Just back from The 2016 York National Book Fair which was held at the city’s racecourse. It’s the largest out of print and antiquarian book fair in the UK with dealers from around Britain, Europe and North America exhibiting their stock.
I picked up an impressive catalogue produced by one of the American dealers and it fell open at a double page devoted to an association copy of The King’s Henchman by Edna St Vincent Millay. The association? Why the book originally belonged to Aurelia Schober who late married Otto Plath and gave birth to daughter Sylvia. Yes, that Sylvia.
The book bears both Aurelia and Sylvia’s names, Sylvia’s “ex-libris” book plate and annotations by Aurelia after her daughter’s death. The bookseller’s catalogue description is well-written and the book’s price tag nudges close to ten thousand dollars.
Sylvia Plath has left an emotional as well as a literary legacy and as a result any book, letter or manuscript is seen as desirable by collectors. I’d argue that Aurelia helped to generate the market in her daughter’s work by editing and publishing Sylvia’s letters to her back in the 1970s.
Plath was an early influence on my work and I treasure a pristine first edition copy of Ariel I was given by the late great bookseller Nigel Williams when I worked for him in his central London bookshop back in the mid 1990s.
The young Sylvia longed for recognition as a writer and in the early days of her relationship with Ted Hughes, she described them as working together as a creative team. She wrote to her mother from Cambridge in 1956:
” We want to work and work. Success will never spoil either of us. We are not dependent on the social arty world but scorn it, for those who are drinking and calling themselves ‘writers’ at parties should be home writing and writing. Every day one has to earn the name of ‘writer’ over and over again with much wrestling…”
These 60 year old words are true and I have them typed and displayed in my office. I know the meaning of “much wrestling” and that is why I offer monthly creative writing workshops and one to one mentoring. I want to help folk with their creative wrestling. I hope this is another example of Plath’s legacy