Janet Malcolm at The New York Review of Books:
In a letter of 1989 to his friend Lucas Myers, published in Letters of Ted Hughes,2Hughes writes about how “pitifully little” he is producing and goes on to
wonder sometimes if things might have gone differently without the events of 63 & 69 [the years of Plath’s and Wevill’s suicides]. I have an idea of those two episodes as giant steel doors shutting down over great parts of myself, leaving me that much less, just what was left, to live on. No doubt a more resolute artist would have penetrated the steel doors—but I believe big physical changes happen at those times, big self-anaesthesias. Maybe life isn’t long enough to wake up from them.
Hughes’s feeling of not writing enough is common among writers, sometimes even among the most prolific. In Hughes’s case it was certainly delusory. The posthumous volume of Hughes’s collected poems is over a thousand pages long and there are five volumes of prose and seven volumes of translations. But without question Hughes suffered blows greater than those it is given to most writers to suffer. His life had been ruined not just once, but twice. It has the character not of actual human existence but of a dark fable about a hero born under a malign star.
That it was Bate of all people who was chosen to write Hughes’s biography only heightens our sense of Hughes’s preternatural unluckiness; though the choice might not have surprised him. Ancient stories about innocents delivered into the hands of enemies disguised as friends were well known to him, as was The Aspern Papers. He emerges from his letters as a man blessed with a brilliant mind and a warm and open nature, who seemed to take a deeper interest in other people’s feelings and wishes than the rest of us are able to do and who never said anything trite or obvious or pious or self-serving.