Assia’s Birthday 15 May 1927
If Assia, named Esther in my novel. ‘Capriccio’, had lived to see this day, she would have reached the grand old age of ninety-three. Instead, in a moment of madness, she took her own life, and that of her daughter with Ted Hughes, at the age of forty-one. A double tragedy, undoubtedly caused by her stormy relationship with Hughes, and his rejection of their daughter, Shura (Alexandra Tatiana Elise). Yet Assia’s suicide receives far less attention than that of her rival in love, Sylvia Plath, who left a legacy of some of the most powerful poems of the twentieth century. Few people know that Assia was also a poet, artist and playwright. Her talents were ignored by Hughes and the world at large, which saw her as a femme fatale, who lured Ted Hughes away from Sylvia Plath. I have tried to redress this injustice in ‘Capriccio’.
Would this tragedy occur today, in the age of ‘Me Too’? Surely this beautiful and gifted woman would have found support in her plight of domestic and sexual abuse. Instead she was spurned by society, vilified in the biographies of Ted and Sylvia, and forgotten by the doyens of literary history. Until now. This year an academic treatise by Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick, Reclaiming Assia Wevill, was published in the US. It turned the conventional view of Assia on its head, revealing her many creative achievements in her short life. As in Capriccio, Assia is portrayed here as a woman sorely wronged, a victim not only of cruel manipulation but also of racism and anti-semitism.I
It is time the world acknowledged Assia Esther Gutmann Wevill as a woman wronged, a fellow victim with Sylvia Plath of one man’s unthinking cruelty. Both Assia and Ted were trapped by the conventions of the age and society they lived in. Not for them the liberation and flouting of convention of the late sixties and seventies.
Perhaps had Assia been born a decade or two later, she would never have succumbed to the shame and self-annihilation that took her life. She would never have been forced to escape the Nazi regime because her father was Jewish. Her single-motherhood would have been lived in dignity rather than misery. One hopes she would not have pinned all her hopes on the love of one man, as she wrote in her suicide letter to her father. More than anything, she would have experienced enough respect, acceptance, support and encouragement to live out her life as a woman who had much to give. And her daughter Shura would still be with us today.