20 January 2021

Sylvia Plath and sherry

Last September I was reading some of Sylvia Plath's letters and journals, I started to notice a little leitmotif as I was hoping around. And that motif was sherry drinking. She famously wrote about drinking George Tyrer's sherry in a journal entry that was a part of her North Tawton and Devon dossier of neighbors and acquaintances: "George called out from the bedroom to give me some sherry. I asked the name of the sherry it was so good: Harvey's Bristol Milk." Plath and Sherry was also discussed at the Plath birthday shindig hosted by the Sylvia Plath Society by Trish Grisafi, author of a forthcoming book Breaking Down Plath (Wiley).

I cannot find Harveys Bristol Milk in my area, so I found the next best thing(?) in their Harveys Bristol Cream (pictured right).

It is a decent digestif but is not as good as port in my humble opinion. I have seen some 1950s bottles of Bristol Milk for sale via auction, but at the prices they realize, I am fine drinking the modern stuff. 

I am not quite sure, but I think Plath mentions sherry in her journals and letters more than any other alcohol. In her journals, "sherry" is mentioned by name thirteen times. Her letters are trickier as one summer at the Vineyard Sailing Camp she went by the name "Sherry." Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, in some ways: You are what you drink? You drink what you are? In volume one of the Letters, she writes the beverage "sherry" 55 times. In volume two, she mentions it just eleven times. Some of Plath's characters in her prose also consume the beverage ("The Wishing Box", "Stone Boy With Dolphin", "Cambridge Letter", "B and K at the Claridge", and "The Smoky Blue Piano", to name a few). 

Let us look at some of the more interesting times Sylvia Plath drank sherry.

In journal entry 152, which was undated but written 20 September 1952, Plath had sherry in the backyard of Wilbury Crockett's house and he planted the seed of graduate school in England in her. 

A few years later, as a graduate student in Cambridge, Plath wrote on 21 February 1956,
And I drink sherry and wine by myself because I like it and I get the sensuous feeling of indulgence I do when I eat salted nuts or cheese: luxury, bliss, erotic-tinged. I suppose if I gave myself the chance I could be an alcoholic.
She drank sherry with Cyrilly Abels, Betsey Talbot Blackwell, Olive Higgins Prouty, Stephen Spender twice, T. S. Eliot, and, naturally, Ted Hughes, among others. She once drank sherry and talked about Dylan Thomas. Plath drank sherry in Bard Hall of Columbia overlooking the Hudson River at night.

Once, visiting her thesis advisor George Gibian, Plath wrote to her quasi-boyfriend that "(after five glasses of sherry I felt an overwhelming impulse to strip and nurse them myself!)" So, please drink in moderation lest you spontaneously start nursing nearby infants.

As thanks to Mrs, Morton, the upstairs attic-living neighbor in Chalcot Square, Plath and Hughes intended to leave her a bottle of sherry now and than in gratitude for letting Hughes use her flat as a writing space. 

Later in her marriage, after Ted Hughes began his affair, she suggested that there ways Plath could save money, such as, "by not drinking sherry, smoking, eating expensive meat & that the children could learn to 'live like the people'." Because I will largely be drinking cheap sherry (and port) I hope that Ted Hughes will be pleased with my economizing. 

Here is a nice old advert for Harveys Bristol Milk. Harveys is the only brand name Plath mentions in her journals and letters. Plath does mention sherry in a number of her stories. She does not mention sherry by name in her Collected Poems.

All links accessed 7 September 2020 and 20 January 2021.

12 January 2021

Sylvia Plath's The Colossus sells via PBA Galleries

A dust-jacketless copy of Sylvia Plath's first poetry collection, The Colossus and Other Poems, published by Heinemann in 1960, recently sold for $900 at a PBA Galleries online auction (Lot 255). The sale price includes buyer's premium and exceeded the estimate of $500-$800. Congrats to the winner. 

All links accessed 9 January 2021.

08 January 2021

Sylvia Plath's Writer's Block

One of my favorite people in the world, Jett Whitehead of Jett W. Whitehead Rare Books, sent me a little Sylvia Plath Christmas present in the mail. It took a while to reach me, which is understandable. I was not sure I ever needed something like this before; but now that I have it, I can say safely it was something I was missing, truly...

It is a small block with prints on all six sides of Plath book covers (The Bell Jar, Ariel, Crossing the Water, and Winter Trees), a photo of Plath (from 1952), and her beautiful signature. Jett included a note saying that he hopes it is the only writer's block I ever get. Could not agree more. The funny thing is I was just reading the other day an entry in Plath's journals about her feeling of writer's block during her Boston year. 

Thank you, Jett!

Here is the block, which came with an official Poetry Pad of from Jett's office.

And, here is the block in use in my office:

All links accessed 7 January 2021.

01 January 2021

Sylvia Plath: Thunder Stealer

It is true. Sylvia Plath stole someone's thunder. She did it twice. To Ted Hughes, no less, within months of marrying him. 

In the first days of October 1956, Sylvia Plath was at Whitstead in Cambridge, England, writing a blitzkrieg of letters to Ted Hughes and receiving a nearly equal amount of letters from him. It was a daily thing. Reading these letters leaves one probably feeling breathless. 

According to her calendars, on the 8th and the 11th of October, Plath was at work writing a story called "The Wishing Box", and it was here that she stole Hughes' thunder. In the story, Agnes Higgins is envious of her husband Harold Higgins' dreams. The end of the story is grim as Agnes takes an overdose of pills. But before this, Plath's protagonist writes about two of her husbands' dreams in particular...

Agnes wrote of the former, "Harold dreamed that a red fox ran through his kitchen, grievously burnt, its fur charred black, bleeding from several wounds." And of the latter,

Harold was particularly fond of his fox dreams; they recurred often. So, notably, did his dream of the giant pike. "There was this pond," Harold informed Agnes one sultry August morning, "where my cousin Albert and I used to fish; it was chock full of pike. Well, last night I was fishing there, and I caught the most enormous pike you could imagine—it must have been the great-great-grandfather of all the rest; I pulled and pulled and pulled, and still he kept coming out of that pond.

These are, of course, the basis for Ted Hughes' poems "The Thought-Fox" and "Pike". But Sylvia Plath published them in Granta in January 1957. This is about 8 months before The New Yorker printed "The Thought-Fox" on 31 August 1957 and two and a half years before "Pike" was published in Audience in Summer 1959.

All links accessed 27 December 2020.
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