Friday, November 12, 2021

Errors of Fact in Aurelia's "Letters Home" Introduction

-Aurelia Frances Schober (later Plath) was born and lived her "early childhood" not in Winthrop, Massachusetts, but the working-class neighborhood of Boston called Jamaica Plain. Irish families were settled in Jamaica Plan when Aurelia was born in 1906; Italians began congregating there in 1910. Her family did not move to seaside Winthrop until 1918, when Aurelia would have been 11 or 12, well past early childhood. 

-It was at the close of Aurelia Schober's sophomore year, 1926, when a German-speaking, highly cultured guest professor at MIT hired her as his secretary. Letters Home says this happened "at the close of my junior year (1927)," but his diaries first mention "Miss A. Schober" in August 1926. He was 43, she 20. Aurelia gives broad hints but does not actually name Dr. Karl Terzaghi, or admit that the pair fell in love and dated for two years. Aurelia knew well, from her own notes, that they met in 1926. But placing their first meeting in 1927 makes Aurelia 21 years old instead of 20, shielding Karl, 50 years after the fact, from any jeers about cradle-robbing, and perhaps shielding herself from any side-eye about her naivete

-Otto Plath was born in April 1885 in the "country town of Grabow" in Prussia, but was still an infant when his parents moved 150 miles northwest to Budzyn, where Otto actually "grew up." Otto's five younger siblings were all born in Budzyn, beginning with Paul in December 1886. When Otto arrived in the U.S. he listed his last residence as Budzyn. (8)

-Otto Plath was 15 years old, not 16, when he arrived in the United States on September 9, 1900, according to the ship's manifest. 

-"[w]hen his father, years after his son's arrival here, came to the United States": Correctly, Otto's father Theodor Plath arrived in the U.S. less than a year after Otto did, in March 1901.

-Otto "spoke English without a trace of foreign accent" - those who had met him, interviewed in the 1970s by Harriet Rosenstein, said Otto spoke English with a German accent. (9)

-Frieda Plath Heinrichs, Otto's youngest sister, did not die in 1966 but in 1970. She and her husband's Walter's names appear together in California voter registration rolls until 1968, when Frieda's becomes the only name listed. Walter died May 26, 1967.

-A cost accountant figures out how much money a firm is really spending to put out its product. Aurelia's father Francis Schober was never a "cost accountant" for Boston's Dorothy Muriel bakery company. Rather, in the 1930s the former hotel headwaiter and maitre d' was listed as "manager" of dining rooms; in 1938 it's specifically a Dorothy Muriel bakery-tearoom on Tremont Street, one of a chain of about 50 local Dorothy Muriels. The Boston city directories for the 1940s list a Herman F. Schober, who was a relative, employed as a "cost accountant" for Measurement Engineering and the American Meter Company. Herman F. Schober was born in Boston in 1893, and between 1926 and 1940 the city directory gave his occupation as "foreman." 

Maybe Francis Schober counted the day's proceeds at his own Dorothy Muriel location, but he was never a "cost accountant" for Dorothy Muriel, which had its factory and offices in Allston. (28)

Take Note

-Aurelia Plath is careful to say her two siblings grew up in a matriarchy, but that she as the eldest was the only one of Schobers' children brought up in the European (patriarchal authoritarian) style. The Introduction says: "[m]y father made the important decisions during my childhood and early girlhood" (3) and Aurelia says that it did not occur to her, in her late teens, to argue when her father decreed she would attend either secretarial college or no college.

The Letters Home edition referred to is a hardbacked first edition, 1975.

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