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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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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Kabbalah and the Seventh Heaven

I’ve had the privilege recently of attending a course on the ancient texts of the Kabbalah, presented by Rabbi Dr. Orna Triguboff. These mystical teachings have long been a fascination of mine, particularly after I discovered, while researching  my novel ‘Capriccio’, about  the poet Ted Hughes, that he drew  inspiration and poetic imagery from the texts of Kabbalah. Our talks with Rabbi […]

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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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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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Vale Olwyn Hughes

Excerpt from the obituary by Jonathan Bate, The Guardian, 5 January 2016: Olwyn Marguerite Hughes, literary agent, born 26 August 1928; died 3 January 2016. Literary agent with a fearsome reputation who was devoted to the work of her brother, Ted Hughes, and the posthumous literary life of his wife Sylvia Plath.  Olwyn Hughes, centre, with her brothers, Ted, right, and Gerald. Photograph:  The Ted Hughes Estate Born in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, Olwyn was the middle child of William, a carpenter, and Edith (nee Farrar); an older brother, Gerald, emigrated to Australia after the second world war. The family’s end of terrace house was cramped, but a happy childhood included picnics at Hardcastle Crags and dips in the rocky pool on Cragg Vale. When Olwyn was 10, the family moved to the mining town of Mexborough, in South Yorkshire, where they took on a newspaper and tobacco shop. Olwyn was at first miserable, but soon began to lose herself in reading books and dabbling with horoscopes and Ouija boards. On just six occasions during visits home, she met the young American woman whom Ted had married after a whirlwind romance in 1956. Their first impressions of each other were wary. Olwyn found Sylvia “poised and controlled, with a hint of reserve or constraint”. Sylvia thought Olwyn was “startlingly beautiful with amber-gold hair and eyes”, but felt that she was “quite selfish and squanders money on herself continually in extravagances of clothes and cigarettes, while […]

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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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Excerpt from my novel

I'm re-writing 'Capriccio' under a new title. It seems that most readers have never heard of Ted Hughes' poetry sequence of the same title, which is hardly surprising, considering they were first published as 'rare books' at the cost of 4000 English pounds each. So people may think my book is about music, as 'Capriccio' is mostly used as a musical term for a fast, merry piece. Assia's story is far from merry, although she had some exciting times.

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