The war of words between the Ted Hughes Estate and Jonathan Bate’s publisher HarperCollins has continued, with the Estate responding to what it describes as HarperCollins’ "latest extraordinary statement" about Bate’s newly published biography Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life.
The row began with the Estate seeking “retraction, correction and apology for 15 errors of fact and three unsubstantiated assertions identified in 16 pages" of Bate’s biography. The row involves Bate's account of the journey from London back to Devon with the body of the late poet in 1998. Bate's book describes the "accompanying party stopping, as Ted the gastronome would have wanted, for a good lunch on the way", but the Estate said this was "totally false". Another "major factual error" highlighted by the Estate, was the "failure to mention the presence of the poet’s wife, Mrs Carol Hughes, at his hospital bedside, or even in the room, in his account of her husband’s last hours of life".
HarperCollins responded to the Estate's claims by defending Bate's work, saying: "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".
The publisher later issued a second statement saying: “We are disappointed that the Ted Hughes estate have continued to issue defamatory comments about Professor Sir Jonathan Bate's biography of Ted Hughes. Jonathan Bate’s book is a work of first rate scholarship and has been impeccably researched over the course of five years. He is the first scholar to have made use of the voluminous Ted Hughes archives placed in the British Library, and the papers sold to Emory University, Atlanta. In addition to the detailed knowledge of the written sources (both published and unpublished), his book has been written with the close co-operation of Olwyn (Ted Hughes's sister) and Frieda (Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath's daughter)." HarperCollins reiterated its "steadfast support" of the author and his book.
But in a further riposte, the Estate has now responded to HarperCollins once more, calling its reply an "extraordinary statement", and claiming: “The author did not seek any comment from the widow of the poet, Mrs Carol Hughes, on any of these specific matters, even on those issues relating most closely to her, and those which seem so unlikely that they surely required confirmation or denial from the person most closely involved.”
The statement concluded: “The response in the publishers’ latest statement is the unfounded claim that the Estate is 'issuing defamatory comment' when all we have done, and will continue to do until they are corrected, is to point out the 15 factual errors and three unsubstantiated assertions in the 16 pages of the book brought to Mrs Hughes’s attention to date, and which pertain to her directly.”
Last year, The Bookseller reported that Carol Hughes had withdrawn her co-operation on the biography leading Bate to speculate whether "some secret is being guarded." However, the Estate denied these claims and argued that support was withdrawn as the estate feared Bates "might be straying from the remit agreed for the book" by focusing more on Hughes' life than his writing.
Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life was published by William Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins, on 8th October.