Page 26-27 - H&W Brochure #3

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Edna St. Vincent Millay; [Sylvia Plath].
The King’s Henchman: A Play in Three Acts.
New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1927. Octavo, original black cloth over
paper boards. Ownership and presentation inscriptions by Aurelia Plath, bookplate
of Sylvia Plath, occasional underlining and marginal notes. No dust jacket. $9500.
First trade edition, early printing, of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s lyric drama set in
tenth-century England, based on the tragic meeting of Aethelwold and Aelfrida
recorded in the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
: “Did Love call out / When the wave went
over his head? / For Love was one of us. / And I do not see him.” Millay originally
The King’s Henchman
for composer Deems Taylor, using only words “known
in one form or another in English a thousand years ago”: the resulting work
premiered to great acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera in February 1927. Harper
& Brothers published Millay’s libretto, lightly edited, as a verse drama that same
year, in deluxe and trade editions.
This copy bears the contemporary ownership inscription of Aurelia Schober, later
Aurelia Plath: “Aurelia F. Schober / August 24, 1927 / Camp Maqua.” Beside the
underscored line “I found and lost my love!” is a date in Aurelia’s youthful hand:
“4/26/28.” On the front pastedown is a later gift inscription from Aurelia to her
young daughter, the future poet Sylvia Plath, dated September 1943, shortly
before Sylvia’s eleventh birthday: “To my imaginative, artistic Sylvia.” While
The King’s Henchman
may seem an odd gift for a ten-year-old child, Sylvia and
her widowed mother shared an intensely close intellectual life; Aurelia recalled
reading Millay’s “Renascence” together (“Sylvia was particularly moved”), and
noted that her daughter “read almost all the books I collected while I was in
college, used them as her own.” The front free endpaper of
The King’s Henchman
bears Sylvia Plath’s bookplate, inscribed with her name and dated 1950, the year
she left home for Smith College. Years later, in her journal, Sylvia Plath would
include Edna St. Vincent Millay in a list of “rivals” whose literary reputations she
was determined to outshine.
Later ink annotations throughout the text suggest that Aurelia Plath picked
up this copy of
The King’s Henchman
again after her daughter’s suicide in 1963:
the note “Read again 1965,” a number of flagged references to Devon (where
the destructive love affair of Aethelwold and Aelfrida unfolds, and where
Sylvia Plath’s marriage to Ted Hughes fell apart in 1962), and the note “’65”
beside the underscored line: “My heart hath a stone in its shoe.” An exceptional
association copy.