Becker’s Giving Up, as well as in some biographies.

Warren Plath wrote a letter to his mother, Aurelia Schober Plath, two days after it, from 23 Fitzroy Road, where he and his wife were staying with Frieda and Nicholas. It is impossible to comprehend how staying there must have felt, knowing it was where his sister died just 9 days previous.

In the letter, Warren wrote that Plath’s funeral was “much better as an experience than we had dared to hope, and I think even Sylvia would have found it simple and beautiful.” He mentions there was a brief service in the chapel at a funeral home in Hebden Bridge. He described the chapel as “grey with soot on the outside, but light and cheerful inside”.

Present in addition to Warren and Margaret Plath and Ted Hughes were William Hughes, Walter and Alice Farrar, cousin Vicky and her husband David, and a “dear couple from London, the Beckers”. There was another small service in the church in Heptonstall followed by the burial and high tea in Hebden Bridge. The small turn out may have been a result of Plath's death receiving little to no notice in the London papers. Just a day previous, in fact, Al Alvarez published his his article "A Poet's Epitaph" in The Observer which printed a photo of Plath holding Frieda and four of her most recent poems.

Warren Plath's letter is held by the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington.

11 February 2020

Talking Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Research with Gail Crowther

The following is a Q & A with Gail Crowther, author of many wonderful essays and books on Sylvia Plath. Her current project is a joint biography under the working title of Kicking at the Door of Fame, which explores the social rebellion of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. The book is under contract with Simon & Schuster.

1. What was your familiarity level like with Anne Sexton before you started working on Kicking at the Door of Fame?

I wasn't as familiar with Sexton as Plath. I had read many of her poems and I'd read the Diane Middlebrook biography. I'd also visited her house in Weston and had a few extra dry martinis in The Ritz back in 2011. But my knowledge of her was mostly based on those moments when her life and work collided with Plath's, so she was less familiar to me as a woman and poet in her own right.

2. As you researched Sexton, did anything surprise you about her work, life, character?

Many many things surprised me about her and they kind of run parallel with Plath in a way. First of all, while appreciating her complexity, like Plath, her humour seems to have been massively overlooked. Working in the archives at the Harry Ransom Center, I was constantly chortling and laughing out loud, mainly at her letters. Working in the archive also brought home to me just how hard she worked and crafted her poems, and how hard other people saw her work – sometimes re-writing a poem twenty or more times until she was happy with it. I also got a real sense of what she was up against – male critics, sneery reviewers, because she was a woman daring to write about her lived experiences. I saw how that hurt her and how despite that she carried on writing with huge amounts of bravery and courage. But as I mentioned, there was also a complexity about her that I sometimes found quite difficult to handle. She could be the kindest and cruellest person. She could be the most loving person, then the nastiest. Her own childhood was complicated, and in some cases, traumatic, and she passed that onto her own children. These are very difficult, sensitive topics, but ones that have to be confronted with honesty and compassion.

3. In the archive, did you get a sense of Sexton that is different from Plath, whose archive as we know is so split up between repositories?

No I don't think so. Obviously Sexton was a very different character. More flamboyant than Plath and certainly I think more socially daring. But the experience of being in the archive was just as immersive. I read her letters and poems, handled her personal effects, and listened to her speaking and singing (drunkenly). It was an intense five days and I felt very sad saying goodbye to her. I guess if anything the main difference is when I first went into the Plath archives I already felt as though I 'knew' Plath (whatever we mean by that as a reader) whereas with Sexton I felt I got to know her much more through her archive, so perhaps that was the biggest difference.

4. Why do you think Sexton scholarship isn't as robust as Plath's? Or is it and I'm just not paying attention?

I think it is as robust, but it is just not as prolific. I don't know the reason for that. Certainly in the UK it may well be because, astonishingly, her books are out of print. It's a difficult question really. I suspect there are a number of interlinked reasons; researchers, writers, marketing, publishers…

5. Looking at their work... Which first book ranks higher: Sexton's To Bedlam and Part Way Back or Plath's The Colossus? And, whose second book was better: Sexton's All My Pretty Ones or Plath's Ariel? Or are these unfair questions?

Haha you're not going to draw me on that one! I think to rate their books in that way does Plath and Sexton a disservice, mainly because I think we should see them as two women who were trying to achieve very similar goals. Once they realised this, they offered each other support and encouragement. And they both influenced each other massively – initially Sexton on Plath, and then after Ariel, Plath on Sexton. I like to see their poems running alongside each other, playfully exchanging ideas and moods, each impressed by the other, a sort of symbiotic poetical sisterhood sticking two fingers up at dreadful societal norms.

6. From where you began the idea for Kicking at the Door of Fame (the concept, the proposal, etc.) to now, has anything changed about the way you envisioned this book appearing?

Yes, I guess any book transforms and changes as you start work on it, and sometimes even with the best planning in the world, as you begin to write, new ideas occur, or you see links and patterns that didn't appear at the planning stage. For me that's the exciting part of writing, feeling something coming into being and not being too rigid about it. In the case of writing about Plath, there is the emergence all the time of new material as well, and so that can really add new information or perspectives as it becomes available. I expect that more changes will happen the further I get into the book and then my agent, Carrie, and editor, Alison, will also bring new angles, so it's an ongoing process, flexible, collaborative, but ultimately, always, celebratory.

Thank you, Gail. We all wish you continued inspiration as you work on Kicking at the Door of Fame.

Books by Gail Crowther:

All links accessed 25 January 2020.

10 February 2020

Sylvia Plath Collections: Boxes 3 and 4

As promised, here are the item lists for boxes 3 and 4 of the Harriet Rosenstein research files on Sylvia Plath, which I hope helps to provide addition access to the materials as listed in the collection's finding aid.  And a reminder that some folders were skipped.

Box 3

Folder 1: Evelyn Page

Folder 2: Robert T. Peterson

Folder 3: Aurelia Plath

Folder 4: Otto Plath

Folder 5: Otto Plath

Folder 6: Otto Plath

Folder 7: Otto Plath

Folder 8: Sylvia Plath articles by

Folder 9: Sylvia Plath letters

Folder 10: Sylvia Plath McLean Hospital record

Folder 12: Pat O'Neill Pratson

Folder 13: Alison Prentice

Folder 14: Paul and Clarissa Roche

Folder 15: Harriet Rosenstein doctoral prospectus and book proposal

Box 4

Folder 1: Harriet Rosenstein draft fragments

Folder 2: General correspondence

Folder 3: Shorthand notes

Folder 4: Jon Rosenthal

Folder 5: M. L. Rosenthal

Folder 6: Richard Sassoon

Folder 7: David and Lorna Secker-Walker

Folder 8: Anne Sexton

Folder 9: Margaret Shook

Folder 10: Elizabeth Sigmund

Folder 11: Alison V. Smith

Folder 13: Nancy Hunter Steiner

Folder 14: William Sterling

Folder 15: Marcia Brown Stern (letters from Plath)

Folder 16: Marcia Brown Stern

Folder 17: Anthony Thwaite

Folder 18: Aileen Ward

Folder 19: Fay Weldon

Folder 20: Richard Wertz

Folder 21: Eric Walter White

Folder 22: Ruth Whitman

Folder 23: J. Mallory Wober

Folder 24: J. Melvin Woody

All links accessed 7 February 2020
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