25 March 2020

Unfinished drawing by Sylvia Plath

International Autograph Auctions Europe had an auction today of Autograph Letters, Historical Documents & Manuscripts. Sylvia Plath's unfinished drawing of a village church and cart was in Lot 437. Ted Hughes signed the back as a way to authenticate it as being drawn by his first wife.

The estimate placed on the drawing was €2,400 - €3,600. This is roughly $2,173 - $3,912 and £1,847 - £3,325.

The drawing sold for €3,000 /$3,257.78 /£2,758.86.

All links accessed 24-25 March 2020.

18 March 2020

Unfinished Sylvia Plath Drawing at Auction

Next week, on 25 March 2020, an unfinished drawing by Sylvia Plath will be up for auction via International Autograph Auctions Europe S.L. The official Lot number is Lot 437. Bidding can be done online. As far as I can tell the auction is going forward.

The description for the auction reads:

PLATH SYLVIA: (1932-1963) American Poet, wife of Ted Hughes from 1956 until her death. A good, original pencil drawing, unsigned, one page, 8vo, n.p., n.d. Plath has drawn an appealing image of an old street scene with an empty wooden cart abandoned in the foreground and several buildings in the immediate background including a church tower, the spire of which features a cross at its highest point and which Plath has carefully heightened in dark fountain pen ink. Annotated and signed to the verso in pencil, 'By Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes', by her husband, the English Poet Laureate. Any original item in the hand of Plath is extremely rare and desirable as a result of the poet's tragic suicide at the age of 30. Some very light, extremely minor foxing and a few very minor creases to the corners, VG £2000-3000 The present drawing is one of just a small handful by Plath in existence, and most likely dates from the late 1950s, shortly after her marriage to Hughes. The poet was an artist of some talent, and Hughes wrote of her artistic nature in Birthday Letters - 'Drawing calmed you. Your poker infernal pen Was like a branding iron. Objects Suffered into their new presence, tortured Into final position. As you drew I felt released, calm. Time opened When you drew the market at Benidorm. I sat near you, scribbling something. Hours burned away. The stall-keepers Kept coming to see you had them properly. We sat on those steps in our rope-soles, And were happy…' -'Drawing'
This particular drawing appeared at auction at least once before on 13 July 2006 via Sotheby's. It sold for £900. That day four other drawings, some complete and some not, appeared as well.

You can read more about Sotheby's Past Sylvia Plath Lots if you desire.

Thanks to Peter Fydler for tweeting about the auction and thus notifying us about the forthcoming sale.

All links accessed 3 March 2020.

10 March 2020

CFP: Edited Collection: A Self to Recover: Negotiating Sylvia Plath and Disability

The following Call for Papers is by Maria Rovito, a Graduate Assistant and PhD student in American Studies at Penn State University. ~pks

As the author Sylvia Plath exists within the Anglophone canon as the quintessential "madwoman" and tragic figure of mental illness and suicidality, new theoretical arguments must be made in order to unpack the question of illness within Plath's life and work. Although we view Plath as a woman with mental illness, we do not view her as a woman who was disabled, and who experienced other corporeal impairments beside her psychic pain. Not only this, but Plath has been unfairly pathologized by previous and current scholars, who only seek to analyze her poetry and writing using a medical analysis. This has influenced not only the cultural understandings of Plath, but how students treat her work as well. Ultimately, these practices have harmed both Plath as a cultural figure and the disabled Plath reader who is traumatized by these readings. Previous accounts of Plath scholarship that have focused on her mental illness include Edward Butscher's Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness (1976), arguing that Plath "suffered" from narcissism, a split personality, and psychosis. David Holbrook's Sylvia Plath: Poetry and Existence (1976) also medicalizes Plath's work and pathologizes her, as Holbrook states that Plath was a "schizoid." Anne Stevenson's biography of Plath, Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath (1989), argued that Plath dealt with paranoia, violent mood swings, a split personality and hysteria. Although these previous accounts of Plath and her work have unfairly pathologized her, this trend of medicalizing Plath still exist today.

Disability studies scholars have rejected this medicalized terminology and thinking, and have attempted to bring attention to this practice of pathologization in their work. As the disability studies scholar Michael Bérubé states, disability studies limits itself when it is only concerned with searching for diagnoses within authors and literary characters: it "need not and should not predicate its existence as a practice of criticism by reading a literary text in one hand and the DSM-5 in the other" (20). Moving beyond this tradition of pathologizing Plath, Plath scholars must seek to integrate these disabled perspectives in their work, and challenge the medical authority that influenced Plath's life, work, and cultural legacy.

New research within the intersections of Plath scholarship and disability studies can help us (re)imagine the questions of illness, disability, and impairment that permeates Plath's poetry, letters, journals, and novel. Ultimately, this collection will serve as a collaborative account where Plath's work can be critically investigated by disability, crip, and Mad studies scholars, and where discourses within disability studies can enter the Plath canon of scholarship. This is much needed within both Plath studies and disability studies, and this collection will serve as a starting point for many students, junior, and established Plath and disability studies scholars. Pieces may focus on a range of topics, including:

  • Plath and the asylum
  • Plath and electroshock therapy
  • Plath and madness/mental illness/mental disability
  • Plath and self-identifying as disabled
  • Plath and psychiatric consumers/survivors/ex-patients (C/S/X)
  • Plath and physical embodiment
  • Plath and eating disorders
  • Plath and menstruation
  • The figure of Plath as a "madwoman"
  • The issue of suicidality in the Plath canon

Bringing together disability studies scholars, Plath scholars, and disabled Plath readers, this collection will move beyond previous medicalized and pathologizing readings of Plath, and consider how disability studies can aid our understanding of Plath and her work.

Proposals should include author's name, a brief biographical statement, and a 500-word abstract. Please send these materials to Maria Rovito (mrr354@psu.edu) and Jessica Mason (jlmason1@buffalo.edu).

Proposals due: July 16th, 2020.

Conditional acceptances: July 31st, 2020.

Manuscripts due: December 31st, 2020.

Works Cited

Bérubé, Michael. The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter, How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read. New York and London: NYU Press, 2018. Print.

Butscher, Edward. Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness. Tucson, AZ: Schaffner Press, Inc., 1976. Print.

Holbrook, David. Sylvia Plath: Poetry and Existence. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 1976. Print.

Stevenson, Anne. Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989. Print.

04 March 2020

Guest Blog Post: Sylvia Plath Collections: The Newnham File

The following is a guest blog post by Di Beddow, who is currently researching "The Cambridge of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath" at Queen Mary University London, on a recently found collection of papers by and about Sylvia Plath. Thank you, Di! ~pks

Cambridge can be cruel in the Winter as Sylvia Plath tells us in her letter of January 1956: "the atrocious food, the damp cold & the unsimpatico people" (Letters Vol I, 1080). During the worst of times then, meeting up with the archivist at Newnham College recently (we became friends after finding much in common after my first visit to the archive) she told me that because of building work that had taken place at the college, she had uncovered a file which might cheer me a little. As luck would have it, Anne Thomson found the file of alumna, Sylvia Plath, who had attended the college as a Fulbright student from October 1955 to June 1957. Anne read through the file and appreciating that it contained very personal information, consulted with the college records board and suggested that she advise Frieda Hughes, Plath's daughter, of the finding. Frieda looked at copies of the file and found it poignant; she agreed that it could be viewed by Plath scholars, but because of its intimate nature, she asked that copying and photography should not be allowed. Later then, in February, Anne allowed me to see these papers as she knew that my thesis on the Cambridge of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes would benefit from such material. She was right.

The file comprises a college registration form, completed in October 1954, with the date of intended entry to Newnham being the following year. Anne had arranged the enclosed documents chronologically; inside this form and apart from letters of reference from Smith and a statement of purpose by Plath as she applied for her funding, there are three letters which are not included in the excellent Letters of Sylvia Plath. One is to Edith Crystal at Newnham, (dated October 20 1954) requesting affiliation to the college; the second is six months later to the Principal of Newnham at the time, Ruth Cohen and the third, just a month later is again to Ruth Cohen. However, as Plath had now heard that she had been accepted to the college, she is now eager in this letter, to gain suggestions for summer reading and to wonder whether in her room she will need to sort, "bookcases, or lamps." In her statement of purpose she writes, "I plan to become a college teacher upon completing graduate work abroad and I hope to share and interpret intelligently the knowledge and experience acquired in England by bringing back to America a rich, vital appreciation of British culture as well as British literature." Plath shows the foresight and determination to achieve her goals that we see of her again and again when she looked, for example, for publication of her work or her husband's Ted Hughes (she met Hughes in Cambridge in February 1956; they were married in June of the same year.) She gathers together some of her most positive contacts and requests they refer her to Newnham; she also asks that in a medical reference, that the Smith doctor, Marion Booth is brutally honest about the applicant's attempted suicide in the late summer of 1953. Booth writes that the McLean hospital cites "delayed adolescent turmoil" as the cause for her depression and that the prognosis for recovery is "excellent." She refers to Plath, saying that she was keen for her to be straight-talking with the university as she wanted "consideration of her to be made 'with their eyes open.'"

The academic and character references are even more poignant: Evelyn Page from Smith writes, "Her fault is to demand too much of herself and to react too intensely", but she finishes that she has, "no reason to qualify my respect and admiration for her." Ruth Beuscher, Plath's psychiatrist claims that during the summer of 1953 Plath was, "suffering from a state of mental turmoil which is highly unlikely ever to recur" and Elizabeth Drew from Smith tells the admissions office at Cambridge: "She is outstanding in both personality and intellectual gifts." Mary Ellen Chase calls her a "literary artist" and Marion Booth, writing in her medical capacity, but also from knowing Plath from the Student Honor Board at Smith, states that she is "not psychotic" and that she had made a sustained recovery, whilst Gladys Anslow, Director of Graduate Studies at Smith, believes Plath to have the ability to check her own mood and "that she would be the first one to recognise any difficulties and to take measures to offset a recurrence."

When from Cambridge Plath applies to renew her Fulbright scholarship, Irene Morris, Plath's tutor at the time, describes a student who has settled well, made friends and is, "very easy to deal with; she is reliable and considerate and has an engaging friendly manner. She is an asset to the College." The college secretary completes the file, updating Irene Morris of Plath's progress through Newnham; she finishes: "As you remembered, she had a room at the top of the house which she liked very much and she was very thrilled with the view from her window over the gardens."

Some of these documents will not be new to scholars who have studied Plath in the archives of America, but it is important that the file has been uncovered in the college here in England, which Plath describes as the "home of the writers I most admire."

Di Beddow (website | twitter)
4 March 2020

My thanks to Anne Thomson for allowing me to study the file and also of course to Frieda Hughes for the permission to use such personal and sensitive material about her mother.

All links accessed 4 March 2020.

01 March 2020

Carl Rollyson's The Last Days of Sylvia Plath

Carl Rollyson (website | Twitter) has had a passionate interest in Sylvia Plath for a long time. In 2013, he published his first biography of her as American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath (St. Martin's Press). And he has followed this up with a second exploration into the life and afterlife of Sylvia Plath in the recently published The Last Days of Sylvia Plath (University Press of Mississippi).

The book was scheduled to be published later this month, but this morning I learned while on Amazon that the book was published on 18 February. I immediately bought the Kindle edition because at $9, how could I resist!?

So this post about the publication is overdue and I apologize for the late notice.

ISBN: 978-1496821225. 264 pages. Cover price: $25.00. The book is available in hardback and in a Kindle edition.

From the Amazon page:
Book Description
Rollyson has written a unique, vital contribution to Plath studies. In many ways it’s a microbiography of Sylvia Plath, concentrating solely on the marriage and last years of Plath’s life. Rollyson offers original reading and interpretation of Plath’s works, her life, and some of the drama that surrounds her afterlife. The real value in this book lies in Rollyson’s use of archival materials, some of which are available to a large audience for the first time.

The Last Days of Sylvia Plath highlights how a writer can be shaped after their death and the subsequent fallout from posthumous literary editing. Rollyson’s inclusion of previously unused primary sources and extended discussion of Susan Fromberg Schaeffer’s Poison, a work not applied to Plath’s life and afterlife in any detail before, offers new angles and interpretations.

About the Author
Carl Rollyson is professor emeritus of journalism at Baruch College, CUNY. He is author of a dozen biographies, including American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath; Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography; A Real American Character: The Life of Walter Brennan; Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews; and Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Revised and Updated, the latter three published by University Press of Mississippi. His reviews of biography have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New Criterion, and other major periodicals.

Also by Carl:

Carl is simultaneously publishing The Life of William Faulkner: The Past Is Never Dead, 1897-1934 (University of Virginia Press). This is Volume I. Volume II will be out later.

All links accessed 1 March 2020.
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