Ted Hughes' life enshrouded in more mystery after estate blocks biographer from quoting late poet’s private documents ‘out of the blue’

Jonathan Bate began working on the book in 2010 using private archives and documents, but has now been barred from them

Jenn Selby
Wednesday 02 April 2014 11:38

The much debated life of Ted Hughes, one of Britain’s greatest poets, has been enshrouded in yet more mystery after his estate stopped cooperating with his latest biographer, Jonathan Bate, seemingly ‘out of the blue’.

The Shakespearian scholar began working on the book in 2010 using private archives and documents, but has now been barred from consulting them and asked to return any photocopies.

He also no longer has the right to quote large parts of the poet’s work.

The decision of the Hughes estate, Bate said, came “completely out of the blue”, though they were growing more and more impatient to see the progress of the book.

“The estate was insistent I should write a 'literary life', not a 'biography', and wanted to see more sample chapters, in order to ensure I was only writing about life-events that impinged upon the literary life,” Bate said.

However, just days before he was scheduled to send over 100,000 words draft, the estate withdrew his permission to quote from the archive, which was bought by the British Library from his widow, Carol Hughes, for £500,000 in 2008.

“I have discovered some things that surprised even Carol and Olwyn, Ted's sister, so there may be more surprises to come,” said Bate.

So far, his research has revealed a number of unpublished poems, as well as some evidence that Hughes started working on his classic anthology Birthday Letters almost immediately after his lover Sylvia Plath’s death.

He and Plath endured a tumultuous relationship since they wed in 1956. Plath famously took her own life in 1963 aged just 30, and Hughes went on to marry Carol Orchard in 1970.

Hughes had come under fire for burning Plath’s last journal. He had said at the time that he decided to destroy it because he didn’t want his children to read it. He is also thought to have lost another of her journals, as well as an unfinished novel.

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