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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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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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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A is for Assia

  Preamble: In the British Library Manuscript Room, London, I had the privilege of accessing the Ted Hughes’ archive, containing some of his private diary notes and unpublished poems. Throughout his papers, he refers to Assia only as ‘A’, perhaps evidence of his continuing shame for his Adulterous relationship with her. (Jonathan Bate suggests the ‘A’ could be the ‘A’, […]

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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 […]

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“Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life”

A Review of “Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life” by Jonathan Bate Harper Collins ISBN:978 0 06 236243 8 (US$40.00). Fourth Estate, 978 0 7322 9970 5 (AUD$49.99); hardback 662 pages     Dr Ann Skea  writes in her review of this book: (Telling Tales, ©Ann Skea 2015)  ‘In spite of the claims that this is a comprehensive biography, there is much that is left out or barely touched on in this book. Ted’s fishing did not “stand in for sex”,  as Bate would have it.’ Although Dr Skea describes this weighty tome as a ‘novelised’ biography, to me it reads as a non-fiction account of Ted’s life, with a large amount of what seems to be speculation.  Bate’s attitude to Assia is dismissive. He calls her ‘a literary hopeful’, and writes that ‘Ted assisted her with the translations’ for his ‘Modern Poetry in Translation’. In fact, Assia did all the translating from Hebrew to English for the poetry of Yehuda Amichai (Ted had no Hebrew). . No doubt there are many  inaccuracies in this biography, as Carol Hughes, the executor of Ted Hughes’ estate, and his widow,  has pointed out. It is unsurprising that she withdrew permission for Bate to publish with Faber & Faber, and to quote from Ted’s manuscripts. I found the chapter on Hughes’s conduct at the Adelaide Festival unnecessarily prurient, in Bate’s description of Hughes’ s (speculated) love life. As for Bate’s review of Ted Hughes’s ‘Capriccio’, the sequence of poems he […]

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NT Literary Awards

I’ve been shortlisted for the Essay Section of this award, and achieved second place as a finalist. A modest achievement, but still gratifying. A friend commented: ‘Your essay on Capriccio is a wonderful piece of literary criticism and a great explanation of your purpose in writing the book. Could the essay be a kind of prologue to your your ‘Capriccio’? Surely this essay should be published in some kind of literary criticism journal.’ In my essay, I argue that the poems in Capriccio have been largely lost to the public, and are not a true reflection of Hughes’ relationship with Assia Wevill. In fact, Hughes told Assia’s biographers that these poems ‘were perhaps not the ones I should have written’, So what’s my next step? Is there a literary journal out there who’d consider my essay? There’s a version of it on this Blog: see my Post ‘The Lost Poems of Ted Hughes’.

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The lost poems of Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes’ series of twenty poems, called ‘Capriccio,’ was first published in 1990 in a print run of only fifty. The expensively produced leather-bound volume was inaccessible to most readers, by virtue of its cost ($4000) and rare book status. It was not until after Hughes’ death in 1998, that the series was accessible in its entirety, as a brief section in ‘The Collected Poems of Ted Hughes’ edited by Paul Keegan. (Faber and Faber, 2003). Thus the full sequence of ‘Capriccio’ was virtually lost to Hughes’ readers for many years. Why did Hughes wait almost thirty years after his affair with Assia Wevill to publish these poems? Why did he tell Assia’s biographers, Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren, that these poems were perhaps ‘not the ones I should have written’? Was this work an apologia for Hughes’ role in the life and death of Assia and Shura, intended to show destiny as the culprit? In these poems, some of which cruelly portray Assia as Lilith the devil-woman, there is little mention of Hughes’ own destructive influences. Hughes appears to argue that he’s biologically predetermined to be Assia’s prey, and that the winds of fate brought them together. The fate she carried sniffed us out, he writes in ‘Dreamers’, the only poem about Assia which is not in ‘Capriccio’. Next to Hughes’ award-winning ‘Birthday Letters’, the autobiographical nature of ‘Capriccio’ went barely noticed for many years. When the poems were […]

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Thoughts on Capriccio

EXCERPT from my Article: ‘On Ted Hughes’ Capriccio’ Hughes’ collection of twenty poems, Capriccio, was produced in 1990 as a beautiful boxed volume with leather covers. Printed on hand-made paper, and at $4000 a copy, the book was designed to be rare.[1] Each of the fifty volumes was signed by the author, and also by the illustrator, Leonard Baskin, whose company […]

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