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How the actions of the Ted Hughes estate will change my biography

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I spent four years immersing myself in every word Hughes wrote; now the estate's co-operation has been withdrawn. What next?

Letter: Why the Ted Hughes estate withdrew biographer's permissions

Jaguar in cage, thought-fox on page, hawk in rain, pike in pond: it was Ted Hughes who got me hooked on poetry when I was a teenager. I shall never forget the experience of hearing him read "Crow" at a little gallery in Cambridge when I was an undergraduate. Later, I felt that his career had gone into a midlife dip and I was exasperated by his huge book on Shakespeare, but I delighted in his return to form with Tales from Ovid. Sharing his passions for Wordsworth and Coleridge, for conservation and ecology, for the classics and the theatre, he was the obvious choice for my next literary biography after I had done with two of his favourite poets, Shakespeare and John Clare.

I knew that before he died in 1998 he had sold a huge archive of his manuscripts to Emory University in Atlanta. Elaine Feinstein made use of it in her 2001 biography the only one to date. But the material was not even fully catalogued at that time: there was far more to discover. Then in 2007 his selected letters appeared, revealing him as perhaps the greatest English literary correspondent since John Keats, as remarkable a prose writer as a poet. And in 2010 a second archive was opened to researchers: the British Library had paid £500,000 for the materials kept back from the Emory sale.


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