Wednesday, May 1, 2013

SYLVIA PLATH: MRS CHERRY'S KITCHEN

IN 2000, FABER & FABER launched Faber Children's Classics, a series of books with uniform trade dressings that included works such as The Complete Nonesense by Edward Lear, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, and Peacock Pie by Walter de la Mare. In order to round out the list with some exclusive titles, Faber took advantage of the fact that some of its most well known writers had little known children's books. One of the first books in the series was Sylvia Plath's Collected Children's Stories, released in 2001.

The book is comprised of Plath's two previously released children's books, The Bed Book and The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit, along with a new story, Mrs. Cherry's Kitchen.

Mrs. Cherry's Kitchen was first sketched out in one of Plath's journal entries from either 1957 or 1958 (I have found conflicting dates, and can't find the quote in the 1982 release of Plath's published journals). As quoted by Lissa Paul in her 1995 Horn Book article on Plath's children's work:
"Suddenly, Ted & I looked at things from our unborn children's point of view. Take gadgets: a modern pot & kettle story. Shiny modern gadgets are overspecialized--long to do others tasks. Toaster, iron, waffle-maker, refrigerator, egg beater, electric fry-pan, blender. One midnight fairies or equivalent grant wish to change-about. Iron wants to make waffles, dips point for dents; refrigerator tired of foods, decides to freeze clothes, toaster tired of toast, wants to bake fancy cake..."
Plath submitted the story to the children's magazine Jack and Jill, which had previously published one of her husband Ted Hughes's  stories, but she didn't have much faith in it. It was with disappointment, but not surprise that she recorded in her journal on January 26, 1958 that the magazine had rejected the story.

MRS. CHERRY IS A DOMESTIC GODDESS, who has a great appreciation for her modern appliances. She says things like, "'Thanks to our fine, shiny toaster...It's made us golden-bown toast each day without fail all these years.'" These kind of statements make her appliances proud, but it turns out it's not enough to keep them content. Each wants to do a job that another appliance does.

Unbeknownst to Mrs. Cherry, her kitchen is helped along in its daily tasks by two kitchen pixies with "long, unpronounceable names," who call themselves Salt and Pepper.


When the appliances come to Salt and Pepper and tell them of their dream to trade jobs, the pixies don't think it's such a great idea. "'It would mean a lot of extra work for us,'" they say to each other, but "'If we don't satisfy the kitchen folk, they may go on strike and stop work altogether. And then where would Mrs. Cherry be.'"

So they give their consent. Of course, they have to wait for Mrs. Cherry to leave the kitchen, which she does rarely. At last, a little before lunch time on the day set for the change-about, Sunny and Bunny, the twins from next door, come to tell Mrs. Cherry that their cat Fudge Ripple has had kittens. Mrs. Cherry goes to see them.

"And Whizz! Whirr! Bang! Clang!" The shirts go into the oven, unbaked plum tarts go into the icebox, the coffee percolator swallows ice cream, the iron tries making waffles. Unsurprisingly, they all fail miserably. What's worse, Mr. Cherry comes home for lunch unexpectedly, and sees all of the appliances going haywire. He runs out in a fright.

Salt and Pepper set to work making everything right, and by the time Mrs. Cherry has returned with Mr. Cherry, the mess is cleaned up and everything is as it should be.

DAVID ROBERTS'S ILLUSTRATIONS throughout the Collected Stories are excellent, as can be seen by the examples here. Unfortunately Mrs. Cherry's Kitchen is the weakest of the stories in the book, and it makes sense that it has never warranted a separate book on its own.

The background information for this post came primarily from the Lissa Paul article, but also from the book Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking: Motherhood in Sylvia Plath's Works by Nephie Christodoulides. This post and yesterday's also owes much to http://www.sylviaplath.info/.

COMING SOON: Sylvia Plath's "The Bull of Bendylaw"


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1 comment:

  1. Great review! Anyone who is out to buy English books online, must add this book in the list.

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