Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Otto Plath as a Husband

In a March 19, 1980, letter to an SP fan, Mary Ann Montgomery, who became Aurelia Plath's penpal, Aurelia has just described her California honeymoon in 1932 and her and Otto's decision to live back East. It continues with what she imagined family life would be like:

"I loved [my parents] and took them for granted--after all, I knew nothing else but that we were close, enjoyed each other, which I thought was the essence of most family life. Oh, what hard lessons lay ahead--what shocking, terrifying revelations. My husband never knew love in his family; I was ready to share all of mine with him. I never witnessed jealousy before, distrust, possessiveness--all augmented through untreated diabetes that I did not know existed within him. On the outer personality, high idealism, honesty--oh, well, why dig into the past? It would take forever to give a complete picture and then who ever knows another completely or is competent to judge. The thing to do is remember what was good and go on with that."

Sylvia Plath must have witnessed a jealous, distrustful, possessive marital dynamic in her family home -- born as she was 10 months after her parents' wedding. That could explain a lot.

"Medusa's Metadata" - Plath Conference Paper

Nearly 700 letters from Sylvia Plath to her mother, Mrs. Aurelia Schober Plath, are held in the Sylvia Plath mss. II files at the University of Indiana’s Lilly Library. Mrs. Plath, a professional instructor of Gregg shorthand, wrote on these letters and their envelopes scores of comments and notes to herself and to posterity. One hundred fifty-nine annotations in the Plath mss. II correspondence are in in Gregg shorthand. Never before cataloged or transcribed, the shorthand annotations on Plath’s letters, labeled “unreadable” and ignored, provide new metadata about Plath—who rather famously never learned shorthand—and her uneasy relationship with her only surviving parent and provider.

The transcriptions include Mrs. Plath’s most urgent and personal responses to her daughter’s needs, marriage, suicide, and posthumous fame; bitter negotiations with Ted Hughes over the U.S. publication of The Bell Jar; and detail Mrs. Plath’s role as curator of her daughter’s correspondence: with friends (“Share with Gordon if the time is right,” 30 August 1954), family (“Do not let Mother [Granny] see this!” 2 February 1956) and ultimately the public (Letters Home, 1975). That role does not end with the publication of two volumes of The Complete Letters of Sylvia Plath. In fact, Mrs. Plath is that collection's first cause.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"Medusa" and the Meaning of "Paralyzing the kicking lovers"

Aurelia Plath wrote to her frequent correspondent, independent Plath scholar Leonard Sanazaro, on September 8, 1986. On the letter's page 4, Aurelia describes the hours just before she left Court Green in July 1962 to stay with Winifred Davies and give the troubled Hugheses their privacy. Aurelia had packed and was prepared to go. But she couldn't -- she was caring for six-month-old Nick while his parents were in their bedroom, where they stayed for two hours past Nick's feeding time. Aurelia wrote:

"I kept walking the floor with sobbing Nick in my arms. Finally, I knock on the [bedroom] door and announced my departure -- so 'please take Nick.'

"Sylvia grumbled something; I knocked, opened the door and handed the baby to his mother. His parents were in bed; I put the baby down, turned, shutting the door and left the house. What else could I do? That is the only thing -- and Sylvia later blew it up into the shocking poem 'Medusa'."

So that is Aurelia's version of what "paralyzing the kicking lovers" refers to. According to an unsent letter from Aurelia to Warren Plath, dated July 17, 1962, Aurelia moved to Davies' house on July 16.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Sylvia Was Fat? No, It Was Assia

Seeking reviews of Letters Home I found in the Sydney (AU) Morning Herald, April 3, 1976, page 18, a review by novelist Jill Neville titled "The Sylvia Plath Industry." Neville didn't say who her "great friend" of Plath's was, but it was Al Alvarez; Neville was his girlfriend from 1960 to 1962. Neville wrote:

"A great friend of hers was my great friend. I glimpsed those surrounding her at the final drama; even the woman who acted as the detonator of her own life, I knew. She was too fat and not particularly young but when she came into a room men swayed like wheat in an evening breeze. To look into her perfect Russian-Jewish face was to hear a singing in the ears."

I misunderstood her to be saying Plath was fat and not young and had a Russian-Jewish face. I found it puzzling that Neville would so describe her. The "She" is Assia Wevill, Ted Hughes's "other woman" who in 1976 could not be publicly named.