Saturday, 30 April 2011

sylvia and assia

I finished reading Yehuda Koren's and Eilat Negev's Lover of Unreason in three days. I couldn't put it down. Coincidentally, last week's lecture at school was about feminism, so I did a piece on these two women: Sylvia Plath and Assia Wevill.

In the early 1960s, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were considered the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of the literary world, especially in poetry. In 1962, this “power couple” got acquainted with David and Assia Wevill. David was also a poet who greatly admired both Hughes and Plath, while Assia, she herself an admirer of Hughes’ and Plath’s work, held a career in advertising. Assia later became the force that invaded the marriage of Ted’s and Sylvia’s, claiming, “I’m going to seduce Ted!” to Angela Landels, Assia’s former boss at Colman, Prentice, and Varley.

It is easy to blame Assia as the one who has destroyed Ted’s and Sylvia’s marriage, since she is known for her infidelity, although not promiscuity. She was able to be polyandrous, yet keeping it fair between the two men she was currently involved with. One may put it bluntly as to say that she had it coming. Indeed, Assia committed suicide in a manner not unlike Sylvia’s. Their deaths were only eight years apart.

The difference was Assia also intentionally killed Shura, her only child (allegedly with Ted Hughes) while Sylvia sealed the door cracks of the kitchen to the other room where Frieda and Nicholas were sleeping, so the gas would not seep out of the kitchen and killed the two children. Sylvia’s way of leaving her children behind was seen by one side of feminists as maternal, the character used time and again to describe Sylvia. However, another side of the feminists regards Assia’s method to leave no one behind, especially Shura, Assia’s heart and soul, as altruistic.

“The mother knows the nature and quality of her act, and that killing is legally wrong; however, the mother often believes she’s doing what is morally right for her child. These mothers see their children as an extension of themselves, do not want to leave them motherless in a cruel world and believe that the child will be better off in heaven without them. The mother sees ‘hell on earth’. It’s so miserable that she can no longer stand to live. To leave that child in that world… and motherless, on top of it, will be more terrible than to murder,” explains Dr. Philip Resnick, a renowned American forensic psychiatrist and leading expert of filicide (murder based on love), who published his findings on the subject of altruistic suicide in the year of Assia’s death.

Shura was considered as an illegitimate child. It was obvious that Hughes was not proud of her, calling Shura “her [Assia’s] daughter” and only mentioning Shura in his letters one time. Ted mentioned the nanny more than he mentioned Shura in his letters. This fact and Assia’s belief that Ted did not love Shura as much as he loved Frieda and Nicholas, prompted Assia to take Shura with her.

Here we see the complexity that women faced, even when they were about to take their own lives. Sylvia must have believed that her children would lead a better, happier life, and that it was all about her: her depression, her mood swings, and her suicidal behavior. On the other hand, Assia must have worried that nobody would be able to take care of Shura. It was through these tragedies that these two women, these two rivals, became both famous and infamous. Sylvia was considered to be a good mother. She was able to juggle between writing and doing domestic work. Assia, on the other hand, although a good mother, was considered a rather sloppy housewife. Yet, these two women, as different as they were, could not make Ted Hughes love them enough, to avoid their untimely death.

Ted Hughes lived on and became a celebrated poet, receiving literary honors. He died of cancer in 1998 with a wife beside him. He might be a genius, but I would never touch his work with a ten-foot pole.

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