The torment of Ted Hughes

This review by Mark Ford of ‘Ted Hughes: the Unauthorised Life’ by Jonathan Bates, gives an interesting slant on Bate’s book, and echoes much of the portrayal of Hughes’s remorse in my novel: ‘Capriccio: the Haunting of Sylvia Plath.‘  In March 1969 Assia gassed both herself and her four-year-old daughter by Hughes, Shura, in her flat in Clapham. She had grown tired of sharing Hughes with his two women down in Devon, Brenda Hedden (a social worker) and Carol Orchard, a local farmer’s daughter and nurse, who would become his second wife. Hughes did, on occasion, explicitly question the implications of his … behaviour in his private journal, noting, for instance, of this particular erotic triangle: ‘3 beautiful women – all in love, and a separate life of joy visible with each, all possessed – but own soul lost.’ The sorrows of the polygamist … As the errant poet struggled to manage his handily alphabetised commitments to A, B and C, as he referred to them in his journal, Assia battled with the complexities of the situation in which she found herself after Plath’s suicide.   Although less jealous and possessive than Plath, Assia had her own moments of despair and fury: in a will she made in April 1968 she left to Hughes only ‘my no doubt welcome absence and my bitter contempt.’  Hughes’s ‘The Error’, from the suite of Assia poems collected in Capriccio (1990), presents her subsequent death as almost […]

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Assia the Artist

Few people know that Assia Gutmann Wevill was an accomplished artist in her own right. She painted brightly coloured miniatures of birds, fish, and flowers, and gave them to friends. She also drew the illustrations for many of Ted Hughes’s works. Sadly these have not survived As well as her talents in the visual arts, Assia was a gifted translator. […]

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“Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life”

A Review of “Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life” by Jonathan Bate Harper Collins ISBN:978 0 06 236243 8 (US$40.00). Fourth Estate, 978 0 7322 9970 5 (AUD$49.99); hardback 662 pages     Dr Ann Skea  writes in her review of this book: (Telling Tales, ©Ann Skea 2015)  ‘In spite of the claims that this is a comprehensive biography, there is much that is left out or barely touched on in this book. Ted’s fishing did not “stand in for sex”,  as Bate would have it.’ Although Dr Skea describes this weighty tome as a ‘novelised’ biography, to me it reads as a non-fiction account of Ted’s life, with a large amount of what seems to be speculation.  Bate’s attitude to Assia is dismissive. He calls her ‘a literary hopeful’, and writes that ‘Ted assisted her with the translations’ for his ‘Modern Poetry in Translation’. In fact, Assia did all the translating from Hebrew to English for the poetry of Yehuda Amichai (Ted had no Hebrew). . No doubt there are many  inaccuracies in this biography, as Carol Hughes, the executor of Ted Hughes’ estate, and his widow,  has pointed out. It is unsurprising that she withdrew permission for Bate to publish with Faber & Faber, and to quote from Ted’s manuscripts. I found the chapter on Hughes’s conduct at the Adelaide Festival unnecessarily prurient, in Bate’s description of Hughes’ s (speculated) love life. As for Bate’s review of Ted Hughes’s ‘Capriccio’, the sequence of poems he […]

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FACT OR FICTION?

 The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Teresa, writing about Janet Malcolm’s masterly non-fiction biography, ‘The Silent Woman,’ in the Blog ‘Shelf Love’, says: ‘It’s fascinating to consider that in some respects fiction could be more true than nonfiction. Fiction is part of a closed world, all in the author’s mind, and even if the author deliberately leaves options open, that openness is part of the author’s created world. With nonfiction, there really is a truth that happened, but there are so many mediators between that truth and the reading audience. How can one be sure of the truth?’ Janet Malcolm goes on to discuss the near impossibility of truth in biography–or in any nonfiction. Malcolm writes:  In a work of nonfiction we almost never know the truth of what happened. The ideal of unmediated reporting is regularly achieved only in fiction, where the writer faithfully reports on what is going on in his imagination….We must always take the novelist’s and the playwright’s and the poet’s word, just as we are almost always free to doubt the biographer’s or the autobiographer’s or the historian’s or the journalist’s. In imaginative literature we are constrained from considering alternative scenarios—there are none. This is the way it is  But is there a single, whole truth to tell? That’s the question that undergirds The Silent Woman, Malcolm’s book about the Plath legacy.The book is structured as a sort of memoir of Malcolm’s own journey as she […]

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