29 June 2020

Sylvia Plath's Postcards: 29 June 1961, Rouen, France

Sylvia Plath sent three picture postcards to her mother when she and Ted Hughes visited France in June and July 1961. The purpose was a holiday, but also to go to the farmhouse of Dido and W. S. Merwin in Lacan de Loubressac. This post is about the first card; the other two will be highlighted in a bit. These are the last three picture postcards that we know Plath sent. Meaning, she might have sent others, but if she did we did not have access to them for The Letters of Sylvia Plath project.

The first picture postcard that Plath sent to her mother depicted "ROUEN (Seine-Maritime) Le Gros Horloge (1389) L'Arcade (1151)."

Dated Thursday, 29 June 1961, the postmark was from Rouen, Seine Maritime, France, on the same day. The postcard was published by Les Editions d'Art, 15 rue Martel, in the 10th Arrondissement. The stamp was .30 Francs and depicted Jean Nicot designed by J. Combet. The postcard is numbered "1" in pencil in the top right corner above the stamp.

Plath and Hughes were waiting for their cafe au laits having crossed over to France the previous day, the 28th. They had been to a "superb beach" (Berck Plage) where they swam and collected shells for Frieda.

Plath addressed the postcard:

Mrs. A. S. Plath
3 Chalcot Square
Londres N.W.1

The postcard is mis-dated in pencil as '[1961, July 13]" in an unknown hand. However based on internal evidence and careful scrutiny of the admittedly complicated postmark, the letter was undoubtedly written on the 29th of June.

The full text of the postcard appears on page 628-9 of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume II, 1956-1963.

25 June 2020

Reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

In 2019, Faber and Faber issued two new editions of The Bell Jar. They were discussed in this September 2019 blog post. As some of you may know, I read Sylvia Plath's lone published novel twice a year and have done so since 1995. I read it in June because that's the month that Plath was a guest editor for Mademoiselle in 1953 and it is also the month in which a lot of the setting of the novel takes place. And I read it in December, because that is the month in which I first read it in 1994.

This blog post is drawn from my most recent read, and that is of the 90th Anniversary edition, pictured left, and published last year. It is the first time that I have read a modern (post-1990s) edition in well more than a decade. Why? Because before then, Faber had used the same typesetting of the novel that Heinemann used and thus it would have been the exact text that Plath herself saw when she received her copy of her novel in December 1962.

I spotted two typographical errors in the novel and I had the feeling that there were more. However when I was reading it I did not take the time to make notes either in the book or on a sheet of paper. Which frustrates me I did want to look them up. The first typo is on page 5. The original reads, "but Doreen wore these full-length nylon and lace jobs you could half see through, and dressing-gowns the colour of skin," but the typo make it read "colour of sin". Sin, I am sure, has a color; but I suspect it is quite a different color than of Doreen's skin. I dug back a bit in my Bell Jar collection and found that this typo first appeared in the 1990s, in this edition. Strangely, it is "colour of skin" in the 1999 edition. I bought that one in Australia in 2000 and it is possible that even though it is a Faber book, it may have used a different text? I do not know; that is above my pay grade.

The second typographical error is newer. And I was sad to see it as it is one of my favorite lines in the novel. When Esther is suffering from ptomaine poisoning, she passed out in the bathroom. When she wakes, she is taken by the hotel nurse to her room and told, in the original, "The doctor's given you a ninjection" in the original edition. However, on page 43 of the 90th Anniversary edition, the grammar of the nurse is cleaned up to "an injection." I do disagree with this editorial futzery because Plath's intention, I think, with the nurse, is to have her speaking in the dialect of perhaps a lower-eductated New York immigrant. She developed a looser vernacular in some of her Boston stories such as "The Fifteen Dollar Eagle", "The Daughters of Blossom Street", and "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams". This breakthrough really freed Plath when she came to write The Bell Jar. It was more recent, as I said. It also appears in the simultaneously issued Liberty Edition. However, it is "correct" in the editions published in 2015 (Faber Members) and 2013 (black and gold hardback).

Update 12:01 pm, 25 June 2020: I have just learned that both of the things discussed in this blog post---the "colour of sin" and "an injection"---are updates to the text sanctioned by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. So my calling them typographical errors can be considered inaccurate.---pks

All links accessed 16 June 2020.

21 June 2020

Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar: Esther and Doreen and Men and Bloody Cheeks

When I read The Bell Jar it is my hope to see something new. To make a connection within the novel itself or perhaps some connection to Plath's own lived life and experiences.

In this particular read in June 2020, I was giddy when I noticed the parallels between Doreen's first meeting with Lenny Shepherd and Esther Greenwood's decidedly different first meeting with Marco. In fact, Esther's "I felt myself melting into the shadows like the negative of a person I'd never seen before in my life" feels like foreshadowing. So, let us begin...

Doreen is dressed in white. She is so white "she looked silver". Esther dresses in black.

Lenny approaches Doreen (and Esther) in the cab; Esther is brought to Marco by Doreen.

Lenny's skeevy friends laugh from their safe distance under the awning of a bar. Laughter is heard through the door when Esther arrives to meet Marco; and someone laughs when Marco suggests he might "perform some small service ... worthy of a diamond."

Lenny slid his arm hand around Doreen's arm in a flirtatious gesture; Marco intentionally and forcefully grips Esther's arm hard enough to leave bruising impressions.

There are drinks involved. Lenny asks what Esther wants; Marco orders for her.

There is dancing. Lenny and Doreen jitterbug (even between songs). They dance willingly and as unit. Marco and Esther tango, though Esther does not believe she is a full participant in the movements. She is, after all, told to "pretend you are drowning" (advice she tries to take later in the novel). Heck, maybe Esther should have danced with Frankie?

When dancing, Lenny gets Doreen up on his shoulder and her breasts surge out of her dress. Esther has her shantung sheath torn off her by Marco who bites it away, exposing her "bare skin".

Doreen's drink flies through the air as she and Lenny get a little more aggressive and intimate. Marco chucks Esther's drink intentionally and then forces her to the dance floor.

Doreen presumably has sex with Lenny and returns super drunk; Marco attempts to engage in coitus with Esther but she fights him off.

Lastly, Lenny ran over a jack rabbit; Marco is a jackass.

It is possible there are more similarities (or I should say differences!) than what is in this blog post. But, all said, the scenes are generally similar though each Guest Editor obviously has quite an opposite experience with their respective counterparts.

Bloody Cheeks*

When Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes she was drunk, very drunk. Famously, as we all know, they were at a party, there was dancing. There was biting, too, and when Hughesdescribed as "big, dark"left the room "blood was running down his face" (Unabridged Journals 211, 212).

When Esther Greenwood met the "tall, but dark" Peruvian Marco they went to a dance at a country club "somewhere in the wealthy suburbs of New York" (The Bell Jar 110, 113). There was alcoholEsther had four daiquirisbut she does not appear to have been too drunk.

I think there are several parallels between the night of 25 February 1956 and what Plath does just over five years later in Chapter Nine of The Bell Jar. Plath draws blood from Hughes with her teeth. Esther Greenwood smashes Marco in the nose with her fist; but in a slight reversal of the story, it is Esther's cheeks that are "stained" with Marco's blood (The Bell Jar 115).

There are many things about the scene with Marco, in fact, that remind me of Plath and Hughes' first meeting. The violence is one, although that first meeting with Hughes was all about instinct and passion (and alcohol and poetry). In The Bell Jar it is turned around: it is not violent passion between Esther and Marco, but the violence of rage and fear and hate and control. These I think are all similar emotions.

The scene in the novel is based on a dance held on Saturday 20 June 1953 in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, New York, most probably at the Forest Hills Country Club.** At the dance a Peruvian delegate from the United Nations (Jose La Valle) got a little cheeky with her. The name of the delegate and location of the dance can be found at the Lilly Library .(See "Guest Editor Schedule" with annotations by Plath in Plath Mss. II, Box 12, Folder 7: Mademoiselle Materials as well as in Plath's 1953 calendar. For more on the dance, Elizabeth Winder's Pain Parties Work (2013) is the most authoritative resource.)

Another way in which the scene reminds me of Plath's first meeting with Hughes is with Marco's diamond stickpin. Famously, Plath recited a line of Hughes' poem "The Casualty" when they first met, the line "most dear unscratchable diamond" being particularly memorable. Some of the words in this Hughes poem litter the scene in the novel, like "smashed," "snake," and "handkerchief." It is possible there are more examples and ways in which the scene in the novel reflects or relates to the poem.

Esther keeps Marco's bloody streaks on her face "like the relic of a dead lover" (119). Not a one-to-one parallel, but consider these lines from another Hughes poem written much later, this time the Birthday Letters poem "St. Botolph's":

"You meant to knock me out
And the swelling ring-moat of tooth-marks
That was to brand my face for the next month.
The me beneath it for good." (15)

Hughes here is writing back both to Plath's novel and to the memory of their first meeting, remembering the "swelling ring-moat" relic bestowed to him by his dead lover.

One other thing sticks out and it is one of those strange harbinger things at which Plath was eerily adept. Toward the end of The Bell Jar, Buddy Willard comes to visit Esther Greenwood at the hospital where she is recovering. He asks her, in a beautifully funny way, "Do you think there's something in me that drives women crazy" (252)? He mentions that first Esther tried to kill herself, then Joan. And the "strange harbinger" thing about this involves Plath and Assia Wevill in relation to Ted Hughes... First Plath went, and then Wevill... Art imitating life imitating art...

*This part of this blog post was drafted in January 2012.
**This was the day after the Rosenberg's were executed.
Citations from The Bell Jar from the Heinemann, 1963 edition.

18 June 2020

Sylvia Plath OTD: 18 June 1953

This was going to be a simple tweet about what happened "On this day" in Sylvia Plath's life, but it soon unraveled to be too much for a tweet...

On this day, 18 June 1953, Sylvia Plath was more than half-way through her stint as a Guest Editor at Mademoiselle magazine. She was just a day or so through her traumatic ptomaine poisoning which wiped out her schedule for a day or so. This post includes some of the information I acquired and used during the project to publish The Letters of Sylvia Plath.

On that particular Thursday, Plath toured the United Nations and had lunch and coffee there with Gary Karmiloff, whom she met through the Norton family. In the afternoon, Plath was scheduled to tour John Frederics Hats (then at 29 E. 48th Street, New York) but opted to, in stead, attend the UN trusteeship session. Here is an article from the Wellesley Townsman showing that Karmiloff stayed with the Nortons.

Kamirloff at the time lived on the 12th floor at 95 Christopher Street, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York. The building is now called The Gansvoort.

Later that evening, at 7 pm, she met with Mark von Slosmann for steak dinner and listened to him read "bad poetry". Von Slosmann was a friend of Bob Cochran, whom Plath met during her time in the summer of 1952 nannying for the Cantor family on Cape Cod. von Slosmann spent some time in 1953 submitting poetry to various places and a small archive of his letters is held in the Katharine Sergeant White Papers at Bryn Mawr College. Here is his signature.

But the point of this point is to perhaps provide some context on what Sylvia Plath heard at the UN. The New York Times reported on page 13 the following day on the proceedings of the 18th:

The entire "Index to Proceedings of the Trusteeship Council" is available online. It was the 12th Session and took place from 16 June to 22 July 1953.

And of course many of these events appeared in The Bell Jar.

All links accessed 18 June 2020.

15 June 2020

Books about Sylvia Plath For Sale

I have extra copies of the following books about Sylvia Plath that I would like to see in new homes. Proceeds will go directly into my Sylvia Plath work.

Prices include shipping. US only at this time. 

The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath. 2 copies available. $15 each. (Retails for $28.99)

The Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath. 2 copies available. $15 each. (Retails for $37.99)

Critical Insights: Sylvia Plath. 1 copy available. $30. (Retails for $105)

Representing Sylvia Plath. 1 copy available. $35.  (Retails for $113)

Thank you!

08 June 2020

The Sylvia Plath Zoomposiums I & II

When Gail Crowther and I starting planning for the Sylvia Plath Zoomposiums I think it is safe to say we were nervous. What if no one signed up? We figured an audience of five was better than nothing, and so we tried to line up solid groups of presenters that might attract a decent group of listeners. I am not sure I can speak for Gail, but strangely enough the more people that registered the less nervous I truly was.

How would the technology work? The thought that things could go weird or horribly wrong were more prevalent than that they might just go smoothly. Happily, the events went relatively well. It all felt warm and collegiate and supportive. Though I know some people had connectivity issues and could not stay logged in for which I am sorry. However, this is why we recorded it and why we are very happy to make both available on the Sylvia Plath Info YouTube channel.

Zoomposium I (recorded 30 May 2020) featuring: Mona Arsi, Heather Clark, Sarah Corbett, Amanda Golden, Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick, Gary Leising, Maeve O'Brien, Nic Presley, Maria Rovito, and David Trinidad. Please note Heather Clark's presentation was removed.

Zoomposium II (recorded 6 June 2020) featuring: Di Beddow, Gail Crowther, Eva Stenskar, Peter Fydler, Peter K. Steinberg, Julie Irigaray, Dorka Tamas, Emily Van Duyne, Carl Rollyson, Kitty Shaw, and Giulia Listo.

All links accessed 7 June 2020.

01 June 2020

Sylvia Plath Zoomposium II Schedule

The Sylvia Plath Zoomposium II, to be held Saturday, 6 June 2020, will start at 10 am NY Time (3 PM London time).

Thank you so much for registering and for your attention throughout the hours you will spend in front of your computer or other device. The interest in these Zoom events has been so wonderful. Very warm.

We are working to schedule additional Zoomposiums and have a number of speakers interested. So look for more on that in the future.

The following shows the order of speakers. As with the first Zomposium two days ago, we will plan to start at 10 am EDT/3PM BST sharp and proceed straight through each speaker with no breaks.

Di Beddow

Gail Crowther

Eva Stenskar

Peter Fylder

Peter K. Steinberg

Julie Irigaray

Dorka Tamas

Emily Van Duyne

Giulia de Gregorio Listo

Kitty Shaw

Carl Rollyson
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