Christopher P. Stephens, Bookman

Chris Stephens has been a book dealer since 1965 - earlier if you count childhood buying and selling.

Stephens has sold major collections to university libraries all over the world. He has operated appealing bookstores in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, Hastings on Hudson, NY and several in NYC, NY. He is a wholesale dealer to other bookstores all over the world.

Chris loves books.

Stephens now maintains a lively internet operation out of his new home in Scranton, PA.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath's England

    Ted Hughes decided to sell the Sylvia Plath archive. Fran McCullough put Hughes in touch with Chris Stephens and Stephens arranged the sale to a university library.
    The special collections librarian was excited to get such a fine collection of papers for research. Chris flew to England to finalize the arrangements. He brought his family.
     That spring of 1975, we flew into London, hired a car and drove to Dover. The roads were narrow. Trees grew right up to the gravel. We wended our way to Ted Hughes' house.
     Hughes and his new wife greeted us. We came into the lovely house and sat in the kitchen. It had low ceilings, long benches by a long table and the very same stove. The new wife, his third one, made us lunch. Some people may have wondered at her marrying Ted Hughes after his first two wives committed suicide. I didn't wonder though. Ted Hughes was attractive. Back then he was compellingly attractive. Anyone would have been happy to be his third. Or fourth even.
     When we returned to NYC, I sat in our 17th floor on 38th Street and read his Crows aloud to myself. There were windows all around and a lightening storm was raging.  All that thunder and lightening in dark clouds was an appropriate accompaniment to Ted Hughes' poems.
      Like most women my age, I admired Sylvia Plath. It was thrilling to visit her kitchen, her house, her village. I could feel her poems in air of her house. 
      After lunch I took our three children out while Chris and Ted talked business. We strolled down the lane. We crossed a stone bridge over a river. Fields on either side were brilliantly green.  They beckoned.  We climbed a white fence.
    It didn't occur to me that the children and I were trespassing.  Little Mary wasn't two yet. She toddled happily in the grass. Michael and Greg romped far out into the field. It was a memorably idyllic moment.
     Suddenly young horses galloped over the hill. They came up almost up to us. The horses stopped short and cocked their heads and tossed their manes.
     Just a few years earlier an unexpected tangle with an aggressive horse at the Danbury County Fair sent me to the Danbury Hospital. "What's going on with those damned horses at the fair?" one nurse asked another. "They're biting all the damned tourists." This horse had been trying to to bite the baby in my arms. Luckily I'd whirled in time. No real harm done, except that the incident left me terrified of horses. I was appalled to see that I'd put my children in horse-danger again.
     We were surrounded. Attack horses blocked our way back. I gathered Mary and Michael into my arms and herded Gregory into the river. It wasn't too deep. The horses watched us splashing all the way across to the other side. We almost escaped. Unfortunately the far side was an island and the water beyond was too deep and swiftly moving to transit. I kept the children on the island, wet and cold, until the ponies grew bored of us and pranced away. We waded back across, trudged over the green, green grass and climbed the fence to the safety of the village lane.
     Ted Hughes was bemused by this adventure. He saw it as another instance of the Odd Americans. He advised me for future situations. "You do know, don't you, that water doesn't stop horses? They can swim."
     Ted signed some books to Chris. We packed ourselves back into the small English car and waved our thanks to the two of them. It was a happy afternoon. During the whole drive back, Chris talked enthusiastically about Sylvia Plath's papers.
    The promise of that afternoon didn't pan out. Olwyn Hughes, Ted's sister, stepped in as business manager and negated the deal. She said the university wasn't paying enough. She insisted that the papers go to auction.
     It was a problem. We were disappointed to miss out on the commission. Chris was devastated to have to renege on the university. He'd always relied on hand shakes and was appalled that a hand shake deal fell through. The university was gracious but they were disappointed too. It was a shame to have the papers separated instead of together as an archive. It didn't work out well for Olwyn and Ted either. At auction Plath's papers brought a fraction of the university's offer. It almost looked like there were no winners in this deal.
     Not true though. I was a winner. I'd emerged intact from a horse scare.  I met the handsome Poet Laureate of England and I'd eaten in the same kitchen where Sylvia Plath had lived.  And died.


Sylvia Plath's books: The Bell Jar, Poems

Anje Beckman's: Sylvia Plath home page

Ted Hughes' poetry books: The Hawk in the Rain, Lupercal, Wodwo, Recklings, Crow, Gaudete, Moortown Diary, Remains of Elmut, Mooses, River, Flowers and Insects, Wolfwatching, New Selected Poems 1957-1994, Tales From Ovid, Birthday Letters, Collected Poems

Ted Hughes' prose: A Dancer to God, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, Winter Pollen, Difficulties of a Bridegroom, Poetry in the Making

Ted Hughes also wrote children's books, edited anthologies and translated.

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