The Private Lives of Authors: Sylvia Plath

By October 17, 2017Authors, Poetry

Many people know about Sylvia Plath’s writing, her relationship with Ted Hughes, and her battle with mental illness. A little known fact about Plath, however, was her passion for beekeeping.

Her love for bees began with her father, Otto Plath, who was a bumble bee expert.  Otto Plath’s book Bumblebees and Their Ways was published in 1934 and is still used today. Plath’s father grew up in Germany where he gained the nickname Beinen-Konig, meaning King of the Bees. Boston University recognised his knowledge and passion, giving him a place on their academic staff as the Professor of Entomology.

 




This particular poem was created earlier (1959) than her collection of five bee poems written in October 1962.

Sylvia was born in Boston on the 27th of October in 1932 and lived there with her family until her brother was born and they moved to Jamaica Plain in Massachusetts. Sadly, shortly after Sylvia’s 8th birthday, her beloved father died, and his death affected her greatly. Heartbroken, she reportedly told her mother “I’ll never speak to God again!”

Her early childhood was defined by her father’s death and Plath later wrote how the first nine years of her life, “sealed themselves off like a ship in a bottle—beautiful inaccessible, obsolete, a fine, white flying myth”.

Plath wrote a collection of poems about bees in October 1962 while her marriage to Hughes was falling apart. The poems are full of vivid and sensual imagery, drawing upon aspects of her life at the time, and her tenderness towards the natural world. Themes of fertility, sexuality entwine with Plath’s imaginative examination of the lives of bees, creating some highly evocative poetry.

The poems are not an easy study but they are a wonderful insight into how Plath was feeling at that point in her life. Extracts of letters from Path to her mother, Aurelia, give some clues as to her life at the time of writing the poetry.

June 15th, 1962

…Today, guess what, we became beekeepers! … Ted had only put a handkerchief over his head where the hat should go in the bee-mask, and the bees crawled into his hair, and he flew off with half-a-dozen stings. I didn’t get stung at all, and when I went back to the hive later, I was delighted to see bees entering with pollen sacs full and leaving with them empty  at least I think that’s what they were doing.  I feel very ignorant, but shall try to read up and learn all I can.  If we’re lucky, we’ll have our own honey, too!  Lots of people are really big keepers in town with a dozen to twenty hives, so we shall not be short of advice.  When we have our first honey, I think we shall get half a dozen hens…”

9th October, 1962

Everything is breaking: my dinner set is breaking in half, the health inspector says the cottage should be demolished  there is no hope for it,  Even my beloved bees set upon me today when I numbly knocked aside their sugar feeder, and I am all over stings…”

(Thanks to County Dublin Beekeepers’ Association)

The Private Lives of Authors: Franz Kafka

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Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a German speaking Jewish novelist born in Prague to a middle class family. His childhood was lonely despite being the eldest of six children; his two brothers unfortunately died in their infancy and the remaining children were mainly raised by governesses. Both parents worked hard in the family business and were consequently absent for much of the working week, leaving the household in the care of servants.

Kafka was a shy and introverted character, and an avid reader. He considered writers such as Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, and Heinrich Von Kleist to be “true blood brothers”. Kafka’s father expected him to take over the family goods business, however, after completing a degree in Law he worked for insurance companies, and started an asbestos factory with an acquaintance. He claimed to despise working just to pay bills and would much rather have spent his time writing. Illness plagued him through his adult life, with complications arising from tuberculosis keeping him from joining the military.

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Brambly Hedge Creator Jill Barklem Died Aged 66

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Born in Epping in 1951, Jill Barklem had a natural talent for art and drawing. He interest in the natural world became a real influence in her work, and after completing her study of illustration at St Martin’s in London, she went on to research extensively for her Brambly Hedge stories.

Her curiosity and interest in rural life bled into her quaint and sweet stories, accompanied by beautifully detailed images of anthropomorphised field mice and other hedgerow creatures.  Her Brambly Hedge stories were adored by many children growing up in the 80s and 90s from her first book ‘A Spring Story’ (1980) to ‘A Year in Brambly Hedge’ (2010). Her work was made into an animation in 1996, voiced by two British treasures- Jim Broadbent and June Whitfield.

After a long illness Jill died, aged 66, on November 16th 2017. The publisher’s staff at HarperCollins were all deeply saddened at the news of Barklem’s death. “Her exquisite Brambly Hedge stories have enchanted children and many adult admirers across the world for more than 35 years. Jill was a lovely person with a rare talent to turn her astute observation of the English countryside into an enchanting miniature world,” she said. “Her enduring stories about the mice of Brambly Hedge remain as beautiful today as when she first created them and will continue to be treasured by future generations.”

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Orwell Statue Unveiled at BBC Broadcasting House

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On the 7th November this year, a brand new statue of one of my all time favourite authors was unveiled outside the BBC’s London Head Quarters, at New Broadcasting House.

Eric Blair had worked at the BBC as a producer for the “Empire Service” over 70 years ago and some suggest that it is this time at the BBC that gave him the inspiration for room 101, in his now famous novel 1984 which he penned under the more familiar name George Orwell.

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10 Doris Lessing Quotes We Can All Relate To

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Doris May Lessing (22nd October 1919 – 17th November 2013) was a British novelist poet, playwright, and short story writer, best known for her novels including The Grass is Singing (USUK), and The Golden Notebook (USUK).

An early feminist, Lessing was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007, described by the Swedish Academy as “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”. When met on the street by journalists and told she had won the prize, she responded “Oh, Christ!”. Read More

10 Moving Quotes from Chinua Achebe

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Chinua Achebe (16 November 1930 – 21 March 2013) was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor and critic, best known for his novel Things Fall Apart (USUK), considered to be the most widely read book in modern African Literature and winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2007.

Achebe lived a fascinating life, growing up in South-Eastern Nigeria. He excelled at school and won a scholarship to study medicine but changed his studies to English Literature at University College, Ibadan. It was here he began writing stories, eventually gaining worldwide attention for his works. Read More

Final Paddington Bear Adventure to Be Published on the Anniversary of His Creator’s Death

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Michael Bond, the creator of the beloved Paddington Bear, sadly passed away earlier this year on 27 June at the age of 91. On the first anniversary of his death, Paddington’s last outing, which Bond was working on shortly before his passing, will be published.

“He was working on it very shortly before he died,” said Bond’s daughter, Karen Jankel. “It hadn’t been illustrated, but it was there in manuscript form, and it’s lovely … He kept that magic touch right until the end. He always had to be writing, it was always his way, right through his life.” Read More

10 Classic Gifts for Austen Lovers

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Sometimes we need a little inspiration for writing those gift lists, or even for presenting others with ideas for ourselves! For Reading Addicts is here to help.

Despite being written over 200 years ago, the Jane Austen classics are still as popular as ever today. Her social commentary, wit, and love stories seem to still capture people’s imaginations.

Jane Austen fans will take great pleasure in perusing this list of goodies. It has something for everyone…

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