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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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Room, London, I had the privilege of accessing the Ted Hughes’ archive, containing some of his private diary notes and unpublished poems.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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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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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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Who was Assia Gutmann Wevill?

    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

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Assia, Strauss, and World War II

At the end of World War II, the composer Richard Strauss, whose final work was an opera titled ‘Capriccio’, wrote:  ‘The most terrible period of human history is at an end, the twelve year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture under the greatest criminals, during which Germany’s 2000 years of cultural evolution met its doom.’Strauss described the government sanctioned anti-semitism as ‘the basest weapon of untalented, lazy mediocrity against a higher intelligence and greater talent.’ Assia Gutmann, whose father was Jewish,  was one of the many victims of this period in history. At age six, she and her family were driven out of Berlin  by the anti-semitic policies of the Third Reich. Mercifully, their exile saved their lives, but Dr Gutmann’s family perished.

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Ted Hughes’ ‘Capriccio’

  The Meaning of ‘Capriccio’ In 1990, Ted Hughes, England’s Poet Laureate, published a collection of twenty poems, entitled Capriccio. The volume was illustrated by artist Leonard Baskin, and published by his Gehenna Press in a limited edition of only fifty copies. At $4000 each, and filled with richly coloured engravings by Baskin, the beautifully boxed leather volume was a […]

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In Memoriam

Today is the 46th anniversary of the deaths of Assia Gutmann Wevill, and Shura Hughes Wevill. They both died on 23rd March, 1969. Assia was 41 years old, and her daughter Shura was four. After a fraught phone conversation with her lover, Ted Hughes, Assia took pills, turned on the gas, and lay down to die with her daughter, whom […]

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