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Of little interest to voyeurs, of great interest to others,
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This review is from: Letters of Ted Hughes (Hardcover)
The poet Ted Hughes experienced the sort of vilification in the second part of his life more appropriate to a war-criminal. His first wife Sylvia Plath committed suicide, as did his partner Assia Wevill. There is ample evidence that both Plath and Wevill were psychologically disturbed before either of them ever set eyes on TH but, it would seem, Ted Hughes had to be vilified. Maybe it's human nature to want a villain. It is certainly human nature to be curious about other people's lives. But if you come to this book with the desire to gawp, or to slaver over juicy (and unedifying) facts, you will find little of interest.
If, on the other hand, you are aware of TH as a poet, there is much here to fascinate and enjoy. Throughout his life he corresponded with a large number of people. There are letters here to his own relatives, to his children Frieda and Nicholas (both as children and as adults), to several great friends whom he met in the 1950s in Cambridge and, yes, there are some love-letters (one is given to understand they are not ALL here. And why should they be ? We don't OWN the man.) There are also letters, as one would expect, to other literary figures : Seamus Heaney, Thom Gunn, Yehuda Amichai the Israeli poet who Ted Hughes befriended in the Sixties and whose work he promoted. The picture that emerges is of a deeply intelligent and well-read individual who thought much on subjects such as the environment (before it was a la mode), shamanism, the role of education, the importance of Shakespeare,etc. etc. He worked closely with several Eastern European poets-Holub, Popa, Pilinszky, Csokits, Herbert-at a time when these literatures were scarcely known in Britain. And he was passionately committed to the young, very encouraging, never patronizing. Receiving a letter from him must have been an experience.
These letters are worth reading and then re-reading .They don't give one the feeling that one is prying into someone's dirty laundry. They are not heavily edited. Though some of them are heartbroken and some of them are angry, they do not present a picture of a victim. Or of someone who deserves to be vilified. The vilifiers will no doubt continue their vilifying. Let 'em. These letters will carry on shining.
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Initial post: 18 Nov 2007 18:11:01 GMT
Last edited by the author on 18 Nov 2007 18:16:37 GMT
Gloria S. Salzborn says:
Excellent review. Let us hope that now one of England's greatest poets will be revered.
Posted on 13 Dec 2011 18:18:27 GMT
Janet Malcolm told a little of the story of the literary world's treatment of Hughes wrt Sylvia Plath's biography. It tells us a lot about the power of people's ability to believe what they want to believe. And all the time their blindness to the fact that they are writing about someone who has lost a spouse, and was consequently (and irrationally) given the blame for it.
It says a lot about the weaknesses of people, so quite a sad story, really. Then again, my experience of some offices I've worked in makes it unsurprising :(
But as you say, these letters shine through all the same. The most casual of them are no less than excellent written English
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