Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Only Aurelia Tape at Emory: A Guide to Digital File v7b4x

Taped recordings now digitized and held by Emory University Libraries’ Special Collections preserve the words of about 60 interviewees who in the 1970s told researcher Harriet Rosenstein what they knew about Sylvia Plath. Aurelia Plath’s voice is on only one recording, at the tail end of the digital file named v7b4x. Abruptly, at 38:15, Aurelia is heard in mid-sentence speaking about Sylvia, and is about to take questions from an audience.


A friend brought Rosenstein this partial, undated and often inaudible audio cassette, and the pair listened for 16 minutes, taping its contents and chafing while Aurelia says only what they already know: about Sylvia’s second novel of “adventure, joy, and romance,” burnt in summer 1962; that Sylvia never wanted her novel The Bell Jar published in the U.S.; the composite nature of its characters, such as Mrs. Greenwood (“the character that’s made my life miserable,” Aurelia says, and explains why). Early on, the pair begin to complain, mock Aurelia, and laugh at her taped remarks. Exasperated (“For Christ’s sake! She just goes on, huh?”), they halt Aurelia’s tape at 54:05 and discuss it, then shut off their own tape recorder at 54:29.

To be fair, the two listeners are no more pitiless than any other two high-literates who verbally skewer lesser people for sport. They are, after all, critics. Here's a brief partial transcript; listen in. Aurelia speaks about Letters Home, published in November 1975, so the date of the talk might be March 16, 1976, when Aurelia spoke at the Wellesley Club. The blanks represent inaudible words or phrases.


Aurelia: And for those of you who haven’t read it [Letters Home], it starts off with her entering Smith as a freshman, with all the fears and all the hopes of a freshman student.

Listener 1: (sarcastic) A normal, solid, American freshman girl.

Aurelia: ____________ of the fall, and it also takes the time of her experiences at Mademoiselle and her junior year, goes right straight through to _______________.

Listener 1: (sighs) Oh matter.

Aurelia: And she wrote a letter to a friend of hers, whom I refer to as “E” in the book, to protect the person

Listener 1: From what?

Aurelia: describing her reaction, her own evaluation of the whole experience of her breakdowns. And that’s _________. And then a mother of a son who knew her well, was going through a depression, had written me asking my advice about how to handle a child who was suffering a depression, and I sent that letter over to Sylvia, who was at that time happily married, and asked her to write

Listener 1: She wasn’t “married,” see; she was “happily married.”

Listener 2: You betcha.

Listener 1: You understand?

Listener 2: You betcha.

Listener 1: It’s a whole other category!


I transcribed this recording because I too hoped it would reveal more about the Plaths, but instead it reveals part of a process of diminishment and erasure.

1 comment:

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Very interesting. Thank you for giving Aurelia a voice. And for showing how we've already decided so much about who the Plaths were without necessarily getting the whole picture. You're doing important work.