Can we separate Art from Life?

‘To value a piece of work does not require us to applaud its creator.” (Ashleigh Wilson, On Artists, MUP, 2019) Or does it? Do we have to love the artist to love the work? Think of Pablo Picasso, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen. All can be judged as having questionable morals. If, like me, you’ve always enjoyed movies such as Allen’s […]

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Talking About Capriccio

AUTHOR TALK: Dina Davis with Susannah Fullerton. Review by Susan Beinart On 3 February 2019, Waverley Library Theatrette resounded with the voices of Dina Davis in conversation with Susannah Fullerton, at the Sydney launch of Dina’s début work, Capriccio: A Novel. This novel was inspired by the lives of Assia Wevill, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. This roman à clef covers the love-triangle that played out between these three poets, highlighting, for the first time, Wevill’s role in this fascinating tale. Fullerton, well known at Library events for her deep knowledge of Jane Austen and other historical writers, asked Davis probing questions about Capriccio: A Novel. Davis answered Fullerton’s questions with passion and honesty. The conversation flowed and the audience was riveted. We learned much about Capriccio: A Novel, including that Davis wrote it with commitment, partly because she felt passionate about the single-mother plight of Wevill, who had, apart from a biography, thus far escaped literary interest. No longer. This fine novel will surely provoke more interest in Wevill, who is known as ‘Esther’ in the book. Names of all the protagonists were changed at the request of the Hughes Estate. PAGE 2 Adapted from Friends of the Waverley Library Newsletter, SPRING 2019

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What’s in a Name?

‘What’s in a name? A rose by any name would smell as sweet.’(WIlliam Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet Act 2, Scene 2) When I was born, several lifetimes it seems to me now, my scholarly grandfather gave me my name. ‘Dina’ he pronounced, ‘after one of our ancestors from the ancient town of Safed in Palestine, now Israel. Little did he know […]

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The Joys and Perils of the Writing Life

The Joys and Perils of the Writing Life So here I am, as Abraham said to the Lord when offering up his son for sacrifice. “Here I Am” is the title of a wonderful new book by Jonathan Safran Foer, a monumental work close to 1000 pages, exploring themes of cultural identity, fidelity and betrayal, the ephemeral nature of love, families functional and dysfunctional, and what makes them so. As for me myself and I, this post is in the nature of an apology to you, my readers, for my untoward absence. SInce I last posted back in April, life has overtaken me. There’s been illness, convalescence, slow recovery, as well as the joys of grandchildrens’ birthdays. and celebrations of their achievements, some sojourns in beautiful Darwin, home of my daughters and grandsons, and the minutiae of everyday life. On the writing side, I’ve been hard  at work on my new novel, ‘A Difficult Daughter’, and preparing my first novel. ‘Capriccio’, for publication. This entailed a major rewrite, mostly in appeasement to Faber and Faber, publishers of the works of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, and the Hughes Estate. Like Jonathan Bate, I fell foul of the Estate when requesting permission to quote thirteen lines of Hughes’s poetry, fully expecting dispensation for such a small amount of material. The lines I quoted were used to introduce chapters, each of which was given the title of one of the ‘Capriccio’ poems […]

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The torment of Ted Hughes

This review by Mark Ford of ‘Ted Hughes: the Unauthorised Life’ by Jonathan Bates, gives an interesting slant on Bate’s book, and echoes much of the portrayal of Hughes’s remorse in my novel: ‘Capriccio: the Haunting of Sylvia Plath.‘  In March 1969 Assia gassed both herself and her four-year-old daughter by Hughes, Shura, in her flat in Clapham. She had grown tired of sharing Hughes with his two women down in Devon, Brenda Hedden (a social worker) and Carol Orchard, a local farmer’s daughter and nurse, who would become his second wife. Hughes did, on occasion, explicitly question the implications of his … behaviour in his private journal, noting, for instance, of this particular erotic triangle: ‘3 beautiful women – all in love, and a separate life of joy visible with each, all possessed – but own soul lost.’ The sorrows of the polygamist … As the errant poet struggled to manage his handily alphabetised commitments to A, B and C, as he referred to them in his journal, Assia battled with the complexities of the situation in which she found herself after Plath’s suicide.   Although less jealous and possessive than Plath, Assia had her own moments of despair and fury: in a will she made in April 1968 she left to Hughes only ‘my no doubt welcome absence and my bitter contempt.’  Hughes’s ‘The Error’, from the suite of Assia poems collected in Capriccio (1990), presents her subsequent death as almost […]

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Assia the Artist

Few people know that Assia Gutmann Wevill was an accomplished artist in her own right. She painted brightly coloured miniatures of birds, fish, and flowers, and gave them to friends. She also drew the illustrations for many of Ted Hughes’s works. Sadly these have not survived As well as her talents in the visual arts, Assia was a gifted translator. […]

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The Invisible Woman

I’m reprinting this review here in acknowledgement of the role ‘Lover of Unreason’ has played in the writing of my novel, ‘Capriccio’. It has been my bible of facts, the scaffolding on which I’ve created the inner lives in fiction, of Assia, Ted and Sylvia. Eilat Negev herself has written to me that she and Yehuda often wished they’d had […]

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Written out of History

Written out of history theguardian.comOctober 18   Assia Wevill in 1968 Within a period of six years, Ted Hughes faced the sudden deaths of four people dear to him. In February 1963 his estranged wife, Sylvia Plath, gassed herself in her kitchen following his affair with another woman, Assia Wevill. He was just 32 when he found himself in sole charge of their children, Frieda, who was three, and Nicholas, barely one year old. Six years later, in March 1969, Wevill killed herself and Shura, their four-year-old daughter. At that time, his mother Edith appeared to be getting on well after an operation on her knee, but Hughes was afraid that the news might affect her recovery. In the following weeks he shunned his parents, and did not visit, phone or write to them. When his father asked Olwyn, Hughes’s sister, what the matter was, she told him but made him vow to keep it a secret. But he could not keep silent and told his wife. Edith suffered a thrombosis, lapsed into a coma and died three days later. Ted was certain that Wevill’s suicide was the final blow. In a letter to his close friend Lucas Myers, Hughes reflected on his part in the deaths of his wife and lover, confessing that with Plath it was his “insane decisions”, while in Wevill’s case it was his “insane indecisions”. When he granted us a rare interview in London in […]

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What is Truth in Fiction?

Assia Gutmann Wevill, the subject of my novel, Capriccio: the Haunting of Sylvia Plath What do readers look for from historical or biographical fiction? Is it the ‘truth’ in the form of accurately researched facts, or are they seeking  a deeper truth behind those facts? There are facts a-plenty in ‘Capriccio’, the result of ten years’ extensive research of the characters’ lives and works.However,   I have dug deeper into the realm of possibilities to create a story which, although largely following known truths, adds drama and colour to the lives of these real people. The question of truth in fiction has been constantly in my mind throughout this novel’s long gestation. I first heard of Assia Wevill in the year 2000, when a newspaper article ‘Haunted by the Ghosts of Love’ came to my notice. It was written by Assia’s biographers, Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren. Something about Assia’s story resonated with me, and for the next few years I read and researched everything I could about her role in the famous story of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. When Negev and Koren’s biography, ‘Lover of Unreason’, came out in 2006, I was at first devastated to know that others had got there before me, and abandoned all thought of writing my own book about Assia. Then I realised that what I wanted to write was not a ‘straight’ biography, but a re-creation of the lives of Assia, Ted and Sylvia during […]

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