Lot 121
  • 121

Plath, Sylvia

150,000 - 250,000 USD
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  • Plath, Sylvia
  • An archive of Plath's early poetry and short stories (both manuscript and typescript), college lecture notes, a typed letter, and two self-portraits in ink and crayon. Wellesley and Northampton, Massachusetts, c. 1946–1954
  • manuscripts & typescripts on paper
The archive comprises:

Short stories. Autograph manuscripts and typescripts, 1946–1953 where dated, as follows: 1) "On the Penthouse Roof," autograph manuscript in pencil, 3 1/2 pp., 18 May 1946. 2) "The Mummy's Tomb," autograph manuscript in pencil, 4 pp., 17 May 1946. 3) "Gramercy Park," typescript with a few corrections, 6 pp. [1948]. 4) "The Green Rock," two typescripts, one corrected, 11 and 12 pp. 5) "The International Flavor," two typescripts, one corrected, 3 and 3 1/4 pp., Wellesley, summer 1950. 6) "Two Gods of Alice Denway," typescript with a few corrections, 6 pp., written for class "English 347a," with annotations by her teacher. 7) "Among the Bumblebees," typescript, 7 pp., Smith College [numers 6 and 7 are different versions of the same story].  8) "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom," carbon typescript, 22 pp., Smith College [1953], with a letter of rejection from the editor of Mademoiselle. 9) "The Dark River," typescript, 6 1/2 pp. 10) "New England Summer," typescript with a few corrections, 3 1/2 pp., Wellesley 11) "First Date," typescript with a few corrections, 3 1/2 pp., Wellesley. 12) "The Day Mr. Prescott Died," corrected typescript, 1 p. synopsis and 12 pp., 4 p. with typed fragments of other prose works on verso. 13) Untitled story written in the first person by a character named Stanley Edwards, typescript 7 1/2 pp.  14) Incomplete autograph manuscript of a story concerning a 19-year-old college student named Angie, 6 pp. with 2 pp. of notes.  15) Autograph notes and passages from 3 other stories. 16 pp.

Poetry.  A collection of typescripts of 94 poems (plus 9 duplicates) written ca. 1947–55, 33 bearing substantive autograph corrections ranging from the alteration or deletion of a word to major changes.

Lecture notes.  1) Autograph lecture notes from class "Eng. 211, 221 Romanticism" at Smith College, 1951–52, 96 pp. written in ink with some passages underlined in red crayon, in a spiral notebook.  2) Autograph lecture notes from class "40b" at Smith College, 129 pp., written in ink, some passages underlines in ink or red pencil, in a stenographer's notebook.

Smith College.  1) Smith Review, Exam Blues Issue, January 1955, signed in pencil on front wrapper [contains Plath's poem "Dialogue en Route." 2) Smith Alumnae Quarterly, February 1951 [contains extract from letter from Plath to Mrs. Olive Higgins Prouty]. 3) Typescript reading lists for two English classes (1951–2, 1954), both annotated and signed.  4) Typed passage from Lessing, in German, 1 1/2 pp., annotated and signed. 5) Autograph fragment in prose (5 lines) with 3 lines of notes, 1 p. 6) A contact sheet of photographs showing Plath interviewing Elizabeth Bowen, and 4 other photographs (including one of the teenage Plath in a bathing suit and another of her holding her infant daughter). 7) A folder of newspaper clippings and a carbon copy of Plath's thesis, "The Magic Mirror. A Study of the Double in Two of Dostoevsky's Novels," Smith College, 1955.

Typed letter.  Typed letter, [Smith College], 24 April [1953], to Aurelia Plath, typed on the inner fold (12 1/2 x 9 1/4 in.) of a birthday card with autograph inscription "much love to my favorite mummy! your sivvy."

Self-portraits.  1) Self-portrait, half-length, in a semi-abstract style, ink and gouache on paper, 12 x 11 in., stamp of Plath estate on verso. 2) Self-portrait, ink and colored pencil on paper, cut out and mounted on black paper, 8 1/2 x 7 1/2 in., stamp of Plath estate on verso.


Estate of Sylvia Plath (rubberstamp on versos of self-portraits) — sold in our New York rooms, 6 April 1982, lots 98, 99, 102, 103, 104, 106, 113, 115


Condition as described in catalogue entry
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Catalogue Note

A remarkable collection of early writings by one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century.  This large archive gives a rounded view of Plath's beginnings as a creator of powerful poetry and fiction.

Sylvia Plath published her first story in Seventeen magazine in 1950, but she had already accumulated a number of rejection slips.  The present selection from her early prose work ranges from straightforward adventure stories ("On the Penthouse Roof," "The Mummy's Tomb") to stories with a supernatural element ("Gramercy Park," "The Green Rock").  A high proportion of them are concerned with loss and death ("Two Gods of Alice Denway," "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdon," "The Dark River," "The Day Mr. Prescott Died").  Aurelia Plath, in her introduction to Letters Home, writes that Sylvia found sad stories easier to sell: "… her exuberent, joyous outbursts in both poetry and prose brought rejection slips, while the story or poem with a pathetic twist was found more acceptable …. Advice and experience in regard to writing led her now into an examination and analysis of the darker recesses of the self …." 

The collection also includes a substantial body of the poetry composed by Plath during her high school and college years (The Collected Poems lists some 220 juvenile works).  In the Introduction to The Collected Poems, Ted Hughes writes of Plath's juvenilia, "At their best, they are as distinctive and as finished as anything she wrote later.  They can be intensely artificial, but they are always lit with her unique excitement.  And that sense of a deep mathematical inevitably in the sound of her lines was well developed quite early …. As poems, they are always inspired high jinks, but frequently a bit more.  And even at their weakest they help chart the full acceleration towards her final take-off."

Of the present poems, 21 appear in the section of Juvenilia in The Collected Poems.  A further 64 are not printed in The Collected Poems, but appear in the complete list of juvenile poems based on the holdings of the Sylvia Plath Archive in the Lilly Library, Indiana University, and the Sylvia Plath Estate.  Nine of the poems are unlisted, at least by the titles appearing on the typescripts, and are presumably unavailable in any other text.

The lecture notes preserved here include notes on Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Carlyle, Fitzgerald, and Browning, all taken in her course on Romanticism in 1951–52.  The stenographer's notebook contains notes taken at classes or lectures on Anglo-Saxon literature, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the 17th Century, the 18th Century, the 19th Century, Victorian Poetry, Victorian Prose, American Literature, "The Novelist and the Unknown," and Saul Bellow.

The archive also includes photographs of Plath interviewing Elizabeth Bowen, posing in a swimsuit in her backyard, with Ted Hughes in England, and holding her infant daughter Freida Hughes.  The two revealing self-portraits present Plath as she saw herself (the portrait mounted on black paper) and as she pictured herself in a dream-line atmosphere.

This is the most significant collection of important Sylvia Plath material to appear on the market in many years.