Reclaiming Assia Wevill: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Literary Imagination



Reclaiming Assia Wevill: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Literary Imagination reconsiders cultural representations of Assia Wevill (1927-1969), according her a more significant position than a femme fatale or scapegoat for marital discord and suicide in the lives and works of two major twentieth-century poets.

Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick's innovative study combines feminist recovery work with discussions of the power and gendered dynamics that shape literary history. She focuses on how Wevill figures into poems by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, showing that they often portrayed her in harsh, conflicted, even demeaning terms. Their representations of Wevill established condemnatory narratives that were perpetuated by subsequent critics and biographers and in works of popular culture. In Plath's literary treatments, Goodspeed-Chadwick locates depictions of both desirable and undesirable femininity, conveyed in images of female bodies as beautiful but barren or as vehicles for dangerous, destructive acts. By contrast, Hughes's portrayals illustrate the role Wevill occupied in his life as muse and abject object. His late work Capriccio constitutes a sustained meditation on trauma, in which Hughes confronts Wevill's suicide and her killing of their daughter, Shura.

Goodspeed-Chadwick also analyzes Wevill's self-representations by examining artifacts that she authored or on which she collaborated. Finally, she discusses portrayals of Wevill in recent works of literature, film, and television. In the end, Goodspeed-Chadwick shows that Wevill remains an object of both fascination and anger, as she was for Plath, and a figure of attraction and repulsion, as she was for Hughes.

Reclaiming Assia Wevill
reconsiders its subject's tragic life and lasting impact in regard to perceived gender roles and notions of femininity, power dynamics in heterosexual relationships, and the ways in which psychological traumas impact life, art, and literary imagination.--Heather Clark, professor of Contemporary Poetry, University of Huddersfield, and author of The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

Product Details

LSU Press
Publish Date
October 09, 2019
5.92 X 0.93 X 8.75 inches | 0.9 pounds
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About the Author

Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick is professor of English and an affiliate faculty member in women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus. She is the author of Modernist Women Writers and War: Trauma and the Female Body in Djuna Barnes, H.D., and Gertrude Stein.


Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick has written the first scholarly study of Assia Wevill, Ted Hughes's mistress and Sylvia Plath's rival. Assia, who committed suicide in 1969, played an important role in the lives and writing of Plath and Hughes and was herself a gifted translator. But until now she has not been given her critical due. Drawing upon new sources, Goodspeed-Chadwick rejects the mythic version of Assia as a femme fatale, or, as Hughes once called her, a 'Lillith of abortions.' She asks why so many readers and critics have accepted and perpetuated Plath and Hughes's disturbing representations of Assia, and what the Assia myth might teach us about our own biases regarding women artists and 'muses.' Throughout this original study, Goodspeed-Chadwick restores Assia's dignity and personhood while offering new approaches to Plath and Hughes's work. This is an important and necessary recovery of a woman artist caught in the crossfire of one of history's most turbulent literary marriages.--Heather Clark, professor of Contemporary Poetry, University of Huddersfield, and author of The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
In Reclaiming Assia Wevill, Professor Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick has given us an important book of a divisive figure; a work she calls 'a feminist recuperation of [Wevill's] reputation, artistic work, and influence.' More than a decade after the first biography of Assia Wevill was published, this first critical approach reassesses the person, the writer, and the artist. In doing so, Goodspeed-Chadwick conclusively positions the historical figure of Wevill as a significant contributor to and an original voice in mid-twentieth century literature.--Peter K. Steinberg, co-editor of the Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. 1: 1940-1956 and Vol. 2: 1956-1963
At first, there was silence: she was written out of history. Then, she was vilified as Lilith and she-devil. Later she was labeled as a victim. When we published her biography in 2006, we wished to restore Assia Wevill's voice. Now the time has come to focus and acknowledge her many talents and literary influence. Dr. Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick does a very fine job of placing Assia Wevill in the context of feminist thought and women's history. She cleverly analyses Assia's literary and artistic work and her unfortunate fate as the tragic muse of her contemporaries as well as of 21st century writers and readers. This book is long overdue.--Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, authors of Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes's Doomed Love