Birth Day of Assia Wevill 15 May 1927 – 23 March 1969

 

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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 she a seductive siren, wooing Ted Hughes away from his one true wife? Was she a vain, selfish woman determined to establish herself in London’s literary world? Or was she a frightened wanderer through life, excessively generous to her friends, utterly devoted to her daughter, and a loving daughter herself to her charismatic father Lonya?

Her third and truest husband, the poet and academic David Wevill, has said that no-one has truly understood her, for all the fictional and non-fictional portrayals, from the play ‘Doonreagan’ about the months she spent with Ted and their children in Ireland, to the only published biography,’Lover of Unreason’ by Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren. Her close friend, Nathaniel Tarn, has left diaries and letters to the Stanford University Library, which throw light on Assia’s identity. He describes her as a ‘peasant’, never fully accepted in English society, covering her painful insecurity with an over-polished accent and a dramatic persona. Far from being vain, she was highly self-critical, and would be driven to tears when friends teased her about her undoubted beauty.

What did she think of herself? The scant diary entries that remain show her as thinking she was ‘second-rate’, would never amount to anything, was unworthy of the great poet Ted Hughes’s attention, and could never match up to his first wife Sylvia, whom she both idolised and feared. Yet she was a talented miniaturist, an award-winning copywriter, and a talented translator and linguist. In the words of her own poem, she remains ‘unlamented’:

… To see again and no more/The black northern pond,/ Its autumn spent/

Its eye burning with crippled cedar wings…..

Like Thomas Hood’s and my time’s

Unlamented, spring less, passed.

– Assia Wevill, ‘Winter End, Herfordshire’

 

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Folktale: an excerpt

 

The Last Leopard of Ein Gedi?
The Last Leopard of Ein Gedi?

What he wanted
Was the gold, black-lettered pelt
Of the leopard of Ein-Gedi.    

– from Ted Hughes, ‘Folktale’

 Is this supposed to be his way of making a date with me? Does he think I’m going to jump to his tune? The arrogance! Forget it … Assia crumpled Ted’s note, first carefully extracting the green shiny blade of grass and putting it into the vase on her desk, which always contained a few fresh blooms. Today they were pansies, deep orange and gold.

After all, hadn’t he accepted her challenge, picked up the gauntlet she’d thrown, like casting down dice at a casino? Looking at her name scrawled on the envelope, Mrs. A. Wevill,  Head Copywriter, c/- Notleys Ltd., Assia felt a jolt of excitement. The unknown was drawing her towards its secrets, and she knew she could only go forward.

The new cream phone on her desk rang. ‘Yes, Lily” she said into the receiver.

“Mrs Wevill, there’s a Mr. Wall who wants to discuss a new contract with you.”

Mr. Wall? She had no client with that name.

“Put him through please, Lily” she said.

“Did you get my note?” It was unmistakably Ted’s voice on the line.

“Just now,” she replied, then didn’t know what to say.

“So – is the third of July, in the afternoon, a suitable time for me to call? I have an hour or so between appointments in London that day.”

Assia thought quickly. Was she being “fitted in” between his more important appointments? Pride urged her to refuse,  if only to play for time. After a pause, she heard herself say, “ Yes, I could get away around three, just for a short time.”

There was a sigh, followed by silence, on the other end of the phone. To break it Assia said

“But why Mr. Wall?”

Ted chuckled, “Oh, it’s my pseudonym. I’m the fly on the wall, wherever you are, don’t you see?”

Link to Ein Gedi

Ein Gedi

The Last Leopard of Ein Gedi?
The Last Leopard of Ein Gedi?

To know more about the background to ‘Ein Gedi’ mentioned in Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Folktale’, and to see a beautiful video of these magnificent creatures, go to Anne Skyvington’s Blog,

‘Write4publish.com’

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Folktale

Note: This is  an excerpt from ‘Capriccio – a novel . It’s part of the chapter, ‘Folktale’ which inspired Anne Skyvington’s post on ‘Ein Gedi’:

Is this supposed to be his way of making a date with me? Does he think I’m going to jump to his tune? The arrogance! Forget it … Assia crumpled Ted’s note, first carefully extracting the green shiny blade of grass and putting it into the vase on her desk, which always contained a few fresh blooms. Today they were pansies, deep orange and gold.

Yet after all, hadn’t he accepted her challenge, picked up the gauntlet she’d thrown like dice at a casino? Looking at her name scrawled on the envelope (Mrs. A. Wevill, her Office, c/- Notleys) her face flushed. The unknown was drawing her towards its secrets, and she could only go forward into it.

The new cream phone on her desk rang. ‘Yes, Lily” she said into the receiver.

“Mrs Wevill, there’s a Mr. Wall who wants to discuss a contract with you.” Mr. Wall? She had no client with that name.

“Put him through please, Lily” she said.

“Did you get my note?” It was unmistakably Ted’s voice on the line.

“Just now,” she replied, then didn’t know what to say.

“So – is the third of July, in the afternoon, a suitable time for me to call? I have an hour or so between appointments in London that day.”

Assia thought quickly. Was she being “fitted in” between his more important appointments? Pride urged her to refuse, if only to play for time. After a pause, she heard herself say, “ Yes, I could get away around three, just for a short time.”

There was a sigh, followed by silence, on the other end of the phone. To break it Assia said “But why Mr. Wall?”

Ted chuckled, “Oh, it’s my pseudonym. I’m the fly on the wall, wherever you are, don’t you know’