Welcome back to Class A Felons, B-Films, C-Cups! I’m your hostess Paris Brown, and this is the second episode of our second season “Stranger than Fiction.” This episode is titled “Assia Wevill: The Oven Suicides, Part 2.” If you haven’t listened to part 1, I highly encourage you to pause this and download it. The latter part of this episode will make more sense with that context. Part 2 is dedicated to a listener who goes by the moniker Luccakaya Thank you so much for your 5 star Apple podcast review, Luccakaya! And now for the show PART 1: EARLY LIFE The dark haired, green-eyed Assia Esther Gutmann was born on May 15, 1927 in Berlin, Germany The tumultuousness of her existence seemed almost preordained. It began in actuality before she was born when her mother, Elizabetha, aka ‘Lisa,’ Gaedeke, a 37-year-old German Lutheran farmer’s daughter-turned-nurse, married Assia’s father, Lew, aka ‘Lonya,’ Gutmann, a 30-year old Latvian doctor—who was Jewish but practiced atheism. Lonya’s pious father was not pleased at this union, especially since Lonya didn’t take his medical practice seriously. Instead of becoming a surgeon, as his father expected, he practiced physiotherapy and electrotherapy, an interesting coincidence in light of Sylvia Plath’s electro-shock therapy that we covered in our previous podcast episode The year after Lonya and Lisa married, Assia was born and another daughter, Celia, followed two years later. Lisa was a strict disciplinarian who insisted on reading the dark and often disturbing Grimm’s Fairy Tales to her daughters She accused Lonya, who doted on Assia, of being too indulgent. But Assia could do no wrong in his eyes; he thought her the wittiest, most perfect child A studio portrait of Assia, taken when she was two years old, includes some toy props, including a large picture book of kittens wearing bow ties and a doll sitting next to Assia who is standing and looking solemnly into the camera. The doll’s arms are raised, as if wanting the girl to hold her. Assia seems oblivious On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. On the heels of the inauguration celebrations came suddenly violent rallies that targeted immigrant Jews from Russia and Poland by beating them, cutting their hair, and setting their beards on fire Just two months later, bands of Nazis began patrolling the streets, attempting to dissuade people from patronizing Jewish businesses Any German who rebelled became a target for backlash in local newspapers Lisa, a German national, was in nearly as much danger as Lonya, due to theirs being what was called a ‘mixed marriage.’ They believed that Germany was just going through a “temporary bad spell” but decided to leave the country as soon as possible. They were among the first wave of 25,000 Jewish people to flee within the first three months of Hitler taking power. Lonya pondered every European and North American country, but they all either had strict immigration laws or would not accept his Russian medical degree Reluctantly, he settled on Tel Aviv, Israel Assia, always prone to dramatization and exaggeration, claimed her family narrowly avoided a concentration camp and had to stowaway on a train while near starvation. In reality, the family openly boarded a train to Italy and then sailed to Israel with much of their expensive furniture and household goods Ironically, the Gutmanns did not fit in in Israel, either. There, they were considered Germans. They were a minority amongst a minority of Jewish citizens who made up only 15% of the Israeli population at the time. And Lisa stubbornly insisted on celebrating all of

the Christian holidays. Lonya and Lisa resisted learning Hebrew, but Assia, just beginning the first grade, picked it up quickly as a fourth language in addition to German, Russian, and Italian Lonya soon discovered the medical practice was oversaturated in Tel Aviv, due to the recent influx of highly-educated immigrant doctors. Researchers Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, who are to be credited for unearthing much of Assia’s hidden past, include the following anecdote in their book Lover of Unreason: The Life and Tragic Death of Assia Wevill: A pregnant woman went into labor on a Tel Aviv bus. Someone called out, “Is there a doctor on board?” Six German immigrants all rushed to help the woman. “The driver pulled the vehicle to the side, stood up and said, ‘Clear the way, on my bus I’m delivering the babies.’” The bus driver was an experienced obstetrician The Gutmanns rented a small 3-room flat and began to hustle their trades and talents The master bedroom served as a clinic for German-speaking electro-therapy clients and the living room doubled as a waiting room At lunchtime, Lisa set up tables, and the waiting room turned into a lunchroom with paying customers. She also made dresses for other doctors’ wives in what little spare time she had, and later found work again as a nurse. However, she often fell into depression One day, after an argument with Lonya, Lisa ran out of the flat during a military curfew due to violence between the Jewish underground and British soldiers. She claimed she was hoping to get shot Assia, as a young girl, sometimes displayed episodes of rage, and Lonya would resort to giving her tranquilizer shots, as mental health care in those days was virtually nonexistent One of Assia’s classmates remembers her as “weird and beautiful, a bright girl who excelled in painting and wrote poems and bitter-sweet love stories.” In her overcrowded, underfunded elementary school, she stood out for displaying careful, well-mannered behavior that seemed aloof and different to the other children Throughout childhood, Assia told her sister Celia that they were both adopted. She convinced her younger sister that their parents had adopted Celia from gypsies, while she, Assia, had originally been a princess born in a castle As World War II broke out in 1939, Lonya and Lisa began to worry again, particularly about their daughters. There was the possibility that Lisa might be deported as a possible enemy sympathizer. There was also the fear that Nazis might try to invade Israel. Either way, Assia and Celia were in particular danger due to their duel ethnicity Lisa, always concerned about shaping her daughters into a higher-class image and unimpressed with the Hebrew school system, enrolled Assia into an expensive private all-girls Palestinian high school that taught a British curriculum and functioned much like a finishing school for future well-to-do women. Assia knew no one there, and her parents had to scrimp even harder to pay the tuition. She was required to wear a uniform of a pink dress with a blue sweater. Other students had freshly-cooked lunches delivered by their maids, but Assia brought cold sandwiches each day. There, she learned to master English and, as always, caught on to the new language quickly. In fact, she eventually spoke it so well that she lost her previous accent. Her sister Celia recalled, “All of a sudden, she began to speak English with a haughty, hot-potato accent We laughed at it, mimicked her, and she looked at us contemptuously.” Every account of Assia describes her as almost indescribably beautiful. Assia seems to have thought so too. She would stare at her eyes, hair, full lips, and her radiant ivory complexion as she passed windows and mirrors. One female admirer remembers first seeing Assia looking very cosmopolitan in an off-the-shoulder white blouse edged in black velvet with a flowered velvet skirt, cinched belt, silver choker, and Roman sandals. She was carrying a bucket-shaped leather bag and a copy of Vogue. Apparently, her beauty beckoned across the ocean, bringing over 100,000 British troops to the Middle East during the war Lisa volunteered with the Tel Aviv Hospitality Committee to open her home to soldiers for what was called “in-home hospitality,” which consisted of serving them tea and conversation from time to time in a homey environment In 1943, when Assia was 16, 21-year-old Airman Sergeant John Steele and a fellow soldier, Keith Gems, registered to visit the Gutmann home. They enjoyed meeting the Gutmanns, but Keith found Assia “cold, calculating, and ill at ease.” John, on the other hand, hit it off with her. A week later, he returned

to the flat and took her out for a day at the beach. John was inexperienced with women, having never before dated. He was astounded when, just hours after hesitantly asking her for a kiss, Assia told him that she loved him Lisa’s motivations for hosting soldiers were not entirely altruistic. She harbored the hope that Assia, with her upper-crust education, would impress some worthy British soldier who would then take her—and eventually, the Gutmanns as well—to England. But although she pestered Assia to read The History of England, Lisa wasn’t too particular about who her daughter ended up with. Any soldier from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, or South Africa would do. And, in fact, since meeting John, who had now moved on from Tel Aviv, Assia was going out every night, dancing at the soldiers’ service club. This defied her parents’ behavioral standards, however, and when a story circulated around her high school of a girl who failed to return home from a date with a soldier one night, her schoolmates all agreed it could only have been Assia In the spring of 1944, John Steele returned, and their relationship resumed, although Assia still dated other soldiers and took pains to tell John all the details of her other dates. John accepted these circumstances and in May of the following year, he was stationed in the Libyan Desert. Somewhat surprisingly, Assia then enrolled in training with the Haganah, the military wing of the Jewish Agency, an underground anti-British faction. She took their courses in small arms, field training, first aid, radio communications, and self-defense After graduating from high school, Assia began working at secretarial jobs and took drawing classes in the evenings. She once deprecatingly described an assigned art project as “portraits of impossibly plain girls, in whom we are supposed to find beauty, Yemenite charwomen, and squalid and bearded old men.” After the Second World War ended, ethnically-mixed couples began to be targeted in Israel, as they had been in Germany. Assia received hate mail and threatening notes for dating soldiers, while other young women were occasionally accused of fraternizing with “the enemy,” forced to sign confessions, and even executed In 1946, Assia was accepted at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art in London, England to study art and interior design Her parents agreed to finance her education, but only because they hoped she would locate John Steele in his native country, marry him, and help her family emigrate into England While applying for her passport in Jerusalem, Assia was drinking coffee in a café when an underground Jewish organization called IZL set off a bomb in the building next door, which was being renovated to house officials of the Palestine government and the British Army. Ninety-two people were killed and another 58 injured as she sat, cup in hand, watching the seven-story building collapse. Assia left Tel Aviv that September and never returned PART 2: MARRIED LIVES Although she hadn’t seen John Steele in a year and a half, Assia reluctantly contacted him so that her parents would stop pestering her. He was now working in London himself Within days of reuniting, he proposed marriage They both had immediate reservations, but each felt trapped in their own way. John noticed that Assia remained flirtatious with other men even after their engagement and knew that her parents were steering her toward marriage with him. Nevertheless, she quit school and they got married at a register’s office two days after Assia’s 20th birthday in May 1947. She wore a plain black suit coat and matching calf-length skirt over a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar to the wedding, along with a white hat and a corsage. She had no make-up on. John wore a lighter pinstriped suit with a bowler hat and carnation boutonniere Meanwhile, back in Tel Aviv, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians prompted Lonya to look for work in South Africa, which welcomed Jewish refugees. During his absence, Lisa wrote complaining letters to British Army veterans—her former hospitality guests—about her own precarious situation in Israel, and one offered her a job in England as his family’s housekeeper. As fate would have it, Assia’s marriage to John as a means of getting her family out of Israel had been completely unnecessary The problems they had before their marriage continued. John accused Assia of deceit, lies, and strange absences that he suspected involved other men. She told others that she found

John cold, unkind, and repulsive. In early 1948, less than a year after their wedding, John purchased two one-way ocean liner tickets to Canada. Hoping a change of scenery would improve the marriage, and without consulting Assia, he had decided they would move to Vancouver Assia only found out about it during a conversation with her in-laws. Just as her mother was arriving, she would have to leave England. She immediately swallowed 50 aspirin. This first suicide attempt left her with a pumped stomach and temporary deafness for a few days Initially, John had trouble finding a job in Vancouver before making low wages as a bank clerk. Assia first had to work as a chambermaid before becoming a hat-check girl at a nightclub called The Cave. She then moved through a succession of jobs: a fur model, a secretary, and finally a receptionist at an art gallery Soon, John found some success in selling books door-to-door before enrolling in courses to become a teacher. Abruptly, in the summer of 1949, the couple decided to amicably separate Since adultery was the only possible ground for divorce in British Columbia in those days, John agreed to act as the guilty party Assia had always been Lonya and Lisa’s favorite child, and they hastened from the continents of Europe and Africa to be close to her. Celia, who had enlisted as a soldier in the Israeli Army after turning 18, resisted the move to Canada, but her parents forbade her to live on her own in what they feared was a war zone This earned Assia her sister’s resentment Now 23, Assia moved back in with her family, who were once again financially struggling Since Canada would not accept Lonya’s medical license, he had to take more exams and could work only as a physiotherapist. Celia found work in a whiskey distillery and helped Lisa get a job there as well. Assia elected not to work and, instead, enrolled in art courses at the University of British Columbia. In explaining her status as a divorcée, she told a story of her mother falling in love with an Englishman, then forcing Assia to marry him in her place while still a teenager, despite him being twice her age. In actuality, John was five years older than Assia Either fearing anti-Semitism in Canada or hoping to fit in, she registered at college as “Pamela Steele,” the name of a sister of John’s whom she’d never met, who had died in infancy. She began borrowing Celia’s wardrobe without permission to wear around campus and forging her sister’s signature on shopping credit accounts. She also began shoplifting small items like nylon stockings and cosmetics During the summer of 1950, while on hiatus from the university, Assia took another chambermaid job, this time at the swanky Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa Hotel. Actress Joan Fontaine, best known for her starring roles in classic films like The Women, Rebecca, and Suspicion (all of which I highly recommend viewing) once stayed at the resort during Assia’s employment. Assia and another maid snuck into Fontaine’s room while she was out and tried on all of her evening gowns Fontaine suddenly returned and caught them Initially outraged, she calmed down thanks to Assia’s ability to charm her with excuses and pleas to help save her job For the next several years, Assia drifted In early 1951 and again not long after that, she was in need of an underground abortion clinic, a common form of birth control prior to the release and legalization of the Pill By the summer of 1952, she was working at a cannery, gutting salmon In August, while on a bus, she recognized another passenger as a former fellow university student named Richard aka ‘Dick’ Lipsey. He was now working on a master’s degree in economics, and it had been two years since they’d seen each other. She invited him to cruise some nightclubs with her that night Just a week later, he proposed marriage. He was 24, and Assia was now 25 This time, she wanted a traditional wedding ceremony, but they couldn’t find a minister who would agree to officiate for a divorcee According to Assia’s biographers Koren and Negev, the couple ended up in October 1952 standing before “a rude man smoking a cigar” in the register’s office. Assia made up for the unlovely ritual by wearing a “glorious white evening gown, one shoulder totally bare and with a deep cleavage” for a celebration afterwards at a friend’s home. This time, the bride looked like a fashion model, with perfectly groomed eyebrows, a short, straight fringe, and the rest of her hair pulled back and fastened with a white garland on one side of her neck. Assia and Dick, like Ted Hughes

four years later, did not tell their parents about the marriage until after the ceremony was over. Assia also begged Dick to keep the marriage a secret among most of their acquaintances, taking pleasure in the subversive idea of being perceived as an illicitly cohabiting couple In actuality, their lives were not that glamorous They rented a one-room basement apartment and had to share the telephone line with the landlord and other tenants. The couple were kicked out within the first month, because Assia hung up on her landlord’s business calls if she happened to answer the phone and found it wasn’t for her. In their second apartment, their landlord complained that their rooms were filthy and liable to cause bugs throughout the building. Dick was the one who began cleaning on top of his studies before hiring a maid. Later, while living with Dick’s family, his mother was so appalled at what she termed their “pigsty,” that she urged him to clean up before even allowing the maid into the couple’s bedroom In September 1953, the two moved to London Dick had been accepted to a PhD program at the London School of Economics. Only after meeting some of Assia’s old friends did he learn that his wife’s name was not actually Pamela, which suggests that she even lied on the marriage certificate. Living on only Dick’s small student grant in a communal apartment building, Assia again worked at secretarial and other odd jobs. But in the postwar austerity of London, she insisted on standing out by wearing hats with veils, costume jewelry, scarves, and bright colors like red and purple. She’d masquerade as a wealthy woman, opening credit accounts, bossing salespeople around, having them pull out everything in the shop—and then leaving without purchasing anything. Because of her fashion sense, two of the commune members gifted her their successful ceramic jewelry business when they moved to the U.S. When she saw how much work it would be, she gave it back to them That Christmas, the couple vacationed at a Swiss ski resort. Assia bragged of being a skilled skier, but it soon became obvious that she didn’t know what she was doing Once she realized that she wasn’t fooling her husband, she spent the remaining days lounging by the hotel fireplace and posing for pictures in her chic ski outfit. Three of these shots later appeared in a Norwegian newspaper In 1954, on two different occasions, she swallowed a handful of aspirin in front of her husband Dick believed these were “cries for help” rather than actual suicide attempts. Assia felt cheated by their poverty and believed she deserved a better life. She was also bored while Dick studied for long hours, and she disliked his friends from his PhD program On one occasion, while Dick was at an academic conference, Assia flew to Berlin for a rendezvous with a wealthy businessman. In August 1955, Dick obtained an assistant lectureship, and Assia was relieved that she would no longer need to work That summer, Assia and Dick visited Canada where he taught summer classes. As they sailed back to England, their waiter tried to seat them for dinner at a table with “some other middle aged persons.” Assia, 28 years old, was furious and demanded another table. They ended up dining with a tall, blonde 21-year-old college student double-majoring in history and English named David Wevill. During dinner, Assia and David bonded over poetry and their life stories. They spent most of the next six days of the voyage together, while Dick worked on academic research. A day before the ship docked, Assia told David she loved him. We can now see a pattern here with impetuosity in the way that she jumped so quickly into relationship after relationship. In London, Assia began seeing David openly, confessing her affair to Dick and presenting her dilemma as inevitable due to lifelong emotional damage Dick believed in sticking it out in a marriage, for better or for worse, and he hoped the affair would soon end With David, Assia nurtured her artistic interests She and David both painted and sketched; they shared books, wrote poems to each other, and joined a poetry group of writers. Around this time, Assia, to underscore her independence from Dick, found a secretarial job at an advertising agency David was in his final year of college at Cambridge—the same university, you’ll recall from the previous episode, that Sylvia Plath and, before her, Ted Hughes attended David would later recall noticing Sylvia because of her fashion choices, which were more formal than that of the other students After spending one weekend with David, Assia returned home and asked Dick if he still loved her. He responded by telling her that she’d kicked him around for so long that he wasn’t sure. Assia flew into a rage, screaming at him loudly, as if trying to ensure their neighbors would hear the row. Their relationship—as well as Assia and David’s relationship–drifted for the next 3 ½ years in this way. Assia would become pregnant, and Dick took her to

get an abortion. She never told David about it In early 1959, Assia’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Assia wanted to visit her and insisted on sailing on the prestigious Queen Mary (now docked permanently in Long Beach, California). Dick had to borrow money to cover the cost, even for her third-class ticket. She stayed a month with her family and, upon her return, Dick informed her that he was finally ready for a divorce. She readily agreed and submitted an account of her affair with David with the divorce petition, since Britain required proof of either cruelty, desertion, or adultery to dissolve a marriage As soon as the petition was approved, she joined David in Burma, where he had obtained a teaching position. She moved into his two-room rental home on the edge of the University of Mandalay campus. Once again without a job, she had plenty of leisure time: she painted, read, brushed up on her Russian, learned Burmese dancing, leafed through magazines, sewed her own clothes, and dressed up for afternoon garden parties. The pair also had a maid who cooked and cleaned for them. To the other Western women who dressed perpetually in Bermuda shorts and sandals due to the heat, Assia seemed effortlessly cool and glamourous in full-skirted floral dresses, wide-rimmed hats, pearls, and long white gloves However, word got around that David, who had attained his teaching position from the British Council, was living with a still-married woman Assia’s divorce from Dick was finalized in April 1960, but by then, it was too late The British Council declined to renew David’s teaching contract for the next year, and the couple returned to London, but not before marrying in Rangoon, Burma in May. Naturally, Assia, who had turned 33 the day before, recorded her age on the marriage certificate as 30 and falsely listed her occupation as “teacher.” Assia was furious at the circumstances which forced her and David to leave Burma and blamed her now ex-husband Dick, accusing him of deliberately holding up the divorce proceedings. One day, she phoned him and demanded to see him. They met near a train station, where she suddenly pulled a Burmese ceremonial dagger out and, according to Dick, tried to stab him. He wrenched the weapon from her and walked away. “Be careful, I have a gun,” she shouted after him. Dick did not feel threatened enough to report the incident Only a few years later, Dick would publish a textbook called An Introduction to Positive Economics, which would have a profound influence on Canadian and Great Britain economics. It sold millions of copies, earned him a distinguished academic career, and made him both famous and rich. Assia could not have helped feeling that she had made the wrong decision once again Soon after her return to England, Assia discovered she was again pregnant. This time, she decided to continue the pregnancy. Despite her readiness to become a mother, however, she suffered a miscarriage. The introverted David, meanwhile, reluctantly looked for another job. He wanted to write poetry but finally settled on a copy-writing position at an advertising firm. Assia returned to the rival ad agency she’d left during her previous marriage and was immediately promoted to copywriter but at a small salary Soon, she moved on to another agency who doubled her salary Nevertheless, the Wevills decided to find a less expensive flat. They checked the rental section of the London Evening Standard newspaper in the summer of 1961 and found one available on the top floor of a 3-story building. It sounded perfect PART 3: TED AND SYLVIA Assia and David met with the couple who were sub-letting the flat: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Ted was a newly-rising English poet and his wife, Sylvia, a talented American poet who was currently putting her writing on the back burner in order to devote herself to her husband and his promising career, their toddler Frieda, and a new baby on the way For an account of this part of today’s story from Sylvia Plath’s point of view, please go back and listen to episode one of this season, or you may want to refresh your memory after finishing this episode. The name ‘Ted Hughes’ sounded familiar to the Wevills; they had probably heard it mentioned in their literary group or perhaps had read some of his poetry. The flat was tiny: just a living room, kitchen, and a bedroom only large enough to hold a full-sized bed, but Sylvia had painted and had fresh linoleum installed. The Hugheses took an instant liking to the Wevills, and Sylvia particularly found Assia “very attractive, intelligent.” They all had much in common and were about the same age: David was 27, Sylvia 29, Ted 31, and Assia now 34. In honor of their new friendship, which went beyond

a typical landlord-tenant relationship, the Wevills loaned a dining room table to the Hugheses, who were moving to the country In return, Sylvia and Ted recommended David’s poetry to one of their publishers Assia at 34 had little to no interest in 1962’s latest fads of shorter skirts and beehive hairdos, although she was said to constantly walk “in clouds of Chanel.” She had wide hips, a short waist, and slightly thick ankles but knew how to wear clothing to flatter her figure. She was already terrified of aging, already talking about face-lifts, and made negative comments about older women, telling others she wanted to die young “because growing old, with one’s skin wrinkled and hanging down, losing one’s feminine potency, was ghastly.” She joked that she would kill herself by age 42 Three days after Assia’s 35th birthday in May 1962, the Hugheses hosted Assia and David at their country home near Exeter, England for the weekend. Sylvia planned the menu for the Wevills’ first evening in her home: beef stew, corn chowder and ginger bread Assia liked the Hugheses’ company but hated their home, describing it in her diary as “smelling of a dead cat…very secret, red, childishly furnished. Naively furnished. The whole look of it improvised, amateurish…[outside,] hideous grass gorging on the smooth brown stones. Grass almost grew in the house.” The next morning, around the Wevills’ table at breakfast, Assia related a dream she’d had the previous night. She said she’d dreamt of a huge golden pike—a large, predatory fish—that jumped out of a pool; in its eye appeared the image of a fetus. Three years earlier, a poem of Ted’s, titled “Pike,” was published and had received several favorable reviews. Ted was obsessed with pike. I don’t know for certain if Assia was already familiar with it but, if not, it’s a hell of a coincidence Assia’s account of her dream, Ted later recalled, was the moment he fell in love with her. He later wrote a poem about this moment called “Dreamers.” On Sunday, at lunchtime, Sylvia and David were chatting outside while Assia made a salad in the kitchen. Suddenly, they heard Ted talking to Assia inside. Sylvia jumped up, startling David, and said, “I’ll be back.” She did not return until lunch was ready, and remained quiet throughout the meal. Afterwards, as scheduled, she and Ted drove the Wevills to the train station to return to London Once out of sight, David remarked on the sudden change in Sylvia. Assia answered blithely, “Ted kissed me in the kitchen, and Sylvia saw it.” Like Assia’s previous husbands, David did not question her further. He assumed that Ted had made a flirtatious move and that Assia was just as surprised by it as Sylvia Assia’s boss, Angela Landels, would later claim that Assia had told her about the weekend trip in advance and had announced at that time, “I’m going to seduce Ted.” After the visit, Assia went to some trouble to find and purchase a tapestry sewing kit that Sylvia had mentioned wanting to have She mailed it to Sylvia and signed it, “Much love, Assia.” She did not mention Ted On June 26th, after Ted finished a rehearsal for a radio program he was narrating at the BBC, he stopped by Assia’s ad agency. She was out, so he left a note which read, “I have come to see you, despite all marriages.” Assia responded by mailing him either a single rose or a blade of grass (this is apparently a point of debate) dipped in Dior perfume On July 9th, Assia apparently called up Ted at home. When Sylvia was the one to answer the phone, Assia allegedly tried to disguise her voice and identified herself as a male friend of Ted’s. Sylvia recognized the voice as belonging to Assia, and thus ensued a major fight between the Hugheses, which technically ended with Ted moving out of the family home and into a London friend’s flat Bizarrely, that same day, Ted then bought four bottles of champagne and took them to David and Assia’s flat, surprising them He told them it was his birthday, which was a lie—unless, being Ted Hughes, he was referring to a sort of metaphysical rebirth in the dissolution of his marriage—and asked them to help him celebrate. They obliged, and when David briefly left to get cigarettes, Ted made plans to meet with Assia the next day On July 13th, two days after that private meeting, Ted and Assia met again, this time at a hotel, checking in at lunchtime. That evening, at 8:30 p.m., Assia called her husband to tell him she was with Ted and would be home late. Suddenly overcome with emotion, the usually laidback David seized a knife and went out looking for Ted but failed to find him or Assia. Returning home, he threw his manuscript of a book of poetry he was hoping to publish into the trash, then swallowed 20 or 30 Seconal sleeping pills. He grabbed

a Burmese knife (apparently, the couple had really stocked up on those), intending to stab himself but instead fell asleep When Assia arrived home, he was barely conscious She called an ambulance. On the way to the hospital, riding with him in the emergency transport as he was fighting for his life, she told him that Ted had raped her. David recovered quickly, but Assia continued to see Ted, usually during her lunch breaks at work. Ted confided in Assia that he hated Sylvia, although he made no move to divorce her. Ted’s friends believed that Sylvia was harmful to Ted and his creativity and that he had been a prisoner in his own home Of course, they could only base their opinions on what Ted told them On August 5th, three poems were published in The London Observer newspaper: one by Sylvia, one by Ted, and one by David, all on the same page, a sly acknowledgment that news of the affair had spread among the London literati In September, Ted devised a plan to escape on vacation with Assia. He wanted to take her to Spain, the very same place he and Sylvia had honeymooned six years earlier. He lured Sylvia to a rural area of Ireland under the pretense of wanting to work on their marriage Three days later, he abandoned her there and flew to Spain with Assia. Not even Sylvia’s London lawyer could trace him or Assia for the next two weeks. A brooding Sylvia concluded that Assia’s attraction for Ted lay in her childlessness and good salary. Sylvia told friends that she wanted a divorce, but in early February 1962, she asked Ted to consider moving back into their home by that summer According to Ted, he told her he would, even though his relationship with Assia was full steam ahead by that point. Ted also denied that Sylvia ever even considered a divorce Perhaps Sylvia knew that Ted was all talk (#TEDtalk). In early February, the BBC broadcast a play that Ted wrote called The Difficulties of a Bridegroom. In it, a man accidentally hits a rabbit with his car. He takes the carcass to a butcher, who pays him for it. The man then uses the money to buy his mistress roses Sylvia, who was familiar with the play, likely felt like the rabbit by this point. In any case, both Ted and Assia were likely in her thoughts in the early morning hours of February 11, 1962 when Sylvia stuck her head inside the oven in her kitchen and killed herself with carbon monoxide poison Friends of the couple tried to notify Ted but realized they had no idea where he was currently staying. Finally, someone was able to reach Assia and inform her of what had happened. It became her task to pass on the news to Ted. He headed for Sylvia’s flat, where his daughter and son were waiting safely, and decided to move in immediately. Assia went to work that morning as usual and told her coworkers the news. When one tried to commiserate with her, Assia appeared surprised “Why should I [feel awful]? It was nothing to do with me.” Two days later, as Ted’s friends paid condolence visits to him at Sylvia’s flat, they discovered that Assia was now also spending much of her time there in the “ghost house,” as she called it, even sleeping in Sylvia’s bed and looking through Sylvia’s personal papers Assia found hostile references to herself in the dead woman’s journals and read an unpublished book manuscript that Sylvia had written. It was based upon Ted’s infidelity and the end of their marriage. Assia was outraged at the novel’s portrayal of her as an “icy, barren woman” in contrast with Sylvia’s own self-representation as a woman “full of poems, kicks and kids.” These sparse details are the only existing information on the unfinished manuscript. Ted later claimed that he destroyed it along with Sylvia’s last journal entries and, as far as is known, these three are the only ones to have ever seen these two important pieces of writing Just before Sylvia’s death, Assia learned she was pregnant again, this time by Ted But Ted didn’t want any more children and the timing, so soon after Sylvia’s suicide, couldn’t have been worse. So in March, Assia had another abortion. She recovered from it in Sylvia’s bed. Like Sylvia, Assia both admired and empathized with the actress Marilyn Monroe and wrote during this time: “I’m just like Marilyn Monroe in the shape of a hot-water bottle.” In May, Assia and David officially separated, and she moved the rest of her belongings to Sylvia’s flat. She wrote of missing him and of some remorse: “my third and sweetest marriage. David, my sweet husband, my most always favourite, my best and truest love What insanity, what methodically crazy compulsion drove me to sentence him to being alone, and

myself to this nightmare maze of miserable, censorious, middle-aged furies, and Sylvia, my predecessor, between our heads at night.” Ted and Sylvia’s young children, Frieda and Nicholas, were a comfort to her, however Frieda loved to play with Assia’s jewelry and cosmetics. Assia wrote in her diary, “The children I like, very much. I shall like them even better, I think, when they are a little older.” As with her previous tenancies, Assia managed to annoy her neighbors. Trevor Thomas, who lived in the ground floor flat, felt like Ted and Assia’s personal doorman, as they would instruct their visitors to ring his bell instead of theirs, to save them the trouble of walking downstairs. Once, when Assia discovered she’d left some seafood in a bag in the sink before an out-of-town trip during hot weather, she simply opened her kitchen window and threw the bag’s contents, now defrosted, rotten fish, onto Trevor’s glass roof. The stinky water dripped into his flat Ted began sending Sylvia’s poems out for posthumous publication. Assia, for maybe the first time in her life, began feeling insecure She compared herself to Sylvia in her diary: “she had a million times the talent, 1,000 times the will, 100 times the greed and passion that I have…Am I enough for him?” Unbeknownst to Assia, Ted was writing letters to Sylvia’s mother, telling her he still loved Sylvia, that his affair with Assia was “madness,” and that he would never marry again. Meanwhile, Assia wrote letters to David, now living in Spain, saying that she missed him terribly and wanted him to return to London. When invited to dinner by a woman who had been friends with both Sylvia and Ted, Assia blurted out, “Don’t you feel like a traitor?” In the six months after Sylvia’s death, Ted had been trying to sell the country home they had shared but failed to get the asking price he wanted. So he and the children moved back into the house—without Assia. It’s unclear if this was solely his idea, Assia’s suggestion, or a joint decision. She stayed on in Sylvia’s “ghost house” by herself and tried to make peace with the downstairs neighbor. Trevor told her it was hard for him to forget that Sylvia had once described Assia as “the evil who had come between” her and Ted, but he eventually conceded that Assia was “charming, warm and outgoing.” Assia, for her part, blamed Sylvia for giving Ted “a very difficult time with her moods, tantrums, and sentimentality.” Even so, she began reading a book from Sylvia’s personal library called The Art of Loving, a psychoanalytical approach to relationships and wrote her own name on the inside cover, right beneath Sylvia’s inscription In late October 1963, David Wevill returned from Spain and moved into Sylvia’s flat with Assia. Ted continued to call her, write letters, and see her whenever he was in London, although he urged her to burn his letters after reading them. Both Ted and David now seemed to accept her involvement in both relationships Ted, for one, had begun another relationship or two of his own. Assia heard rumors and wrote him a bitter letter. It read, in part: “My future is blanked with you…I’m convinced you have mayhemed my life…The only revenge I can take on you is to go to bed with any attractive man who asks me.” Instead, she decided to distract herself with work. She began developing a novel into a screenplay and acted as David’s publishing agent. But she did the same for Ted, not able to let go of him, and the two jointly worked on a second screenplay In the midst of all this, in August 1964, she discovered that she was yet again pregnant David assumed the expected child was his, but Assia knew it was Ted’s. Ted knew it too, but he maintained plausible deniability He never acknowledged the pregnancy in his letters to her until she was eight months pregnant and, even then, made only casual mention of it, advising her, as an experienced parent, on what to purchase for the baby’s layette Aged 37, Assia enjoyed a surprisingly easy pregnancy, although she went into labor during a snowstorm. Her daughter was born on March 3, 1965 with a head full of black hair and blue eyes. Assia named her Alexandra Tatiana Elise Wevill but would thereafter always call her ‘Shura.’ Elise was for Assia’s mother Lisa, who would die from her cancer just 15 days after Shura’s birth. Although the baby was given David’s last name, Ted was listed as her father on her birth certificate Ted ordered a horoscope reading for his second daughter, downplaying his superstitions by describing the predictions as “a useful way of focusing one’s attention on a person.”

The astrologer foresaw for the child delicate health, artistic talent, excessive emotions, and future tendencies toward laziness, manipulation, and self-deception, as well as “severe loss in this person’s life—deaths, accidents…in the family.” The astrologer concluded, “I think this is a hell of a chart to come in with—a real crucifixion…I really don’t feel this chart is very promising.” Ted and Assia grew closer after Shura’s birth, and they again began working together This time, it was a book project, in which Assia would provide illustrations for Ted’s poetry. Eventually, the project was shelved; the book was never published In contrast, Assia was flourishing in her copy-writing career. Long before the hit TV show Mad Men depicted the fictional Peggy Olson as a mid-century feminist advertising ground-breaker, Assia worked on a campaign for a Yardley cosmetics ad, which featured a leather bandolier holding lipsticks instead of bullets. She wrote catchy slogans for Lux soap and Mr. Kipling’s baked goods in 1965 while also creating the commercial that would make her name in the world of advertising It was for an at-home hair coloring line called Sea Witch. Assia’s script combined Greek mythology, a James Bond aesthetic, and the jazz music of Miles Davis to create a mock-heroic epic filmed on an island in the Aegean Sea at an appropriately epic expense. Unlike most commercials of the era, especially for women’s products, this one had a plot It depicts seven men in black turtlenecks, so apropos of 1965, standing on a speedboat which is approaching a seemingly deserted island. One of the men silently narrates: “There were seven of us. Thousands had tried before. This is where they left their bones…We knew what was waiting for us.” As the men set foot on the island, the camera zooms in on a skull lying on the rocky beach. The camera then quickly cuts to a close-up of a woman’s eyes, lined with thick black eyeliner and shaped into cat-eyes. The narrator continues: “The Sea Witches! The Greeks knew about them. The faces of mortal women—but their hair, their hair is legend.” The audience shares the men’s view of three women sitting on the rocks, wearing voluminous white togas One is blonde, another is brunette; the third has red hair, although it’s all filmed in black-and-white. Locking eyes with the men, they reach back and unfasten their up-dos Long hair tumbles down and is tossed every which way as sharp nails reach out to scratch the men’s faces. Only one escapes. As he races away on the speedboat, the narration continues: “This is what we were after.” He opens a briefcase full of Sea Witch hair color packages The commercial really is a lot of fun, and I can see how it would easily have been a hit. I’ve linked the actual commercial in the show notes on our website, classafelons.wordpress.com, so that you can take a look at it yourselves It became a huge success. Assia received a salary raise for her efforts and became known in advertising as The Sea Witch Lady When Shura was six months old, Ted decided to move to Ireland and invited Assia to live with him, along with the three children. This proposal was not as romantic as it seems It meant that Assia would have to leave her career just as it was rising to take a chance on Ted’s commitment to her. They were to rent a house in the remote rural village of Cashel, five hours from Dublin. The house, built in the 1790s, was poorly insulated, with black walls and rotten floorboards. Local lore had it that the house was cursed and haunted. The village’s tiny grocery store, if it could be called that, carried bread, tea, bacon, and little else. They would have to plant their own vegetable garden and Ted would need to fish to provide protein for the family. This would also be Assia’s final separation from David, although they did not formally divorce To further strip the move of any possible excitement, Ted informed Assia that she was not allowed to bring anything “whatsoever” from her home, and he would likewise come empty-handed. He told her this would be their way of making a fresh start. He did allot her a budget of 50 pounds (about $66 US, or $525 in today’s money) with which he instructed her to buy record albums of Bach and Handel and books on pre-16th-century art, as well as anything else that “might enrich [their] life together in the womb.” They made the move in February 1966. The next month, they celebrated Shura’s birthday with a Little Red Riding Hood theme and a chocolate cake. Assia was amazed that she now viewed her daughter as “no longer just human sea-weed” but as a “real child.”

For his part, Ted wrote a poem for his daughter titled “Lines for Shura,” which wished her a happy future with many triumphs After just a few months, the family returned to England to live in Court Green, the country home which had belonged to Sylvia and Ted, in order to live with Ted’s parents, who were in poor health. The elder Hugheses brought the household count to seven. Once there, Assia dabbled in the business of collecting antiques with one of Ted’s friends. But she began to struggle emotionally once more Ted was tight with money; he insisted they maintain separate bank accounts. Although he paid for the household expenses, he would make Assia ask for formal loans from him whenever she needed money and would make notes of the amounts and dates she repaid him Ted made no mention of marriage, except to say that he was afraid marrying Assia would further diminish his mother’s health and maybe even cause her death. (It reminds me of Danny Aiello’s character in the 1987 film Moonstruck, whose mother feigns a medical emergency when she suspects her son is about to marry; she miraculously recovers when he calls off his engagement.) Ted’s parents still mourned Sylvia’s suicide and disliked Assia, blaming her for the embarrassing gossip that swirled around their son. Ted’s father could barely stand the sight of Assia and refused to eat meals with her. She began eating separately with Shura. She was in charge of childcare for the three children and hardly saw Ted, since he spent most of his time writing in a small outbuilding. The remainder of the time he spent fishing, playing cards with his father, and sometimes going out in the evenings to visit friends. He never took Assia with him, mindful of the public feeling against her, but he did blab to his friends that she dyed her hair because it was turning grey Depressed, she began to gain weight On top of everything else, Assia sensed an attraction between Ted and a woman named Brenda, one of his friend’s wives. The couple, who visited Court Green often, had an open marriage Assia dismissed her as “my real enemy. An ex-social worker, ex-religious maniac, with the looks of an emaciated Marilyn Monroe I beat her hollow in intelligence and experience,” but for the first time, she was getting a taste of what it was like to be the OTHER other woman. Piling onto this feeling was the fact that she was living, as if in a recurring nightmare, in Sylvia’s home once again She could feel, as she wrote, “a strong sensation of her repugnant live presence.” Even worse for Assia, Sylvia’s novel The Bell Jar had just been released posthumously in the United States and was a major literary success. Journalists and researchers inundated Ted with interview requests For Shura’s second birthday in 1967, the little girl received a set of play cookware, a green flowered raincoat with matching hat, a check for 5 pounds from her grandfather Lonya, and her favorite present, a petticoat just like one that Frieda owned. Shura loved to sing and dance; her mother wrote that she danced “most successfully to either Bach’s Cantatas or pop [music].” Ted wrote a friend that Shura was very beautiful, precocious, and extremely intelligent. From a neighbor’s perspective, though, Shura seemed silent and sad That summer, Assia wrote her sister Celia in Canada to tell her that she’d been “literally suicidal,” writing in the past tense. She’d felt suicidal before, but this time she wrote a will, leaving all her possessions to her sister. She sealed the will in an envelope, along with a check that would cover the cost of airfare to Canada for Shura. Then she went a brazen step further. She stole 25 to 30 pages of some of Sylvia’s unpublished manuscripts from Court Green and mailed them to Celia, instructing her to sell them and give the profits to Shura when the time came Things temporarily improved when Ted introduced Assia to Yehuda Amichai, an Israeli poet he admired. Ted recommended Assia for the job of translating Amichai’s work into English for a book of poetry. Ted was also an organizer for the International Festival of Spoken Poetry that July, and he invited Assia to be his date for the entire five days; they would be the “royal couple” of this extended literary party. Assia was thrilled to be rubbing shoulders with legendary writers like W.H Auden, Robert Graves, Pablo Neruda, Anne Sexton (who had been friends with Sylvia), Allen Ginsberg, and Bella Akmadulina Once she returned home, however, like Cinderella from the ball, reality hit hard. Ted determined that his mother, who’d recently suffered a heart attack, would never get better as long as she and Assia were under the same roof. To that end, he informed Assia that she and Shura would have to return to London They could visit him on the weekends Assia felt as though she were banished from his life. Devastated, she immediately rushed

to London to look for a job. Her goal was to find one within just three days. A friend of David’s secured her an interview at the ad agency where David had worked when they were first married. She was offered a good contract and found a flat in St. John’s Wood, an affluent area of London. Ted and the children visited for Christmas and, by this time, she seemed to blame herself solely for the separation, writing a prayer, “please ask [Ted] to forgive me my pride and its consequences Look after him, God, because he’s rare and marvelous.” Meanwhile, back at Court Green, Ted wrote a note directly to Assia, admonishing her that if she just would not be so stubborn, if she would calm down and control her temper, if she would stop threatening to leave the relationship altogether, if she would hang on a bit longer, things would be better next year In March 1968, Ted took a step toward that reunion that ended up feeling like a kick in the face to Assia. He typed up, very formally, two pages of rigid rules and conditions for cohabitation. Interestingly, none of his rules applied to him; they were all for Assia. If he were to deign to live with her again, Assia would be expected to play with the children for at least one hour per day, meticulously mend their clothing, teach them German from two to three hours each week, and supervise their bathing and bedtime. She would also need to introduce a new recipe every week and offer a variety of meals. She would have to bake everything herself and would not be allowed to purchase anything from a bakery She would need to serve the children a hot breakfast every morning and begin to teach Frieda how to cook. She would be expected to log every bill and expense in a ledger She could hire a maid for no more than a half-day each week. She would need to be out of bed by 8 a.m. every morning and would be forbidden to take a nap during the day. She would not be allowed to wear a dressing gown around the house and would be expected to dress “properly” at all times. She should improve her manners and her tact and must always be nice to his friends, even those she didn’t like. She was required to stop “pretending to be English.” She was not to discuss him with anyone else She had to promise to stay with him until the end of the year and never again threaten to leave As for himself, all he had to say was that he was to be exempt from all cooking duties It seems, in looking at Ted’s rules, that he devised them specifically to repel Assia and push her away. Keep in mind, too, that Assia earned her own money and probably made more than he did Ted, thoughtful as always, invited her to comment on the rules. She wrote him back in March 1968. “I want to know whether you want to mend us because you still love me, because you still feel the animal thing between us…or maybe you want me as your child keeper only…Open up…as you used to—my love And I could flourish under you, and care for you and give you everything I have…I admire you and I am frightened at the power you have over me. No man has ever had this power over me as a woman.” Oh, girl. If only we could have talked She ended by telling Ted that if he didn’t reassure her of his intentions, she would leave for Canada. But she was bluffing, and Ted probably knew that. He didn’t bother to respond. Assia thus began revising the will she’d written the previous year. Now she designated Shura as the primary beneficiary of the proceeds of her estate. She willed her sister “any manuscripts of Ted Hughes in my possession, and inscribed books by him as well as all manuscripts and inscribed books by David Wevill.” To David, she would leave her photo albums “if he may care to have them.” To Frieda, “all the lace, ribbons and silks she can find, as well as a fine gold chain.” But to Ted, she wrote, “I leave my no doubt welcome absence and my bitter contempt.” She also expressed her wish to be buried in any rural cemetery in England and for her tombstone to read: “Here lies a lover of unreason and an exile.” In May, her translated book of Yehuda Amichai’s poems were published and received rave reviews On July 9th, she wrote Ted another heartfelt letter, telling him they were meant to be together and that the children needed them both. That same day, she was fired from her job, due to an ad campaign that didn’t garner adequate sales. This threw her into a panic, as she knew she could not count on Ted for child support That winter, she and Sylvia Plath’s mother struck up an unlikely correspondence about

Ted’s children, who had visited their grandmother in the U.S. over the summer. Assia’s letters to her eventually included grievances against Ted of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse Professor Richard Larschan at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, who has seen the letters, noticed that Sylvia’s personal writing contained similar details about her marriage with Ted By this time, Ted was not only seeing Brenda, his friend’s wife that Assia had considered her “enemy,” but also Carol Orchard, the 20-year-old daughter of a close friend and neighbor. And yet, on August 6th, he invited Assia and Shura on a trip to Germany for a lecture tour. Ted’s moods veered from silent to impatient to good natured throughout the trip. Shura, now a slightly hyperactive but smart and funny 3 ½ year old, seemed to adore him and openly called him ‘Daddy.’ Assia found a job at another advertising agency, although she lost the lease on her swanky flat and moved to South London. That summer, she contacted two of her exes, Dick and David She begged Dick for some money; as previously mentioned, he was now fabulously rich. He gave her 100 pounds, or about $950 US dollars in today’s money, but told her he never wanted to see her again. She then approached David to finalize their divorce. She was now chain-smoking. She agreed to admit to adultery in divorce court, hoping that once officially single, Ted might marry her. But Ted around this time was busy sending a joking letter to the London Arts Council that suggested they provide “facilities for poets to meet and make love to a special corps of handmaidens assigned to the task of catering to the masculine muse.” Ted was not about to settle down any time soon In October, Assia enrolled at a marriage bureau, the equivalent of a dating website or app today with the end-goal of a permanent relationship She said she’d had enough of poets and thought she might make a farmer happy. She apparently went on five or six dates, but nothing came of them. A diary entry from September reads, in the past tense: “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.” PART 3: THE INCIDENT Ted celebrated that Christmas with his family and his girlfriend Carol. Assia cooked a festive Christmas Eve meal and ate it with Shura in their lonely flat. She bought Shura a large, illustrated edition of Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales. Ted didn’t contact them during the holidays. Assia tried to call him but couldn’t reach him. She told friends she was considering killing herself. But she said it with a smile, seemingly joking, so they didn’t take her seriously. She contacted a friend to ask if he’d consider selling her his revolver. She seemed in good spirits, and he assumed she wanted it for protection as a single mother, but he wasn’t interested in selling it In February 1969, her divorce from David was finalized. In early March, Assia celebrated Shura’s fourth birthday with her at a friend’s home. Ted was invited but failed to show up Shura looks solemn in a surviving photo from the party In mid-March, Assia tried to convince a friend to collaborate with her on a music translation project. At the time, Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days, My Friend,” produced by Paul McCartney, was at the top of the music charts The song was based on a Russian folk tune, and Assia was familiar with many similar songs She predicted that they could make one or more into a hit record, just like the Hopkin’s song. The friend told her he’d get back to her on that Assia had finally convinced Ted to go house-hunting with her. In hindsight, it’s clear that he never intended on moving in with her, as he was now in at least one other serious relationship, but he agreed to meet up with her on March 18th to embark on a 3-day trip to Manchester When he arrived, however, he seemed angry and sullen. They toured three country estates Assia fell in love with each and would have moved into any Ted liked that same day, but he found things to critique about them all When she expressed her disappointment, he snapped, “I can’t bear any more show of temperament from anyone.” Afterwards, at lunch in a local hotel, Ted got drunk and apparently told Assia that it was because of Sylvia and her death that he could not be with her. In her diary that night, Assia wrote to herself, “Die—die, soon But execute yourself and your little self

efficiently.” This chilling passage seems to be evidence that she was already planning on taking Shura with her The next day, she visited a doctor in Manchester and talked him into prescribing her 35 Sonemyl sleeping pills. The day after that, March 22nd, she and Ted parted ways at the train station. According to Ted, she was in good spirits (which seems unlikely: either Ted didn’t notice what kind of spirit she was in, or she was acting—or he was lying) and he told her he’d phone the following day When she returned to her flat, her au pair Else noticed that she looked extremely depressed Assia also mentioned that “Mr. Hughes didn’t want her anymore.” March 23rd was a cold and cloudy day, 4 degrees Celsius, 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead of waiting for Ted to call her, Assia phoned him around noon. She was agitated for some unknown immediate reason, and they argued Assia again questioned his commitment to her She suggested they separate for good, since he no longer seemed to want her. But immediately, she reversed course and told him of another house for rent that she’d found in a location he liked. Ted promised to go look at it. Unconvinced, Assia told him she was going to leave town for a week to visit friends. When the call ended, Ted turned to his sister and remarked, “I handled this one badly.” At 7:30 that evening, Else checked on Shura, who was in bed asleep, and then Assia granted the au pair permission to walk down the street to visit a friend. At 8:30, an elderly neighbor noticed the scent of gas around her apartment Another neighbor who lived directly across from Assia noticed it as well and found that the smell got stronger when she stepped into the hallway between her front door and Assia’s She rang Assia’s doorbell, but there was no response. She peeked through a window but all was dark inside. Assuming that no one was home, she decided to stay outside the door so that she could warn them of a possible gas leak when they returned She stood there for two hours. Around 10:30 pm, Else returned. The neighbor remarked, “Don’t strike a match inside without turning off the gas and opening a window.” Immediately, and to the neighbor’s surprise, Else screamed and said, “Something has happened.” She slowly, reluctantly, opened the door. There was a light at the end of the hallway, and gas fumes hit her square in the face. She became hysterical, and the neighbor had to drag her into her own flat. She called another neighbor to come downstairs and investigate He entered the flat and saw that the kitchen door was closed. Pushing it open and quickly turning on the light, he discovered two bodies on the floor Assia had spread out blankets on the kitchen linoleum. Shura was face-up with her head slightly inclined toward her mother. Assia was lying on her side. Immediately after Elsie had left at 7:30, Assia had poured out some of the recently-prescribed Sonemyl sleeping tablets and swallowed them with a shot of whiskey. She normally didn’t drink alcohol, but she shook out a few more pills and downed them with another shot. In all, she repeated this action seven times. Then she went to her daughter’s bedroom, picked up the sleeping child, and laid her on the blankets. She closed the kitchen door tightly and turned to her Mayflower gas cooker. She turned on all the gas taps, which released methane gas into the room since she hadn’t lit the pilot on the cooker. She then opened the oven door, turned off the light, and lay down carefully next to Shura, who had not awakened, in front of the cooker. Just like Sylvia had done—a copycat suicide. The only difference was that Sylvia had left her children in their bedroom, thereby sparing their lives A supervisor at the gas company surmised that 41-year-old Assia and 4-year-old Shura would have succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning within one and one quarter hours. Assia may well have still been alive when her neighbor first rang the doorbell Police found two unmailed letters on Assia’s bedside table. One was addressed to her father Lonya. It had been written in January, two months prior. She tried to explain her death wish to him, writing, in part: “It is the life alone. Insecure, dependent on an au pair to look after my little Shuratchka properly…I have lived on the dream of living with Ted—and this has gone kaput…There could never be another man. Never…Believe me…that what I have done was necessary…Life was very exciting at the beginning—but this living death was too much to pay for it all…I lived a full and comparatively long life. It is necessary to know when there’s no more life to live…Please don’t think that I’m

insane…I couldn’t leave little Shura by herself. She’s too old to be adopted. Goodbye Lonya. Father. My past protector. I miss you very much. Goodbye my dearest.” PART 4: AFTERMATH The other letter was addressed to Ted. We know this because the coroner’s file contains the envelope with his name and address, which is how police found him. But mysteriously, the letter itself has vanished. Like so many things connected to Ted Hughes, it simply disappeared Police visited Ted at his home and asked him to identify the bodies at the mortuary. They also questioned him about his relationship with Assia. He described it thusly: “Assia and I became close friends, and eventually the friendship blossomed into love. We became intimate, and there was a girl born of this union.” He also volunteered that they had been house-hunting recently because she—not they—hoped to find a place to live together Ted felt that the police were suspicious of him. It’s not known if they were aware or not that this was his second partner to have committed suicide in this manner. In any case, the murder-suicide of Assia and Shura apparently merited only a mention in The South London Press newspaper on page 13 and was ignored by all other media Two days later, Ted testified at the coroner’s inquest. His story differed slightly from what he had told police. Now he identified himself as “a friend of the family” and did not mention that Shura was his daughter He testified, “As long as I have known her—about six years—she was subject to depressions.” Despite Assia’s detailed instructions in her will about how to handle her interment—remember, she wanted to be buried in a rural cemetery—Ted ordered that both Assia’s and Shura’s remains be cremated and given to him. Assia’s father was her legal beneficiary, but it took him time to travel from Canada to England By the time he arrived, Ted, who had no legal standing, had taken over and made the pertinent decisions. The two urns stayed with Ted for some time; now that he too is dead, the whereabouts of Assia’s and Shura’s ashes are unknown Ted had kept this latest tragedy from his parents. But his sister confided in their father, making him promise not to tell Mrs Hughes. Mr. Hughes, however, broke down and told his wife nearly two months after the deaths. She immediately came down with a case of thrombosis, also known as a blood clot, and died three days later, on May 13th. Two-and-a-half months after that, Lonya Gutmann also died after his own bout with thrombosis or, as his daughter Celia called it, “a broken heart.” After Assia’s death, her sister returned Sylvia’s manuscripts that Assia, hoping they would be useful to her family, had sent to her. Ted was relieved, but just months later, when it was time to give Celia the proceeds of Assia’s estate, Ted subtracted 350 pounds (or $416 dollars, about $3,100 today), claiming he’d had to redecorate Assia’s flat after subletting it to some students who trashed it. Celia ended up with about $2,300, or $16,000 in today’s money In September, Ted moved in with his number two woman, Brenda, but almost immediately disappeared one day with the other woman in his life, Carol Orchard, just as he had done to Sylvia when he abandoned her in Ireland to fly to Spain with Assia. However, his and Brenda’s relationship continued, off and on, until July 1970. Ted had disappeared again, then sent her a cryptic postcard falsely telling her that something terrible had happened, and he needed her help. He arrived the next day and spent the night with Brenda. Afterwards, he told her he’d just married Carol Earlier that year, Ted published a book of poetry called Crow. It was dedicated to the memory of Assia and Shura, but no one questioned who they were. In 1972, Robin Morgan, an American feminist poet and activist, published a book of poetry that included a poem called “Arraignment.” It begins: “I accuse / Ted Hughes” and proceeds to accuse Ted of murdering Sylvia and bearing responsibility for the death of “Assia Gutmann Wevill,” as she names her in the poem. However, it was published only in the U.S. and did not receive much attention

In 1987, an Australian journalist, Iain Walker, conducted research and published an article about Assia. For the first time, the world could read about her relationship with Ted and its part in Sylvia’s death In 1990, another book of poetry written by Ted, called Capriccio, was published. All 20 poems were about his relationship with Assia. From time to time, he granted media interviews about his writing and about Sylvia, but he seemed to pretend Assia had never existed He told one biographer that after Sylvia’s death, he had constantly sought a woman to replace his children’s mother, even though Assia was Frieda and Nicholas’ maternal figure for a number of years, and another that “the right woman failed to materialize.” Only two pictures of the little family made up of Assia, Shura, and Ted appear to still exist. In both pictures, Ted stands slightly apart from Assia and his daughter. His hands are shoved deep into his pockets as though silently warding off any potential request from the photographer to embrace the other subjects of the photo, to pretend that he is a part of them, at least until the shutter has finished clicking. In the few poems he wrote about Shura, he refers to her only as Assia’s daughter, never his own. His other daughter, Frieda, claims she asked him once if Shura was his, and he responded, “I never knew for certain. I just treated her as if she were.” Frieda quite generously adds, “That’s the way he was. People seem to think she was [his daughter].” In 1998, he published his final book of poetry called Birthday Letters. These poems all dealt with his and Sylvia’s relationship. The book immediately topped best seller lists and earned multiple prestigious awards. Just ten months later, Ted passed away from a heart attack while undergoing treatment for colon cancer at the age of 68. He was still married to his second wife Carol. According to the Times of London, he died “one of the richest British poets” of the twentieth century,” with a 1.4 million pound estate (equivalent to $1.8 million US, or nearly $2.8 million in today’s money) that he left to Carol He requested that his ashes be spread over Dartmoor, near the home he and Sylvia had bought in 1961. Unlike Assia’s final request, his was granted Ted bequeathed much of his literary archives to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in the U.S., but he made sure to scrub everything to remove any mention of Assia’s presence in his life. It was not until 2003, when his widow sold the university six thousand volumes from his library, that about 80 of the books were discovered to have either belonged to Assia or were presents from her to Ted Assia’s parents took her out of Germany at the age of five to prevent her from ever having to face a concentration camp gassing followed by a cremation oven. At age 41, long after Hitler’s reign was over, she made the choice to gas herself and, in some twisted logic, to save her own daughter, and then was cremated anyway. She may have felt her parents’ method hadn’t been adequate in saving her emotionally. But it probably wasn’t the concentration camps that were on her mind in those final moments. It was Ted and, of course, Sylvia—the shadow woman, like Rebecca in that old Joan Fontaine film, the former dead wife whose image of supposed superiority haunts her replacement. If she couldn’t live up to Sylvia in life, perhaps she could in death, and this permanent connection between them, the oven, a symbol of warmth, family, and domesticity, could align her with Sylvia in a way that would have been impossible had they both lived. The similarity and horror of their deaths would also be a way to leave a permanent burn on Ted Once again, if any part of this story sounds familiar; for instance, if you or anyone you know is suffering from depression, please don’t wait. Many treatments are available, and this is a common condition, so there’s no limit to the number of people who can empathize and want to help you. If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please immediately call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK, or text “home” to the Crisis Text Line, or log onto suicidepreventionlifeline.org That concludes today’s blast into the offbeat past. If you’ve enjoyed our show, please subscribe, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and consider rating us with 5 stars. Source information and further reading is listed on our website at classafelons.wordpress.com

Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back with another story told with vintage flair and big hair