TED HUGHES: The unauthorised Life

9d4c73f4-cffb-11e5_1211287hAlan Jenkins at the Times Literary Supplement:

Six years ago Jonathan Bate set out to write, with the co-operation of Ted Hughes’s widow Carol, a “literary Life” of the poet. Its emphasis would be “the development of the poetic voice”, with much detailed analysis of “multiple drafts” of poems in the archives at Emory University and the British Library. (The latter, open to researchers only since 2010 – and therefore not available to Elaine Feinstein, Hughes’s first biographer – contains, Bate tells us, thousands of pages of notes and journals: “an almost complete record of [Hughes’s] inner life”.) In early 2014 the TLS published an essay by Bate, based on his work-in-progress, that combined biographical and critical elements in a discussion of some of those drafts, written after the suicide of Hughes’s first wife Sylvia Plath. At around this time, the estate withdrew its co- operation, and permission to quote extensively from Hughes’s writings with it. So Bate’s approach shifted towards the biographical, his emphasis on to Life rather than Art.

Not much seems to have survived of Bate’s original project in Ted Hughes: The unauthorised Lifeexcept a chapter which expands on his TLS essay, about the writings that were the basis of Hughes’s final volume Birthday Letters (1998); and perhaps the argument that underpins the book. Post-Birthday Letters, elated by the sense of liberation it had brought him, Hughes looked back with regret that so much of his writing life had been spent on works that had, he wrote to Kathleen Raine, enabled him to evade his real subject, the subject of that book: his life with Plath and how it ended. To this reader, that regret seems misplaced, while for anyone contemplating the 1,200-plus pages of his Collected Poems (and that doesn’t include Gaudete), Hughes’s plaint that he had been “blocked ever since Sylvia’s death” will even more conspicuously fail to grip. Nevertheless, this is, broadly, the story Bate’s biography sticks to.

more here.