Assia Wevill

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Assia Wevill
Born Assia Esther Gutmann
(1927-05-15)May 15, 1927
Berlin, Germany
Died March 23, 1969(1969-03-23) (aged 41)
London, UK
Cause of death Suicide
Nationality German
Alma mater University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Known for Ted Hughes's partner
Spouse(s) Sgt. John Steel,
Richard Lipsey,
David Wevill
Children Alexandra Tatiana Elise Wevill ("Shura") (deceased)

Assia Wevill (May 15, 1927 – March 23, 1969) was a German-born woman who escaped the Nazis at the beginning of World War II and emigrated to Mandate Palestine, then later the United Kingdom, where she had a relationship with the English poet Ted Hughes. She killed herself and Hughes's four-year-old daughter Alexandra Tatiana Elise (nicknamed "Shura") in a fashion similar to that of Sylvia Plath, Hughes's first wife, who six years earlier had also committed suicide, by use of a gas oven.[1]

Early life of Assia Wevill[edit]

Assia Gutmann was the daughter of a Jewish physician of Russian origin, Dr. Lonya Gutmann, and a German Lutheran mother, Elizabetha (née Gaedeke). She spent most of her youth in Tel Aviv. Cited by friends and family as a free-spirited young woman, she would go out to dance at the British soldiers' club, where she met Sergeant John Steel, who became her first husband and with whom she moved to London in 1946. According to her biographers, Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, "she had entered an essentially loveless marriage with an Englishman at the age of 20 – largely to enable her family to emigrate to England.[2] The couple later emigrated to Canada, where Assia enrolled in the University of British Columbia, Vancouver and met her second husband, Canadian economist Richard Lipsey.[3]

In 1956, on a ship to London, she met the 21-year-old poet David Wevill. They began an affair, and Assia divorced Lipsey; she married Wevill in 1960.[4]

Career[edit]

Wevill was a refugee from Nazi Germany, and was linguistically gifted. She had a successful career in advertising[5] and was an aspiring poet who published, under her maiden name Assia Gutmann, an English translation of the work of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.[citation needed]

Ted Hughes[edit]

In 1961, poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath rented their flat in Chalcot Square, Primrose Hill, London to Assia and David Wevill, and took up residence at North Tawton, Devon. Hughes was immediately struck with Assia, as she was with him. He later wrote:

We didn't find her - she found us.
She sniffed us out...
She sat there...
Slightly filthy with erotic mystery...
I saw the dreamer in her
Had fallen in love with me and she did not know it.
That moment the dreamer in me
Fell in love with her, and I knew it.[6]

Plath noted their chemistry. Soon afterward, Ted and Assia began an affair. At the time of Plath's suicide, Wevill was pregnant with Hughes's child, but she had an abortion soon after Plath's death. The actual relationship, who instigated it, and its circumstances have been hotly debated for many years.[7]

After Plath's suicide, Hughes moved Wevill into Court Green (the North Tawton, Devon home he had bought with Plath), where Wevill helped to care for Hughes's and Plath's two children, Frieda and Nicholas. Wevill was reportedly haunted by Plath's memory; she even began using things that had once belonged to Plath.[8] In a biography of Wevill, Lover of Unreason, the authors maintain that she used Plath's items not out of obsession, but rather for the sake of practicality, as she was maintaining a household for Hughes and his children. On 3 March 1965 at age 37, Wevill gave birth to Alexandra Tatiana Elise, nicknamed "Shura", while still married to David Wevill.

Ostracized by her lover's friends and family,[9][10] and eclipsed by the figure of Plath in public life, Wevill became anxious and suspicious of Hughes's infidelity, which was real enough. He began affairs with Brenda Hedden, a married acquaintance who frequented their home, and Carol Orchard, a nurse 20 years his junior, whom he married in 1970. Wevill's relationship with Hughes was also fraught with complexities, as shown by a collection of his letters to her that have been acquired by Emory University.[11] She was continually distraught at his seeming reluctance to commit to marrying and setting up a home with her, while treating her as a "housekeeper".[12] Most of Hughes's friends indicate that while he never publicly claimed Shura as his daughter, his sister Olwyn said he did believe the child was his.[citation needed]

In October 2015 the BBC Two major documentary Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death examined Hughes's life and work and included an examination of the part played by Wevill.[13]

Death[edit]

On 23 March 1969, Wevill gassed herself and four-year-old Shura in their London home. She had sealed the kitchen door and window, taken and given to Shura sleeping pills dissolved in a glass of water, and turned on the gas stove. She and Shura were found lying together on a mattress in the kitchen.[14][15]

Legacy[edit]

In advertising[edit]

Wevill composed the 90-second "Sea Witches" advertisement, for a ladies' hair-dye product, for both television and cinemas, called a "breakthrough in type" and a "huge success" by her biographers Koren and Negev, that was "applauded in theaters". The advert can be viewed in some classic ad compilations or sometimes as an online posting.[16]

In literature[edit]

  • Ted Hughes's volume of poetry Crow (1970) was dedicated to the memory of Assia and Shura.
  • His poem "Folktale" deals with his relationship with Assia:
She wanted the silent heraldry
Of the purple beach by the noble wall.
He wanted Cabala the ghetto demon
With its polythene bag full of ashes.
  • Hughes published half a dozen poems he had written for Assia, which were hidden among the 240 poems in New Selected Poems (1989).
  • In "The Error." he wrote:
When her grave opened its ugly mouth
why didn't you just fly,
Why did you kneel down at the grave's edge
to be identified
accused and convicted?
  • In "The Descent", he wrote:
your own hands, stronger than your choked outcry,
Took your daughter from you. She was stripped from you,
The last raiment
Clinging round your neck, the sole remnant
Between you and the bed
In the underworld

In film[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ O'Connor, Anahad (23 March 2009). "Son of Sylvia Plath commits suicide". New York Times. Archived from the original on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 23 March 2009. 
  2. ^ Koren, Yehuda & Negev, Eilat (September 9, 2006). "I'm going to seduce Ted Hughes". The Telegraph. 
  3. ^ Lipsey, Richard (1997). Microeconomics, growth and political economy. Elgar. p. xiv and footnote 4, page xxxv. 
  4. ^ "Haunted by the ghosts of love". The Guardian (London). 10 April 1999. Retrieved 9 January 2007. 
  5. ^ Koren, Yehuda (2006). A Lover of Unreason. London: Robson Books. p. 151. ISBN 1861059744. 
  6. ^ Hughes, Ted (1998). "Dreamers". Birthday Letters (Faber & Faber). 
  7. ^ Sigmund, Elizabeth (23 April 1999). "'I realised Sylvia knew about Assia's pregnancy - it might have offered a further explanation of her suicide'". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  8. ^ Morris, Tim. "The People in Sylvia's Life". University of Texas, Arlington. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  9. ^ Koren, Yehuda; Negev, Eilat (19 October 2006). "Written out of history". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  10. ^ Sigmund, Elizabeth (April 22, 1999). "Ted Hughes: 'I realised Sylvia knew about Assia's pregnancy - it might have offered a further explanation of her suicide' (In a heart-breaking new twist in the story of the lives and deaths of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Sigmund recalls a moment of terrible realisation)". The Guardian. 
  11. ^ Bosman, Julie (10 January 2007). "Ted Hughes Letters Go to Emory University". New York Times. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  12. ^ Smith, David (10 September 2006). "Ted Hughes, the domestic tyrant". The Observer. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  13. ^ "BBC Two - Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death". Bbc.co.uk. 10 October 2015. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  14. ^ Eilat Negev (10 April 1999). "Haunted by the ghosts of love". Guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  15. ^ Sigmund, Elizabeth (April 22, 1999). "Ted Hughes: 'I realised Sylvia knew about Assia's pregnancy - it might have offered a further explanation of her suicide' (In a heart-breaking new twist in the story of the lives and deaths of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Sigmund recalls a moment of terrible realisation)". The Guardian. 
  16. ^ Koren, Yehuda (2006). A Lover of Unreason. London: Robson Books. p. 151. ISBN 1861059744. 

Further reading[edit]