Monday, February 17, 2020

Sylvia Plath's Only Gregg Shorthand, Transcribed

Sylvia Plath wrote some Gregg shorthand after all! Her July 5, 1945 letter to Aurelia Plath, written from Camp Helen Storrow, includes three shorthand characters indicated but not transcribed in the Letters vol.1. Curious, I had a look at the original letter in the Lilly Library's Plath mss. II.

Twelve-year-old Sylvia had written to her mother, “Can you tell me what-these signs in shorthand mean?” and drew three shorthand characters. The first two are linked by “and,” and the final character is in parentheses, followed by a period. Why these shorthand characters and not others? Sylvia was asking what they said, so did not know. But she copied them from a grid of 154 Gregg shorthand characters pre-printed on the back cover of the steno notebook she was using as her 1945 summer camp diary.

Sylvia, using her thick black ink, made four checkmarks on this grid. They mark two pairs of symbols that look near-identical. Sylvia chose one of each pair to copy into her letter. The third symbol Sylvia asked about, the one in parentheses, is the same as the second. The first character means both “far” and “favor.” Which of those two would depend on their context. Sylvia's second shorthand character says “got.” The third says “got” in parentheses. So go fill in the blanks in your copy of Letters vol. 1, page 24.

Ergo: “Can you tell me what these signs in shorthand mean? Far/favor and got (got)."
The other two checkmarked characters in the grid that look so similar:

In Aurelia’s lighter ink and elegant hand, on this notebook’s back cover, up top, two Gregg shorthand characters say “medical texts.” Aurelia had been hired in 1942 to teach a Medical Secretarial Procedures course at Boston University’s College of Practical Arts and Letters (Letters Home, 28-29).

These characters are from the Anniversary Edition of Gregg, taught from 1930 to 1949. I await permission to show on this blog a photo of the notebook's back cover.

Bless us, now we know three more words Sylvia wrote.

Images of the shorthand are from The diary’s official location at the Lilly: Plath mss. II, Series: Diaries and Calendars 1944-1957, Box 7, Folder 2, “Daily Journal at Camp Helen Storrow, July 1-14, 1945."

Photos from Aurelia's College Yearbook

A reader kindly sent me photos of Aurelia Schober from Aurelia's college yearbook, the one Aurelia edited, the 1928 volume of Sivad. That's "Davis" spelled backwards; T. Lawrence Davis  founded the school as Boston University's College of Secretarial Science in 1919, and was to be its only dean. The year Aurelia enrolled, 1924, the College's name had been changed to the College of Practical Arts and Letters (CPAL). Aurelia graduated with the degree Bachelor of Secretarial Sciences (B.S.S.), which CPAL was the first to grant.

Davis ensured that CPAL's students, all females, were educated not only in secretarial skills but in the arts and letters. There were even dancing lessons for students deemed in need of them. Aurelia's secretarial science degree was a liability for a woman who wanted a job teaching languages and literature. A year after graduation Aurelia set about to "rectify" (her word) [1] her B.S.S. degree by starting Boston University graduate school, earning in 1930 a master's degree in English and German.

Aurelia was editor-in-chief of her senior yearbook. In the above staff photograph she sits front and center. She is markedly taller and longer-limbed than her schoolmates. One of Sylvia's boyfriends later called Aurelia "statuesque."

Here is Aurelia's college graduation photo, taken in profile, as was Sylvia Plath's.

Active in the CPAL German Club, Aurelia on two documented occasions acted as the male lead in the club's German-language plays. She resigned the German Club presidency when appointed to head Sivad. The "class note" alongside Aurelia's graduation photo reads:

"The German Club nearly lost its sensational 'young man' when Sivad won an efficient Editor-in-Chief, but Aurelia played both roles admirably. The staff will never forget those board meetings, those would-be 'scoldings' and those cherished words of approval and praise."

History of Boston University's College of Practical Arts and Letters: (accessed 16 February 2020)

Dates of CPAL founding, renaming, absorption in 1955 into the College of Business Administration:

Many thanks to Sarah Manthe. The 1928 Sivad had been elusive while the volumes from adjacent years were not.

[1] XI. Aurelia Plath, Box 30, folder 67, Smith.