Following the row between HarperCollins and the Ted Hughes Estate over Jonathan Bate's biography of the poet reported last week, Hughes’ widow, Carol Hughes, has issued a “final appeal” for an apology and corrections to mark the 17th anniversary of her husband’s death (Wednesday 28th October).
Earlier this month, the Estate wrote to Bate and HarperCollins highlighting what it claimed were "15 factual errors and three unsubstantiated assertions in just 16 pages" of Ted Hughes: An Unauthorised Life, seeking an apology and corrections. The "most serious" factual errors surrounded the poet's final hours in a London hospital and the description of the the events that happened afterwards.
HarperCollins responded to the claims reiterating its "steadfast" support of Bate's work, saying: "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."
In a further statement released today (28th October), Carol Hughes, who was married to the poet for 28 years, said she is “baffled and saddened” at the “apparent refusal by author Jonathan Bate and publishers HarperCollins to acknowledge serious factual errors in the book.”
She added: "It is sad and disappointing that these clear factual errors, and the various other mistakes we highlighted two weeks ago in just a few pages of the book - not to mention more errors that have come to light since - have still not been acknowledged, let alone corrected as we requested, in the electronic version of the book, the e-book, that is still circulating today.
”These significant factual errors are all due to the basic failure to check with me, as Ted's wife, the sometimes-tendentious version of events the author has described.
”No attempt has been made to deny these are errors, so it is hard to understand why they have still not been retracted and corrected. The publishers’ statement that ‘Professor Bate has made every effort to corroborate all facts used in the book’ is clearly incorrect."
In a previous statement, HarperCollins referred to these accusations as "defamatory". The publisher said: "As the title makes clear Professor Sir Jonathan Bate's book is an 'unauthorised' biography and as such did not have the cooperation of the Ted Hughes estate or Carol Hughes and instead relied on the equally credible sources of Ted's sister, daughter and close friends. Whilst their recollections may be different from those of Carol Hughes that does not in any way lessen their veracity."
Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life has been well received by the media with The Times' Philip Collins saying: "This will be the standard biography of Ted Hughes for a long time to come." The Sunday Times' John Walsh called the book a "fascinating" work of "head-spinning revelations and intense physicality" which does not judge its subject. In the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, Jeremy Noel-Todd found the lack of direct sources owing to the Hughes estate withdrawing its co-operation "frustrating", but praised Bate's "vast command of archival material." The Financial Times' John Sutherland said it is "important, flawed, but ultimately triumphant."
The book was published by William Collins on 8th October and Nielsen BookScan has recorded UK sales thus far of 2,040 copies for just under £51,000.