Assia Wevill

Assia Wevill

Assia Wevill (May 15, 1927March 23, 1969) was born in Berlin, the daughter of a Russian-Jewish father and a German Lutheran mother. She is best-known for her relationship with English poet (and later Poet Laureate) Ted Hughes, and for killing herself, together with her daughter by Hughes, Shura, in 1969.

Early life

Assia Gutmann was the daughter of a Jewish physician of Russian origin and 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 would become her first husband and with whom she moved to London in 1946. They later emigrated to Canada, where she enrolled in the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and where she was to meet her second husband, Canadian economist Richard Lipsey.

In 1956, on a ship to London, she met the 21-year-old poet David Wevill. They began an affair and Assia divorced Lipsey, marrying Wevill in 1960. [cite web | last = Guardian Unlimited | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = Saturday April 10, 1999| url =,,307083,00.html| title = Haunted by the ghosts of love| format = | work = | publisher = Guardian Unlimited | accessdate = 2007-01-09]

A refugee from Nazi Germany after the beginning of World War II, she was linguistically gifted, and besides working in the advertising industry, was an aspiring poet who published, under her maiden name Assia Gutmann, an English translation of the work of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. Assia was also very accomplished in advertising, producing several commercials for television that are considered pioneering.Fact|date=March 2008

Regarded as a stunning beauty, Assia greatly feared aging and losing her beauty, according to her sister Celia. Always high strung, narcissistic and neurotic, she gradually became severely depressed in the years following Shura's birth. However, she was reported to have been a very devoted mother to her.

Ted Hughes

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 would later write:

:"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 soon knew it."

Sylvia Plath noted their chemistry. Soon after, Ted and Assia began an affair. At the time of Plath's suicide, Assia was pregnant with Hughes' child, but she terminated the pregnancy soon after. The actual relationship, who instigated it, and its circumstances have been hotly debated for many years. [,4273,3857472,00.html]

Hughes moved her into Court Green (the Mid-Devon home that he had bought with Plath), where Assia helped to care for Hughes' and Plath's two children, Frieda and Nicholas. Assia was reportedly haunted by Plath's memory; she even began using things that had once belonged to Plath [] . In a biography of Assia, "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 March 3, 1965 at age 37, Assia gave birth to Alexandra Tatiana Elise, nicknamed "Shura", while still married to David Wevill.

However, being quite ostracized from her lover's friends and family, and eclipsed by the figure of Plath in public (and private) life, she began becoming anxious and suspicious of Hughes' infidelity, which was real enough. He began affairs with Brenda Hedden, a married acquaintance who frequented their home, and Carol Orchard, a nurse twenty years his junior whom he married in 1970. Assia'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 [] . 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." Most of Hughes' friends indicate that while he never publicly claimed Shura as his daughter, his sister Olwyn said that he did believe the child was his.


On March 23, 1969, Assia Wevill took her own life and that of their daughter in a manner that closely echoed Plath's suicide. Dragging a mattress into the kitchen, Assia sealed the door and window. She then lay her sleeping child down on the mattress and dissolved some sleeping pills for herself in a glass of whisky. Taking the pills, she turned on the gas stove, and lay down next to her daughter.


Ted Hughes' volume of poetry "Crow" (1970) was dedicated to the memory of Assia and Shura. His poem "Folktale" deals with his relation to 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."

In 1995, Hughes published half a dozen poems he had written for Assia, which were hidden among the 240 poems in "New Selected Poems". "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?" he wrote in "The Error." 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 the feature film "Sylvia", Assia Wevill was portrayed by Amira Casar.


*"Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes' Doomed Love", by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, 2006


External links

* [ A collection of Hughes' letters to Assia Wevill] obtained by Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
* [,307083,00.html An article about Assia Wevill] by Eilat Negev, Guardian Unlimited, 10/04/1999
* [,,1925625,00.html An article discussing elements of Assia's life] foregrounded by the new biography
* [ A picture of Assia Wevill] , contained on the website "The People in Sylvia Plath's Life"
* [,,1869033,00.html A review of a biography of Assia Wevill] by Yehuda Koren & Eilat Negev, Guardian Unlimited 10/09/2006

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