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Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia…

Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes'… (2006)

by Yehuda Koren, Eilat Negev

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
This is a useful book for filling in gaps of knowledge regarding Assia Wevill and her relationship with Ted Hughes. However, throughout the book, the authors Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev seem to make a lot of assumptions about what AW and TH might be feeling, such as this statement:

"With two suicides on his back, Hughes felt as though he was cursed. There was something in him, which was fatal for every woman who got involved with him." (p. 215)

The language used lurches towards being too emotive at times, with not even a cursory nod towards impartiality, detachment or neutrality, exemplified for me by calling Sylvia Plath's flat in London "the death flat" (p. 132). The number of errors in spelling, grammar and expression also made me wonder if an editor actually bothered to read it before sending it to press.

To call this a biography of Assia Wevill masks its real raison d'etre: Ted Hughes. I suppose the sub-subtitle of the book, 'Ted Hughes' Doomed Love', should have given this away.

This book might be of scholarly use as pointers to source material -- the letters, interview notes, correspondence and so on.

As a font of literary gossip, it is, of course, sufficiently titillating for one to go to the trouble and borrow it from one's library. ( )
  IvyAlvarez | Apr 1, 2013 |
Assia Wevill is the dark lady of the Plath/Hughes agon. As Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev put it in "Lover of Unreason" (Carroll & Graf, 268 pages, $27.95), "Assia was reduced to the role of a she-devil and an enchantress, the woman alleged to have severed the union of twentieth-century poetry's most celebrated couple."

When Sylvia Plath and Assia first met, they liked each other. Assia, a part-Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany, bore, in Plath's words, her "passport on her face." She had lived the suffering that Sylvia had imagined in poems like "Daddy." Plath was happy that Assia and her husband David, a fine poet, would occupy the flat she and Ted were relinquishing to pursue their passion for poetry and for each other in the Devon countryside.

Then the Wevills were invited to Devon, and the world went terribly wrong. Later Ted Hughes would accuse Assia of being the "dark destructive force that destroyed Sylvia." Several biographers say Assia boasted to friends she was putting on her war paint to seduce Ted Hughes. She was on her third marriage and had a reputation as a femme fatale.

But what exactly happened in Devon is hard to say. Even Olwyn Hughes, a staunch defender of her brother, could tell Anne Stevenson (commissioned by the Hughes Estate to write "Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath" [1989]), no more than what Assia told Olywn: There had been a "sexual current" between Assia and Ted that enraged Sylvia. In "Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath" (1991), Paul Alexander reports: "Strong-will and determined, Assia — apparently — made the first move with Ted." Diane Middlebrook in "Her Husband: Hughes and Plath — A Marriage" (2003) follows a similar line, suggesting Assia had Ted "under a spell."

And yet Elaine Feinstein's "Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet" (2001) presents evidence that confirms the story in "Lover of Unreason": Ted Hughes was "a sexual stalker by nature" and no longer enraptured with Sylvia, who had become a housewife and mother — a "hag," as he called her in one of their arguments after the Wevill visit to Devon. According to Ms. Feinstein, Hughes eventually tired of Assia too because, in the words of William Congreve's "Way of the World," she had begun to "dwindle into a wife."

Whatever the alluring Assia did or did not do during that fateful rendezvous in Devon, she became the vessel of Ted Hughes's desire to shuck off his domestic duties and seek some haven where he could recapture his poetic spirit. Assia did not make it easy for Hughes, since she still cared a great deal for David Wevill and continued to live with him off and on. Meanwhile, Hughes attempted to square himself with his disapproving parents and settle on some kind of domestic routine with the two young children Plath had been careful not to gas when she took her life on February 11, 1963.

But if Assia was slow to forsake David — as David has made clear to several biographers — she could not have been simply the she-devil enchantress of legend. Perhaps the most telling part of "Lover of Unreason" concerns Hughes's search for a home that he and Assia could share. A man who had never previously had trouble making up his mind about where to live, Hughes repeatedly found fault with the houses he and Assia inspected. Indeed, he led her on, for during this house-hunting period he had several other women on the side — it was Hughes's practice to create the conditions that provoked women to leave him.

No biographer would be willing to state that Ted Hughes was a very bad man, for to do so is to invite the biography to be read as an indictment. Ms. Feinstein feels the need to mitigate Hughes's appalling behavior — destroying some of Plath's work, essentially erasing the record of Assia's important role in his life, and in so many ways attempting to control the telling not only of his biography but those of Plath and Wevill. To Ms. Feinstein, Hughes had a "granite endurance" to go on writing after so many tragedies. Of his cover-ups, she suggests he took the "harsh road of a survivor." Yehuda Kore and Eilat Negev are careful not to condemn him, but they eschew such rationalizations.

The worst of it is that on March 23, 1969, Assia Wevill took not only her life but also that of her 4-year-old daughter by Hughes. As her biographers show, such acts are not uncommon among single mothers in their 40s who are so disturbed at the horrible nature of the world that they cannot imagine a better one for their offspring. Except for a few periods and poems of self-blame, Hughes never could confront his culpable role in the lives of Plath and Wevill; instead, he issued his apologia in the form of a poetry collection, "Birthday Letters" (1998). So it is fortunate indeed to have "Lover of Unreason," an impressively researched and well-told biography that will occasion, I believe, yet another rewriting of the Plath/ Hughes agon. ( )
  carl.rollyson | Sep 24, 2012 |
Very readable biography of Assia Wevill, Ted Hughes' lover. Her life was interesting, if tragic- and it adds another facet to the Ted Hughes/Sylvia Plath story. ( )
  snail49 | Aug 31, 2011 |
With the lurid subtitle 'Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's rival and Ted Hughes' doomed love', you might find yourself wanting to give this biography a wide berth. After all, how much do we really need to know about the private lives of public figures? Nevertheless, there are few details of the relationship between Plath and Hughes that have not been dissected in numberless books and articles. What I think this book seeks to do is to provide a counter-balance to the popular view of Assia Wevill as a home-wrecker, whose suicide (so eerily similar to Plath's) represented a lapse of taste. It is easy to be horrified that Assia chose to end not only her own life, but also that of her young daughter by Hughes. However, as a single mother, and in the light of Hughes' apparent disinterest in his illegitimate child, it is possible to understand how Assia couldn't bear to leave behind her daughter for the fates to deal with.

Assia Wevill nee Gutmann seems to have understood herself very well: 'I was endowed with too many minor qualities, but with neither the will or the huge intelligence to bring them a life of their own'. A highly intelligent woman, she nevertheless seems to have envied Plath's talent and always felt the ghost of Plath around her, though she refused to take any blame for her suicide.

Astonishingly beautiful, Assia was a rootless person. Her father was a Russian Jew, her mother German Lutheran. The family left Germany due to the growing Nazi threat and settled in Tel Aviv, but Assia never felt at home there, and once she'd left - aged 19 - she never returned. She married three times. As Fay Weldon, a friend and colleague of Assia's, points out, 'In those pre-feminist days, women saw their lives in terms of being loved or not loved by a man'. Although her relationship with Hughes hobbled on after Plath's suicide, it was a troubled relationship. Plath's ghost was never far away, and Hughes' parents disliked her.

The Assia who emerges from this biography is a vulnerable woman with the potential to achieve so much more than she actually did. Fans of Hughes might not relish the authors' view of him as faithless and predatory, and this is not by any means a great book, but it does at least go some way to balancing the scales. Plath and Hughes must have been difficult people to have a relationship with. Assia was complicated and self-absorbed, and never quite found her niche in life. In many ways she was perhaps too much like Plath for the relationship with Hughes to have worked out. I think it is only right, given the eternal muck-raking that has gone on into the lives of two exceptionally talented people, that Assia's voice, too, is finally heard. ( )
1 vote startingover | Feb 1, 2011 |
i read the autobiography of assia wirval, [sorry about spelling] she was the mistress that was with ted hughes the husband of slyvia plath a great american poet who had gassed herself in devon in 1963. assia was a german, russian jewish woman who grew up in palestine, who married three times and always had many lovers at the time. she moved to england in the hope of getting out of the poverty of palestine and get away from the termoil of the invasion of european jews to palestine. she also moved to canada which her family did also. like slyvia she was obsessive about her men, and of course at the time a woman was defined by the men in there lives and there was no separation. i found it daugting and depressing at times, as much as i find reading about slyvia plath, they both died in similar circumstances although assia wasnt to leave her daughter for her lover to care for and murdered her whilst committing suicide. it was an interesting read and i learnt much about the needs of woman of the time and the turmoil of life without independance and financial security as well. assia appeared to have her own talents but were lost in the characters she involved herself in, in another time and age , she would of been able to explore her abilties as a artist and poet, alas she will always live in the demons of the world that was to become part of her final six years. (by Ann)
  dani515 | Feb 3, 2008 |
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Yehuda Korenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Negev, Eilatmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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At noon on Sunday, 23 March 1969, Assia Wevill telephoned Ted Hughes at his home, Court Green.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0786718617, Hardcover)

The failure of the marriage between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes has always been considered from one of two conflicting viewpoints: hers or his. Missing for more than four decades has been a third perspective on the events that brought their marriage to its ill-fated end, the story of another—the other—woman: Hughes’ mistress Assia Wevill.

Like Plath before her, Assia shared her life with Hughes for seven years, until she took her own life and that of their daughter at the age of forty-two, in a manner that nearly replicated Plath’s suicide six years earlier. Drawing on previously unavailable documents and private papers, including Assia’s diaries and her intimate correspondence with Hughes, this book shows the vital influence Assia exerted on the poet and his work, and the uneasy life they shared under the long shadow of Plath.

A Lover of Unreason is the first-ever full-length biography of Assia Wevill. It casts a keen light, and explores the emergence of a singular twentieth-century woman. Three-times divorcée, career woman, mistress, and single mother, Assia Wevill openly defied the conventions of a censorious pre-feminist Britain and mesmerized men and women alike with her quick-mind and exotic beauty.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:35 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A biography of Ted Hughes's mistress, Assia Wevill, this book views the Sylvia Plath-Ted Hughes relationship and marriage and presents the journey that shaped Assia's life. This is a story formed by the pull of fatal attraction and obsessive love, fidelity and adultery, cruelty and tenderness, dependence and rebellion.… (more)

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