06 December 2013

Sylvia Plath Collections: London Magazine

The archives of the London Magazine are held, along with so many other amazing archives, at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Sylvia Plath had her poems, stories and other prose published in the London Magazine from June 1958 ("Spinster" and "Black Rook in Rainy Weather") through January 1963 ("The Applicant" and "Stopped Dead") in her lifetime and also made appearances after her death, from April 1963 and beyond. Plath dealt with a few people on the staff of the magazine over the years, including John Lehmann, Charles Osborne, and Alan Ross.

In addition to what was found at the University of Texas, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Mortimer Rare Book Room of Smith College has photocopies of a number of Plath's letters to Lehmann and Osborne. These are contained in the Edward Butscher papers. Presumably the originals of these letters are with the London Magazine records in Texas, but as I have seen the material at Smith, I will discuss what I saw there. Also, Plath's own copy of the January 1963 London Magazine that printed "The Applicant" and "Stopped Dead" is held by Emory University (the catalog record from Emory reads: "Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library Hughes copy of n.s. vol. 2, no. 10 (Jan. 1963) has autograph: Sylvia Plath- 23 Fitzroy Road- London NW1; is mutilated, with Plath's poems sliced out; from the library of Ted Hughes." Mutilated, for what it is worth, is a gross overstatement. Yes, the issue has been cut, but the cutting, or mutilation, was done by Plath removing her poems from the issue for her publications scrapbook (in fact, the pages on which her poems appeared from this issue are held by Smith College).

Anyway, I want to focus on what was recently uncovered upon my request to the good people at Texas University. That is, two letters from Plath to Alan Ross, typescripts of "In Plaster", "Leaving Early", "Parliament Hill Fields", "Small Hours", "Whitsun", "You're", "Zoo Keeper's Wife", and "Context". The collection also has page proofs of "In Plaster" and a couple clippings of Plath's poems from The New Yorker from 1970 and 1971. The typescripts of poems were all sent by Plath to the magazine on 3 May 1961 according to Plath's submissions lists (again, held by Smith College); and "Context" was submitted later on that year, if not in early 1962 (and published in the February 1962 issue along with "In Plaster"). For a little more on what "Context" was all about, please see this blog post from 15 July 2012

The two letters from Plath to Alan Ross are dated 2 April 1961 and 9 November 1961. They are both quite brief. In the April letter, sent on a little postcard, Plath simply states that neither she nor Hughes will be able to make a publication day event. She wishes Ross and the magazine well. In November, Plath states that she and Hughes hope to have a submission for the forthcoming poetry number -- this could be when she was preparing "Context". These letters were sent to Ross at the London Magazine's address at the Doric House, 22 Charing Cross Road (map).

As regards the other London Magazine materials, copies of which can be read at Smith College's Mortimer Rare Book Room, there are six letters to John Lehmann: 6 October 1955; 26 February 1957; 24 December 1958; and 16 June, 1 September, and 12 November 1959; and three letters to Charles Osborne from 16 May and 4 September 1961, and 9 January 1963.

The letters to Lehmann are largely business related cover letters accompany poems. Here is a rundown of those letters:

On 6 October 1955, Plath introduces herself as an American Fulbright student at Cambridge and submits, among other poems, "Ice Age" and "Danse Macabre."

On 26 February 1957, Plath submits "Spinster" and "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" and other poems. The two named poems there appeared in the June 1958 issue of London Magazine.

On 24 December 1958, Plath expressed delight at the acceptance of three poems: "Lorelei," "The Disquieting Muses," and "Snakecharmer", which appeared in the March 1959 number. She asks Lehmann to accept and make a change to "Lorelei" - removing a line of French and replacing it with its English translation - which will not affect the syllabic verse she employed. The line in English is "Drunkenness of the great depths." In this letter she describes Beacon Hill and their life in Boston. She mentions Hughes working on stories, and herself working on stories and poems.

On her third anniversary, 16 June 1959, Plath submitted more poems, including "The Thin People" and "In Midas' Country" which were accepted and published in the October 1959 issue. Plath mentions they are still hard at work on stories.

On 1 September 1959, Plath submits three stories: "The Wishing Box", "The Shadow", and "This Earth Our Hospital". London Magazine published "This Earth Our Hospital" under the title "The Daughters of Blossom Street" in May 1960.

On 12 November 1959, Plath accepts a title change on her story, thinking that the initial title was pompous and not quite right. The change to "The Daughters of Blossom Street", she feels, puts the focus on the secretaries in the hospital and the role they play in light of the fact that death is ever-present in their lives. She mentions that Hughes recently sent two stories, "The Rain Horse" and "Sunday" for their consideration.

The letters to Osborne are short and sweet. On 16 May 1961 Plath is returning something (unstated) that her baby Frieda Hughes had found in their flat after a visit from Osborne; the 4 September 1961 letter is a late RSVP to a missed event in the recent past: the lateness due to the move she and Ted Hughes just completed to Court Green. She mentions hoping to be there forever and to live on apples and potatoes. The letter from 9 January 1963 submits poems and asks Osborne to stop by her cold, Dickensian flat if he is not afraid of children. In a postscript, Plath mentions that "Berck-Plage" was read on the BBC but that it had not been published. Osborne replied several days later stating that he was not afraid of children (letter held by Smith College). Using her submissions list, we can see that according to her she submitted twelve of her new poems on 17 January 1963. There is a discrepancy here (letter written 9 January, submissions list dated 17 January), but nevertheless the poems she submitted in January 1963 were "An Appearance," "The Bee Meeting," "Years," "The Fearful," "Mary's Song," "Stings," "Letter in November," "The Couriers," "The Night Dances," "Gulliver," "Cut," and "Berck-Plage." Plath annotated the submissions list on 25 January in red pencil, indicating that several of the poems had been accepted (a red underline). The poems she underlined have been underlined by me just above. 17 January might have been the date she received a decision, or when she was catching up with her submissions. Speculation, only.

Thanks are due to Emily Roehl and Marian Oman for their patience in dealing with me and my insane requests.

You can see more libraries that hold Plath materials on the Archival Materials page of my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is.

All links accessed 21 September 2013.

1 comment :

suki said...

Interesting to compare the poems that Plath had accepted with the ones that Hughes later put in books ( and didn't)...,

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