Assia Wevill, born Assia Esther Gutmann, would have been 89 years old today, had she not taken her own life and that of her daughter Shura in March 1969. She was 41 when she died: 41 years, reflected in the 41 chapters in my novel, ‘Capriccio’, which endeavours to honour her short life. Who was the real Assia? Was […]
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. […]
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Room, London, I had the privilege of accessing the Ted Hughes’ archive, containing some of his private diary notes and unpublished poems.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’, […]
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 […]
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 […]
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.
Remembering Assia Gutmann Wevill, born this day 1927 in Berlin. Tragically she took her own life in 1969. She’s the main character of my new novel, ‘Capriccio’, which retraces her stormy relationship with poet Ted Hughes. Who was Assia? Why has history treated her so unfairly? Was she, as Ted Hughes speculates in his poetry collection ‘Capriccio’ doomed to die? For answers to these questions, and more, read my novel ‘Capriccio’, excerpts of which can be found on this Blog, under the menu item ‘Excerpts’.
Shura (Alexandra Tatiana Elise) Hughes Wevill was the daughter of Ted Hughes and Assia Wevill Excerpt from ‘Pit and Stones’ a chapter in the novel in which Ted, Assia and the children are returning from a house-hunting trip in Manchester. They would never see each other again. Just then the train gave a great jolt. Frieda, who’d been leaning forward, was catapulted into Assia’s lap. Ted braced himself and held on to Nick’s shirt tail. A squeal of brakes followed, and the train groaned to a shuddering stop. From somewhere in another compartment they heard a woman’s scream. Shura began to cry, still clutching the half-eaten cake. Assia held her close with one arm while protecting Frieda with her other. ‘What’s happening?’ she asked the world in general, and Ted in particular. ‘You stay here with the children. I’ll try to find out. And for God’s sake, can’t you stop your daughter snivelling?’ Assia turned her face away, smoothing Shura’s hair tenderly. ‘It’s all right, liebchen. Soon we’ll all be home.’ To Ted she said coldly, ‘You seem to forget that our daughter has just turned four. Just like you ‘forgot’ to come to her birthday party. This trip’s a great deal harder for her than it is for Frieda and Nick.’ © Dina Davis
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. Each of the fifty volumes was signed by the author, and also by the illustrator, Leonard Baskin, whose company […]
Lucas Myers, a lifelong friend of Ted Hughes, writes: ‘Sylvia’s rival had been misrepresented. She was a touch too elegant for her own well-being, fundamentally very vulnerable, needed a lot of affection, and could remembe SS boots outside the railway carriage compartment as her family, half Jewish, approached the Swiss border.’ – Lucas Myers, ‘Ah, Youth … Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath at Cambridge and After’ (from ‘Bitter Fame’ by Anne Stevens, Appendix 1). Peter Porter writes of “the cruelty of excising Assia’s true part in the Hughes/Plath heritage, assigning her only the role of marginal temptress, whom we all seem to have allowed to be airbrushed out of literary history.” Porter, an eminent Australian poet, knew Assia well. He writes of her: “She had wit, charm and generosity, and while she could be wilful and self-dramatising, she was also natural and straightforward. [Assia] grew up speaking German, Hebrew and English. She attended an academy for well-off Arab children who identified with the Mandated British. Somehow she acquired a beautifully modulated English voice long before she set foot in Britain.” While answering an advertisement for a London flat placed by Hughes and Plath in a newspaper, the fourth and fatal attraction of her life began. My novel ‘Capriccio’ traces the vicissitudes, joys, and agonies of the love affair between Assia and Ted Hughes. Excerpts from Peter Porter’s Review of ‘Lover of Unreason’ in The Guardian, Saturday, 28 October 2006