Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lover of Unreason


This little girl, Shura, died at age 4 when her mother, Assia Wevill, gassed herself. Assia Wevill decided that no one would want her daughter after she was gone, and so it was best to kill her, too. (An astrological chart reading at the request of father Ted Hughes at the girl's birth showed her a Pisces sun, Pisces moon, Libra rising...The astrologer wrote "a real crucifixion...I really don't feel this chart is very promising." With a double Pisces, I do agree.)

Thirty-five years after Sylvia Plath's death, Ted Hughes wrote that Plath had "character." Plath was his first wife, the mother of his first two children, Frieda and Nicholas. When she killed HERself, she made sure that her babies' rooms were sealed off from the gas fumes. Though I doubt that Hughes's comment had anything to do with either woman's suicidal MO.

Assia Wevill had no character. After reading "Lover of Unreason," I learned more about her background, but got no more favorable impression of her than I first had. I'd thought she was a woman who used her looks to get men, and that's exactly the same impression I came away with. She'd been married 4 times, and, funnily, two of her husbands said, "She was very loyal: To me and [insert name here]"---meaning she'd been fucking some other guy while still married, but that the husbands' egos couldn't quite accept the cheesiness of their situations.

Hughes, to his down-to-earth Yorkshire-man credit, never married Assia Wevill, only lived with her on occasion, and didn't like to have her around his parents.

I absolutely deplore the fact that Hughes once made a list of "to do" things for Assia: "Be up by 8 a.m. and don't walk around in a housecoat; don't pretend to be English (she was of German/Russian/Jewish descent); learn one new recipe a week; play with the children for one hour a day; be nice to my friends, even if you don't like them"... I also deplore the fact that Wevill put up with such a list (and had to have such a list made for her). In contrast with Plath: who was up at the crack of dawn, cooked assiduously, took care of her kids for half the work-day then insisted that Hughes take over for the other half while she herself worked, and completely froze out Hughes' obnoxious friends when they got on her nerves. Bitchy, perhaps, but also: Having-character versus not-having-character. And Hughes remembered Plath to his grave, his "Birthday Letters" honorarium to her published only months before his death (on October 28 in London; Plath's Boston birthdate was October 27).

I dislike Assia Wevill because she was a serial fuck who attempted to become tragic by clinging onto Ted Hughes for years. Plath killed herself, and so Assia assumed that she, after only a few months of fucking, was destined to be Hughes' wife... The tragedy and guilt of Plath's death bound Wevill to him for 6 years, but it's extremely telling that he would only live with her for brief periods before repeatedly separating. (Note to neophytes: When someone is in love with you, they want to live with you on a full-time basis.)

I also dislike Wevill because she assumed, in all of her own misery, that her 4-year-old daughter Shura should die when she did. Her claims that Shura would be an orphan without her were pathologically false. Shura wouldn't have been an orphan. Either her father, Ted Hughes, would have taken her in, or her grandfather or aunt in Canada, or David Wevill (Assia's husband at the time of Shura's birth), who'd taken care of Shura as a baby and loved her...

But, as Assia wrote in her will a year before killing herself, "To Ted Hughes I leave my no doubt welcome absence and my bitter contempt."

Assia was 42 when she killed herself, and her will written a year earlier, but her words above sound like those of a 20-year-old caught up in the heat/height of a high-school emotional drama, except with much larger consequences.

5 comments:

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom,

I am, today, fascinated by Assia. I read The Bell Jar and tried to understand Sylvia Plath. I couldn't. I do, however, understand Assia.

That you are smart enough to see her follies means that you were blessed to grow up in a different time when your skills as a person were valued higher than your beauty.

Yes, you are right when you say, "Note to neophytes: When someone is in love with you, they want to live with you on a full-time basis." Good call!

It's a sad story. The death of little Shura is the saddest. Her picture is so innocent. The death yesterday of her half-brother decades later is her haunting echo.

Thank you for giving me some real person views on the story. It's too strange to hold it alone in my own head.

Beth Austin said...

Yosra, thank you for being understanding about my harsh views of Assia...

Unlike you, when I first read "The Bell Jar" as a teen, I thought, "Sylvia Plath is JUST like me!" A feeling that resonated as I, later in life, went through my own difficult and intense love/hatred issues, which I saw echoed in Plath's poems.

Assia was, I suppose, the "ultimate threat" -- sexy, worldly -- to an American "good girl," as Plath presented herself. Plath's worst man-stealing nightmare come to life, including getting pregnant with Hughes's child when it was previously supposed that she was barren. (She wasn't pregnant with Shura at the time of Plath's suicide; Assia aborted that first baby.)

I feel horribly sorry for Shura...and so angry with Assia for HER death, as well. Assia had relatives, and her husband David, who would have gladly taken in the little girl.

And I didn't learn about Nicholas's death until tonight... God. The whole thing is such a heartbreaking mess.

tsl said...

Interesting comments on Assia Wevill etc.
I'm a Wevill on David's side.

Rain-in-the-Face said...

Ted Hughes' old man was a right bastard with shunning his grand-daughter Shura and her mother and, if you read closely, the old man ignored all advice to not tell his critically ill wife about these tragic deaths; thus hastening the demise of his own wife.

I had a Yorkshire grandfather who was a WWI veteran - nasty, cold and denser than dog turds.

Beth Austin said...

Rain-in-the-Face: My German grandfather, born in 1896, was both a WWI and WWII vet -- since I grew up in America, I didn't know him (plus couldn't speak the language on our few visits), but my mother says that he was a cold person (as my mother also is). Perhaps it's a generational thing: Some generations, as a whole, had greater outer, life-threatening problems to deal with and so perhaps didn't spend too much time, say, developing their "inner, empathetic child." Or such stoicism could be a reserved Yorkshire and German thing. Or Ted's father just might have been an asshole.

As for his telling his ailing wife about Assia and Shura's death (and his wife dying a few days later despite only being in the hospital for a knee injury): He knew that Edith had been very upset by Sylvia's death years earlier, and so, yes, I agree that he could have avoided upsetting her while in the hospital with the news of Assia and Shura's death. But again, it was just a knee operation --- he wanted to share some deeply personal information with his life-long mate; I doubt that he had any idea the psychological upset would kill her.

As for his shunning Assia and Shura to begin with: Well, again, Old School. And Old School values. He and his wife liked Sylvia (and she'd written them several angry, hurt letters detailing their son's bad behavior). Since it was harder to blame their own son (and even more complicated to try to understand Sylvia's own behavioral problems), they probably transferred their entire anger to Assia, the thrice-married "wanton woman." I can't entirely blame them for their simple "moral" reactions to the person of Assia in their lives. I myself, coming from a more permissive, "aware" era, and decades removed from all of the Plath turmoil, AND now knowing more sides of the story... STILL find Assia and her behavior (and her very presence) a bit offensive. I certainly can't blame Ted's parents for feeling the same.