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Of all the British poets of my generation, Ted Hughes, now nearly 20 years dead, left behind him both the grandest and most sulfurous reputation. The controversies he aroused rumble on, and the hurts, in certain quarters, are still keenly felt.

The gestation of Bate's book, chronicled here, gives ample proof of this. The author began it with the full sanction of Hughes’ widow, Carol, on the understanding that it was to be a "literary life". Halfway through its composition, cooperation was withdrawn - hence the subtitle, "The Unauthorised Life". This has restricted Bate's freedom to quote from Hughes' writings as much as he might have liked, but has in other respects (as he points out) left him more fully at liberty to say what he wants to say about a life story that was in any terms pretty dramatic.

Any life story that comprises not just two but actually three suicides (Hughes' son, Nicholas, killed himself in 2009, just over 10 years after his father's death), plus a murder - one can't describe the death of Hughes' little daughter, Shura, gassed by her suicidal mother, the poet's mistress, Assia Wevill, as anything else - does wrap a cloak of darkness about itself.

©2014, 2017 Cv Publications (P)2018 Cv Publications

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