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Assia Wevill (May 15, 1927 ‚Äď March 23, 1969) was a German-born woman who escaped the Nazis, lived in British Palestine and later in Britain, and is best known for her relationship with the English poet Ted Hughes. She notoriously murdered her young daughter, Shura, before killing herself, six years after Hughes's previous wife Sylvia Plath had also committed suicide, leading to rumours that he was an abusive husband and father. Wevill killed herself in similar fashion to Plath by use of a gas oven.[1]


Early life

Assia Gutman 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.[2]

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.

Regarded as a stunning beauty, Assia greatly feared aging and losing her beauty, according to her sister Celia.

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's child, but she terminated the pregnancy soon after. The actual relationship, who instigated it, and its circumstances have been hotly debated for many years.[1]

Hughes moved her into Court Green (the Mid-Devon home that he had bought with Plath), where Assia helped to care for Hughes's 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 [2]. 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.

Ostracized from her lover's friends and family, and eclipsed by the figure of Plath in public life, she began becoming anxious and suspicious of Hughes's 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 would marry 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 [3]. 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's 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, 41-year-old Assia Wevill murdered her 4-year-old daughter Shura and took her own life in a manner that closely echoed Plath's suicide. Dragging a mattress into the kitchen, Assia sealed the door and window. She then laid her child down on the mattress and dissolved some sleeping pills for herself in a glass of whiskey. 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 1989, 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.


  • a Lover of Unreason: the Life and Tragic Death of Assia Wevill, by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, 2006


  1. ^ Anahad O'Connor (2009-03-23). "Son of Sylvia Plath commits suicide". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  2. ^ Guardian Unlimited (Saturday April 10, 1999). "Haunted by the ghosts of love". Guardian Unlimited.,,307083,00.html. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 

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