Although Assia was certain of her daughter’s paternity, declaring the father on her birth certificate to be Edward Hughes, Ted Hughes rarely referred to little Shura (named Tanya in the novel) as his daughter. Indeed there were instances when he denied paternity. Yet we are told that he was overcome with grief at the loss of the child. In the recently published Letters of Ted Hughes, a friend of Hughes recalls that, at the funeral of Assia and Shura, Ted stood like a pillar of salt, tears streaming down his cheeks and nose.
Some months later, Hughes wrote to his friend and collaborator, Leonard Baskin:I had a third, a little marvel, but she died with her mother. To Celia Chaikin, Assia’s sister, he wrote: Little Shura was the most wonderful little girl, full of fire. And really beautiful.3
Over twenty years passed, during which Assia’s life seemed to have been forgotten in Hughes’ poetry. Then, in 1990, Hughes’ Capriccio appeared. Why did Hughes wait thirty years to publish these poems? Why did he tell Assia’s biographers, Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren, that these poems were perhaps ‘not the ones I should have written’?Was this work an apologia for Hughes’ role in the life and death of Assia and Shura, intended to show destiny as the culprit?
There is evidence in the Letters,that Ted Hughes blamed himself for the deaths of Assia and Shura. In the letter to Assia’s sister, he wrote: Our life together was so complicated with old ghosts, yet we belonged together so deeply and completely, I feel now my life has gone completely empty. If I had only given her more hope in that last phone conversation, she would have been OK. In the same letter, he wrote: Assia was my true wife, and the best friend I ever had.
Ted Hughes’ sequence of poems about Assia, Capriccio, has inspired this story, and given my novel its title. In my research into the lives of Ted and Assia, I have found evidence that Ted did accept that Alexandra Tatiana Eloise (nicknamed Shura) was his and Assia’s daughter, and half-sister to his two children with Sylvia Plath. I believe it was his ambivalence in his relationship with Assia Wevill, and his abiding love for his first wife, Sylvia, that prevented him from openly declaring that Shura was his daughter.
Lover of Unreason, by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, p. 200. NY, Carroll & Graf, 2007
The Life of a Poet, by Elaine Feinstein, pp.177, 226. London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2001
Letters of Ted Hughes, selected and edited by Christopher Reid, NY, Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 2007