Messages: February - April 2006
Looks like there is another fictional treatment of the Plath/Hughes/Wevill sage, but this one includes a Carol Hughes figure:
Poison by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
The epic saga of a landmark British poet and his three wives, two of whom committed suicide. Schaeffer (The Snow Fox, 2004, etc.) seems to be making her own oblique contribution to the Ted Hughes/Sylvia Plath cottage industry via this vast, overwhelming vortex of a novel built on the life of promiscuous Peter Grovesnor, 'a man with an immeasurable weakness for women' and a gargantuan gift for poetry. Less a narrative, more a spreading ink blot of reminiscence and reflection, the story, which always keeps Peter`s death at its center, shifts its point-of-view between the perspectives of a range of family members and literary friends while also moving back and forth in time.
Peter`s first wife, Evelyn, was a manic and gifted American poet who gave birth to two children, Sophie and Andrew. Her decision to gas herself was subsequently copied by Peter`s second wife, Elfie, who killed their daughter as well as herself. Needing a mother for Sophie and Andrew, Peter made a third,calculated, loveless marriage to Meena, who bestrides the novel as gothically as any wicked stepmother.
Hateful, malicious and martyred, Meena lies about Peter's last wishes in an attempt to disinherit both the children and Peter`s sister Sigrid. Reaching toward myth in its interpersonal dynamics yet stalled as a work of storytelling, the book circles its group of living and dead, and its themes of talent, mortality and pain, to the point of exhaustion. Beyond the bickering, the suffering and the brooding, the principal interest lies in the degree to which Schaeffer`s story is or is not a roman a clef.
Peter, for all his purported charisma, seems the least vivid figure here. A massive, speculative, ornamental flourish in the margins of literary history. Skillfully written, but more obsessive than compulsive.
Dan, I don't know about "The Mummy" but the story "This Earth Our Hospital" had the title changed to "Daughters of Blossom Street" when it was published in 1960. The story is in the book Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams. I hope that helps.
From page 37 of the 20 April, 2006 London Review of Books: "Saint Botolph's Review No. 2 is available now." It contains an unpublished essay by Ted Hughes, as well as work by contributors to the first issue, and others. ISBN: 0-9552925-0-6. Price is £10 ($18 US) including p & p. Please send cheques only with postal address to: Viper Press, 10 Powis Gardens, London, NW11 8HH.
Peter K. Steinberg
You can now preorder the Assia Wevill biography on amazon.co.uk - it is due out September 28. A Lover of Unreason: The Biography of Assia Wevill Yehuda Koren, Eilat Negev.
"Assia was my true wife, and the best friend I ever had", wrote a heart-broken Ted Hughes, after Assia Wevill surrendered her life and that of their four-year old daughter to the fumes from the gas oven in her London flat, in March 1969, six years after Sylvia Plath had suffered a similiar fate. Diva, she-devil, enchantress, muse, Lillith, Jezebel - the exquisitely beautiful Assia Wevill inspired or provoked many epithets in the course of three marriages and in pursuit of a destiny that took her from dark pre-war Berlin, to Palestine during the British Mandate and then to London in the swinging 'Sixties. In the end, none would prove to be more fitting than the epithet- and epitaph- she chose for herself: 'Here lies a lover of unreason, and an exile'.
The story of the ultimately tragic failure in the marriage between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, twentieth-century poetry's most celebrated literary couple, has always been related from one of two conflicting points of view: hers or his. Missing for more than four decades had been a third, equally relevant and no less fascinating perspective: that of Ted Hughes's mistress, Assia Wevill. "The Lover of Unreason", the first biography of Assia Wevill, views afresh the Plath-Hughes relationship and marriage with a keen, revisionary eye, and at the same time, recounts the journey that shaped her life. Hers is a complex story, formed as it is by the pull of often contrary forces: fatal attraction and obsessive love, fidelity and adultery, cruelty and tenderness, dependence and rebellion, envy and self-sacrifice.
Hi I've been reading Sylvia Plath's Journals and was just wondering if anyone knew anything about a story she wrote called, "The Mummy", and also a story called "This earth our hospital"? How come it never got published - did she destroy it? Also if she did destroy it she wrote that she had sent them out to some publishers but they had been rejected- so couldn't they just print some copies out now if they have them?
Mary, I don't know about "Elm" but you can order Sylvia Plath Reads and hear her read the beautiful "Berck-Plage".
I am writing a piece of A2 English Literature coursework on The Bell Jar. I am wondering if there are any quotes from Syliva Plath herself, talking about The Bell Jar (the novel - though I am sure you know that). Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.
1) I was wondering - what is the significance of the oft-quoted "ski scene" in Plath's Bell Jar, the one where she breaks her leg? Some dub it her first contemplation of suicide, but I'd like a second opinion. 2) Where are tapes of Plath reading her poems aloud available? 3) Is there any sort of museum extant that preserves and showcases Plath's work? Replies would be much appreciated. Thanks! (Please reply using the forum).
I'm wondering if there is a recording of Sylvia reading her poem, "Elm". Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.
Teresa, In response to your request for help on the poem "Morning Song," have I got the thing for you! An audio interview performed in December 2004 with none other than Sylvia's daughter, Frieda.
The interview you can listen to is very brief, only about seven-and-a-half minutes long, but it's particularly interesting because, towards the end, the interviewer asks Frieda if she'd be willing to read the poem "Morning Song" for the listening audience. Frieda obliges, interestingly very hestitantly--apparently she doesn't like to read her mother's poetry aloud, and she explains why in the interview. And really, the reason I direct you to this interview is because Frieda offers her own brief explanation of the poem and why her mother wrote it. I thought, what better way for you, Teresa, to write about the experience of a poem, than to hear first-hand the poem's subject's own experience of the poem. Hope this helps,
Charles Newman, 67, novelist, founder of TriQuarterly and Editor of The Art of Sylvia Plath
Monday, March 27, 2006
St. Louis - Charles Newman, a novelist, critic and founding editor of TriQuarterly, one of the country's pre-eminent literary magazines, died March 13. He was 67.
Newman transformed what had been a student and faculty publication of Northwestern University into a literary journal with international reach. As editor from 1964 to 1975, he championed writers as diverse as Sylvia Plath and John Barth and introduced the vanguard of Latin American and Eastern European authors - including Jorge Luis Borges and Czeslaw Milosz - to TriQuarterly's readership of American writers and intellectuals.
Newman, who at his death was a professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, was known as a writer of experimental fiction who published four novels and a collection of short stories. He edited books of criticism on Plath, Borges and Vladimir Nabokov.
He also published original literary criticism, including "The Post-Modern Aura: the Act of Fiction in an Age of Inflation" (1985).
Newman earned a Bachelor's degree in American studies at Yale in 1960, then studied Politics and Economics for a year at Balliol College, Oxford, England.
After a brief stint as an aide to an Illinois congressman, he was drafted into the military and served as a medic in Vietnam. When he completed his service, he returned to Chicago, where he lived on welfare while writing his first novel.
His fortunes changed in 1964 when he was hired as an instructor at Northwestern and became editor of TriQuarterly.
Newman quickly reshaped the journal as a national magazine that showcased sophisticated and innovative fiction, poetry, essays and graphic art.
I attend the night undergraduate program at Rollins College. I am working on a project for my Philosophy of Art class, and I was hoping that I could get some help. Part of the class requirements are to complete a Thought Work Project. I chose to do my project on "Morning Song". One of the necessities of this project is to fully experience the artistic piece you have chosen. Therefore, I would like any opinions on the poem. I personally believe that there is an underlying theme of post-partum depression throughout the poem. What do you think? Please elaborate if possible. Thank you for any help you can provide.
I was doing some clean up and came across this information I found on Plath's family. I thought some of you might be interested in reading it. I don't think I've posted it previously.
I found some genealogy & census records for Otto E. Plath on the internet. Looks like his grandmother was from Poland - Katrina Katzsezmadek, b. 1826 Poland, died 1913 in Wisconsin. His grandfather was John Plath, B. 1831. Frieda Plath, Otto's sister (Aunt Frieda) is listed as nurse - with a note that she cared for President Warren Harding during his late (and then it cuts off). Otto's father seems to have been a Theodore Plath - children listed as Martha, Frieda, Hugo, Max and Otto. Theodore's siblings were Mathilde, Emil, Emelia, Auguste and Mary. I found two census reports for Otto - one in 1930, Mass. He is listed as being a boarder/lodger and a professor. The other is a California census of 1920 - he is listed as being from Poland (as opposed to Germany on the 1930 census) and is a teacher.
Aurelia Schober turns up in a 1930 census for Winthrop, Mass. Listed with her parents and two siblings, she is 23 and a teacher. Her father Frank (?) is listed as a manager of something - I can't make out the handwriting. Another news posting lists him as the manager of the Hotel Thornedike. He is 49, her mother 44, sister Dorothy is 18 and son Frank is 10. Her parents age at first marriage 25 and 18 respectively. This must have been just before she met Otto.
I did find some possible information on the whereabouts of Richard Sassoon, but this was in 2004 and I am not sure it is still accurate. I don't want to say where I think he might be living as 1. I am not sure it is the Richard Sassoon in question and 2. I don't want to be aiding and abetting anyone who thinks it's a good idea to just call him up. He was listed as being 70 in 1994 (which would put his birthdate in 1921 - does anyone know if that is accurate?) and is living in a state out west. It is possible that he had a son who was living on the east coast as of 1994, but who moved west in 2000 or so. A 2000 directory, however, only listed the younger Sassoon, so it is possible that the elder Sassoon has passed away.
I visited the Plath houses in London just a week ago. The house where she lived in the period between 1960 and 1961 is 3 Chalcot Square, and it has a blue plaque saying that Plath lived there. The other house, where she lived in the period before her death, is 23 Fitzroy Road; it does not have a blue plaque of Plath, but of Yeats. The Fitzroy Road house is in the immediate vicinity of the Chalcot Square house, just round the corner. Both of them can be reached by the Northern line of the London Underground. Chalk Farm tube station is the nearest one to the houses, about 10 minutes away.
Hi Jenny - the house that Yeats lived in, where Sylvia Plath lived for the start of 1963 until her death is a different house from the one that has the blue plaque outside commemorating her living there. The Yeats house has a blue plaque commemorating him. As far as I know, Frieda Hughes (understandably) wanted the blue plaque for Sylvia to be outside the flat she had lived in earlier (before she and Ted moved to Devon) because that was a place where she had spent happier times (it was the first place that she and Ted lived in after their marriage, she wrote The Bell Jar there, Frieda was born there, etc.). It's actually also the flat that she and Ted let to Assia and David Wevill when they moved to Devon - which is how the four of them met.
Luckily, both houses are very near to each other (the 2 roads adjoin each other).
The house that Yeats lived in is 23, Fitzroy Road, Chalk Farm. It's easiest to get there by taking the underground to Chalk Farm Station. Walk along Regents Park Road and eventually Fitzroy Road is on your left (or, I think, if I'm remembering it correctly, you can turn left much sooner onto Gloucester Avenue, then left onto Fitzroy Road. It's a while since I've been there and layouts in London are always changing but anyway! Regents Park Road is a well-known road there - if you have any problem finding it, I'm sure anyone in any shop there or at the underground station would be able to help you. So, the Yeats house (and the one Sylvia lived in at the end of her life) is No. 23.
If you've turned into Fitzroy Road from Regents Park Road and you're walking down Fitzroy Road, you turn left into Chalcot [ok, I can't read the second part in my A-Z! - it's either Chalcot Street or Chalcot Place or whatever, but it's the only Chalcot one off Fitzroy Road anyway] - that will bring you into Chalcot Square. The house she and Ted lived in, with the blue plaque commemorating her, is No. 3, Chalcot Square. [If you had turned into Fitzroy Road from Gloucester Avenue and were walking that way down Fitzroy Road, you would turn right into Chalcot.. Street/Place/whatever]
Hope that helps! Have fun.
I just finished reading The Bell Jar and really like Plath's work but I was wondering, what kind of mental illness did she have? If anyone can help me I appreciate your time.Thanks.
Hello, I'm going on a day trip to London to see an exhibition and was interested in 'visiting' the flat which Plath lived in. It would be doubly special for me since Yeats also lived there once....when in Ireland I visited Thoor Ballylee, so this would be something I'd really like to do. However, I can't find the location anywhere on the web. Can anyone help me please? I'm assuming it's not a secret, because I've seen photos of the door with the plaque commemorating Plath's living there. Any info is very much appreciated.
Does anyone know which texts were the source of Ted or Olwyn Hughes' knowledge of astrology? I would be extremely grateful for some help.
Hi Kevin, Sylvia died without leaving a will. Choosing Olwyn Hughes as literary executor for his dead wife's work has also seemed an odd choice to me. On the subject of photos, there are a couple of Assia Wevill in Diane Middlebrook's Her Husband. There's also a photo of Ted with Olwyn.
For the address on A. Alvarez, I've had a few successes in writing to writers' publishing companies. About a year and a half ago Alvarez published a book called The Writer's Voice. Assuming that Alvarez is still with the same publishing firm, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. if I were to write him I'd use the contact information on their website:
Editorial office: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 500 Fifth Avenue New York, N.Y. 10110 Tel 212-354-5500 Fax 212-869-0856 Sorry, we cannot forward email to authors or give out author email addresses or other contact information. We will, however, be happy to forward postal mail; if you wish to send a letter, please send it to the address given above and mark it ATTN: AUTHOR [Author's Name].
On a side note, while I haven't read The Writer's Voice, I know that it talks a great deal about Sylvia Plath.
Let me know the outcome of your Alvarez letters!
I have to agree with Morney. I think it's best to leave Frieda Hughes alone, ditto Nicholas Hughes, and any surviving members of the Plath, Wevill, or Hughes families. I understand the wish to contact Frieda Hughes. I have always been curious about W.S. Merwin. In addition to admiring his poetry, I have always wondered how he recalls Sylvia, and all those times when the foursome met regularly. As far as I know, he's always maintained a steadfast silence about Plath.
I'm lucky to be in Hawaii right now where Merwin is going to be reading from his Migration book of poems in a couple of days. Though part of me is sorely tempted to ask him questions about Sylvia Plath,or Ted Hughes, I can't do it. Call it shyness or the overwhelming empathy I feel towards someone who wants to seal the envelope on certain parts of their lives, I simply can't. I will let you know if anyone else is crass enough to do so, however, and how he replies!
I just discovered this forum. I took "Plath/Hughes" one year ago. It was a requirement for my English degree (concentration in creative writing). The professor is a real Plath afficionado (less so on Hughes). I can ask permission to pass on her name. There is a Plath collection at Smith (not as big as the one at IU), as many of you probably now. Karin Kukil, the editor of The Unabridged Journals, came and sat in on one of our classes (she studied with same prof.). She is a great source for all things Plath et. al., she was a hoot, too!
I can tell you some of what we learned (all semester): Dido was no fan of Plath; her opinions in biographies should be taken with a large grain of salt, and a water pill. Ditto for Olwyn, who was a controlling and jealous sister-in-law; but to be fair, Olwyn has some great personal insight on (a few),of Plath's poems. In fact, one of the bio's is so tainted with Olwyn's biased control, that it's more worth buying as an interesting piece of tabloid-ephemera than as a scholastically-approached biography.
Most of the biographies published before 2003 are more sensationalistic page-turners, than reliable histories on the life of Plath. You are better off looking in Lion, MLA Expanded Academic...and reading Hughes' own words. Plath's journals are so painfully naked when it comes to bi-polar mood swings. Look at pages 249-251, for example. On page 249, 2nd full par., we get blissful honeymoon anecdotes...then she goes into a sort of "pastiche-fictional exercise," and we get descriptions like: "Wrongness grows in the skin..." and "all clear in theblanched light of wrongness, not day, but some beige, off-color daguerrotype," and "dog yaps at two strangers. Two silent strangers," and "wrongness growing, creeping, choking the house...," (251). I know this is a journal entry/exercise, but don't you think it strange that she should be writing about such a fatalistic, doomsday-ish couple; on her honeymoon?
Interesting aside: Howls and Whispers is eleven poems long and an addendum of sorts to Birthday Letters. Hughes was big time into Cabbala, Gravesian ideology (Plath too),...look for the number eleven in Hughes' publications - it's an interesting treasure hunt to be sure!
Brigade de Cuisine
Kimberly - as far as I know, Carol Hughes does still live at Court Green - at least, she did until fairly recently anyway.
Cory and Rebecca - during one of the interviews that Frieda Hughes gave that I have links to, she said that she and her husband, the Hungarian painter Lazlo Lukacs, were working on having their own website. I don't know if this has happened yet, but I imagine if it has or when it does, there would be a way to contact her via that. Otherwise, I would think that the best thing to do would be to contact her through the publishing company that publishes her poetry (HarperCollins I believe).
As far as Al Alvarez goes, I've often wanted to 'find' him myself - to the point of vaguely having notions of going on a 'stroll' in the area he lives and assuming I might just happen upon him mowing his front lawn. At which point I would happen to drop a copy of all my poems (which of course I always carry with me!) at his feet, he would pick it up and start reading it and the rest would be history...
...oops, got carried away there for a minute! It's an idle daydream, but one I have now and then because I know he lives a few minutes away from where I live (but don't know where exactly). I would imagine you could probably try getting in touch with him via BBC Radio or one of the newspapers that he wrote/writes for. He still appears on BBC Radio here fairly often, so they would probably be able to forward mail to him.
My personal feeling as far as Frieda Hughes goes (and it may not be a popular one) is that (although I understand that sometimes a person would simply need to get in touch with her in a purely practical way because they need her permission to use SP's work) people should leave her alone. That isn't directed at anyone in particular - I think it's one thing to actually need her permission to quote from SP's work for a book (that comes along with the territory of being literary executor, so she has to expect that, I would think) but I do think it's another thing to want to get in touch with her to ask her anything personal about her mother.
As far as I know, but I'm very likely wrong, you don't need permission just to write a book about SP. I think it's when it comes to using her own writings, or parts of them, that you get into that area, but that's not something I know enough about to be sure. You'd need to find out more about copyright law first, I think. I've often wanted to get in touch with her - again, I know she lives near me and I'd love to talk/write to her (although actually mainly, now, because I am very interested in her as a writer and I like her poetry) - but I feel that there are some boundaries I shouldn't go over. I've had an email in my 'drafts' folder to David Wevill for 2 years now that I know I'll never send. I want to (it isn't asking anything, just saying something personal I wanted to say), but I know that would be too much - it's not my life, however much I might feel about it.
Thank you to everyone for the answers re Dido Merwin's picture! And a big thank you to Kim for scanning it in and sending it to me!
Thanks, also, Trish for what you said about my poem :)
Does anybody know where I can find an address for either Al Alvarez and Frieda Hughes? As a person who has been in love with Sylvia's poetry for the past 15 years (since high school) I would love to be able to have some questions I have too be answered by Mr. Alvarez. Plus I would like to write Ms. Hughes a letter asking her permission (being that she is as far as I know the person to talk to for permission to use her mother's work) to write a book on my views of her mother's poetry being that I am bi-polar with manic/depressive overlays (as my shrink put it). Also if anybody wants to have a e-mail discussion about Sylvia's writing and the effect that she has had on poetry itself feel free to e-mail me. Thanks to any one who can help me in advance.
I am hoping to write my dissertation on Plath and was wondering if the only way to access her unpublished letters/journals etc is through the Lilly Library at Indiana University? Also if I intend to publish any future work on Plath is it true I will require permission to use quotes from her work from Frieda Hughes, and if so, does anyone know her contact details? Thanks in advance.
I notice that in some places on the web Anita Helle is listed as Anita Plath Helle. Is she a relative?
Here is the link to the Conference at UCR. One of the sessions is on Sylvia Plath. I am planning on attending as I live in town and also went to school there. I am very excited to find this site. I have just recently started re-reading all my SP books from a course I took at UCR with Steven Axelrod. Of course I have a lot to catch up on because in that course we used the Abridged Journals. I have since read a lot of material that was not available when I was in school. Very exciting. I am enjoying reading everyone's comments on this site!
Does anyone know if Carol Hughes still lives in Devon at Court Green?
Dear Morney, There is a photo of Dido in Anne Stevenson's biography of Plath Bitter Fame. At least, there is in the edition I have which is a first edition. I would guess it's also in the other editions. There is also a picture of Sylvia in the Merwin's kitchen, holding Frieda. I tried googling Dido, but found nothing, so the biography may be your only option (you could also try a biography of W.S. Merwin if one exists, but since he is still alive one may not).
As to the person who asked about Assia, you can find shots of her in almost any Plath biography but especially in Ted Hughes' biographies. The Life of the Poet has several. I see pretty much the same 2-3 pictures of her everywhere I look - it seems that even fewer pictures of her than of Plath exist or at least are avaiable for public consumption. People didn't take as many photos back then.
Hi Morney, thanks! There is a photo of Dido in Stevenson's Bitter Fame. I can't find my copy at the moment, but if I can, I can scan the photo and email it to you. Ariane, there are photos of Assia and Shura in Ronald Hayman's The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath. There might be another of the two of them in Bitter Fame. Again, if you don't have the books, I can scan and email them to you. And I am sure the forth coming bio will contain illustrations - thank you Peter for that piece of news!
David, I don't care if anyone wears a T shirt of Plath or drinks out of a Plath mug. I am mostly 'up in arms' about the idea that the Estate - or any estate of someone famous - owes the public anything in the way of permission for 'souvenirs.' Would I wear a Plath t shirt? Sure. Would I clamor for one, no. I'm happy to have the work and if I were to clamor for anything it would be to make sure all of Plath work was 'out' and accessible to the public.
Anyone interested in Olwyn as the controller of Plath's estate would be, I think, fascinated by the letters that flew back and forth between Olwyn and Aurelia over the publication of The Bell Jar and limited editions of Plath's poems. Aurelia's annotations on the letters are revealing and I think, by annotating and donating the letters (both sides of the correspondence) to a public holding she was hoping that a wider audience would see them, and maybe someday they will. I think a whole book could be made of the subject of Plath's estate and their tight hold over the material, a subject that Janet Malcolm's book The Silent Woman 'touched on', and that various 'Plath' authors have mentioned in their forewards, but that has not been explored in depth. Of course, writing a book on the subject would require permission from the estate to publish, and so it goes.....
To look at the issue historically, I am sure that at some point in the future, the situation will be different - the immediate families members will be deceased and/or the distancing effect of time on emotions and fears will allow for more disclosure in the matter of Plath and Hughes, as it has done for artists before them. Of course, for us it will be too late, and we'll just have to hope that we reincarnate at the right time:-) Since neither of Plath's children have had children themselves, who knows who will control the Estate when they are gone.
Wow, the Wevill biography is nearly here. For me, this is "the" anticipated literary event of the past few years. Thanks for that link.
Morney, there's a picture of Dido Merwin in Anne Stevenson's Bitter Fame. It's a slightly grainy and rather generic snapshot...but the only likeness of her I've ever seen. Don't know why images of her are so scarce....
Mary - just one thing about "Stopped Dead" - it's mentioned briefly in Frieda Hughes' foreword to the Restored Ariel because the "uncle" referred to in the poem was apparently Ted Hughes' Uncle (Walter I think?) who owned a factory, was rich etc. He felt it referred to him in a derogatory way and as he was still living at the time, Ted left the poem out of the original published version of Ariel.
Re: pictures of Assia and Shura - the only photo I've seen of Shura is in Elaine Feinstein's biography of Ted Hughes (Ted Hughes: The Life Of A Poet). It has the one of Assia on her own that is already on this website, but also has one of Assia with Shura (no exact date on it - probably 1967, according to the book). It's quite something to finally see one of the two of them together - there are also other photos that I hadn't seen before, as well as photos I had seen before but had obviously previously had parts left out of them (eg: one of Olwyn and Ted with Nick Hughes as a teenager).
I expect (hope!) there might be more in Eilat Negev's biography of Assia Wevill when it comes out.
I haven't got a scanner otherwise I would scan it in and send it, but I imagine someone out there reading this has the book and could scan the photo in if there aren't copyright issues?
I found references to several of the essays that will be in the Anita Helle collection on Plath.
Bryant, M "Ariel's Kitchen: Plath, Ladies' Home Journal and the Domestic Surreal." Forthcoming in Sylvia Plath: The Unraveling Archive, ed. Anita Helle (University of Michigan Press).
Peel, R 'The Political Education of Sylvia Plath' in Helle, Anita (editor) The Unraveling Archive : Essays on Sylvia Plath University of Michigan Press (in press 2006)
Both sound interesting to me.
I am trying to find any photos of Dido Merwin, anywhere - online, in a book, etc. Haven't had any luck so far - I know she's in the Voices & Visions documentary about SP which can be watched online, but so far I have been unable to find a way of saving a screenshot of her interview as a picture file. She is constantly evading me!
Requests can be irritating, I know, but I am desperate! Please, if anyone either knows of one online or offline or has one or whatever, could they let me know?
Apologies to those of you who have emailed me for the Frieda Hughes links etc. and haven't had a reply yet - I am getting through them and will reply to you all as soon as I can. (Kim, I don't think I can post the poem on the forum because of copyright issues - I'm not sure - but I will email it to you asap).
Does anyone have any insight on Plath's "Stopped Dead"? If anyone has any suggestions as to what it might mean, etc please e-mail me.
Here's another one to rile the masses. Did Sylvia Plath die intestate, or did she have a will? Monstrously ironic to have her entire body of work controlled by one who made no bones about her dislike for her charge (O.Hughes), and then having that transferred over to her daughter? Was it a legal stipulation on the death of Ted Hughes that this occur? Perhaps it was a personal arrangement between Olwyn Hughes and her niece.
David, I am sending you some of the new Sylvia kewpie dolls from the Spring collection, one with the apron and crinoline dress, and one with the fishnets and black corset (these are meant to sit on either side of your head). Also, a Colossus alarm clock and the large 'Letter to a Purist' coffee mug. These are selling like hotcakes! I know Sylvia would have approved. You may place these next to your Britney Spears' collection.
To Jen and Kim and others who disagree with me about merchandising Sylvia: I still want my t-shirt! I want to walk around town with Sylvia's picture (which one?) emblazoned on my chest, announcing myself as a true believer in her talent, and maybe a few lines from one of her poems on the back. Hey, I'll even wear a Ted Hughes t-shirt: Some of his "Hawk" poems were very powerful. Or how about Sylvia on one side and Ted on the other? We don't often get these marriages of really good poets -- the Brownings and who else? -- so why not take advantage of it? Can anyone honestly think that I can't appreciate Sylvia's poetry and wear a t-shirt (X-large) with her likeness at the same time?
Hemingway's picture is everywhere; so is Mark Twain's. Sylvia, in her way, was their equal. When she was at her best, nobody wrote better. Her children's wishes must be respected, but Sylvia belongs to the ages. I want my SP t-shirt.
All one needs to do to confirm the wisdom of Frieda Hughes's "recalcitrance" re: her mother's estate is to see the disastrous biopic Sylvia ("Life Was Too Small To Contain Her"....ugh!) Thank God the makers of this masterpiece weren't allowed detailed use of Plath's work; it would have made an already undignified and one dimensional portrayal even more insulting.
I also failed to see anything inappropriate in Kevin's questions; they seemed reasonable to me, and actually, I have wondered the same thing about the circumstances surrounding Olwyn Hughes and the Plath estate (actually, I wasn't even aware OH was still living, until now.) But was David's comment intended to be sarcastic? It must be difficult for the estate of any deceased immortal (to employ a contradiction-in-terms)to juggle the privacy they are entitled to with the information the literary public is entitled to...maybe the estate should study the examples of Thomas Pynchon and JD Salinger, who have managed to juggle both quite nicely (and both still living, no less!....)
Lisa A. Flowers
The Independent printed an article on 5 March, 2006, announcing the publication this autumn of A Lover of Unreason, the biography of Assia Wevill by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev. Also, look forward to a late 2006/early 2007 publication of a book edited by Anita Helle titled The UnRaveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath.
Peter K Steinberg
I have wondered for sometime why there are so little photographs available of Assia and Shura? It is said by many that Assia was strikingly beautiful. Surely there must be some images available somewhere other than the only two on the net? I have yet to see a single picture of Shura. I despise what Assia did to Sylvia, but still think there would be some more information available about her. Shura especially deserves some sort of remembrance. Thank you!
I can't imagine why all the elaborate sarcasm from David Hall in response to what reads as a simple question about literary executors of the Plath estate. Nowhere did I read or infer that the person asking wanted kitcsh, t-shirts or other nonsense. What the question does show interest in is what matters most: Plath's words and the right to quote and reprint them.
It's actually a very good question. Certainly Olwyn Hughes, as executrix, inserted her own considerable personality into the reprinting of Plath's words about as much as anyone in that position ever has - long after Plath's children were of age, so one wonders why Ted Hughes finally left it for Frieda after his death. Perhaps O. Hughes simply wanted to retire from it all after her brother left the scene. A complex and difficult family, that's for certain - loads of ambiguous interactions there, both when Plath was alive and apparently up til very recently(not long after Hughes' death, there was if I remember correctly a sudden fracas between Frieda and her father's last wife, Carol Hughes over inheritances/ possessions; their relationship seemed to go from "close and loving" to embattled pretty quickly).
David, maybe Frieda and Nicholas are thinking that they would like to keep the memory and reputation of their dead mother somewhat dignified. Maybe they would like to retain a little piece of her since they had her in their lives for such a short time. If your mother committed suicide when you were a child would you want to see people walking around with T-shirts and coffee mugs with your mother's image on them? Maybe you would, but I wouldn't.
Clearly the fact of Plath's death and its method as well as subsequent rumor, innuendo, vitriol and just plain nosiness have deeply influenced both of Plath's children. If it is Plath's work that is most important, and I think it is, I don't think anyone needs anything else. That is her legacy, not tacky souvenirs. Seriously, what's the proposal, Sylvia Plath oven mitts? A Sylvia Plath oven timer with "time's up" written on it? Would that be sufficiently grim and 'funny'? However disappointing it might be to have the Estate withhold permission to quote extensively from Plath's work for the film, however depressing the lack of Sylvia Plath cookie jars and toilet scrubbers, I think if one puts oneself in the place of her children, I don't know that you can fault them.
At the same time, I do disagree with the tight hold that the Estate has put and continues to put on the quoting of Plath's or Hughes' work when scholars request permission. I understand the Estate's wish to preserve or 'put out there' their version of events, but I think it serves Plath and Hughes very poorly. I think as readers we are entitled to read and write what we like, but I think we need to be a little compassionate and circumspect when it comes to demanding this or that from human beings whose entire lives were severely impacted and changed by the suicide of their mother. That suicide and what came after it is a life long legacy, not simply a past childhood trauma to "get over."
Dear Lena, Where did you hear about a Plath conference at UC Riverside? I attend school there (I'm getting my MFA in fiction, but also studying poetry) and haven't heard anything! I just tried to look it up on ucr.edu but found nothing. Would you mind sharing any and all information you have? If this has been under my nose the whole time, I'm going to flip out! To think I could miss something like this at my very own school!
Kevin, I'm interested in this, too. Who controls Sylvia's estate, and why are they being so closed about everything? Hey, I want my Sylvia Plath T-shirt! Don't these people realize that there is much money to be made merchandizing Sylvia (and Ted, too)? I would love to be in charge of this underground mega-market for Plath memorabilia! It's not disrespect: it's the opposite! Many/most Plath fans would love to have something substantial - even if tacky - to remember her by. What are they thinking?
Hi Kevin - Olwyn Hughes is still alive. I'm not sure off hand why Frieda Hughes is now in charge of Sylvia's estate instead (someone will know! I'm too lazy to look at my bookshelves at the moment!).
Yes, it was Frieda who refused to give the makers of the film the right to use Sylvia's words. They were, however, able to use some phrases and bits and pieces from the poems and journals etc. without violating the copyright laws. Anyone who wants to use SP's words in that way would have to get permission from the person in charge of the estate.
If you haven't already read it, you might be interested to read Frieda Hughes' poem 'My Mother.' That was one she wrote about the making of the film and the request put to her to 'give' the makers of the film SP's words. I've got it on my computer so if you haven't got it or can't find it, please feel free to email me and I can send it to you. There is also a link I have to an hour-long audio interview with Frieda Hughes that you can listen to online - she reads 'Ariel' and 'My Mother' during this interview and talks about her feelings regarding the film and her reasons for not wanting to 'give' them her mother's words. I have that link saved somewhere if you would like that emailed too.
With regards to the movie Sylvia, I cannot help but think that if it had been made after the successes of Ray and Walk the Line then maybe it could have been a bit more balanced in showing both the positive and negative sides of Plath's life, including how her relationship with Hughes changed her writing as well as her life. However, I think for this to work Frieda Hughes would have to be a lot warmer to the prospect of portraying her mother on screen than she currently is...
Also, I think there is going to be a two-day conference at UC Riverside in April on Plath and I think they are going to talk about her media representation, including the movie. If anyone could attend I'd love to hear what people are saying!
Can anyone tell me what the circumstances surrounding Frieda Hughes becoming the literary executor of the Plath estate are? Was it simply her legal right? Was Olwyn Hughes somehow pushed out? Was it an agreement between the two, or has O. Hughes become deceased or what? Also, was it Frieda Hughes who disallowed the producers of the film any rights to quote or use any part of the work of Sylvia Plath for the film? Thanks in advance.
Kate Durbin: I find yours brilliant comments. Very astute and thought-provoking. It's absolutely true that to reread any of Plath - in particular her journals - is to find new things; she was that layered and contradictory a personality and an artist. If her "exclamations" weren't tempered by her obvious intelligence, and spiced as so often with the self-conscious glimpses of her "ice-eye"(what a spot on term!), she'd be much more the figure many of her detractors posit: a neurotic, thrashingly angry, overrated period piece, an idol for the "peanut- crunchers" or whatever her daughter called them. She's so much more than that.
As for the foreward by Frieda Hughes re: the "dry", depersonalized BBC commentary she wrote for herself; I can't see how she could have possibly presented her work to a public, general radio audience otherwise. I think it would have been not only out of her character but out of the norm as a 1962 British poet if she had laid open claim to herself as a character in the poems, as well as to suggest plainly any personal autobiography in them - on air, to perhaps thousands of total strangers.
Whatever the impetus for the poems, whatever, indeed, her actual personal emotional and physical illness, she still kept a desk and files of positively anal order and precision; a woman commits suicide, is alternately weeping, keening and babbling in the days before - yet her poems, her work, are carefully, precisely placed in a spiral notebook, typed, centered on her workspace. If Plath was anything she was a control freak about her work. This is not the personality of someone who would let her hair down in any way directly with her audience. In my reading of her, "what's there is there" - I can imagine her divorcing herself from the most brutal poem - example, "Daddy" - with the dispassionate attitude of a total professional. I am surprised that Frieda would expect her mother to write introductions that would in any way connect Plath personally to her darkest work, for the benefit of the casual listener - or any other listeners.
I am currently re-reading Plath's journals, and each time I read them I feel as if I am peeling back another layer of Plath's personality to discover yet another complex persona buried beneath.
One complex statement in particular stood out to me as I read, for the sheer impossibility of the first portion of it, as well as the ironic contradiction of the first thought with the second thought (both contained within the very same sentence, interestingly enough). Keep in mind that Plath's proclamation (and she always proclaims, doesn't she? She's very dramatic in her statements about herself as well as her observations about her environment and the people around her. There's a touch of the grotesque in all she observes) was predicated by a bout of Ladies Home Journal and McCall's readings - Plath was sick in bed and like so many of us chose to read 'lighter' material as her head was all stuffy and she was doped up on cold medicine.
Here is the statement:
"I am, at bottom, simple, credulous, feminine and loving to be mastered, cared for - but I will kill with my mind, my ice-eye, anyone who is weak, false, sickly in soul - and so I have done." Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals, pg. 361
Simple and credulous indeed! Loving to be mastered - hah! Only the master has the ability to kill that which is false. Oh, Sylvia, how you undermined yourself. This is such a Jeykll and Hyde statement. It's a baby who smiles sweetly until you see its fangs.
Recently I was also reading Frieda Hughes' introduction to the new edition of Ariel, where she comments on her mothers written comments to the BBC on what her poems were about.
"In December 1962, my mother was asked by the BBC radio to read some of her poems for a broadcast, and for this she wrote her own introductions. Her commentaries were dry and brief and she makes no mention of herself as a character in the poems...For the title poem my mother simply writes: 'Another horseback riding poem, this one called 'Ariel,' after a horse I am especially fond of." Frieda Hughes, introduction to Plath's Revised Ariel, pg. xv
The gross simplification of what her poems are about is what I find so fascinating, and to me it seems directly related to her gross simplification of her own complex desires and personality. I wonder, really, if Plath was really so ignorant of herself and her motivations as she claimed to be. It's my opinion that she was not, though she worked at it so hard that at times she almost convinced herself that she was in fact: "Simple and credulous...", writing poems about "horseback riding...this one called Ariel, after a horse I am especially fond of."
There is, of course, most likely an element of protection of self-preservation in all of this. Not only did Plath feel external societal and familial pressures to be a "simple" woman, she also most likely felt pressure to not admit that her poems were in fact about her, and that they were the poems of a woman who desired the exact opposite of "being mastered." But I wonder if it was more than simple self-preservation. It also seems a way to gain power indirectly, through wooing the reader (or the lover) with a non-threatening simplicity and sweetness until they are close enough to bite into.
Thank you again, Kim for posting the Astrodatabank link, and the information about Sylvia and Ted's charts. This is something I know so little about, but it's deeply intriguing to me. If you have any interest in this area of their lives, do go check out that site.
And Morney, I loved your poem!
Dear Helio Macadangdang, Hello I thought your post was heartfelt and moving. I have to agree with Jennifer that Sylvia possessed everything on a surface level only; genius anchored by discipline, two children, the kind of beauty that overwhelms a room, and the good fortune to have deeply loved a man who returned her love, at least for a while. But Sylvia worked extremely hard at creating that impression of possessing everything. In Letters Home, deep cracks appear in all that surface perfection. As Jennifer and others have pointed out, Sylvia received many rejections in her lifetime. (One imbecilic poetry judge had the gall to note that it wouldn't hurt Sylvia if she didn't win this prize.) She probably endured heartbreak and joy in equal measure. I agree that she was helpless in her mental illness. Had she a better doctor, who recognized her desperate state, she might have survived for another year or two only. These things are unknowable. However, I'm certain of this: Sylvia Plath would be delighted to know how passionately women like you are embracing her works, all these years later!
Long time no 'speak' - thought some members of the forum might be interested to hear about an online mazazine called Frigid Ember which was relaunched at the beginning of this year. It has an article about Sylvia Plath in it, which is accompanied by six poems that were chosen from ones submitted for that specific purpose.
If you go to this site: - scroll down to the third feature (Plath's Cult: Life and Work) and click on 'read feature'. At the bottom of the feature, click on 'read associated poems' to see the poems accompanying the article.
OK, I'm not simply being informative here - I do have to explode and say two of the six poems that were put up are by me and I'm a little excited about that. Unfortunately, all the breaks between my stanzas are missing - which matters more in 'Your Blue Hour' - although I think a lot of the stanza breaks are quite obvious really. Basically, each one started "In your blue hour..." and ended "Giving birth to immortal verse/In your blue hour."
Anyway, I gather the changes will be made and when the next copy of the ezine is out, I think the current features, articles, etc. will go into an archiving system.
End of shameless self-promotion.
I'm pleased to see the direction The Forum has taken lately. It's time for all of us to step back and re-assess (1) what we think of Plath and (2) what we want from The Forum.
All of us were drawn to her through her poetry, so that's where we should start. She was an amazing wordsmith: in her early years she went through the Thesaurus, circling words she liked and wanted to use in poems (which may be why some of her early poems are hard to decipher). But she was the first modern poet to try to translate her personal suffering into poetry. It had been done before: Shelley wrote "I fall upon the thorns of life/I bleed." But Sylvia gave her suffering context and then elevated it to metaphor: "Lady Lazarus" and "Daddy".
Do her life and loves and losses deserve attention? Of course, but only in the context of the poetry. Where, for instance, does Ted appear in her poetry? And when? And why? Or did she ignore him completely as a person and just include him among all men who were untrustworthy? (Like her father, who died so inconsiderately when she was young?)
I agree with Sebastian and all the new writers to The Forum who ask why we're all so intrigued by this young woman who killed herself at 30, just when she was on the brink of discoveries about who we are and why we do the things we do and make the decisions we do. I think we all sense in Plath a superior mind undermined by mental illness.
Such a loss, such a sadness. What would she have said about growing old? We'll never know. And we're all deprived because of it.
Helio, you wrote: "A world in which a girl with everything - Plath was successful, had a loving husband, two great kids and still she wasn't happy. What happened to her? She was so brilliant. Yet her mind was so deadly. So violent. "
I really think that if you're interested you must read her journals, the comipled Letters Home to her mother, and at least one good biography - if you are truly interested in answering your questions. However, I'll answer a few off the top of my head:
She was hardly a girl with everything. I'd say much the opposite, in her world and class. She lost her father - whom she loved dearly and who was a huge figure in her childhood - at a very vulnerable age. Any child would likely be scarred by that loss - and she was. Her family was far from wealthy and she was all too aware of the sacrifices her mother made for herself and her brother. She was under a very real pressure to succeed from a young age.
She was as unsuccessful as she was successful; for every acceptance of a poem or a story in a magazine, there were dozens and dozens of rejections. She was never famous, although she did make small inroads in England before she died, which she relished. But she was not widely read or "famous", and she had not reached the first levels of success professionally that she wanted and had worked for all her life. She came close, but again--many crushing setbacks were suffered.
Her husband was "loving"- but he also had a extremely dark side (I don't think anyone, including he, would dispute that), could be cold, emotionally distant, and was, frankly, eventually a shameless and unapologetic womanizer. Sylvia suffered doubts and real depression over her great, passionate love affair with Ted Hughes almost from the moment they met. And on their honeymoon, and certainly afterwards. There was plenty of marital discord in her marriage (as in millions of others then and now) to make for real trouble: money woes (they had serious concerns about making a basic living--things were never financially easy for the couple), sexual woes, jeaousy. That adds up to an unhappy marriage, like so many others. It doesn't mean they didn't love one another, or love their children. It does mean they suffered(especially Sylvia) real, not imagined stress of a pretty high degree.
As for her "deadly, violent" mind: she suffered from a mental illness, probably bipolar disorder. She had no more conscious control over the results of that illness than you or I would have over cancer, measles or the flu. In fact, there is eveidence that even in the depths of attacks that have certainly sent many women over the edge, she battled her illness to an astonishing degree, until she simply couldn't any longer, exacerbated by a recurring high fever and flu in the coldest winter in decades in London, while caring for two children under age 4 - alone.
The miracle of Plath is that it was under those circumstances ( the breakup of a marriage that was all to her, her flu and fevers, her clinical depression and manias, and moving house) that she wrote the poems that "made [her] name, as she put it. A singular achievement in literature, as far as I know.
I suppose in a way this is my "re-introduction" to Plath for the benefit of recent questioning visitors to this excellent forum: The real joy and triumph, and interest of Sylvia Plath - and I personally believe it's as she would want it - is in her poems. The answers and the questions and the biography -at least, of her imagination if not her factual life - ßis all there.
I have an essay from grad school analyzing the ways Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich use different personae in their poetry that I would like to submit somewhere for publication. I have a long list of literary magazines, but I'm wondering if anyone knows of a publication that focuses on Plath?? Just curious about what's out there... Thank you!!!
The website Astrodatabank is studying the horoscope charts of both Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes this month. The site is a source for professional and amateur astrologers to practice their craft. In this instance, Sylvia's and Ted's charts are being compared and the questions asked are these:
What does each chart tell us about the kind of relationship each poet would be drawn to? What does each person need and want in a partner? In some of Plath's poetry she depicts her husband as cold and domineering man who stifled her creativity. Does this view of her husband show up in her natal chart?
Where in Plath's chart might you see the astrological indicator of her suicide at a young age? From an astrological point of view, what might have driven her to attempt suicide and ultimately take her own life? Where does the death of her father and its impact on her show up in her chart?
What in their charts speaks of their passionate love and her mournful death? Where in his chart might you see the feminist outcry accusing him of contributing to her suicide? Where in the chart might you see his long silence on his relationships and his ultimate need to offer his perspective late in his life?
Astrologers are asked to examine the individual charts and compare them, then answer the questions based how they interpret the charts.
As Ted was a strong believer in astrology and cast horoscopes himself, and Sylvia also seemed to give some credence to astrology, I thought many of you might find this site interesting.
Can anyone brief me on Sylvia's use of Tarot? I've never heard about it. Where can I find more about her use of Tarot, that is if i'm reading previous messages properly.
There's been a lot of talk about new comers to the forum looking for introductions to Sylvia Plath; places we'd rather not go back to but keep in the present with what we are already so familiar with. I too find these questions aggravating, but I was thinking as I was writing a response to an introduction out was how interesting it was to re-examine what I hold to be evidence, helpful, personal, and how others might find the same ideas but in different ways. As I wrote I found new ideas arising in what I had considered to be of a different place, intersecting in ways so specific, delicate, and minute that I found myself wholly enthralled in the idea of what I know, what I am discovering, and how it comes out at a base level as simple as an introduction.
I am in no way saying that these abrubt interruptions and demands by people who, I assume, wouldn't care to read what we Plathophiles are already so involved in as desired, but I would like people to consider the ways of introducing Plath by what they have already formed. It's like asking a regular to see our regular theories, only now by introducing a theory to someone who is new and might find a relationship to our ideas in ways that any regular might.
Does that make sense? Don't get the wrong idea, I look forward to the new posts with new ideas and new foundations, usually skipping over those letters of introduction, and I find a whole hearted empathy for those who want answers here and now, but I think it might be a fine idea to make these introductions of our own personal and public theories, and start new conversations among those who are already capable of reading into it.
Maybe just a practice introduction? I would love, and I am not exaggerating, to see how other people introduce Plath and take those deeper meanings and start new explorations of them. I know how it feels to be asked for a piece of my time, but I would be interested in participating in an experiment like this.Would it be okay if we started postulating on those open ended Plath figure questions? Like the poets' hierarchy? That was so much fun. I tried to introduce the idea of Plath's life as it would be today but I was helped to realize the trivial quality of it. I know you have those essay questions out there, and you have one person who would love to try and justify their ideas about them. I love you all.
Just for the record, the original film version of The Bell Jar is now out on DVD. Go figure.
Anlin Shi- I'm not so well versed on Plath and feminism, but I do know that Plath wrote all of her poems after the framework for feminism had been laid and before the feminist movement took the shape that we saw in the 60's. I do know, for sure, however, that Plath did question her role as a woman, wife, mother and writer, and try to accommodate all conditions. Plath saw contradictions in her roles as a woman and writer, and confronts them in a way that could be classified as a feminist idea. Aside from The Bell Jar, and the Journals, look at almost any Plath poem that talks displays images of womanhood and you, depending on the reader you are, will find some relevance to feminism.
A good poem to read is "The Babysitters." On a whole the poem may not read as feminist work, but the mention of The Generation of Vipers will make the reader re-consider the poem on a whole. I'm so bad with my titles, I know the poems better, but poems I cannot even remember the title for that would be a good reference would be the poem that starts: "Hey lady, your house was lousy with flowers" and "The Tour." "The Tour," the poem that I know better, may not have direct statements concerning feminism, but in the context of Plath's confrontations I believe that the reader gleans some fair conclusions.
Hello Anlin, it was terrific to read your post from Bejing, China! Welcome! I'm looking forward to reading a variety of responses to your question about the influence of feminism on Sylvia Plath's work. I'm hoping it brings some interesting comments!
I have to look at her character, Esther Greenwood, and exasperated musings about men and women in The Bell Jar (though this is a fictional character, of course) as well as rants in some of the letters wrote to her mother. In my opinion, these point to Sylvia's strong awareness of the unequal position women occupied in society at that time. The women's movement, of course, would come into full flower after Sylvia died, and one can only wonder what magnificent writings her death has cheated us of. Other people on the board, whose opinion I respect, will argue the reverse, that she displayed a more traditionally feminine, even submissive posture. Being the complex, brilliant, woman that she was, I would imagine she felt pleasure in cooking her upside-down pineapple cake for her husband, at the same time, she experienced great exultation and power in publishing her poems. She was unabashedly competitive, hard working, and insisted on her right to structure her life as a working artist, as much as a hardworking mother and wife. Maybe at times she even muttered to herself that famous line from Walt Whitman: "I am large, I contain multitudes!" I would be very interested to read other comments.
Sylvia Plath has completely dumbfounded me. I never though anyone could create so much suffering and make it so real. I don't know... Is it just me or do her poems just make you feel sad - sad for her and sad for the world we live in. A world in which a girl with everything - Plath was successful, had a loving husband, two great kids and still she wasn't happy. What happened to her? She was so brilliant. Yet her mind was so deadly. So violent. I need an answer. Please someone. I am troubled by her thoughts and her tragic death. Can you pinpoint the day all her troubles started? Or was she born that way. Is depression a disease? I don't know. I have no experience of these things and can only think myself lucky. I would just like to know what you other Plath fans believe about her.
I am a college student who is studying at Beijing China. I plan do some research on Sylvia Plath. I want to know how did the feminst influence on her personality affect her work and style? If any scholar or friends could provide me with some references or suggestions that would help me do a study on her. Many thanks.
Sebastian - very interesting article that proves there are always new ways of looking at Plath's work.
Nicole, I concur with Claudette that The Painted Caravan is an interesting read, and I have a copy too, but all the copies I found on the internet were rather expensive. I think I bought mine for US$75. It's also somewhat scarce. There is an article written by Mary Kurtzman for the Centennial Review (not sure of the year) in which she proposes that Plath used the Tarot when she was writing Ariel (and also The Bell Jar). Kurtzman also believes that Ocean 1212-W is based on the Hanged Man card. Per Kurtzman's article, she believes that Sylvia used the Thoth deck for The Bell Jar. Kurtzman also believes that Plath used the Bota deck while writing the first 22 poems of Ariel. It appears that she bases her assumptions as to which deck was used on the order of the decks major Arcana cards, of which there are 22. The Thoth deck is, I believe, the deck designed by Aleister Crowley. I am fairly certain that The Painted Caravan has illustrations and text based on the Bota deck. And as Claudette mentioned Rider-Wait, Rakoczi cites a book by A.E. Wait (A Key to the Tarots) and W. Rider and Son, Ltd, London, as publishers of Tarot packs in England. I would think that the Rider-Wait deck would be one that was easily obtainable by Plath as it is one of the most common Tarot decks available. But if she did write Ariel using the Bota deck, she likely just referred to The Painted Caravan rather than an actual deck.
Per Kurtzman, 'Morning Song' is the Fool Card, 'Couriers' the Magnus card, and so on in Bota card order, to poem 22, 'The Courage of Shutting Up', corresponding to the Universe or World Card. Kurtzman writes that poems 23 through 41 are not in Tarot order but are based on Tarot cards. For example, 'Daddy', is card 4, the Emperor. Poem 15, 'Ariel', is card 14, Temperance or Art. I think the order she uses for Plath's poems is Plath's original order, and not the order Hughes published the poems in, as he did extensive editing and re-arranging. Jewish mysticism, astrology, mythology, numerology and religion are all encompassed in the Tarot and Kurtzman has written a detail examination of Ariel as based on Card 14. Some Tarot decks have cards that have Hebrew letters on them; the illustrations in The Painted Caravan show cards with Hebrew letters, and this might have particularly appealed to Plath.
If you send me your address, I am happy to send you a copy of the Kurtzman article since it is difficult to find and I don't think it's available on the internet. I would also refer you to Ann Skea's excellent website on Birthday Letters and the Cabala.I've always meant to sit down with a Tarot deck and Ariel and go through the poems closely, looking at the imagery, etc., but I've never gotten around to doing so. Curious to know if anyone else thinks there may be some truth in the Tarot-Bell Jar-Ariel theory.
Rachel, I appreciated your insightful comments on the significance of the study of Plath's life as it relates to her work. I know it's been said time and again in this forum that very few--if any--of us who post in this forum would be here if it weren't for the work itself first and foremost, I think it's helpful to re-state as you did the unique correlation between Plath's life and her work--a correlation which is not as present or significant in the lives and works of other great poets. I also think that you are absolutely right that many of us relate to Plath on a level with which we do not necessarily relate to other great writers. I have felt this since I was a teenager, and this feeling has only deepened as I've grown older and read and re-read the poems, the journals, the letters, and the biographies.
As a writer myself, I would say that Plath's journal has been the single most influential work for me in regards to my writing life. I read the Unabridged Journals for the first time at age 18, and by reading in Plath's own words how she set up her own process of writing and scholarship, I began to model my own process after hers. Her combination, while quite simple, of reading daily with writing, as well as researching various topics that interested her, is a model I have followed myself, more or less, ever since. Her struggles with writers block, combatting various distractions, the difficulties of trying to teach and write and ultimately giving up teaching, and facing her demons of depression were all struggles I could relate to very immideatly in my own life.
Many people read the journals and find them depressing, but I found in them much triumph. Plath, to me, succeeded famously in creating a 'writing life'-- something I know and am constantly learning is an extremely difficult task. I will never cease to be fascinated with the life of someone who 'flayed' herself into a great poet, and any new research that is unearthed in regards to this amazing woman who I have grown to love as if she were myself I will be more than eager to read. If that makes me a voyeur, so be it! Lives lived are fascinating, and by studying lives lived we can learn how we are to best live ourselves.
Please. Will someone explain to me the relevance of the term 'woman poet'? Let's all get together and make these inane gender distinctions historical artefacts, shall we? For those of us who haven't thought it out, I would say: a poet is a poet. Period. It is actually somewhat bizarre, given the period we find ourselves in, that an archaic distinction like this is still found in use. I understand that there still exist in nomenclature traditions and conventions which, seemingly, are difficult to obliterate. By now they are beyond trite.
Especially in the realm of poetry. Poetry at its best is a drawing out of emotion by means of our common languages. I am not sure if I know (let me reflect a moment here), no, I am not sure if I know of another poet more worthy of the title (at least in the latter half of the last century), than Sylvia Plath. Who else lays bare their terrible interior, conjures archetypes, and flays conventions alive in their verse to the degree that she did? No one that I can think of, and certainly no one named Hughes. To call Sylvia Plath a 'woman poet' is ludicrous and so far beyond laughable as to embarrass the speaker...
I've been a reader of this forum for some time. At its best, it's a balance between appreciation of Plath's work and of her life. The correlation between the life and the poetry is strong in Plath; how she transformed biographical events into poetic ones is part of why both are so fascinating.
Many readers are interested in Plath's biography it's because it gives insight into the alchemy of the creative process. We're able to read a poem like "Cut," then find background information on the triggering event in her biography or journals. Likewise, in the bee poems, knowing what was occurring in Plath's life (through letters, journals, and biographies) deepens our understanding of how Plath chose and developed her unique themes and metaphors. Because she was such a prolific letter and journal writer, we have much insight into Plath's craft. This is why she is fascinating to those who love and read poetry.
Plath's journals express mercurial and intense feelings. By contrast, her prolific letters are sanitized and self-conscious. Together with the myriad biographies, the poems and journals create a full picture of the process by which a writer chooses subjects, and what facets of actual events will be emphasized or underplayed. Although the poems stand on their own, the letters, journals and biographies lend new angles which enlighten us as to how Plath chose her subject matter, words, and images. A reader can follow the development of an idea from its inception through its development into a finished poem.
I can't defend those who have a voyeuristic interest in Plath's life; perhaps they believe that, since she is a poet rather than a starlet, their vicarious interest carries an intellectual sheen. For some, I believe, there is an element of identification, as though being a language-oriented, intense person is enough to entitle one to pry for information which is not, honestly, relevant to interpreting Plath's work or adding to our understanding of her.
But for those who admire the craft of writing, the potent combination of Plath's writing and her life provides a profound view into the writing process. Plath's combined writing illustrates how one writer experienced events, reacted to them publicly (the letters), privately (the journals) then chiseled and fine-tuned experience into a definitive expression of an idea.
Rachel Squires Bloom