Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Grolier Club

Early eighteenth-century Dutch binding, silver répoussé over silver-gilt: Dominque Bouhours, Vita S. Francisci Xaverii Societatis Jesu ... (Munich, 1712).

Binding by the Club Bindery in full crushed morocco, gilt and inlaid 'Grolieresque' design on front and back covers, signed by Leon Maillard, and dated 1900: Richard de Bury, Philobiblon . . .(New York: The Grolier Club, 1889), vol. 1.

New York's Grolier Club was founded in 1884 to provide bibliophiles with a centre for devotion to the book arts. It has a library 0f over 100,000 books now and holds regular exhibitions. There are a few choice visual pieces at their website.

[Times Online article about the current Plath/Hughes exhibit at the Grolier Club - copied in as a comment]

1 comment:

pk said...

September 10, 2005

Ted and Sylvia reunited
An exhibition of manuscripts belonging to Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, long kept separate, reveals how closely they worked together, says Erica Wagner

THE COLLECTED POEMS OF TED HUGHES
Faber & Faber, £40; 1,382pp
£36 (free p&p)

THE COLLECTED POEMS OF SYLVIA PLATH
Faber & Faber, £16.99; 351pp
£15.29 (free p&p) 0870 1608080

“HIS REALM WAS A WELTER OF sheets of typing paper and ragged cardboard-covered notebooks; the sheets of scrap paper, scrawled across with his assertive blue-inked script . . . The other half of the table, coming into my premises, was piled with tediously neat stacks of books and papers, all laid prim and four-squared to the table corners . . .” So wrote Sylvia Plath, describing the shared table at which she and her brand-new husband, Ted Hughes, worked during their honeymoon in Spain in 1956. Plath’s suicide in 1963 propelled this American poet into a strange, solitary realm. She became an icon representing both power and powerlessness, the voice of her work issuing a clarion call, the story of her life appearing to move with the trajectory of doom. Her death, shortly after her separation from Hughes, was in danger of overshadowing all.

Five years ago, English Heritage put up a blue plaque to mark where Plath had lived — but initially the suggestion had been to put it on the house in Fitzroy Road, the one in Camden, North London, in which she died. She had been there, on her own, for but eight weeks; her daughter, Frieda Hughes, insisted that the plaque should go on 3 Chalcot Square, just around the corner, where she had first lived in London with Hughes and been both productive and happy. “We already have a gravestone,” she remarked. “We don’t need another.” She was right, certainly; and now, in New York, an exhibition is about to open that will offer a further reminder of what a remarkable creative partnership existed between Hughes and Plath.

The Grolier Club, founded in 1884, is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts of the graphic arts. Housed in a smart brownstone on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the club is playing host to a moving reunion of manuscripts and materials belonging to Plath and Hughes. The exhibition is the brainchild of Steve Enniss, director of the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library at the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory University in Atlanta, where Hughes ’s archive now rests — but it is co-curated by Karen Kukil, not only the editor of the recent, unabridged edition of Sylvia Plath’s journals, but also associate curator of rare books at the William Allan Neilson Library and reference archivist of the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, Plath’s alma mater and home of most of her papers.

Now, some might argue that surely these were ashes that had been raked over completely: once Gwyneth Paltrow has played Plath on screen, what’s there left to say? But that this was — for a long time — a marriage of true minds is only just beginning to be revealed by the materials these artists left behind.

When I spoke to Steve Enniss he recalled when he had first met Hughes — at Court Green in Devon, the house he had bought with Plath and where he would remain until his death. It struck Enniss strongly how much Hughes must have continued to live with her presence. “Because Hughes had been so silent about Plath, you used to have to read between the lines of Plath’s biographers to get any sense of Hughes as a rounded, human figure,” he says. “I wanted to take advantage of newly accessible manuscripts to show these aspects. Archives are so large and so complex,” Enniss says, “that they reveal their secrets slowly.”

That Hughes had been haunted by Plath was of course revealed by Birthday Letters, his final full collection of poems, published in 1998, shortly before his death. Those 88 poems, dedicated to their two children, Frieda and Nicholas, are nothing so much as a dialogue with his lost wife, a conversation with her absence — and an engagement with her work. The stuff of that engagement — how deep it was, how loving and complex — is movingly revealed by this exhibition.

Some of those revelations are charming in their simplicity; there is item 83, for instance, which is a set of photographs, one from Emory and one from Smith. They were taken in the summer of 1959 in Wisconsin, as the pair travelled across the United States. It was only when Kukil saw them together that she realised that they must have come from the same roll of film. “He took a picture of her and then she took a picture of him; you can tell they’re in the exact same place from the building in the corner of the photographs.” Plath is wearing a Chinese-style hat, and she sits with papers on her lap. In an early draft of one of the stories she “got” out of this trans-continental adventure, The 59th Bear, the heroine is wearing just such a hat.

Such items highlight the companionship of a marriage; but that this was always, above all else — and finally, to the relationship’s cost — a working partnership, is strikingly shown by some of the manuscripts on display. Enniss remarks that Hughes and Plath’s famous first encounter — when they met at a party in Cambridge and she left a ring of tooth-marks on his cheek — was an act of literary criticism; she had gone up to him quoting the poems she ’d read in the little magazine the party was launching, St Botolph’s Review. What Plath’s description of their Spanish writing-desk does not show is how thrifty they were with paper; each often wrote on the back of the other’s drafts, though it’s hard to believe that it was purely parsimony that lay behind this decision. Sometimes the juxtapositions are so striking that it’s hard not to believe there was some deeper purpose behind them. Item

125 in the exhibition shows the manuscript of Daddy, perhaps Plath’s angriest, and most famous, poem, which is written on the back of Hughes’s manuscript for The Calm, a play loosely based on The Tempest, which was never produced. “It’s interesting to me that here Plath seems to pick one of his weakest pieces of work to write on,” Kukil says. “The irony of that is so strong it’s hard not to feel that it’s intentional.”

Certainly this exhibition contains elements that underline the fascination that readers of Hughes and Plath continue to feel for the stuff of their lives; here is Plath’s typewriter, here is the datebook she kept that runs up to the last month of her life. In her neat round hand is the stuff of daily life: “paint 3 bureaus”; “Frieda: school”. The very last word, down at the bottom of the page, is “Ted”. But the meat of the material lies in manuscripts and documents that show what a close partnership this was, and how, despite difficulty and tragedy, it produced some of the most extraordinary poetry of the 20th century.

Frieda Hughes, a painter and poet in her own right, is travelling to New York for the opening. While she says it’s impossible to know how she will feel seeing so much of this material together for the first time, she seems gladdened by the aspect of reunion that the exhibition offers. “There’s so much about ending, in talking about my parents,” she says to me. “What’s great is the concept of showing their work together — showing them as a collaborative couple who helped each other. That’s what they did, and that’s what’s got lost in the wash of my mother’s death.”

Erica Wagner’s book Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters is published by Faber & Faber, £8.99 (offer, £8.54)

No Other Appetite: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and the Blood Jet of Poetry; the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York, September 14-November 19; www.grolierclub.org

Post a Comment

Comments are all moderated so don't waste your time spamming: they will never show up.

If you include ANY links that aren't pertinent to the blog post or discussion they will be deleted and a rash will break out in your underwear.

Also: please play the ball and not the person.

 
Creative Commons License