Hughes' widow criticises Jonathan Bate biography

Hughes' widow criticises Jonathan Bate biography

The Ted Hughes Estate has asked HarperCollins and author Jonathan Bate to "apologise for significant errors of fact" in Bate’s book about the poet, as well "damaging and offensive claims" about Hughes’ widow, Carol Hughes.

In a statement issued by the solicitor for the estate, Damon Parker of Harcus Sinclair, the estate said it was "also seeking a retraction of the factual errors and an undertaking that they will be corrected in any further printed editions of the book, and immediately in the e-book version now on sale".

But HarperCollins, whose William Collins imprint published Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life on 1st October, said it stood by Bate’s "scholarly and masterly biography", and that "every effort” was made to “corroborate all facts used in the book".

The Ted Hughes Estate said it had found 18 "factual errors or unsupported assertions in just 16 pages of the book that pertain directly to Mrs Carol Hughes - some significant, some minor - and details of all of these have been sent to the publisher and author for a response".

The errors are mainly in parts of the book "which deal primarily with the highly-fraught period just before and after her [Carol Hughes’] husband's death in October 1998, and which appear to involve her personally".

Hughes’ widow has not read the book, said the statement, "and does not currently plan to read it, but the press serialisation and news coverage, together with comments by respected friends and reviewers, suggest to her that the portrait presented of her late husband appears to be something of a caricature".

Carol Hughes said: "The number of errors found in just a very few pages examined from this book are hard to excuse, since any serious biographer has an obligation to check his facts and to ensure, as the author affirms in his recent Guardian article, that he should only fix in print those things that have been fully corroborated."

A statement from HarperCollins said: "HarperCollins stands by Jonathan Bate's scholarly and masterly biography of Ted Hughes. Professor Bate has made every effort to corroborate all facts used in the book which was made more difficult by the withdrawal of support for the project by the Ted Hughes Estate. Professor Bate regrets any minor errors that may have been made which are bound to occur in a book of over 600 pages that draws upon such voluminous and diverse source material.

"Professor Bate's book has been written in good faith and facts verified by multiple sources including family members and close friends. Any errors found will of course be corrected in the next printing."

Bate’s book has been favourably reviewed. The Times’ Philip Collins found it “gripping and at times ineffably sad” and said it would be the “standard biography of Ted Hughes for a long time to come”.

The Sunday Times’ John Walsh said it was a "fascinating" work of "head-spinning revelations and intense physicality" which does not judge its subject.

Jeremy Noel-Todd, reviewing for the Sunday Telegraph and Daily Telegraph, said the lack of direct sources owing to the withdrawal of co-operation by the Ted Hughes Estate was frustrating, but he praised Bate’s "vast command of archival material". The FT’s John Sutherland said the book was "important, flawed but ultimately triumphant".