Thursday, 6 October 2011

Hello from Smith College!

Greetings from Smith College on this beautiful autumn day (Mountain Day to be exact!). I landed in the USA two weeks ago and after a few days of pretending to be city cool in New York City, I made my way to Northampton, MA and started archival work at Smith College.

As I wrote in my previous post, Smith holds the majority of the adulthood papers on Sylvia Plath. Plath also attended Smith for undergraduate study and returned to teach here as a married woman with Ted Hughes. I wish to apologise for not updating this blog sooner (though I have been checking in with twitter) but to be quite honest, I have been having the time of my life here at Smith, with every minute taken up by interesting Sylvia Plath information, beautiful views and delicious cafe food. I have also left my camera lead at home in Ireland so it will be late October/early November before I can share pictures of my experience with you all. But the photographs will come!

The Plath archives at Smith are incredible. They are guarded over by a team of wonderful experts who have gone out of their way to accommodate me and any other visiting scholar who has come into the wonderful Mortimer Rare Book Room. Last week I had lunch with Karen V. Kukil - talking with her just brings everything about Plath to life. It really is so wonderful to have the chance to talk to such brilliant people. Sylvia's archives are divided up into different sections and I thought it might be a good idea to list them here, just so you all can understand the scale of available material at Smith.

  • Writings (includes poems, articles, novels, reviews, etc)
  • Correspondences
  • Personal papers (includes address books, calendars, financial materials, scrapbooks, etc)
  • School papers
  • Artwork
  • Ted Hughes (correspondence, writings, personal notes about S.P., etc)
  • Olwyn Hughes papers
  • Aurelia Plath papers
  • Otto Plath papers
  • Writings and artwork by others about Sylvia Plath
  • Articles about Sylvia Plath
  • Reviews
  • Audio visual materials
  • Photographs
  • Realia
  • Oversize materials (for example Plath's library)
As you can see from this extensive list, Smith really does hold an abundance of information about Plath. When I arrived last week, I spent a day familiarising myself with the archives set-up and browsing her artwork. From the next day, until now, I have methodically gone through each and every poem she has written, looking at the edits and revisions she makes to different pieces and wondering why. After that I want to look more closely at the various articles she wrote for different magazines and her personal correspondences and journals. Spending time at the archives has made me immediately more focused and enthused about my own dissertation, in fact I've had to take some afternoons away from the materials in order to focus myself and make amendments to my own plans of investigation.

The Plath poems are wonderful to look at. Trying to get inside her brain and unpick why she chose to remove certain words or add line breaks for example, is perplexing but fascinating work. To make things even more interesting, a good deal of Plath's poems are written on pink Smith College memo pages which definitely provides... illumination in the archive room!

Spending time at the archives so far has really made me re-connect with what I love the most about English Literature, and Sylvia Plath: the actual literature. Over the summer, I became so engrossed with critical theory and trying to align my argument with current critical thought, the beauty, strength and liberation Plath's poems give me kind of fell by the wayside. I feel very connected with Plath again, and am so glad!

Experiencing Northampton as a town has been a wonderful experience also. Walking the same streets that Plath walked, looking the place she used to live (photos of this will come!) and enjoying the wonderful learning environment that is leafy New England has so far, been an unforgettable experience. Everywhere you look, students are around. People in Starbucks talking about the courses they're taking, people sitting alone reading heavy academic books in cafes, discount-priced novels in every single shop... it really is kind of an academic dream here! And kind of like Stars Hollow from the "Gilmore Girls" if anyone ever watched that programme. In short, as much as I miss my family and friends, spending "fall" in this part of the world is just heavenly.

I hope to update a few more times during my stay here and will definitely post a huge picture update when I return to rainy, soggy Ireland :) If you want shorter, more sporadic updates and occasional grainy pictures, follow my twitter! I will finish this post with some beautiful images of Paradise Pond, a route I walked around just this evening.


Rehan Qayoom said...

This is really great, as you know I've been keeping up with your blog for some time. Really looking forward to future news and updates. I ventured down to Chalk Farm on Wednesday (as one does) and as always there was event, a bumping in with the actress Helena Bonham-Carter and the National Anthem of the UK playing over Chalk Farm Bridge, Hughes wrote about carrying his fox cub over it (if my memory serves me correctly). Wishing you all the very best.

The Plath Diaries said...

Thanks so much Rehan :)

I hope to do a Plath (and therefore Hughes) trip of places they frequented in England this coming Easter. I do like a lot of Hughes's early poetry in the same way I admire nature poets like Heaney and Kavanagh. Must look into Chalk Farm!

Morgane said...

That sounds so exciting Maeve ! I am so happy you are enjoying yourself there. I love the student life you're describing. That must be so inspiring. I can't wait for all the pictures !