Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Aurelia's M.A. Thesis: All You Need to Know

It's bilingual, but its first half is mostly in English, and reading Aurelia's thesis online I liked best its sympathetic portrait of Swiss physician and surgeon Paracelsus, "the Luther of medicine," bold enough to replace the ancient texts of Galen with medical science -- in the 1500s -- and denounced by enemies and posterity as "the demon doctor." In fact Paracelsus shocked the physicians of his day by saying they should be like Jesus, living humbly and healing the poor for free.

Aurelia Schober first studied Goethe's Faust in German, as an undergraduate, and in her thesis framed the life of Paracelsus as one of the sources feeding into Goethe's multi-faceted poetic drama, written around 1800, and into two related literary works, one in German and one in English (Robert Browning's Paracelsus). "The Paracelsus of History and Literature," 101 pages, capped Aurelia's master's degree in English and German, earned in less than one year, granted in 1930. Here's an excerpt:

Paracelsus told [students] that neither degrees nor books made physicians, only much toil in acquiring the knowledge of things themselves, in studying actual sicknesses, their causes, symptoms, remedies. He, their teacher, was willing to share all his experience, would take his advanced students with him when he visited the sick so that they might watch his diagnosis, learn from his treatment. He would lead them into Nature's apothecary shops -- the fields and forests, and there teach them herbal science.

"I wish you to learn," he would urge, "so that if your neighbor requires your help you will know how to give it, not to stop up your nose, like the scribe, the priest, and Levite, from whom there was not help to be got, but to be like the good Samaritan, who was the man experienced in nature, with whom lay knowledge and help. There is no one from whom greater love is sought than from the doctor."

How true that last sentence was for Sylvia Plath.

Aurelia Schober's table of contents. Sylvia Plath read Faust in an English translation.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Four Generations of Rebel Weddings

I read somewhere that Sylvia Plath really stuck it to her mother by announcing, the day Aurelia got off the boat, that she and Ted Hughes (who was there) were getting married in three days: as if triumphantly quashing her mother's dream of a tame and crew-cut son-in-law. Didn't agree then, thinking Sylvia might have been too ecstatic to be mean, but I agree now because I found a pattern of defiant little weddings in her family. Four generations:

  • Sylvia's "Grammy" and "Grampy," Aurelia Greenwood and Frank Schober, defying her father, got their marriage license July 3, 1905, the day the bride turned 18 and did not need parental permission. They wed as soon as legally possible: Monday, July 10 at Boston's Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
  • Otto Plath in a Nevada courthouse really stuck it to his estranged and hated first wife with a quick-and-dirty divorce-mill divorce and by marrying Aurelia Schober on the spot the same day: January 4, 1932.
  • Aurelia's daughter Sylvia Plath with Ted Hughes told her mother, arrived in London for a visit on June 13, 1956, that they were marrying June 16. Aurelia puked up her dinner that night. She was the couple's only guest at St. George the Martyr church in London. (Glimpse its inside, in the church's promotional video.)
  • Fast-forward to 1979, when Sylvia's daughter Frieda Hughes, "now 'engaged,' will be 19 on April 1," Aurelia Plath wrote a penpal, as if "engaged" was her granddaughter's teenage daydream, and maybe forgetting her own mother married at 18. But Frieda at 19 married a farmhand. It was a rebellious marriage and short. Ted moaned in a letter to a friend that his daughter was divorced at 23.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Translation of Sylvia Plath's German Essay

Sylvia Plath wrote this essay for her Smith College course "Deutsche 12," and the typescript carbon, in German, titled "Wie Ich Einmal Kleinen Bruder Neckte" is in the Lilly Library's Plath mss. II, Box 8, folder 19, "Prose-fiction." I would call it nonfiction. Because I have never seen a translation or even a discussion of this essay, here it is in English:

How I Once Teased Little Brother


It was in 1938. Autumn had come and the sky was blue and clear, the sun glowed like a diamond, and the little leaves were very colorful. Afternoons I hopped joyfully on my way home. I thought the whole world was a wonder, in my first year of elementary school.


My little brother, who was too young to attend elementary school, was very jealous. Every day I bragged that I could read and write, and my father and my mother were very proud of me.


My little brother stayed silent. Finally he said, in a clear, loud voice: “I don’t go to school; I do something better! I live every night on the other side of the moon. . .”


My father and my mother now listened to the inventive story my little brother told. Now I was the silent and jealous one. He was too smart for me.

Plath enrolled in this intermediate-level German course in her senior year, spring 1955, then dropped it to better prepare for her comprehensive exams (letter to Aurelia Plath, 25 April 1955). Aurelia Plath mentions in her preface to Letters Home young Warren ("little brother") Plath's "Other Side of the Moon" adventure tales, spun when he was two and a half years old.