The excruciatingly painful end of this fascinating biography – Assia Wevill would gas herself and Shura, her daughter by Ted Hughes, to death – overshadows everything we can learn about this unfortunate woman, even as we fantasize, as with all suicides, that we can still save her somehow before the last page and rewrite her story.
If suicide is the last display of power by one who feels generally powerless, then Wevill must have felt powerless most of her life. And yet this extremely beautiful and intelligent woman, born to a Jewish doctor father and a Gentile mother who fled Nazi Germany for Tel Aviv, and who grew up speaking Russian and German as well as English, was also a flirtatious, manipulative and jealous woman, who stalked lovers and husbands even once she'd abandoned them.
To many, there was, as one friend comments, something "fragile and brittle" about her, which came to the fore when she first met Hughes, then married to Sylvia Plath. The Wevill and Hughes affair forced his separation from Plath – when Plath gassed herself, Wevill remarked, extraordinarily, that "it was nothing to do with me".
There's a horrible inevitability to her relationship with Hughes: a talented, artistic woman herself, she was no match for Plath's genius, and would be hurt by Hughes's refusal to let her help with his poetry, as Plath had. Forever smudged out by the spectre of Plath in accounts of both Plath's and Hughes's lives, Wevill has finally, and justly, earned a history of her own. While not a poet herself, her role in the lives of great poets was pivotal and it deserves to be known.