Today, watching Sylvia Plath’s Sotheby’s auction, I felt myself feeling a little like the “passionate, fragmentary girl” Plath wrote about in her journal. My self of sense was utterly splintered and if this seems a messy, tangled, off-the-cuff blog post, I guess that’s because it’s exactly what it is.
For anyone viewing the bidding this afternoon, it was an intense, emotional experience. The voyeur part of me watched fascinated, excited, disbelieving. The scholar in me watched appalled at the collection being broken up and sold into (presumably) private hands (though we don’t know this yet). The sociologist in me had whirling thoughts about the significant historical moment and the cultural biography of objects. The daughter in me felt I should wind my neck in, these items have been preserved by Frieda Hughes for decades. They belong to her, she has every right to do with them what she wants. Then there was just me, Gail Crowther, reader-fan of Plath, feeling somewhat melancholic and not really sure how or what to feel or why and because of that, a little confounded.
Moments like this matter, and perhaps they take some time and reflection to understand why. But being caught in that confusion can start some interesting conversations about what we value and why? Who gets value attached to them? Why are objects so important? Why would a writer’s set of tarot cards sell for significantly more than a handwritten letter? Where and why we place ourselves in somebody else’s life that we never even knew.
In the next few days, the items will be packaged up and sent off to their new homes almost certainly all over the world. They will be treasured, I’m sure. Some we may never see again. They will start a new cultural part of their history, their provenance firmly cemented. They are safe and most importantly preserved. But still I kept thinking: what cost, Sylvia Plath?