Typed Letter Signed, to Ted Hughes

PLATH, Sylvia

I'm sure you'll win this; I feel very queer about it

PLATH, Sylvia Typed Letter Signed, to Ted Hughes

1956.

An extraordinary, long letter from Sylvia Plath to Ted Hughes, announcing her discovery of the poetry competition that would make his name. Six sides of Newnham College letter paper (three sheets, folded horizontally, approximately 1,500 words), signed "your own love wife, sylvia" with a ten line autograph postscript. During the letter Plath is recording the events of the previous evening's trip to a sherry reception at the Union, something she was not looking forward to in her previous letter. She was impressed by the venue "white plaster and dark beams, very fine inner room", and spoke to "various vintage toothy englishwomen" before being confronted by a wave of American students she had previously met but couldn't remember, "I managed my usual story of being a cretin about remembering names and places". Plath records in a revealing passage how her development of a writer has changed her approach to social life: "all the time some machiavellian little part of me was sitting in a corner scribbling notes and laughing and laughing; it is so strange now, to me---my social self is no longer all of me thrown out on a long leash and sniffing about enthusiastically---it is seated way deep down and doesn't give itself or commit itself, but watches and notes, and manages this other part which talks and gestures". Having batted off the Americans, Plath was "invited to dinner by the queerest british couple yet". The husband worked for the British Council and had published some poems, and had a "strange big soft towering wife, who looks like his mother and wears no ring and has graying hair". Their literary gossip was hugely appealing to Plath. The man was John Press, who had known Louis MacNeice in Greece, and recounted to her the marital affairs of the literati, including Auden, Macneice, Spender, and Kathleen Raine, "I have never heard such a fascinating and disgusting story: they are all linked by some first, second or third wife and have simply traded off wives in the most incredible and burlesque fashion". She sees the clear potential for drama in this and recommends Hughes use it as the basis for a new play, "this could be a terrific thingÂ… am I giving you plots?" Having by return told them about Ted, Press offered Plath the addresses of all the literary magazines in England, and told her of a book contest, "this contest is american-sponsered by harper's and as a prize offers only publication of the book, which is the usual prize for such things and would be good auspices to get your book out under. it must be by a poet who has not yet published a book (anything in the english language is eligible) and is due by november 30. it must be double spaced and about 60 pages. now, I ran right home and counted, estimating your poems double-spaced. 55 pages. almost exact. let me do this typing (it will give me the excuse of having a carbon of all your stuff to keep eternally, which I wanted anyhow). I'm sure you'll win this; I feel very queer about it." Plath's prescient confidence in Ted's ability to win the prize is also reflected in her assessment of the judging panel of Auden, Spender, and Marianne Moore, "I trust miss moore's exactness & love of form; and you certainly have enough wit to win auden and social war consciousness to please spender." Plath tells Ted to bring his MS to London on his next visit so they can finalise his entry to the competition, and thanks him for his last letter, "your voice is like the spirit of god on the waters. I really move in it and with it. I love you to tell me things about reading." She closes the letter with a ten line autograph postscript, "I love you and perish to be with you and lying in bed with you and kissing you all over and go just wild with thinking + wishing + remembering your dear lovely mouth + incredibly lovely made flesh and oh how warm you are. I love you teddy teddy teddy and how I wish I could be with you, living with you, and writing in granchester or something. All my love ever Your own love wife sylvia"

Sylvia Plath discovers the poetry competition that would make Ted Hughes's name.
John Press was an important figure in postwar British literary and artistic circles, but his mentioning of the Harper's poetry contest, following an evening of gossiping about the sex lives of poets, was to make an indelible mark on Plath's and Hughes's careers. The contest was open to any poet who had not yet published a book, with the prize being publication by Harper's.
Plath thought her oeuvre was too slight for such a submission, but immediately thought Hughes should enter. She had already written with some prescience that America would be where Hughes would make his mark, when she remarked in a letter to Peter Davison that "London and England are too small for him".
Plath typed up Hughes's manuscript and submitted it to the competition the following month. The judges were W.H. Auden, Marianne Moore, and Stephen Spender, all of which Plath had met, and she thought each would have their reasons for liking Ted's work. She reported her confidence in his genius and inevitable victory in a letter to her mother that month, "I don't see how they can help but accept this it's the most rich, power work since Yeats and Dylan Thomas."
Hughes's victory and subsequent publication of The Hawk In The Rain was announced the following February. It received high acclaim from every reviewer from A. Alvarez to Edwin Muir, and quickly sold out.

PROVENANCE: Ted Hughes (1930 - 1998); Frieda Hughes (Hughes and Plath's daughter).

Stock ID: 41599

£60,000.00

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