The Haunting Face of Assia Wevill

Plath fans will recognize that name. That and Shura Wevill.

Apparently there’s a biography out now of Assia Wevill – that’s kind of an interesting article and review there – but it does take the “Ted Hughes is a villain” attitude which I find rather tiresome. There may be some truth to that (here’s another recent article on Hughes) – he may have been a total bastard when it came to romance – but still: should we turn this man on a flaming pyre for all eternity? How sorry can one person be for having a damn affair? So I’m not really into the “Ted Hughes is evil” thing. Human lives are complicated. Affairs and suicides and emotions are not easy – especially not for intense people like these three. I’ve flip-flopped my allegiances through my years of being a Plath fan. There is never just one side to a situation like this one – a situation which is, frankly, a total MESS.

I don’t know if I’ll read the biography – but it was an interesting thing to hear those names, to have all of these associations come up in my head – just from reading Plath’s poems, and all the biographies. She’s a glimmering witch-woman in Plath’s fantasy … a sleek cold Germanic mistress, who slinked into her husband’s life and whisked him away. This is Plath’s side of things. But Assia, in and of herself, is not interesting. Or – at least not like Hughes and Plath are interesting. Hughes and Plath are more interesting because of their art and their fame. Assia is peripheral to the two of them – and it seems like she knew that herself, and that was part of her suicide. She would never “get in there” with Plath and Hughes. What did Assia do besides break up a marriage and then kill herself and her child? Not to disrespect her, seriously – but her interest here is how she intersected with 2 famous people. That’s the fact. She knew it.

But still. I first read Plath’s stuff in high school – and since then – I have read every biography, every critical study – I came to Hughes late, because I had a bit of that “he’s a villain, I won’t buy his books” feeling – which is moronic. The guy is a master.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t know any of these people – but just from all the books and articles and poems I have read – I got a jolt of something almost like fear seeing those names this morning.

Assia and Shura Wevill.

Fear? Why fear? I guess it’s because I imagine Ted Hughes’ response. Hughes’ first moment in hearing the news that Assia had killed herself and their daughter. I mean … the mind boggles. The mind BOGGLES at trying to comprehend this.


It gives me a shiver, a shiver of freezing cold horror, to imagine what Ted Hughes must have endured.

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22 Responses to The Haunting Face of Assia Wevill

  1. Lisa says:

    Shura would be 41. Who knows what she would have been?

  2. red says:

    I know, right?


  3. DBW says:

    Assia and Shura Weevil. Even the sound of their names gives me bad thoughts. They sound like characters made up by John Irving. As you say, life and relationships are very complicated, fluid things. I never bought into the argument that Ted Hughes was the ultimate villain either, but, at best, one has to admit that some of the people he touched in his life didn’t prosper emotionally. I certainly don’t envy him having to deal with the aftermath of all that death. The photo is sad.

  4. DBW says:

    I just realized we are misspelling her name. Wevill, not Weevil.

  5. red says:

    Oops! You’re right!

  6. red says:

    It appears that sometimes I am spelling it correctly, and other times I am not. Good lord, I am going back and forth between spellings as though there is something arbitrary about last names!!

    Okay, changing it now, where relevant.

  7. red says:

    I think if you had any ambitions as an artist then Hughes would have been a nightmare as a lover, husband, boyfriend, whatever. How could you compete?

    Plath, of course, was competitive with pretty much everybody she ever met … so her self-loathing just took over, as his success grew … and she hated being in his shadow.

    And Assia obviously would always be in Plath’s shadow.

    I bet Hughes liked his women a wee bit crazy, too. He was a wild boy, the story of his first meeting with Plath (where they were wasted, and making out, and clawing at each other, and she bit his cheek, and he stole her head scarf) is probably not atypical. He liked free crazy women. But sadly – free crazy women often come with darker sides. (Uhm … I know this cuz I’m one myself. Ahem.)

    After the debacle with Assia – he eventually married a woman named Carol Orchard, who was a nurse. They stayed together until he died in 1998.

  8. DBW says:

    “(Uhm … I know this cuz I’m one myself. Ahem.)”

    So–THAT’S why you bit me.

  9. red says:

    Oh, c’mon. You loved it.

  10. Lisa says:

    Hey, hey! Get a room!

    As a total aside, are gas stoves different now than they were then? ‘Cause I only hear of people dying in home gas explosions, not gas leaks.

    Was it natural gas or propane?

    My morbid mind needs to know!

  11. red says:

    Hmmm. I don’t know the answer to that.

    I can find out though.

    Oh and Lisa – it’s not listed in your morbid HOW DID THEY DIE? book? hahaha

  12. DBW says:

    Sorry, I had a long distance phone call. I did, indeed, enjoy most of the biting. It’s just that it confused me. Now, I am beginning to understand it.

  13. red says:

    Awesome. Would you please return my damn headscarf now?? You STOLE it, you crazy poet bastard.

  14. Lisa says:

    No, only that she turned the oven on and died. I didn’t know this other woman killed herself and Shura that way, too.


  15. red says:

    Lisa – It is, isn’t it?

    I can’t even imagine.

  16. DBW says:

    “Awesome. Would you please return my damn headscarf now?? You STOLE it, you crazy poet bastard.”

    Aha!!! I knew you liked my poetry.

    I am in no way admitting I have such a headscarf, but, for the sake of argument, if I did have such an item, it would have acquired such a level of importance to me that I would be loathe to part with it. Not to mention, I might miss holding it while I sleep.

  17. DBW says:

    While attempting to answer Lisa’s question, I ask.commed “gas oven suicide.” The first thing that came up was Ted Hughes’ poem “Sylvia’s Death.” Interesting.

  18. red says:


    Hughes, despite being REVILED by Plath fanatics for YEARS, never defended himself – never spoke of Plath – never spoke of what it was like for him – he kept his grief to himself (or – he put it all into his work probably).

    Right before he died he published a collection of poems – called Birthday Letters (the title here is a semi-echo of one of Plath’s most famous poems) – and all but 2 of these poems are addressed directly to Sylvia.

    I read the entire thing in one sitting. He had never before spoken of this – of the 2 children left behind (Frieda and Nicholas) – and of how HE had kind of thought he and Sylvia were on a temporary separation – He thought they could maybe work things out after taking a break – But no. It was the end of the road.

    Some of the poems brought tears to my eyes.

    I wouldn’t call them his greatest poems – you gotta read his earlier stuff for that – but the heart in these poems, the emotion, the insights and pain – still fresh after all those years – was stunning.

    He died soon after publishing the collection. Just amazing.

  19. DBW says:

    “And I say only
    with my arms stretched out into that stone place,

    what is your death
    but an old belonging,

    a mole that fell out
    of one of your poems?”

    From “Sylvia’s Death”

  20. red says:

    Sylvia wrote a poem about 2 dead moles she saw on the road. It’s one of her earlier poems – not the ones at the very end of her life that made her famous posthumously – but the one about the moles is good – you can feel the poet she WILL be. Her voice emerging.

    Yeah – his book is really haunting and personal. He writes directly to her throughout. her name never appears. It’s all “you”.

    I think one of the poems is to Frieda and one is to … shit, can’t remember. Assia? Or Plath’s fans – the angry ones who despise him? There are 2 which shift focus to other people, but all the rest are to her.

  21. RTG says:

    I hate to ask you to do this – I really do. But I’ve never been a Plath fan and I don’t know who these people are so, if you have the time and inclination, could you write a quick essay on this? I mean – I just don’t know who the players are and I’d rather read your writing on the subject than anybody else’s.

    No pressure. : )

  22. red says:

    RTG – you know, I’ve been kind of shying away from writing a post about Sylvia Plath – there are a couple other folks I want to write about and I’m scared to even START. Because it’s such a big topic … but for you?? I will give it a shot.