Rare Sylvia Plath proof goes up for auction

Writer Sylvia Plath in an undated photo. A rare proof copy of her novel, "The Bell Jar," will be auctioned this month.

Writer Sylvia Plath in an undated photo. A rare proof copy of her novel, “The Bell Jar,” will be auctioned this month.

A rare proof of Sylvia Plath’s novel “The Bell Jar” is coming up for auction in England. Bonhams will auction the uncorrected proof of the book, printed before publication, on June 24.

The proof of Plath’s semiautobiographical novel bears her pseudonym, “Victoria Lucas.” It was originally published in England under that name in 1963.

Later British editions and those in America attributed Plath as the author. By then, as her fans know, Plath was dead. The poet committed suicide later in 1963 after completing, but not seeing the publication of, the poems in the acclaimed collection “Ariel.”

The 1962 proof edition of “The Bell Jar” shows that about 70 textual changes were made between the proof and the publication of the book. Bonhams quotes scholar Peter K. Steinberg as writing, “These textual differences are the result of edits made either by Plath herself when she reviewed the proof or by the editors as they prepared the final typesetting. This shows that Plath read her proofs of The Bell Jar very carefully and extends our understanding of her involvement in the creative process beyond the composition of the work itself.”


The proof was found by a caterer in West Wiltshire, England, who had bought it in 1985 for class when she was a student. She wrote about it on her blog.

“For no reason, a few weeks ago whilst idly browsing eBay, I thought ‘I wonder if anyone else has one of those weird Bell Jar books for sale?’ and searched for it. Nothing on eBay, so I Googled it,” she writes. According to her research, there are fewer than a dozen copies known to exist. The last one Bonhas had sold for more than $7,600.

“Well, what would you do?” she writes.

Some literary enthusiasts might rush to have it properly preserved and find a place of prominence to display it at home. But she’s not that much of a fan. Her uncorrected proof will be auctioned by Bonhams; the estimated value is $3,000-$4,600.


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