Being impressionable, and impressed, with Paula Byrne's new website, I've created a copycat design on wordpress, which really is amazingly easy to use. It has built in blogging, so that's where I'm going and so it is now bye bye not only to Ted Hughes but also to Blogger.
Having “put to bed” the paperback of my Ted
Hughes biography, returned all the books to the shelves, and shredded hundreds
of pages of manuscript photocopies, I reflect for a moment on the long journey
of writing the book and dealing with its reception. A friend recently asked
whether I have any regrets about all the emotional energy involved.
Emphatically not, I replied. Not even over the accusations of prurience? About 40 pages of the book make reference to
aspects of Hughes’s sexual life; about 600 to his writing life. But you
wouldn’t guess that from the reactions of one or two critics of the older
generation. So, any regrets about having incurred their wrath by including some
explicit material on a handful of occasions? Well, imagine what people would
have said if the sexual dimension had been airbrushed from the biography of the
author of Gaudete (the long poem that could be summarised as “Yorkshire vicar's spirit double in WI orgy”) and of such poems
as the Ploughshares version of “Do
not pick up the telephone” (“Panties are hotting up their circle for somebody to burn in / Nipples
are evangelising bringing a sword or at least a razor / Cunt is proclaiming
heaven on earth”—not, it has to be said, TH’s most immortal lines). I just have a feeling that if the biography had been a bedroom-free zone, the word “whitewash” would have
No, my one regret is that not a single
reviewer – though I’ve only seen a selection, so I may be traducing someone
here – has drawn attention to the book’s excavation of the hitherto unknown
long autobiographical poems/sequences “A” and “Trial” (the latter provides an
extraordinary new window onto the last days of Sylvia Plath) or to the reading
of the manuscript revisions in the great Gaudete epilogue poem “Waving goodbye from your banked
hospital bed,” which was intended as the epicentre of the book’s argument. Mark Ford in the London Review of Books comes close to the latter, and he is to be
thanked for that.
Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College and Professor of English Literature in the University of Oxford, is well known as a Shakespeare scholar, biographer, critic and broadcaster. He was previously Professor of Shakespeare & Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick.