18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable and compelling biography which remains objective.
Elaine Feinstein's biography of Hughes manages to acheive what no other book I have read on Hughes or his first wife, Sylvia Plath, has managed, and that is to remain objective. She does not get caught up in the well known quarrels and squabbles regarding the marriage of the pair, nor Hughes' later life, but presents an objective view of his life. Equal weight is given...
Published on 12 Feb 2002
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ted Hughes
This is the first biography I have read about Ted Hughes and his relationship with Sylvia Plath and although it is well written it was difficult to get a 'real'feel for what made him tick or understand the depth of his feelings for any of the women that entered his life. It did however make me curious to find out more about both him and Sylvia Plath as individuals.
Published on 5 April 2005
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable and compelling biography which remains objective.,
By A Customer
This review is from: Ted Hughes - the Life of a Poet (Hardcover)Elaine Feinstein's biography of Hughes manages to acheive what no other book I have read on Hughes or his first wife, Sylvia Plath, has managed, and that is to remain objective. She does not get caught up in the well known quarrels and squabbles regarding the marriage of the pair, nor Hughes' later life, but presents an objective view of his life. Equal weight is given to childhood, adolescence, university, life with Plath, Wevill and Orchard and there is focus on his poetry which relates to his life experiences but is not presented in an overly biographical manner, rather more gives insight into some of the experiences which may have informed and inspired his work.
The book is easy to read and presents Hughes as a fascinating individual, a talented poet and a real person.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Authoritative and well written, though some detail is lost for the sake of concision.,
This review is from: Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (Paperback)As the title suggests, this is not a life-and-works biography but an account focusing on Ted Hughes's life. Nevertheless, elements of literary criticism are at times woven neatly into the narrative where Hughes's poetry is illuminated by the events of his life. The author's personal acquaintance with Hughes is made clear from the outset, and this provides an unusual shape to the book which begins as biographical work of pure research but evolves to include greater degrees of personal memoir.
The account of Hughes's relationship with Sylvia Plath is written with good measure and is generally objective (as is perhaps the most successful approach for discussing such a controversial and volatile relationship). Overall, however, Feinstein is largely sympathetic towards Hughes on the issue of Plath's depression and eventual suicide, although Plath herself is painted as a difficult character, to the point of being unreasonable.
As Hughes was such a prolific poet with an eventful life, this is a surprisingly short biography (the main text comprises 244 pages) and so Hughes's personal character remains rather enigmatic although the events and relationships that inspired and compelled him in his work are well documented. The richness of details and quality of writing make this an engaging and thought-provoking biographical account that will sit well on the shelf alongside Hughes's Collected Poems.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ted Hughes,
By A Customer
This review is from: Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (Paperback)This is the first biography I have read about Ted Hughes and his relationship with Sylvia Plath and although it is well written it was difficult to get a 'real'feel for what made him tick or understand the depth of his feelings for any of the women that entered his life. It did however make me curious to find out more about both him and Sylvia Plath as individuals.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not perfect, but brilliant,
This review is from: Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (Paperback)Elaine Feinstein's biography of Ted Hughes is more than just a biography, it is an attempt to set the record straight about one of the most talented and compelling poets of the twentieth century which is no easy task when one considers the public pillorying Hughes received from the Cult of Plath that built up in the 1970s. Nevertheless, Feinstein does, to a great extent, reveal the charm, confidence and element of reserve that went into Hughes' character, along with his early decision to dedicate his life to poetry.
It could possibly be argued that Feinstein allows too much sentiment, from her longstanding friendship with Hughes, to affect what she is willing to write about him, something which comes across especially clearly when she is describing his multiple long-running affairs in the 1970s without mentioning the feelings of his second wife or how his behaviour affected her. Still, unlike in some reviews I have read, I didn't think that Sylvia Plath was unfairly pilloried, but that Feinstein had gone to great trouble to present a clear picture of the complicated relationship between two complex, incredibly talented people, while also showing that Hughes came out of his relationship with Plath almost as damaged as she had been.
Furthermore, Feinstein also points up the great integrity that compelled Hughes to publish Plath's Ariel poems after her death purely because he saw in them the strength of Plath's genius, despite the fact that they presented him in a harsh, unforgiving, and entirely unfair light, and Plath's use of some of their most difficult private moments as material for her work left Hughes feeling profoundly betrayed. Overall, though, Feinstein's biography depicts a man who was dedicated to poetry, and did a lot to promote other talented poets, especially in translation, who had a profound and abiding love for nature, and who did as much as possible to protect his children from the firestorm of publicity that surrounded their mother's death.
Perhaps it is a little too fond and forgiving in places, but then, perhaps this first biography needed to be, if only to counteract the unfairly harsh view of Hughes that has been in the public domain for so long. Feinstein's biography is a timely reminder that there are at least two sides to every story, and that, genius as Hughes was, he was still human, and as vulnerable to hurt, and as fallible, as the rest of us.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading, but ultimately dissapointing,
This review is from: Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (Hardcover)This biography would be more accurately titled 'The story of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath', since that is what the bulk of the book is most interested in. Even following Plath's death, Feinstein concentrates mostly on Hughes' subsequent love affairs and Plath's affect on them.
Of course, this story should be an important one in any biography of this great poet, and there is certainly room for fair documentation of Hughes' dignity in this matter - especially considering his reputation as a 'murderer' in some circles (particularly '70s feminist America). But there is little here for the reader who is actually interested in Hughes and his poetry, and not just his relationship with Sylvia Plath.
It would have been good to read a more in-depth analysis of his life in terms of his poems and his influences (which, of course includes Plath before and after her death). The only book of Hughes' really covered in this way is the beautiful Birthday Letters, which of course is addressed to Plath. This, for me, was the most revealing part of the biography and sent me back to re-read those poems with fresh insight - what a shame that didn't happen elsewhere. Once we get to the '70s, Feinstein seems to race to the end of the book in a flurry of extra-marital affairs, with little more than a cursory look at the work Hughes produced in this time.
The problem seems to be that this is basically an attempt to set the record straight regarding Hughes' involvement with Plath. While there is nothing wrong with that (except, maybe, that nobody could do it better than Hughes himself in 'Birthday Letters'), it seems innacurate to subtitle such a book 'The Life of a Poet'.
Since the author knew Hughes and clearly has great respect for his work, I can only guess that Feinstein's publisher wanted the book to feature Plath so heavily (how many publishers wouldn't?)
The story of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath is important, fascinating and terribly sad. But there was far more to this great man.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ted and His Women,
This review is from: Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (Paperback)Ted Hughes was a famously private man (particularly after his first wife Sylvia Plath's suicide) and this is the first full biography to be written of him. In many ways, Feinstein has done a good job. She's interviewed a host of people who knew Ted from his childhood to his death, she reveals much previously unpublished information about Ted's second longterm partner Assia Wevill (this book came out several years before the biography of Assia Wevill, for which see earlier review), she has some interesting things to say about some of the poetry, and she gives, particularly in the early part of the book, some interesting information about what Hughes's daily life must have been like and about the circles in which he moved. She is also, as is clear from her other biographies, novels and poems, a very good writer.
All the same, Hughes for much of the book remains a somewhat shadowy figure - there is little in the text that brings alive his charisma, sense of personal warmth and fun, and sheer energy. Although she was a friend of Ted and his sister Olwyn, I think Feinstein may have brought this book out as an unauthorized biography - this might explain the bizarre fact that Ted's second wife Carol hardly gets a mention, that there's very little about his children after the death of their mother and that we get little idea of what Ted was like as a husband or a father. Although Feinstein does talk quite a bit about Hughes's poetry, she concentrates largely on the darker and larger-scale poems: there's little about his marvellous work as a translator (cited by many academics as some of the greatest in the business), about his playful creation myths or his occasional foray into the short story. There's also very little about his professional life, his friendship with other poets (including Charles Tomlinson, Seamus Heaney and Danny Abse) or the reception of his work.
The trouble with this is that the book gets overly focused on Hughes's good looks, and particularly his relationships with women. Women are very much at the fore of the biography, from Ted's meeting with Plath onwards. The section about the Hughes/Plath marriage is so Plath-focussed that I wondered at times if Feinstein would have preferred to be writing a biography of Sylvia Plath. The chapters following Sylvia's suicide are focussed very much around Assia Wevill and her tragic depression and suicide, and in later chapters Feinstein quotes at great length from Hughes's various girlfriends and mistresses. It means that the book begins to seem at times like the story of 'Ted the Rake' rather than 'Ted the poet'.
Feinstein is also not helped by the tendency of some of her interviewees to gush, and her reluctance to tell the reader which interviewees might be telling the more reliable story. Some of the people she talked to about Ted (like his friend Lucas Myers, or Sylvia's friend Suzette Macedo) are ideal interviewees, giving wonderful, vivid accounts of their friendships with Hughes and with Plath). But should Feinstein really have quoted at such length from the rather melodramatic Elizabeth Compton Sigmund (who she herself admits has been cited by others as rather unreliable)? And did we need to have so many details of Ted's affair with Emma Tennant, recounted by Tennant in the most gushing language? I can't help wondering how Ted's widow must have felt on reading how Tennant described Ted thinking that he 'may be a graylag goose' (a bird that remains faithful to his first mate) - Tennant cites it as an excuse for why Ted didn't marry her. (She went on to write a particularly horrible novel about Ted, Sylvia and Assia in which Ted comes across as an arch-villain - this put me off Emma Tennant's work for life.) Ted's other mistress at the time, Jill Barber, gives a much better picture of Ted, but her pleasure at having been the 'mistress of a great man' is almost embarrassing at times - and she seems to have had no worries about what Ted's wife and children were feeling about her affair. All in all, the constant reference to Hughes's love life, and the many descriptions of him as 'Heathcliff-like', 'ruggedly handsome' etc all feed into a rather narrow picture of Hughes as a wild Byronic lover. The warmth and charm of the man, his skills as a parent, his gifts in friendship (I was fortunate enough to know as a child a fellow poet who actually knew Hughes and told me quite a lot about what a pleasant man he was to spend time with) and his sense of humour don't come to the fore enough.
Bearing in mind the sensitivity of Hughes as a topic, Feinstein must have had a difficult time pulling this book together, and she manages admirably in pulling together a lot of the basic facts about Hughes's life and work. But in the midst of all the facts and the anecdotes, Hughes himself never quite comes to life. I'd recommend this book as a basic guide to Hughes's life - but read the poems, and also his wonderful letters to get an idea of the man's true personality.
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cautious Bio of Hughes Provides General Overview,
By A Customer
This review is from: Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (Hardcover)Elaine Feinstein, a friend of Ted Hughes, has written what amounts to the first full length biography of the former poet laureate. Readers, especially those with a strong interest in his first wife, Sylvia Plath, will feel, I suspect, rather let down by this book. Feinstein's caution and wish not to offend - Ted's living family, friends, and maybe Ted himself - is evident throughout the book. But more than that, there seems to be little here that readers have not already read before in various sources. Anyone familiar with one or more of the several Plath biographies, or Lucas Myer's recent memoir, 'Crow Steered, Bergs Appeared,' will find the information on Hughes' years in Cambridge, his meeting of Plath and their life together until her death in 1963 completely unsurprising. There are a few 'new' bits of information with regard to Hughes' childhood in Yorkshire but nothing of major interest. There are also some interesting pieces of information regarding his relationship with Assia Wevill and about Assia herself, but again, not much we didn't already know. The relationships he had with Emma Tennant and Jill Barber are better and more thoroughly documented respectively in Tennant's book 'Burnt Diaries' and presumably in Barber's forthcoming memoir. Almost nothing is said about his 2nd wife Carol, or Hughes' children with Plath, seemingly because the biography is unauthorized and Feinstein wishes not to infringe on the personal life of the still living wife and children of her friend Hughes. This restraint for the sake of the living is admirable, but it hardly makes for a well-rounded bio. Indeed, Carol Hughes becomes hardly more than a footnote in her husband's life in this book. In any event, the personal details entailed are not salacious; in fact, I've read quite a few things in Plath bios, on the internet and in the newspapers that are hinted at in this book but never fully explained, or left out altogether, probably because they would be considered too disparaging to the subject. Feinstein is mildly defensive of Hughes when it comes to his personal behaviour in relationships with women, and strikes a balance between that defense and holding Hughes accountable for his actions or non-actions. Feinstein also seems to have a genuine respect and fondness for Hughes, although her use of the first person in some sections in the book throw the reader out of 'biography' and into 'memoir'. I came away with the feeling that biographers should never personally know their subjects, and if personal friends write books about the lives of those friends, the books are more properly called memoirs. The biggest surprise is the fact that Ted's work seems to be discussed hardly at all. Again, since this book is unauthorized I can only assume that Feinstein was unable to get the permission to quote freely from Ted's works. Perhaps I'm wrong, but in any case I was very disappointed at the lack of in-depth discussion of Hughes' work. There are repeated references to Hughes' interest in astrology, hermeticism and neoplatonism, but not much discussion of these influences overall. Basically, I came away from reading this bio no more informed about Ted Hughes than I had been before I read it. For me, Hughes remains a creative, talented, engimatic presence in 20th century literature. I look forward to subsequent biographies that may offer a more psychologically in-depth portrait of the man with a more detailed analysis of his work. Feinstein's book is a general primer for those that want an overview of Hughes' life but not much substance.
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment,
This review is from: Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (Paperback)First published in 2001, three years after Hughes's death, this biography is written by a fellow poet, and one who shared the same literary agent as Hughes (his sister Olwyn). Hughes's reputation as a person has been framed to a large extent by his relationship with Sylvia Plath, and the book attempts to paint a fair-minded, balanced and largely non-judgemental picture of Hughes. About two-fifths of the book is given over to Hughes's relationship with Plath (which lasted about 7 years in total), with the consequence that the 35 years he lived after Plath's death receive much less detailed coverage.
I confess to being rather disappointed by the book. Apart from the unequal coverage of Hughes's life, the account of which focuses mainly on incidents and relationships, Feinstein offers little by way of analysis of Hughes's writing (though to be fair the book does offer the reader extra purchase on some of the poems contained in "Birthday Letters"). For example, though we read why Hughes gave up studying English at university, why he chose to swap to anthropology is not explained or discussed, despite the prominence of anthropological themes in Hughes's work (such as myth, as in "Crow" and "How the Whale Became"). Likewise, Hughes's environmentalism (which features in some of his later work, such as "Moortown", "River" and "The Iron Woman") is not discussed; nor is his writing for children.
In addition, the standard of editing in the book is truly abysmal. Aside from numerous copy-editing and proof-reading errors, the text is littered with ambiguities, repetitions of fact, and passages that are insufficiently clear to the reader. Hughes deserves better than this - hopefully in time a better biography will appear (perhaps after the embargo on some of his papers expires in 2018).
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable,
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This review is from: Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (Paperback)Controversial but very informative. Tells you a lot about his early years and attempts to unravel some of the years with Plath.
5.0 out of 5 stars Kevin Bell,
This review is from: Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (Paperback)I have been writing poems since my teens. I am now in my mid-50s. This year I am self-publishing a book of my poems on a print-to-order basis. I bought this book via Amazon to get a better feel for the inner world of a great poet. Rather than a hobbyist like me. I hoped it would help my own creative writing and inspire me to continue. This book is beautifully written. It is delivered in a style that is smpathetic yet honest. At times the haunting phrase would make me pause and think. Sometimes it was a quote from Ted Hughes. Often it was an informed personal observation from a long term friend trusted by the family of Ted Hughes with the responsibility of writing his biography. I believe she has done a splendid job that has stood the test of time. I finished reading it a few weeks ago but I am left with the feeling that it is lingering with me. Overall: a superbly crafted doorway through which to enter into the life and work of a giant poet and a remarkably human man.
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Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet by Elaine Feinstein (Paperback - 1 Aug 2002)
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