Sylvia Plath

Visiting Speaker, 4 Apr 2017: Lise Jaillant on Modernism and publishing

Lise Jaillant (Loughborough University) will be presenting her paper, ‘“Modernist” Publishers, Publishers of “Modernism”’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 4 April 2017. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.48, and will be followed by a wine reception.

2016.07.jaillantCommercial publishers are nearly invisible in New Modernist Studies. There is no history of Random House, no history of Harcourt Brace and no history of Faber & Faber. One reason for this invisibility is that commercial firms published a wide range of texts—what we now see as ‘Modernism’ was issued alongside ‘popular’ texts. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Phoenix Library published Wyndham Lewis’s first novel Tarr but also popular novels and even a cookery book. Since difficult ‘Modernist’ texts continue to dominate our understanding of early twentieth-century literature, we tend to neglect these publishing enterprises or to study only the tiny portion of their activities that relates to ‘Modernism’.

This talk will address two points: 1) why so few modernist scholars have studied commercial publishers (unlike Victorianists, who have long been interested in book publishers and their impact on the literary text); 2) what we can do to expand the sub-field of Modernist Print Culture, building on existing work in periodical studies and strengthening our relationship with scholars of book history. In this context, ‘Modernist’ would be synonymous with ‘Early Twentieth Century’ to include all kinds of texts published at that time. The conclusion will present Lise’s digital map of publishers in New York in the 1920s, part of a chapter forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. (more…)

CEIR Speaker, 21 Feb 2017: Carrie Smith on Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters

Carrie Smith (Cardiff University) will be presenting her paper, ‘Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters: An Archive of Writing’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 21 February 2017. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.48, and will be followed by a wine reception.

2016-05-smithThis paper will consider the manuscript drafts of British poet Ted Hughes’s final full-length collection Birthday Letters (1998). It will suggest that the proliferation of reported documents, photographs, journal entries and letters in the published collection is a result of Hughes’s re-encounter with these items when sorting through his late wife Sylvia Plath’s, and later his own, papers for sale. As a result Birthday Letters itself becomes a poetic archive curated by Hughes. From the opening poem, we are presented with accounts of documents that root the collection in the texture of real life. The collection works to preserve what will be lost when the papers are archived after his death; the memory-context of these photographs, drafts and objects. Hughes also provides incorrect biographical details throughout the collection. The substitution of an easily-checkable detail suggests that Hughes is creating a poetic archive of items that cannot be trusted; implying that poetry must always be questioned when mined for biography. The process of shaping his archive and literary legacy informs the collection’s focus on the fallibility of memory and the potential for documents and objects to deceive. The archive of papers tries to preserve the past, even as the arranging and destroying of the papers alters it; similarly in Birthday Letters, Hughes represents the past in poetry by using concrete items. He performs a synthesising of these items, akin to a researcher, by finding patterns in the papers. As this paper will show, the drafts of Birthday Letters form an archive of writing, placing the indeterminacy of the many variants of the manuscript page alongside the doubt over how to record a shared life in poetry.