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Ted Hughes

The Unauthorised Life

Jonathan Bate


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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (10/12/2015)
Paperback (9/27/2016)


Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate, was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. He was one of Britain's most important poets, his work infused with myth; a love of nature, conservation, and ecology; of fishing and beasts in brooding landscapes.

With an equal gift for poetry and prose, and with a soul as capacious as any poet in history, he was also a prolific children's writer and has been hailed as the greatest English letter-writer since John Keats. His magnetic personality and insatiable appetite for friendship, love, and life also attracted more scandal than any poet since Lord Byron. His lifelong quest to come to terms with the suicide of his first wife, Sylvia Plath, is the saddest and most infamous moment in the public history of modern poetry.

Hughes left behind a more complete archive of notes and journals than any other major poet, including thousands of pages of drafts, unpublished poems, and memorandum books that make up an almost complete record of Hughes's inner life, which he preserved for posterity. Renowned scholar Jonathan Bate has spent five years in the Hughes archives, unearthing a wealth of new material. His book offers, for the first time, the full story of Hughes's life as it was lived, remembered, and reshaped in his art. It is a book that honors, though not uncritically, Hughes's poetry and the art of life-writing, approached by his biographer with an honesty answerable to Hughes's own.

Praise For Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life

“Bate has written, capaciously, arrestingly, a kind of tragedy…often veers close to the poet’s singular perspective…He reminds us Ted Hughes was a marvelous poet: firstly, then fitfully, and then in a blaze near the end, and that the greatness in the work draws power from sources deeper than myth.” — Glyn Maxwell, New York Times Book Review

“Magisterially respectful of Hughes…An uncompromising biographer [who] hasn’t been swayed by interested parties…In Hughes’s life, with its echoes of Greek tragedy, Bate finds grist for a new perspective on his work.” — Christopher Benfey, The Atlantic

“An incisive, humane and deeply absorbing account of Hughes’s life and work.” — New York Times

“Remarkable…one of the very best biographies in years.” — Joyce Carol Oates

“A masterly biography.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Jonathan Bate is a dazzling scholar, and in TED HUGHES he sheds new light on the poet and his times…Mr. Bate embodies…the touchstone of good biography: the complete sympathy of complete detachment.” — Sara Wheeler, in "The Best Biographies of 2015," Wall Street Journal

“A vigorous biography… Bate, a professor of literature, gives sustained attention to Hughes’s poems, substantiating the poet’s own view that “as an imaginative writer, my only capital is my own life.” — The New Yorker

“An excellent biography: compulsively readable, elegantly assembled... and sensitive to the many aspects of Hughes’s grand and complicated character.” — Christopher Wiman, Wall Street Journal, front page review

“An intelligent, even donnish work of criticism that connects the poems to the life…” — Washington Post

“…Bate has provided new depth to Ted Hughes’ biography…” — Minneapolis Star Tribune

“This scrupulous biography acknowledges and explicates Hughes’s brilliance as one of the twentieth century’s great poets…Hughes deserved a fine biographer, and in Bate he got one.” — Daily Beast

“Imaginative, comprehensive…worthy of becoming the standard life of Hughes. Illuminating, elegant, and excellent.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Scrupulous and lucid… [Hughes] was a dedicated and brilliantly sharp-eyed recorder of material that might or might not one day get hammered into poetry, and even the tiny pieces that Bate gives us glitter.” — The Guardian

“Illuminating.” — Daily Mail (London)

Harper, 9780062362438, 672pp.

Publication Date: October 13, 2015

About the Author

Jonathan Bate is a biographer, critic, and broadcaster. His many books include The Genius of Shakespeare, described by Sir Peter Hall as "the best modern book on Shakespeare"; a biography of the poet John Clare, which won Britain's two oldest literary awards, the Hawthornden Prize and the James Tait Black Prize; Soul of the Age, an intellectual life of Shakespeare, which was runner-up for the Biography Prize of PEN America; and The Song of the Earth, a pioneering book on poetry and the environment. He is also the author of a novel, The Cure for Love, and the hit one-man play for Simon Callow, Being Shakespeare. A fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature, he is provost of Worcester College and professor of English literature at Oxford University. Married to the author Paula Byrne, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to higher education and was knighted in 2015 for his services to literary scholarship.

Coverage from NPR