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Room, London, I had the privilege of accessing the Ted Hughes’ archive, containing some of his private diary notes and unpublished poems.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’, the mark of the adulteress, Hester Prynne, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, ‘The Scarlet Letter’) . This is an excerpt from my 3500 word essay on the topic. Let me know if you’d like to read more!- Dina
A IS FOR ASSIA
The Capriccio Poems of Ted Hughes
On a bleak day in March 1969, a woman and her child were found dead from gas inhalation in the kitchen of a shabby flat in Clapham, London. The woman was Assia Gutmann Wevill, the mistress of poet Ted Hughes. She had taken her own life and that of her four-year-old daughter Shura. Six years earlier, on one of the coldest February days in England’s history, another woman was found dead from gas inhalation in the kitchen of a flat in Primrose Hill, London. She was Sylvia Plath, poetess and wife of Ted Hughes. Her two young children were found crying but unharmed in their nursery upstairs, where Sylvia had flung open the windows in spite of the cold, and left bread and milk within reach of her children.
Whereas Sylvia went to some pains to protect her children, Assia took her daughter with her into death. ‘Her only way of outdoing her dead rival was in the manner of her death,’ wrote Al Alvarez, in his memoir ‘Where Did It All Go Right?’ Assia herself wrote in her journal that she couldn’t bear to leave her little daughter to the mercy of a cruel and unforgiving world.
The common link in both tragedies was Ted Hughes, in one case the woman’s husband, in the other her lover. What role did their relationship with Hughes play in the deaths of these women? And what can we learn from his poetry of his true feelings about them?