Wednesday, May 19, 2021

How Far Is It? The Tiny Town of Plath, Germany

The German surname "Plath" is geographical. A tiny town in Germany called "Plath" sits 62 miles north of Berlin and about 30 miles south of the Baltic Sea. Deep in northeastern Germany's "land of a thousand lakes" where tourists come to ride trail bikes or horses, Plath is served by one road and ringed by woods. Visitors to Plath may book the apartment Urlaub auf dem Bauernhof (literally "vacation on the farm"), pictured below, for $78 US per night. Or Der Nussbaumhof ("The Nut Tree Inn") in Plath can accommodate three people, has three horse stalls, and quiet is assured; the webpage says it's good for meditation and communing with nature.

The name "Plath" derives from the German word "platt," meaning "flat and wide," as is the topography of northern coastal Germany and the Netherlands: boggy and marshy coastal plain.

Sylvia's father Otto Plath was born about 300 miles away in the Prussian town of Grabow, now in Poland. (See the map.) Otto and his five siblings grew up in his father's hometown of Budszyn, formerly in Prussia, now in Poland, about 200 miles from the town of Plath, so it has been a while since Sylvia's paternal line actually lived in Plath, if ever. Slavic tribes in the 700s conquered the area's original Germanic residents, lived there 400 years, then were Christianized and Germanized, so bloodlines in northeastern Germany are not pure Germanic but mixed.

The language "Plattdeutsch," in English called Low German, akin to Dutch, is a variation of the Saxon language and therefore an ancestor of English. When schools teach German, it is the more common "Hochdeutsch" or High German. (This is a geographical reference to "highlands" and not a value judgement.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Aurelia to a Scholar, September 8, 1986: The "Double" Theory

"I have one deep-seated wish: that the truth of my relationship with my beloved Sylvia would be made public. I am 80 years old now and do not wish to leave this planet believing that I did not cherish, love, serve, (sacrifice gladly for her) my daughter from the time of her birth (dreamed of my child and loved her from the first I knew of her conception) and still work to correct the terrible misconceptions concerning our relationship. After that first shock treatment (these should be abolished forever!) she, as I have told and written you many times, became her own "double." And as she had to plan to earn her own living, soon found out that the public was more interested in tragedy, unhappiness, -- these writings SOLD and writing in the first person made it all realistic for the uninformed read[er]s. [handwritten:] She fantasized brutally time & again."

I am interested in finding out when Aurelia Plath, after Sylvia's death, first discovers or hits on the theory of good-daughter Sylvia's brutal "double" emerging after Sylvia's shock treatments in 1953. By 1986, Aurelia's concept of "the double" is a well-rehearsed set piece and appears in other correspondence and papers with examples of what Aurelia took as proof, such as Sylvia's Smith College thesis (written in 1954) on the topic of "the double" in Dostoyevsky's novels. I could make a good guess about when, but regarding Aurelia, and Aurelia and Sylvia, we have arrived at the point in scholarship when assumptions and guesses are no longer acceptable as facts.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Aurelia Plath's Grave: "No One Ever Mentions"

photo by Shaun L. Kelly

Aurelia Plath lived for 31 years after Sylvia’s death and died of Alzheimer’s disease on March 11, 1994, age 87, at the North Hill retirement complex in Needham, MA. She was buried near her parents, the Schobers, in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Wellesley.


These photos of Aurelia’s grave were taken by Shaun L. Kelly, Wellesley native, Wellesley High School graduate and student of Wilbury Crockett's (Sylvia’s favorite teacher), who has memories of Aurelia Plath. From 1970 to 1973, teenaged Kelly worked after school as a grocery-store bagger, and when Mrs. Plath shopped he carried her bags to her car. They’d have pleasant, affable chats. Kelly remembers that Mrs. Plath wore a “ratty grayish-like coat that did look bad, but very academic, like a lot of teachers you’d see,” and she had a wonderful laugh. When The Bell Jar became a bestseller and the talk of the town in 1971, Kelly politely refrained from asking Mrs. Plath about the book. A few years later when they met by chance, Mrs. Plath remembered Shaun the grocery boy and was thrilled he had chosen a career in education. Kelly [@ShaunLKelly1955] is a Sylvia Plath fan and has taught for 31 years at a Connecticut high school. He says that in Sylvia's final BBC recordings her voice and Aurelia's sound identical.


Kelly’s parents too are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, 50 yards from Mrs. Plath. Aurelia's is not a gravestone like that of her parents, the Schobers, but a “flush marker,” meaning “flush with the ground,” now almost obscured by grass. “I feel obligated enough that I still take care of her grave when I go up and see Mom and Dad,” Kelly said in an interview. “Obviously, if I didn’t like her, and if she were a jerk, I never would have gone over there to pay my respects, but every time I go to my parents’ grave I make sure to see Mrs. Plath as well. I almost feel obligated, it looks so forlorn. I know how Sylvia’s grave is a monument, almost like a celebratory, iconic place to visit for thousands every year, but Mrs. Plath’s grave no one ever mentions, and that makes me sad.”

Aurelia's parents' gravestone with her marker in the foreground