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Sylvia Plath Collections: Irene Worth papers at Boston University

Earlier this year I did a random Google search for "Sylvia Plath" and "Writer and his background". This was one of the final prose pieces Plath wrote which was published as "Ocean 1212-W". However Plath called her typescript "Landscape on Childhood" (which sold via Bonhams in 2019).

This prose piece was the subject of intense research back circa 2008-2010 and was the subject of two papers I co-wrote, and later revised as two chapters in 2017's book These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath (Amazon). 

The results of the Google search led me to a collection that was kind of surprising: the Irene Worth Collection held by Boston University. If you search for Plath you see that in Box 12, Folder 14, there are two interesting items:

1) "The Writer and His Background," by Sylvia Plath, 9 p. 

2) "Poems by Sylvia Plath," TS and holograph, 4 p. 

Initially it was the typescript and holograph poems that excited me. However, it turns out the poems, "Kindness", "Contusion", "Edge", and "The Fearful", all typed and handwritten, are not by Sylvia Plath. 

No, in fact, it turned out the other document was the more interesting item. Initially, I thought it was a photocopy of the printed version from the book Writers on Themselves (1964). I was wrong. It was an official BBC Transcript of Plath's talk, produced from her original typescript. The University of Tulsa holds a copy that has been marked up, the blue pen excising bits here and there (please do see These Ghostly Archives for more on this if interested). 


However, Irene Worth's copy, which was accompanied by a letter from Leonie Cohn of the BBC, is clean of markings. Cohn's letter is dated 28 June 1963, and she asks Worth to read the script as she was considered a possible reader for the August broadcast. Irene Worth was an American actress and I am unsure if she was a routine reader for the BBC or not, though she was living at Ladbroke Square W11 at the time. But they may have been trying to get an American to read it. 

Anyway, Cohn's letter is rather frank, providing a brief history of asking Plath and Hughes to participate, their acceptance of the commission, and then, "in due course she sent me her script; a very few weeks later she committed suicide." Tact? She continues that all parties like the piece and believe it should be broadcast.

Cohn then writes: "It doesn't follow, of course, that its particular nature and style will appeal to you; please let me know quite frankly how you feel about it. I should perhaps explain that what we are hoping to get from this reading is not so much the performance of an actress but the 'voice of the person'. She was primarily a writer, expressing an authentic and obviously deeply felt experience in her own medium -- words. So it might be almost an act of abnegation on your part if you were to take it on."

Cohn: Not a good sales pitch! June Tobin read it.

All links accessed 16 January 2022. 

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