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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“EDGE”: A short story

The following is an excerpt frm my short story which was a finalist in the 2018 NT Literary Awards:   EDGE  by Dina Davis Rubbing her hands together, desperate for warmth, the young mother dragged a blanket from the empty cot nearby, to drape over her shoulders. Her two children were still sleeping in this hour before dawn. It took a […]

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An Excerpt from ‘Capriccio”

The following extract from my novel ‘Capriccio’ is a fictional recreation of the last day of Sylvia Plath’s life. In this version I haven’t named her, partly to comply with a request from the Hughes estate, and partly to see if it works. What do you think, Dear Readers? Does it work?    The moon has nothing to be sad about, Staring from her hood of bone. She is used to this sort of thing. Her blacks crackle and drag.           – from  ‘Edge’ by S.Plath EDGE  Rubbing her hands together, desperate for warmth, the young mother dragged a blanket from the empty cot nearby, to drape over her shoulders. Her two children were still sleeping in this hour before dawn. It took a supreme effort of will to shuffle to the little table under the bedroom window that served as a desk. She opened her journal with stiff aching fingers, and reached for her fountain pen  The water’s frozen in the pipes, and the blood’s frozen in my veins.  My hands are stiff and blue with cold as I write this. It’s the worst winter London has known in over thirty years. Thirty years; my age last birthday and what have I to show for it? A failed marriage, a few poems, and a mediocre novel. At least I didn’t publish it under my own name. Mother would be mortified if she knew that monster was […]

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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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Sylvia’s Last Letter

  What do you think Sylvia might have written in that last letter? Sylvia Plath’s last days have been well documented, again and again giving us the same facts in the various non-fiction biographies. We know she wrote a letter just before she died, and asked her downstairs neighbour for stamps.. The letter, if it was found, has never been disclosed. […]

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Ted Hughes and the Muse

  Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath In his his introduction to ‘Poetry in the Making’, the then Poet Laureate of Britain had the following words of advice for those of us whose passion is Writing, be it poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction, or something in between: Do you relate to these words? ‘You write interestingly only about the things that genuinely interest you. This is an infallible rule.. in writing, you have to be able to distinguish between those things about which you are merely curious –things you heard about last week or read about yesterday- and things which are a deep part of your life… So you say, ‘What part of my life would I die to be separated from?’ –Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making ‘It is occasionally possible, just for brief moments, to find the words that will unlock the doors of all those many mansions in the head and express something – perhaps not much, just something – of the crush of information that presses in on us from the way a crow flies over and the way a man walks and the look of a street and from what we did one day a dozen years ago. Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are.’-Ted Hughes   Dina Davis Convenor Randwick Writers’ Group 📚 0418 115748

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Elizabeth Sigmund on Sylvia Plath, reprinted from the Guardian

Elizabeth Sigmund was a friend and neighbour of Sylvia’s when she and Ted first moved to Devon. A year earlier, she had offered her country home to the Hugheses after hearing a broadcast on the BBC, in which they disclosed that their London apartment was so small, Ted had to work on a card table in the tiny entrance hall. The Guardian, Friday 23 April 1999 10.56 AEST. Last modified on Sunday 10 January 2016 In 1963, the poet Sylvia Plath, distraught at the break-up of her marriage to Ted Hughes, committed suicide. Six years later, Hughes faced more tragedy when his mistress Assia Wevill – who had lured him away from Plath – killed herself and their four-year-old daughter Shura. Elizabeth Sigmund, a close friend of Sylvia Plath, prompted by the Guardian’s account of Wevill’s death (Saturday Review, 10/4/99) recalls the aftermath of Plath’s suicide and the terrible events surrounding the death of Assia and Shura.In March 1963, I went with my young daughter, Meg, to visit Sylvia Plath’s small children in the flat in Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill, where their mother had killed herself weeks earlier. I had been told that Ted Hughes’s aunt, Hilda, was looking after the children, four-year-old Frieda and one-year-old Nicholas. Before gassing herself, Sylvia had left food and drink for her children and made sure they were safe in their bedroom. When Meg and I arrived we found that Frieda and Nicholas were being cared for […]

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Sylvia’s last letter

  The last person who saw Sylvia alive was the neighbour in the flat below hers in Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill. She asked him for some airmail stamps a few hours before her suicide. If she needed stamps, there must have been a last letter. The story at the party in New York was that it was a suicide note […]

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FACT OR FICTION?

 The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Teresa, writing about Janet Malcolm’s masterly non-fiction biography, ‘The Silent Woman,’ in the Blog ‘Shelf Love’, says: ‘It’s fascinating to consider that in some respects fiction could be more true than nonfiction. Fiction is part of a closed world, all in the author’s mind, and even if the author deliberately leaves options open, that openness is part of the author’s created world. With nonfiction, there really is a truth that happened, but there are so many mediators between that truth and the reading audience. How can one be sure of the truth?’ Janet Malcolm goes on to discuss the near impossibility of truth in biography–or in any nonfiction. Malcolm writes:  In a work of nonfiction we almost never know the truth of what happened. The ideal of unmediated reporting is regularly achieved only in fiction, where the writer faithfully reports on what is going on in his imagination….We must always take the novelist’s and the playwright’s and the poet’s word, just as we are almost always free to doubt the biographer’s or the autobiographer’s or the historian’s or the journalist’s. In imaginative literature we are constrained from considering alternative scenarios—there are none. This is the way it is  But is there a single, whole truth to tell? That’s the question that undergirds The Silent Woman, Malcolm’s book about the Plath legacy.The book is structured as a sort of memoir of Malcolm’s own journey as she […]

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Preview of my first chapter

Excerpt from Capriccio: the Haunting of Sylvia Plath. Dear Readers, how does my new sub-title ‘The Haunting of Sylvia Plath’ work for you? The emphasis in my novel about Assia Wevill, Plath’s rival and the mistress of Ted Hughes, is on the insidious influence Sylvia’s suicide had on both Ted and Assia. I’ve invented all journal entries and letters, and […]

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