Anna Karenina and Assia Wevill



On the Anna Karenina Principle 

(in response to Anne Skyvington’s Post of the same name on her blog ‘Write4publish’)


The main character, Assia Wevill, in my novel Capriccio: the Haunting of Sylvia Plath, has several connections with Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’, most of them hidden in the text. In the following excerpt, however, the resemblance is spelt out. Assia has more than a physical similarity to Anna, being half Russian, a woman who defied convention, and who loved obsessively. As a result, Assia was often snubbed by society, just as Anna Karenina was. The following excerpt, set in London in 1962, gives an example of this. Assia, and her husband David, have been invited to a post – Christmas gathering of London literati. Rumours abound of Assia’s adulterous affair with the poet Ted Hughes:


London was enveloped in soft white snow. Assia and David had spent Christmas day quietly at home together. Ted had gone to Yorkshire to visit his family. Assia was tortured by thoughts of Sylvia accompanying him on this day of all days. David had accepted an invitation from fellow-poet Ben, and his wife  Susanne.

‘Merry Christmas! Come in out of the cold, you two.’ Susanne welcomed them warmly at her front door, which was decorated with holly and ivy. David and Assia returned Susanne’s greeting, while removing their heavy outdoor coats and galoshes. Assia wore a black velvet cloak, her pale face framed in its fur-fringed hood. The effect was as if she were cast in the title role of Anna Karenina.

Inside there was the usual crowd, most of them poets and their wives. It was one of the few occasions that spouses were included in a meeting of The Group. The wives tended to band together, as if for solidarity. Assia drifted over to the join the women, avid for any gossip.

‘Well, there’s one couple conspicuous by their absence,’ said Jane, an inveterate gossip. ‘The Hugheses were here with bells on last Boxing Day, as I remember. Sad what’s happened to them, don’t you think?’ She addressed no one in particular. Everyone steadfastly refused to look at Assia, with the result that she felt the focus of attention.

Holding her head high, and smoothing the soft grey wool of her dress over her rounded stomach, she said brightly, ‘Well, David and I spent a cosy day at home in front of a roaring fire, very happy to avoid the tiresome trappings of a family dinner.’

It was as if Assia had never spoken. The women ignored her comment, either from embarrassment or sheer malice.