20 January 2017

Elizabeth Sigmund (1928-2017)

As a result of Alison Flood's article "Sylvia Plath's Three Women to be staged in London" in The Guardian, I met Elizabeth Sigmund, who passed away peacefully at her home in Cornwall on Friday, 6 January 2017. Shortly after the article ran my mobile phone rang with an English phone number showing up on the caller-ID. It was Elizabeth, calling to discuss my quotes in the piece and to discuss Plath. We became fast friends. Elizabeth was like that -- instantly likable. We spoke on the phone periodically after that -- it was always a fulfilling thrill to speak to her: especially in July when I'd call her on her birthday and sing to her, and the next day she'd call me on mine and sing back to me. She possessed a beautiful and inviting speaking voice, a vibrant and contagious laugh, and had the amazing ability to make any day we spoke both brighter and happier.

In March 2013, when Gail Crowther and I gave a preview talk for our paper "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past" at Plymouth University in England, we made a side trip to meet Elizabeth and her husband William at their home. Without Gail's navigation, I am confident I never would have found the house, nestled deep in the country. That day was miserably cloudy and rainy, but we were greeted warmly inside with excellent conversation and tea. To say the occasional was a memorable highlight of my years spent studying and discussing Sylvia Plath is an understatement.

There will be better obituaries and tributes to Elizabeth Sigmund than this post will provide by people that knew her much better. It was a privilege to introduce my best friend, Gail Crowther, to Elizabeth, and to work with them on various projects such as their essay "A Poem, A Friend" and their resultant book, Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. I was chuffed to be asked to write the introduction to it. As I say in that, "Sylvia Plath is a connective figure."

Elizabeth and Sylvia Plath met in Devon in 1962 almost by chance after Plath and Ted Hughes's 1961 BBC radio interview "Two of a Kind: Poets in Partnership". As a result of that meeting, the two young women became immediate friends. Friends, indeed, with a bond so strong that within months Plath was to dedicate her novel, The Bell Jar, to Elizabeth and her then husband David Compton. Elizabeth was a vital woman who was unafraid to support and defend Plath after her death. I feel like Elizabeth's passing is a monumental loss both to a connection to Plath and to Plath's memory.

In addition to various letters to the editor, an essay entitled "Sylvia, 1962: A Memoir" (New Review, May 1976 and Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work, ed. Edward Butscher), and Sylvia Plath in Devon, Elizabeth was the author of the book Rage Against the Dying: Campaign Against Chemical and Biological Warfare (London: Pluto Press, 1980). Later, Elizabeth was the subject of an impressive article in The Independent in 1995. It gives a wonderful glimpse at how formidable she was, and how interesting, too.

Our thoughts and prayers go to her husband, William, and to her children and grandchildren. The celebration of Elizabeth's life and funeral ceremony were held on 17 January in Buckfastleigh, South Devon. Gail Crowther attended and read "When Great Trees Fall" by Maya Angelou.

Elizabeth was much loved and will be greatly missed.

Rest in Peace, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Sigmund with Gwyneth Paltrow

All links accessed 6 January 2017.

10 January 2017

Did you know... Sylvia Plath's Slow Insects and African Pygmies

It has been quite some time since a "Sylvia Plath: Did you know…" appeared on this blog so I thought I should remedy this unintended gap.

Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar (1963) is a fun book to read for its hidden messages and allusions. Plath carefully and consciously manipulated time and people to construct a work based off of many experiences in her own life, but undoubtedly also added fictional color.

One scene in the novel in particular that always makes me chuckle is Esther's motivation for wanting to spend her summer writing a novel. She writes:
Then I decided I would spend the summer writing a novel.
That would fix a lot of people. (1963:126)
After this, Esther drafts a first paragraph,
Elaine sat on the breezeway in an old yellow nightgown of her mother's waiting for something to happen. It was a sweltering morning in July, and drops of sweat crawled down her back one by one, like slow insects.

I leaned back and read what I had written.

It seemed lively enough, and I was quite proud of the bit about the drops of sweat like insects, only I had the dim impression I'd probably read it somewhere else a long time ago. (127)
Did you know... Plath certainly had read this before; and chances are many of you have as well! For the longest time I had looked for this in something Plath wrote, thinking: she must be referring to something she herself wrote. Well, she was! Plath wrote in her January 1955 short story "Tongues of Stone" the following: "Mrs Sneider was the only other one in the sunroom where the girl sat on the sofa with tears crawling like slow insects down her cheeks…" (JPBD 267). Of course, Plath changes the "tears" in the story to "sweat" in the novel, but this is what Sylvia Plath's writing shows us: that through sweat, tears, and through blood, a marvelous, interconnected body of work is created.

Not satisfied with her productivity, Esther states,
I needed experience.

How could I write about life when I'd never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die? A girl I knew had just won a prize for a short story about her adventures among the pygmies in Africa. How could I compete with that sort of thing? (1963: 128)
In my background work for the forthcoming The Letters of Sylvia Plath, I spent a lot of time browsing and reading 1940s and early 1950s issues of Mademoiselle. Imagine how taken aback I was to read a story called "The Hill People" by Elizabeth Marshall (Radcliffe, 1953) published in Mademoiselle August 1952 ... right next to... "Sunday at the Mintons'" by a certain Sylvia Plath! Marshall's story appeared on pages 254, 363-371; Plath's on 255, 371-378.

A biographical sketch for Marshall reads:
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, daughter of Lorna and Laurence Marshall, was born in 1931. She attended Smith College, but interrupted her studies to go to Africa when her father, former co-founder of Raytheon Corporation, retired and decided he wanted to get reacquainted with his family. In 1951, she traveled with her family to what is now Namibia, and the Marshalls undertook ethnographic research on the !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert. (source)
"The Hill People"... In 2004, Harvard held an exhibition called Regarding the Kalahari on the Marshall Family and the Ju/'hoansi !Kung, 1950-1961. "The Hill People" was also published in a spring 1952 issue of the Harvard Advocate and later appeared in The Best Short Stories of 1953 (1954). (See also, Journal of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, 1955: A Finding Aid, held by Peabody Museum Archives, Harvard University.)

Are there any instances like these in The Bell Jar that you wonder about?

Another aspect of The Bell Jar that has always struck me is how uneven the novel is. And what I mean by that is its structure. The first thirteen chapters deal with Esther Greenwood's history, if you will: the reasons, people, and experiences that lead her to the brink of self-destruction in her suicide attempt. And yet there are just seven chapters dealing with the aftermath of this. The writing in Chapters 14 through 20 is fragmented, representing the chaos and confusion of waking up alive and being shuttled to several different hospitals. It feels as though there are more short paragraphs… vignettes... which parallels the process the re-construction she underwent while recovering in the three hospitals ("patched, retreaded and approved for the road" (257)). Things get a little more… stable or prosy, if you will, when Esther reaches Caplan/Belsize.

Plath first explored the experience of recovery in her short story "Tongues of Stone" mentioned above. "Tongues of Stone" was completed by 28 January 1955, according to her pocket calendar held by the Lilly Library at Indiana University. In the calendar Plath noted that she "rewrote" the story providing it "with new ending" and indicating that she was sending it to a short story contest at Mademoiselle. This came twenty days after her poem "Morning in the Hospital Solarium" (8 January 1955) and eighteen months before she wrote "Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper" between 23 and 26 June 1956, a week after she married Ted Hughes. In Plath's Collected Poems Hughes writes "(She was writing "Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper" on a parapet over the Seine on 21 June 1956.)". However, this would have been difficult considering the newlyweds were still in England on that date according to her passport. The first poem is less definitely about her hospitalization but perhaps some of the imagery is from her time at McLean. "Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper" is more directly about her experiences there, though in the novel Miss Drake's named was changed to Miss Norris.

Because The Bell Jar is so "short" on the back side and because so much is "missing" in terms of details about her recovery, "Tongues of Stone" can be instructive in filling in the gaps of time and memory. In his wonderful Sylvia Plath's Fiction: A Critical Study (2010), Luke Ferretter writes that Plath "first wrote ["Tongues of Stone"] in autumn 1954 for Alfred Kazin" (60). Plath had been invited after the Fall term started to join Kazin's first semester only course (English 347a Short Story Writing) after meeting and interviewing the professor as an assignment for an article she wrote "The Neilson Professor". The piece was published in the Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Fall 1954.

The day after she finished "Tongues of Stone", 29 January 1955, Plath wrote to her mother about the experience of doing so at Kazin's suggestion in a letter to his budding writer-student. (The letter from Kazin to Plath may not be extant.) Ferretter excellently summarizes Plath's story, both the first draft and its January 1955 revision:
In the story as Plath rewrote it, the heroine, in hospital after a suicide attempt, has managed to secrete two large pieces of broken glass in her shoes, with which she is going to try to kill herself again. That night, however, she has a positive reaction to her insulin treatment and feels better, for the first time since her suicide attempt. The story ends, as Plath wrote to her mother, with dawn instead of night. Lying in the dark, hearing the 'voice of dawn', the heroine feels the 'everlasting rising of the sun' in her (JPBD 275). Clearly, the earlier version of the story ended either with the heroin's having acquired or ha shards of glass. The story, as Kazin said, had no joy. (60)
Set in October, "Tongues of Stone" starts with a girl sitting on a sofa in a sunroom knitting. The main character has lost track of time, a result of insomnia. This is a new detail; a continuation if you will, from how it went down in The Bell Jar. Both the patient in the story and Esther in the novel experience crippling insomnia during the summer before the breakdown. However, in the novel it is related that during recovery Esther had been sleeping in hospital. The nameless girl in the story has given up hope, and in language lifted almost verbatim for The Bell Jar, the speaker thinks, "After a while the would get tired of waiting and hoping and telling her that there was a God or that some day she would look back on this as if it were a bad dream" (JPBD 268).

We are provided in the short story with actions of the patient that are absent from the novel. Going out with a book to sit in the sun and storing apples picked from the orchard under a pillow so that she could eat them in the bathroom, to name two. This is not to say that these are things Plath did; however, they just may be based off her own experiences or those around her. The details, too, of the girls insulin treatment add to the scenes in The Bell Jar, too. Such as the giving of orange juice to "terminate the treatment" being consumed right before dinner (JPBD 270). The Debby character in the story is probably Joan Gilling from the novel.

Late in the story, the patient recalls some details from immediately after "her second birth" (JPBD 272). This again complements scenes from the novel such as the nurse suggesting Esther will meet and marry "a nice blind man" someday (JPBD  272; The Bell Jar 181). Additionally, there are other details such as the patient still feeling quite suicidal well into her confinement at the hospital. She tries to hang herself with a scarf and contemplates harming herself with shards of broken glass as Ferretter mentions above.

In all, "Tongues of Stone" and "Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper" are highly corresponding pieces to writing in The Bell Jar. The earlier work show Plath trying to process her recent experiences. Absent from these are a fuller narrative and plot such as the back stories including boys, college, the guest editorship, etc: the "reasons" that offer some explanation for Esther Greenwood's breakdown and suicide attempt. As her chapter outline for The Bell Jar shows, Plath was able, with time, to fully incorporate and realize (and perhaps purge) the momentous, formative events that she experienced in the early 1950s.

All links accessed 23 February 2015, 10 June 2016, and 5 January 2017.

01 January 2017

Sylvia Plath Article Transcriptions

Happy Sylvia Plath Info Blog New Year!

In the autumn of 2016, I spent a lot of time during my lunch hour at work going to the Boston Public Library to re-examine all the microfilmed newspapers that they hold re-searching for articles on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt. I did this because at the same time I was transcribing all the articles, for you, I felt it was important to re-check everything. Also, I made new scans of some of the articles that originally were of lesser quality because of the great advances made in microfilm readers since circa 2005-2012.

In the end, I found a number of articles that I missed in my previous researches. It is important to admit that I missed them. Some of the articles were from other editions of a particular newspaper issue and I can only think that when I first started looking for these articles in the first place that I did not place as much bibliographic emphasis/attention on these. And some of them I found because they were not at first about Plath, but mention her disappearance and discovery. Such as all the articles on fellow Wellesley resident Penelope Protze, who lived quite close to Plath at 41 Martin Road.

The total articles at the present time stands at 214, which is simply astounding to me considering that when I started the project, I knew of about seven to ten as were recorded in Stephen Tabor's Sylvia Plath: An Analytical Bibliography! And you can see the progress that has been made since I published my first bibliography of articles in my essay "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." I have asked this a number of times and yet no one has seemed to taken up the challenge: If you live or have access to town or university libraries that have microfilm from 1953. Please do consider a visit to see if any newspaper not listed in the bibliography linked below to search for articles on Plath's first suicide attempt. You need only check from 25 to 28 August. Thank you if you do.

The point of this blog post is not to necessary point out how terrible of a researcher I was and/or am, but to let you know that the transcriptions of all the articles are now on my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is. Please visit the Bibliography of Newspaper Articles on Sylvia Plath's First Suicide Attempt in August 1953. In the transcriptions, I tried to be exact so if there was a misspelling in the article, it appears in the document. Also, if word was broken up by a line break, I have placed in square brackets the complete spelling of that word after it. I loaded them in early December, so visitors to this page may have already taken advantage of them. But, also, Google appears to have cached, full-text, most if not all of the articles so I hope this drives interest in Plath and traffic to my site!

I hope truly that you find all of this work useful. If any of you do take the time to search for articles on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt in your own town/college library, please know how grateful I will be.

All links accessed 16 November 2016 and 31 December 2016.

22 December 2016

Sylvia Plath and the Smith Alumnae Quarterly

The Smith Alumnae Quarterly recently launched a fully searchable and downloadable archive of their amazing publications (story). Sylvia Plath featured in a dozen or so from the time she entered Smith through into the 1970s. I have gone through the issues from 1950 through the current Winter 2016 issue and found the following instances either where Plath authored a piece or she was mentioned. I love that the availability of the online archive takes one to the present issue. Fantastic.

I was going to take the rest of the year off blogging to give you a break from me, but this resource is too cool not to mention and fits in with a theme highlighted in the Year in Review 2016 of digitization.
  • February 1951. Sylvia Plath's Letter excerpt (unattributed) to Olive Higgins Prouty
  • Fall 1953. Sylvia Plath's "'Smith Review' Revived"
  • Fall 1954. Sylvia Plath's "The Neilson Professor"
  • Summer 1955. Mentioned: Scholarship to study at Cambridge
  • Spring 1956. Mentioned: An update from Cambridge: how she spent her Christmas break
  • Summer 1956. Mentioned: An update from Cambridge: renewal of Fulbright
  • Fall 1956. Sylvia Plath's "B. and K. at the Claridge"
  • Winter 1957. Mentioned: In a letter from Marianne Moore regarding Fulbright renewal
  • Fall 1957. Mentioned: Regarding Ted Hughes' The Hawk in the Rain and appearing in the Grecourt Review
  • Winter 1958. Sylvia Plath's "Spinster"
  • Spring 1959. Mentioned: Regarding recent publication in Mademoiselle
  • Summer 1959. Mentioned: Regarding Ted Hughes winning Guggenheim
  • Fall 1961. Mentioned: Regarding winning Chelthenham Festival Guinness prize
  • Spring 1962 Mentioned: Larger update about Cheltenham, Saxton grant, The Colossus, periodical publications, and their daughter Frieda
  • Summer 1962. Mentioned: Listing the publication of the American edition of The Colossus
  • Winter 1966. Mentioned: George Steiner's article "Dying is an Art"
  • Spring 1966. Mentioned: Regarding Lois Ames' biography of Plath asking for letters, photographs and recollections: Where are these now???
  • Summer 1966. Mentioned: Listing the publication of the American edition of Ariel
  • November 1966. Mentioned: Listing recent reviews of Ariel
  • April 1967. Mentioned: Regarding Lois Ames' piece in TriQuarterly and her continued "work" on a Plath biography
  • April 1968. Mentioned: Regarding a grant Lois Ames received for her biography on Plath
  • August 1969. Mentioned: Gift made to Alumnae Fund in memory of Sylvia Plath Hughes
  • November 1971. Mentioned: Listing and brief review of The Bell Jar and Crossing the Water
  • April 1972. Mentioned: Margaret Shook's article "Sylvia Plath: The Poet and the College, reprints "Spinster"
  • August 1972. Mentioned: In a letter to the editor
  • November 1972. Mentioned: Listing and brief review of Winter Trees and more on the never-happening Lois Ames biography
  • April 1973. Mentioned: Listing and brief review of Nancy Hunter Steiner's Sylvia Plath: A Closer Look at Ariel and an alumnae's leading a book club discussion
  • November 1973. Mentioned: Judith Kroll's work on Plath
  • February 1975. Mentioned: In Susan Van Dyne's article "Teaching 'Literary Perspectives on Women'" and on Lois Ames' "completed" biography of Plath
  • August 1975. Mentioned: In Alumnae notes
  • November 1975. Mentioned: In article "Smith Writers" and listing of Plath recording for sale
  • February 1976. "Letters from Sylvia", with commentary by Gordon Lameyer and the subject of a poem
  • April 1976. Mentioned: In article and listing and brief review for Letters Home
  • August 1976. Mentioned: In alumnae notes
  • November 1976. Mentioned: Listings and brief reviews of The Bed Book and Judith Kroll's Chapters in a Mythology
  • February 1977. Mentioned: In alumnae notes about a film project interpreting "Tulips"
  • April 1977. Mentioned: In alumnae notes on Judith Kroll
  • August 1977. Mentioned: In article by Patricia L. Skarda: "The Smith Letter: Expressions of Form and Formlessness"
  • February 1978. Mentioned: In alumnae notes, about getting recollections from students who took English 11 under Plath's instruction
  • August 1978. Mentioned: In alumnae notes twice; the second time still soliciting for recollections. 
  • November 1978. Mentioned: In article. 
  • February 1979. Mentioned: "In the News" regarding The Bell Jar film and in regards to recollections. Most interesting this one.
  • April 1979. Mentioned: In an article "The William Allan Neilson Library"
  • November 1979. Mentioned: Listing and brief reviews of Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams and in Jon Rosenblatt's Sylvia Plath:The Poetry of Initiation
  • Fall 1981. Mentioned: "Sylvia Plath" on the acquisition of Plath's papers
  • Spring 1982. Mentioned: Listing and brief review of The Collected Poems
  • Summer 1982. Mentioned: In notice for future article regarding Pulitzer Prize and in Judith Kroll's alumnae notes.
  • Fall 1982. Mentioned. Listing and brief review for The Journals of Sylvia Plath
  • Winter 1983. Mentioned: In alumnae notes regarding Marcia Brown Stern's donation of the letters she received from Plath
  • Fall 1984. Mentioned: In article "Posture Picture On the Wall, Who's the Straightest Of Us All?"
  • Winter 1986. Mentioned: Listing and brief review of Above the Oxbow: Selected Writings by Sylvia Plath
  • Spring 1987. Mentioned: In article and in alumnae notes (Jane Anderson and Cindy Stodola Pomerleau)
  • Summer 1987. Mentioned: In articles under collective title, "Mary Ellen Chase in Review" and in Memorial Gifts section
  • Winter 1989. Mentioned: As subject of Susan Van Dyne talk titled "Revising Woman: Uncovering the Creative Process in Sylvia Plath's Ariel Poems" at a conference
  • Summer 1989. Mentioned: In article and in Memorial Gifts
  • Fall 1989. Mentioned: In article
  • Fall/Winter 1990. Mentioned. In alumnae notes
  • Spring 1990. Mentioned. In article on the book Smith Voices: Selected Works by Smith College Women
  • Summer 1990. Mentioned: In Memorial Gifts
  • Spring 1992. Mentioned: In alumnae notes
  • Summer 1992. Mentioned: In article "Between Two Worlds"
  • Fall 1992. Mentioned: In article and in alumnae notes
  • Winter 1992-1993. Mentioned: In alumnae notes regarding Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath
  • Summer 1993. Mentioned: Listing and brief review of Susan Van Dyne's Revising Life: Sylvia Plath's Ariel Poems
  • Fall 1993. Mentioned: In article
  • Winter 1995-1996. Mentioned in article on alumnae Tanya Metaksa and review of a Mary Ellen Chase biography
  • Fall 1996. Mentioned: In alumnae notes (Enid Mark)
  • Winter 1997-1998. Mention: In article "A place for poets" and twice in alumnae notes 
  • Summer 1998. Mentioned: In articles, particularly "Primarily Plath" 
  • Fall 1998. Mentioned: On cover and in feature article "" by Susan Van Dyne on Birthday Letters, and in alumnae notes (Enid Mark)
  • Winter 1998-1999. Mentioned: In letters and alumnae notes (Judith Kroll)
  • Summer 1999. Mentioned. In alumnae notes
  • Spring 2000. Mentioned. In article "Smith Myths"
  • Winter 2000-2001. Mentioned: In alumnae notes regarding The Journals of Sylvia Plath
  • Spring 2001. Mentioned. Feature article "True to her words" by Karen V. Kukil
  • Summer 2001. Mentioned: In alumnae notes
  • Fall 2001. Mentioned: Letter to editor and in alumnae notes
  • Winter 2001-2002. Mentioned: In article "Clothes with a past" 
  • Spring 2002. Mentioned: In alumnae notes
  • Summer 2002. Mentioned: In article "A Palette of Words" by Karen D. Brown about Plath's classmate Enid Epstein Mark
  • Spring 2003. Mentioned: In article "The Storm in My Brain" by Mary Seymour
  • Fall 2003. Mentioned: In article "A Collection of Our Own" by Karen V. Kukil
  • Winter 2005-2006. Mentioned: In alumnae notes twice
  • Winter 2006-2007. Mentioned: In alumnae notes
  • Spring 2007. Mentioned: In alumnae notes (Judith Kroll)
  • Summer 2007. Mentioned: In article "Baskin 101" and in alumnae notes
  • Fall 2007. Mentioned: In alumnae notes twice
  • Summer 2008. Mentioned: In brief article "Plath at 75", in a section on poetry, and in alumnae notes (Marcia Brown Stern)
  • Fall 2008. Mentioned: In alumnae profile
  • Winter 2008-2009. Mentioned: In alumnae notes twice (Elinor Friedman Klein)
  • Summer 2009. Mentioned: In profile on her professor Elizabeth von Klemperer and in alumnae notes twice (Marcia Brown Stern)
  • Winter 2009-2010. Mentioned: In article on Gloria Steinem, a review of Smith in the 1950s and in 1963
  • Summer 2010. Mentioned: In alumnae notes
  • Fall 2010. Mentioned: In alumnae notes (obituary for Jane Anderson)
  • Winter 2010-2011. Mentioned: In article "The Poet's Room"
  • Spring 2011. Mentioned: In letter to the editor "Sylvia's Other Rooms" by Marcia Brown Stern
  • Summer 2011. Mentioned: In notice about Plath's induction to Poet's Corner in New York City and in alumnae notes twice
  • Winter 2011-2012. Mentioned: In brief article
  • Fall 2012. Mentioned: In alumnae notes (Judith Raymo and Amanda Ferrara)
  • Winter 2012-2013. Mentioned: In alumnae notes twice (Judith Snow Denison and an obituary for Marcia Brown Stern)
  • Spring 2013. Mentioned: In brief articles "Plath in Pink" and "Poet in a Tree" and in alumnae notes twice
  • Summer 2013. Mentioned: In alumnae notes (Judith Snow Denison)
  • Fall 2013. Mentioned: In article "If these dresses could talk", in alumnae notes three times
  • Winter 2013-2014. Mentioned: In alumnae notes (Judith Raymo) and in a classified ad to stay in the Dordogne
  • Spring 2014. Mentioned: In alumnae notes and an obituary (Joanne Michelini Piggot)
  • Fall 2014. Mentioned: In alumnae profile
  • Winter 2014-2015. Mentioned: In Editor's Note and in alumnae notes (Elinor Friedman Klein)
  • Summer 2015. Mentioned: In solicitation by Heather Clark for people to talk about Plath for her forthcoming biography
  • Winter 2015-2016. Mentioned: In "Campus Notebook" about the 2017 "One Life" exhibit and in alumnae notes twice
  • Summer 2016. Mentioned: In article "Voices of Her Ancestors" 
  • Winter 2016. Mentioned: In letter to the editor and and article on Smith Alumnae Quarterly digital archive
This is an amazing resource. Not just for Plath material, but to get an idea of what Smith looked like back in the day, its buildings, students and student life, fashion, the design of the periodical, and the topics that were covered. A real rich history of education, women, and more. I am really grateful for this access to the SAQ archive but that will not stop me from stating my regret that a universal search is not available. I understand there must be limits to what repositories can do. My being gratefully ungrateful notwithstanding: thank you Smith College and all involved in this project.

All links accessed 21 December 2016

15 December 2016

Sylvia Plath Year in Review 2016

2016 saw the passing of Ted Hughes' two siblings: Olwyn Hughes in January and Gerald Hughes in August. May they both rest in peace.

I would like to issue a very special thank you to R. M. for his very generous monetary gift to me this year. It was the first time anyone has sent me money via PayPal for the work I do on Sylvia Plath and meant so incredibly much. Thank you R.

I always wonder which posts on this blog readers found the most interesting during the course of any year. This year, the Sylvia Plath Info Blog turned 9 which means next year will be the 10th anniversary. Seems hardly possible! But, I would love to know from you, the readers of the blog, which posts in particular you liked the best -- from 2007 to the present. Are there particular areas of focus that you miss from the early days? Or are there things you feel are being ignored outright? Are you tired of the blog? The blog archive is all available so please do click through each month and leave a comment. It might help me to write/research for new content! The Year in Review is always Sylvia Plath from my perspective and experiences and culls through the months to refresh what went on for me. But we have different lenses through which we read, journey, research, and write about Plath, so I apologize if your particular leaning is not a part of the following.

There were two bigger stories this year. The first I think was the British Library publishing a website that features a slew of Sylvia Plath archival documents in their Discovery Literature: 20th Century micro-site along with all the very good metadata such things require and some contextual essays. Here's a list of them:

British Library holdings:
Smith College holdings:
Contextual articles:
I never blogged about these documents or what the British Library did but instead used Twitter to broadcast the availability of them. This is an interesting way to spread news but I find it a lot more difficult to use as a resource than, say, putting things on this blog or over on my website A celebration, this is. It feels more "placed" in the blog. On the concept of digitization, though, this sort of cooperation between Plath's estate and the repositories that hold her archives is a wonderful step forward for Plath scholarship. I hope there will be more of this kind of thing in the future. It should also be stated, of course, that the British Library also digitized many Ted Hughes papers as well.

Speaking of digitized materials... Washington University at St. Louis also has a small digital presentation celebrating their "Modern Literature Collection : The First 50 Years". They have a page for Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. On the right hand side, scroll down, you will see separate links for Correspondence and Poetry Collections. In the former, there are one letter each from Ted Hughes to Graham Ackroyd and Ian Hamilton; as well as four letters from Sylvia Plath to her late sister-in-law Olwyn Hughes. The poetry collection features "Typescript and autograph drafts with corrections of Adam and the Sacred Nine by Ted Hughes". The exhibit features, also, "May Swenson's recollection of meeting Sylvia Plath at Yaddo in 1959".

The other big news story this year dropped in July when Kirsten Dunst and Dakota Fanning announced they will direct and star and produce a new adaptation of Plath's novel The Bell Jar. We can only hope and pray it is a far better attempt than the 1979 version. I have high expectations for this film, as do many of you I am sure. In August I was honored to give Dunst and Fanning, as well as Lizzie Friedman and Brittany Kahan, two of the film's producers, a tour of the Plath sites in the Boston area that are important to the novel. This was truly one of the most amazing experiences in my 22 years of Plathing. I found all four engaging, inquisitive, and very fun to be around. Casting is ongoing and filming is anticipated to begin in the first months of 2017.

Archives feature, as usual, on this blog. Get ready for a blitzkrieg of links! The year started with a post about the guest book Plath signed at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. A neat find, for sure. And in October I posted on some of the police records held by the Wellesley Police Department that show the then "live" tracking of Plath's disappearance in August 1953. Puts things into perspective. In February I posted what might be the last on the topic of Plath's work for the Press Board at Smith College. The culmination of six years of off-and-on research yielded 55 articles we can more than likely attribute to Plath based on archival evidence. This added voluminously to our understanding of her extracurricular work while an undergraduate, as well as to her practicing the craft of writing in many different genres. Other archival themed posts involved Plath's work on a Smith College publication, Campus Cat, and Smith's recently acquired Letters to Marion Freeman, which I assisted in them acquiring by befriending Ruth Geissler, Plath's great childhood friend.

Photographs of Plath in Venice, Italy, held by the Lilly Library were the topic of an April post and I used Google StreetView to approximately place Plath on the Grand Canal where the snaps were taken. In July I highlight all the old copies of The Bradford that Sylvia Plath would have read and many of which she contributed to when she was a high school student from 1947 to 1950. Like the press releases, this post brought to our attention several new Plath publications that were previously not recorded in any bibliography. I broke the posts up into thirds, one for each academic year: 1947-1948; 1948-1949; and 1949-1950. Photographs and movies of 1950s Benidorm were the topic of a post in August – thanks again need to go out to Gail Crowther for finding them. And also in August I made available PDF's or JPG's of all the articles I found on Sylvia Plath's first suicide attempt (website). In fact, after reviewing most of the posts this year, it seems like the gross majority of them are listed here. I know I post far less frequently than I used to, but at the same time I hope that these are of higher quality and content.

There were a couple of major auctions this year. Bonhams held sales on 16 March (results) and 15 June (results). Additionally, a rare proof of The Colossus (Heinemann) sold for well above the estimate in a Freeman's auction on 30 September.

This next sale tickles me… In July I found out about an extra special copy of The Bell Jar (Heinemann, 1963, reprint) and tweeted about it. The book was given by Ted Hughes to Nicholas Hughes, and upon his death Frieda Hughes inherited it. It was damaged, so artist that she is, Frieda drew in clever sketches attempting to metaphorically repair them. That tweet led to the University of Victoria in British Columbia acquiring the copy and I was able to see the book in person in October. As part of their announcing the acquisition and celebrating the special collections 50 year anniversary, I was invited out by Christine Walde and Lara Wilson to give a talk. I wrote a 45 minute talk entitled "'She wants to be everything': Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Letters, and Archives". I gave approximately 15 minutes to each subject in their sold-out basketball gym stadium that seats 2,100. Just kidding. To this day I am still surprised at the turnout, which I wrote about in a post on 1 November.

We had a guest post this year from Annika Lindskog (Sweden) of her visit in June to Heptonstall to see Sylvia Plath's grave. Thanks, Annika!

As mentioned above, I added PDF's to my main Sylvia Plath website, A celebration, this is, of all the articles I have acquired on Plath's first suicide attempt. That was the only major update to the website this year, but I am working on something additional for the first suicide attempt page and will unleash that on you shortly. From 1 December 2015 to 30 November 2016, the more popular pages on the website were: Biography, Poetry Works, The Bell Jar, Johnny Panic Synopses, and Prose Works. I thought I would also look at a different metric this year and that metric is duration. The pages that visitors to the website spent the most time on are: Biography, Johnny Panic Synopses, The Bell Jar, Publications, and Works Index. Between the website and the blog there were more than 90,000 hits. That's just incredible: Thank you!

2016 was rather skinny on monographs about Plath. In January and February, two academic press books were published: Sylvia Plath and the Language of Affective States: Written Discourse and the Experience of Depression by Dr. Zsofia Demjen (Bloomsbury Academic) and Mirrors of Entrapment and Emancipation: Forugh Farrokhzad and Sylvia Plath by Leila Rahimi Bahmany (Leiden University Press). In April we learned that Tracy Brain is set to edit a collection of essays called Sylvia Plath in Context to be published by the Cambridge University Press. This is exciting and should provide a variety of essays on wonderful topics. I am working at the moment on two pieces for the book: fingers crossed they are accepted! Gail Crowther's second book, The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath, was supposed to come out in August but there were delays and as of today I am still impatiently waiting for this work. As are you, I am certain. In early December, a book edited by Amanda Golden was published by the University of Florida Press. It is not about Plath, per se, but Plath features in some of the essays in This Business of Words: Reassessing Anne Sexton. The essay "'Two Sweet Ladies': Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath's Friendship and Mutual Influence" by David Trinidad is wonderful: it's my favorite. But also find essays by poets Kathleen Ossip and Jeanne Marie Beaumont and academics Jo Gill, Anita Helle, and Amanda Golden. With so few books coming out recently I feel that Plath scholars are anxiously waiting for something big to happen...

But there were two books that I was involved in that came to their fulfillment, of sorts. In late May, The Letters of Sylvia Plath was submitted to Faber & Faber. The book has been edited by myself and Karen V. Kukil and we hope to see it out in 2017. We submitted a beast of a book that included all the known letters that we could get our hands on and the manuscript swelled to nearly 3,400 double-spaced pages. This book had been in the works for more years than I can remember so it was wonderful to bring it to completion. I cannot wait for you to read it. At this point in time I am still unable to answer any questions about the book, so please do not ask!

Then in August, on the heels of the Letters book, Gail Crowther and I submitted a book of essays entitled These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. We heavily revised our original essays which were published from 2009 to 2013, and wrote much new content detailing our Sylvia Plath archival research. We present a lot of new information. We hope to see this book out in 2017, too.

Speaking of 2017: this should be an interesting and busy year. If the Letters are published I would expect this to be big news. Also, look for a long-term exhibit to open at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., in June. Dorothy Moss and Karen V. Kukil will bring off One Life: Sylvia Plath and will feature many items from the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College, the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington, Emory University, and private collections. It is going to be amazing. Another, smaller Sylvia Plath exhibit will be on view at the Grolier Club in New York City from 21 September for a month or two. As part of this, Karen V. Kukil, Heather Clark, and I will be panelists on a small symposium at the Grolier in October. More details on these as I learn about them. And, speaking of Heather Clark, she is still hard at work on her literary biography of Sylvia Plath (Knopf). More information on this when I have it, too. Lots to look forward to in 2017, for sure.

Thank you all again for reading the blog and for commenting. Thank you to all the librarians and archivists I have bothered ceaselessly this year asking for information, copies, scans, etc. Be safe this holiday season, be happy and healthy, and read Plath. And look forward to the next post on 1 January 2017!

All links accessed 18 and 22 October, 15 November, 11-14 December 2016.

PS: I see it written a lot, on the internet, that Plath's poem "November Graveyard" was about the cemetery at Heptonstall where she is buried. This information likely has come from Ted Hughes' note in the back of the Collected Poems in which he states that the poem was set in Heptonstall. This may be incorrect. A note in Plath's pocket calendar indicates she began this poem on 9 September 1956. This was three days after a walk to a "green lichengrown graveyard" where she read and "pondered" the old stones. In her pocket calendar, Plath did not an indicate where this graveyard was that she visited.

"November Graveyard" was first published in Chequer in the winter of 1956-1957 under the title of ... "November Graveyard". A typescript copy held at Smith indicates she sold it to Mademoiselle in 1958 -- but the poem was not published in that magazine, seemingly, until November 1965! On 18 April 1958, Plath recorded the poem as just "November Graveyard" for Lee Anderson in Springfield, Mass. A short time after this Plath added in the ", Haworth" to the title as when she read the poem for the Woodberry Poetry Room on 13 June 1958, she recited the title as "November Graveyard, Haworth". When Plath made her recording at Harvard, she even wrote the titles out on the reel-to-reel case (below), which is held by the Woodberry Poetry Room. "The scene stands stubborn", indeed.

01 December 2016

Sylvia Plath's "A Winter's Tale" Illustrated

Sylvia Plath's "A Winter's Tale" (the poem) was a New Yorker poem, appearing in their 12 December 1959 issue. While she marketed it to the magazine in mid-1959, Plath was encouraged by Howard Moss to resubmit it later in the year after revising a line.

"A Winter's Tale" is a poem of place, and that place is Boston, Massachusetts. Plath and Ted Hughes had been living in Beacon Hill at 9 Willow Street since September 1958, so she got to experience the Christmas season in the city in 1958 like never before. Plath worked briefly that autumn in the psychiatric ward at the Massachusetts General Hospital, likely in the same building and ward where she was a patient five years earlier in the late summer of 1953. She and Hughes familiarized themselves with their city by foot, often going on long walks along the wharves and through Scollay Square. They also took in museums and galleries and frequented the Boston Public Library at Copley Square.

The composition date of "A Winter's Tale" is unknown, but it was certainly after 28 November 1958, when Boston held its Ninth annual tree lighting ceremony, as was reported in the Boston Globe the following day. Joseph A. Keblinsky wrote about it in his 29 November article, "Christmas Festival Opens In Burst of Light, Carols". A read through of his piece contextualizes some of the scenes Plath witnessed. I found, too, a photograph depicting part of the nativity scene printed in the Boston Globe the following year on 30 November 1959. I imagine the scene would largely have been the same from year to year.

I was reading "A Winter's Tale" recently and was struck by the number of places, buildings, and companies that Plath captured. Some of these sites are still around; some are "long gone darlings", to quote another Plath poem, "All the Dead Dears" (which coincidentally, like "A Winter's Tale" was both the title of a poem title and the title of a short story).

Due to copyright, I cannot post the entire poem here, but what I have done is to reference the stanza and then the word or words from the poem which place the verse in Boston. Then I have included a link to a photograph found on Flickr from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, or inserted my own photograph to help to illustrate "A Winter's Tale". Also there are some annotated Google maps. My hope is that the poem will be visually contextualized in a way that makes it new and modern yet also historically rendered.

To set the scene, though, how about a photograph of Acorn Street from April 1958 taken from directly in front of 9 Willow Street. And here, too, is one from February 1959 -- a snowy scene quite possibly taken with Plath and Hughes six floors up in the apartment looking out their windows.

View of Acorn Street from Sylvia & Ted Hughes' apartment
9 Willow Street, Boston (October 2012)
This map relates to stanza one and stanza seven
In stanza one, Plath begins the poem in her own backyard, as it were, at Boston Common (May 1958). The trees are labeled in the Common and Public Garden; which is something Plath herself referred to in her later poem, "Two Campers in Cloud Country". In "A Winter's Tale", Plath specifically mentioned the "Ulmus / Americana", otherwise known as the American Elm.

Plath's adolescent home was on Elmwood Road, Wellesley, and she lived on Elm Street twice in Northampton (at Haven House and at 337 Elm Street). The elm likely held particular significance to her. Later, Plath's writing desk in North Tawton was a large plank of elm that was originally cut for a coffin. The desk is now held by Smith College. Peaking Beacon Hill is the "domed State House" (March 1958). The Common and State house are identified on the map above by the number 1.

Here are two photographs. The first is of Boston Common, taken from inside 9 Willow Street in what was Plath and Hughes' bedroom. The second is of the State House, taken from the roof deck.

View of Boston Common from Sylvia & Ted Hughes' apartment
9 Willow Street, Boston (October 2012)
View of State House from roof deck,
9 Willow Street, Boston (October 2012)
This map relates to stanza three and stanza four
In stanzas three and four, Plath compares the angels in the nativity scene to the models in several of Boston's department stores. She mentions Bonwit's (then at 234 Berkeley Street), Jay's (on Temple Place), and S. S. Pierce (144 Tremont Street). In the image of S. S. Pierce, the building is next to "Central" truck.

This map relates to stanza five
In stanza five, we are now with the speaker of the poem in Downtown Crossing, then the heart of Boston's pedestrianized shopping area, listening to carolers on Winter Street, Temple Place, and outside of Filene's (February 1959). Winter Street and what was then Filene's and Temple Place are circled in the map above. Filene's is now gone, replaced in part by a Primark and an in-construction office and residential tower.

In stanza seven (see first map image above), eight and nine, Plath's speaker is back in Beacon Hill. She name-drops many of its most famous, exclusive streets and listens to the carolers filling the air with their songs. Pinckney Street (March 1959), Mt Vernon Street (April 1958), and Chestnut Street (1958).

There are still "odd violet panes" on the windows, too: a fantastic, idiosyncratic detail to record. The image below is from just around the corner from 9 Willow Street.

"Of  windows with odd violet panes"
29A Chestnut Street, Boston, Mass.
Is it the best photograph? Oh, no. Certainly not. But if you are interested in this violet phenomenon, please see "Why Some Boston Brownstones Have Purple Windows", Boston Magazine, 23 September 2015. It is sometimes a wonderful thing to know that my own eyes --and yours too-- can still look upon the very exact same thing that Plath's did.

This map relates to stanza nine
The last stanza and a half addresses the Little City on a hill (See also). There is some interesting imagery here. If the the final four place names were looked at from above and lines drawn connecting the points, they would form a close approximation of a Cross, the symbolism for which hardly needs explaining.

Charles Street (February 1959) (West) and Customs House (August 1959) (East).
North Station (September 1959) (North) and South Station (April 1957) (South).

All links accessed 21 May 2016, and 1 and 17 November 2016.

21 November 2016

Book Review Fronts of Modernity: The 20th-Century Collections at the University of Victoria Libraries

Editor J. Matthew Huculak's Fronts of Modernity: The 20th-Century Collections at the University of Victoria Libraries (2016) is a remarkable work. He, along with the other contributors, survey the important archival collections held at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. Published in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the special collections at the university, Fronts of Modernity is a treat for anyone interested in archives, modernism, poetry, literature, photography, art, and more. And if you have not heard of the collections at the University of Victoria, you are missing out.

Fronts of Modernity was printed in limited run (1,000 copies), but is free to download as a PDF. In the book/document, readers are treated to a smorgasbord of archival topics, from collection policies to descriptions of unique manuscripts. Throughout, there is context provided in these cohesive "letters" so that you always know how the materials fit into the mission of what the library collects, preserves, and makes available for scholarly research or personal use. In addition to excellent, riveting essays, high resolution scans compliment the expert texts written by Huculak, Jonathan Bengston, Heather Dean, Nicholas Bradley, G. Kim Blank, James Gifford, Matthew S. Adams, Elizabeth Grove-White, Stephen Ross, Christine Walde, and Michael Nowlin.

The essays are presented in a geographical fashion covering records originators from Canada, Ireland, France, Egypt, England, and America. Within each chapter/letter, there is chronological progression of themes and authors. This is not a book that requires a completely linear reading. As Huculak writes, the collections represented at UVic are an "interconnected ecosystem of material spanning thousands of years across various disciplines" (xv). The University holds papyri, but it's strength is in the modernist moment from Ezra Pound to W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot to Virginia Woolf. There is Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell. As well as Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and the Harlem Renaissance. What I loved particularly were the first essays which detail the genesis of the libraries collecting focus: from the first librarians/archivists/collectors and the players responsible for the foundation of the the university's first acquisitions. They do not forget their roots, which is so wonderful and refreshing. I feel in these pieces the writing is so enticing that if it does not give you archive fever then there is something wrong with you.

It may not surprise you that I gravitated towards Christine Walde's piece "Talking Back to The(ir) Archive: File SC060, or the Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath Collection at UVic Libraries". Christine navigates this important collections with expert precision and care. Acknowledging that the collection is small, she rightly illustrates how these papers "[correspond] to the larger archives of its creators held in other libraries and archives" (102). She asks important archival questions about the conversations that take place on either side of the page: "Did the awareness of the potential value [of their papers] inspire Plath to insert herself further into Hughes' archives? Or, as Plath's fame grew after her death, did he insert himself in her papers to present a picture of himself as poet, husband, father, executor?" In some instances one might be able to determine which came first, but in others it could be virtually impossible.

The illustrations in the book from the Plath-Hughes point of view are wonderful. They show the vibrancy of their manuscripts and typescripts, as well as the chilling realities, such as an unfinished letter from Ted Hughes to David and Assia Wevill. The letter is undated but from the evidence could be assigned to circa 27 June 1962 for Hughes mentions having been in London "yesterday" and seeing the film Last Year at Marienbad (Criterion). Plath and Hughes had traveled to London on 26 June for BBC appointments and other things, and as Mrs. Plath was at Court Green there was little reason to rush back. Last Year played at the International Film Theatre, Bayswater,

I really enjoyed Fronts of Modernity and I hope if you download a copy, or are lucky enough to have the physical book to hold, that you do too.

All links accessed 10 November 2016.

10 November 2016

Sylvia Plath's Wellesley Neighbor in The Bell Jar

One of the other things I learned on my tour of 26 Elmwood Road in August was that I got the house that inspired the description of Dodo Conway's wrong. This new information was alluded to in a post on McLean Hospital last month. I have long known that Dodo Conway was inspired by Sylvia Plath's Wellesley neighbor Betty Aldrich. The Aldrich family -- C. Duane and Betty and their nine children -- lived at 23 Elmwood Road which is across the street at a diagonal to the Plath house. The house I thought inspired Plath's description was a little further down the road. Today, the Aldrich house, like many in Wellesley and other affluent towns, appears to have been greatly improved from the way it looked in the 1950s.

Of Dodo and the Conways, Plath wrote in The Bell Jar:
Dodo Conway was a Catholic who had gone to Barnard and then married an architect who had gone to Columbia and was also a Catholic. They had a big, rambling house up the street from us, set behind a morbid fa├žade of pine trees… (1963: 122)
It was the "up the street from us" that led me to deduce the wrong house… So, I suppose this would be an instance of light fictionalization in the novel because in reality, the house is one house away at a diagonal and across the street.

Plath was not done, she continued:
Her house was unlike all the others in our neighbourhood in its size (it was much bigger) and its colour (the second storey was constructed of dark brown clapboard and the first of gray stucco, studded with grey and purple golf-ball-shaped stones), and the pine trees completely screened it from view, which was considered unsociable in our community of adjoining lawns and friendly, waist-high hedges. (1963: 122-123)
The Aldrich/Conway caricature is one of those instances in The Bell Jar where Plath wrote negatively about a person and family whom, in fact, she regarded quite dearly.

In real life, Betty Aldrich (1920-2001) was a 1941 graduate of Radcliffe College. She married C. Duane Aldrich, a lawyer, who was a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School. So you can see where Plath invented some details in an attempt to mask the real people. You can read about this remarkable woman here.

The Aldrich family moved into 23 Elmwood Road in November 1947. At that time they had three children. Plath took some lovely photographs of "Libby" Aldrich on Elmwood Road circa 1948. These she pasted onto page 9 of her High School scrapbook held by the Lilly Library with the caption: "These pictures of Libby Aldrich, the little girl across the street show how much I wanted to capture moods of a young child. She is my idea of a perfect little girl. I just wish she would never grow up!" The fourth Aldrich child was born in 1949; the fifth in 1951; the sixth in 1955; the seventh in 1956; the eighth in 1959; and the ninth in 1963 after Plath's death. The Aldriches visited Plath in the spring of 1956 while she was a student at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, and were the first Wellesleyites to meet her then new boyfriend, Ted Hughes.

So, when Plath was writing the novel in the spring and summer of 1961, the Aldriches had eight children and she changed this, slightly, to six, with seventh on the way (p. 123). Dodo is a disingenuous name, of course, and may have been used to complement the pure vanilla-ness of the name "Buddy". It also can be used in a hardly flattering way. The use of the name here may have been inspired by many things: from knowing Dido Merwin, and also being an acquaintance Eric White of the Arts Council, whose wife Edith Dorothy went by the name "Dodo". Lastly, Plath's other neighbor, Dorinda Cruickshank, went by the name 'Do'.

Here is a Google Street View screen capture of 23 Elmwood Road:

You can see two of the lone remaining pine trees along Elmwood Road. Also, some of the features on the front of the house do recall Plath's description in the novel but both the stonework and vinyl siding appear newer.There is also a line of pines extending down the eastern border of the property. Here is a view from Plath's bedroom window of the house:

You can see from this photograph, taken from Plath's bedroom window, how the Aldrich house was/is screened from view.

All links accessed 28 August and 1 November 2016.

01 November 2016

Sylvia Plath at the University of Victoria, British Columbia

As the seats in the room began to fill, the nerves left me almost immediately: like morning valley fog burning off when the sun reaches a certain point in the sky. I became instantly happy.

Jonathan Bengston (University Librarian ), Lara Wilson (Director of Special Collections and University Archivist), and Christine Walde (Plath scholar, Awesome-sauce and Grants and Awards Librarian) welcomed the standing and sitting room only crowd to Room 210 in the Mearns Centre for Learning at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. Their comments brought the assembled listeners up to speed with the context for the lecture/talk they were about to hear. 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Special Collections at the university. The library holds some remarkable acquisitions including manuscripts and typescripts by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, as well as letters by Hughes. Indeed, some of the letters were written by Hughes with Plath in the room with him, giving present, still living action to Plath. Very evocative.

Don't tell anyone, but the fire code set maximum occupancy of 65 persons. 80 chairs, however were set up, and people were seated in a group up front, standing in the back, crowding the doorway. Some were even turned away. Yes, there was cake afterwards, but the UVic media relations did an excellent job of building interest not just in the talk I would give, but more importantly to their latest, fascinating acquisition.

In July I tweeted out a link (above) to a rare, interesting copy of a Victoria Lucas edition of The Bell Jar. It was a first edition, reprint. The provenance of this copy is the stuff of dreams. It belonged to Ted Hughes, who gave it to Nicholas Hughes. Upon his death in 2009, the copy then transferred ultimately to Frieda Hughes. There may have been an intermediary ownership but that at the moment is unclear. The book sustained a heavy trauma at some point, the front board being nearly severed in half. And this creasing extends through the front pastedown, front free endpaper, and into some of the preliminary pages. There are also some tears. Frieda Hughes drew over the heaviest creases: one of a zipper; another of stitches presumably a task undertaken cleverly by a mouse. An alligator nibbles at a small tear. It's one thing to see images of it; another completely to behold it and trace your fingers over it. Christine retweeted it and put a link of Facebook and Lara saw that and very shortly afterwards had secured the book for the Special Collections. Social media working to benefit our cultural heritage.

Christine and Lara invited me out to give a 45 minutes talk on Plath and the topics we agreed upon were textual variations to The Bell Jar, Plath's letters, and her archives. I was surprised at how fun and easy it was to write about these topics, and had enough time to rehearse the talk and be comfortable with the slides. Victoria, BC, is a wonderful city. My first day an unexpected thing happened: the sun was out the entire afternoon so I took advantage of the freedom to use my legs after a long transcontinental flight to explore the downtown area, Beacon Hill Park, and the coast. I gazed across the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the Olympic Mountain range in Washington State and saw snow-capped mountains. A tapas dinner at the Veneto Lounge capped off a very long day. Excellent food and the lovely company of Christine and her husband Paul, as well as a strong IPA (Fat Tug) put me in the mood for sleep. It also put in mind to start my own IPA: International Plath Association! It is another PUI (Plathing Under the Influence) for me.

Wednesday was a frenzy. I had the morning to myself and it was raining, meeting my expectations. Christine and I had lunch at the University Club with Christopher Douglas, an English professor who teaches The Bell Jar, and two Ph.D. students (Erin & Alyssa) which got us in the mood for the media. Lara Wilson and I gave a radio interview with Pamela McCall of CFax, but I have to admit the story before ours -- a couple returned home from a five-week holiday to discover squirrels had wrecked their house -- was frankly more exciting. It was, however, great that there was so much interest in the university's acquisition. We also met with a student reporter as well as Richard Watts of the Times Colonist. I had dinner on my own that night and worked on the final preparations for my talk.

It was during the media portion that I was able to see some of the library's Plath books and hold their new Victoria Lucas copy of The Bell Jar. I also got to work with their Plath and Hughes collection (SC060). THE BOOK was quite amazing to hold; and nothing compares to seeing poetry drafts and letters in person. A selection of books were going to be on display in the front of the lecture room. In addition, I was able to look through letters from Ted Hughes to Robin Skelton from circa 1961 to circa 1964.

Also on Wednesday, items were selected to be on display in the entrance area to the library.

The day arrived. Thursday, Plath's Birthday. It had the perfect set-up for disaster. I woke with a migraine, sore throat, and sinus pain. A pre-dawn run along the coast did little to make me feel any better and so I resorted to a hour long nap and ibuprofen to try to get a handle on myself. Somehow, I woke clear headed. Lunch at Thai Lemongrass at Yew Tree Corner(!) with Christine, complete with a beer called Dark Matter followed by chocolate cookies from the Dutch Bakery and coffee from Kicking Horse clarified any remaining fogginess, and I felt ready to give the talk.

Sitting in the staff lounge before the talk, looking at a large crow in a tree, I calmed myself thinking about 210, the room number where the talk was to be held. 210: Plath was born at 2:10 in the afternoon. Plath's mother saw the 2:10 showing of A Queen is Crowned in Boston on 24 August 1953. 210. Plath signed the contract for The Colossus on February 10 (2/10), 1960. My favorite typo in the first edition of The Bell Jar is page 210.  February 10, 1963: Plath's last full day of life.

Students, teachers, and townies were lined up outside the room at or before 4 o'clock. A full half-hour before the start time! We were flabbergasted that upon welcoming them at 4:15 to take seats the room was more than half-filled within minutes. More and more and more people filtered into the room and it was quickly realized that media outreach was working for this event.
After the three welcoming comments, one of which was captured above by Matt Huculak, I took to the podium and tried my best to follow the script I had prepared. I lost my place one or twice and tried to look up from the paper a couple of times per page and make eye contact. It was hardly perfect but I hope it was done well enough.
I had prepared a slideshow of 48 slides for the talk. Thanks to Claire S. Kanigan for her tweet, above. This meant there was more than one per minute, but the way it worked out some slides were up for a while, and some for too short a time. Life isn't fair. The topics upon which I spoke were: 1) the history of The Bell Jar and edits made to the novel after Plath's death; 2) working with her letters for the Letters of Sylvia Plath I co-edited with Karen V. Kukil, and 3) working with Plath's archives, which lead to the book of essays I co-wrote with Gail Crowther, These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. I think I could feel a genuine feeling of attentiveness from the audience, and there were certainly some things I discussed that I knew were so new, that I truly hope I stumped them silly. We had a good question and answer session afterwards, followed by a ridiculous crowding at the front of the room for people to see Victoria's Victoria Lucas Bell Jar.

It was determined there were at least 100 people in the room, and I was told that no event had had such a turn-out as that. Well, after all, there was cake.

Thank you again to Christine, Lara, Jonathan, and to fellow post-talk dinner attendees Matthew Huculak and Iain Higgins. Dinner at the Ferris' Oyster Bar was lovely and conversation great. In honor of Plath I had mushroom ravioli. Matthew and I realized it is a small world and discussed our common acquaintance with Amanda Golden. A parting gift of a print copy of Huculak's recently edited Fronts of Modernity: The 20th-Century Collections and a UVic Libraries coffee mug and flash drive were very sweetly received. The book contains wonderful essays about their special collections, high resolution scans, and is freely available to download. I highly recommend you get a copy for yourself -- and not just for the Plath and Hughes! Also scored a doughnut from the Sidney Bakery, which, when consumed at 32,000 feet above Sault St. Marie tasted mighty fine.

Again thank you to all the students and faculty and staff and general public of Victoria for attending the event. I was spoiled rotten this week. Thank you thank you.

All links accessed 29 October 2016.
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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.