Got carried away reading Jonathan Bate's Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life yesterday and finished it this morning. Left with a feeling of mild depression. Good to find out more about Hughes post-1963, but can't escape the sense that his was a life underpinned by dreadful suffering - of himself and others.
I can't see myself wanting to read anything other than the wonderful poetry of Hughes and Sylvia Plath (and their often wonderful prose also) in future. I feel like I know too much about stuff I shouldn't.
Bate is a lot more sensitive in his treatment of the material than I'd expected from reading Janet Malcolm's demolition piece in the NYRB last year (I think it was), but I've just glanced at what she wrote again and, despite the many good things I can think of to say about Bate's book I can see her point. An inability to do real justice to the writer and those around him is built into the whole biographical process. But if all this secures Hughes's place as a great poet then I suppose it's gruesomely necessary.
One thing about myself as a reader that hit me very strongly reading the biography was just how much I love Hughes's work for children and in what high regard I hold it. Bate hardly seems to take books like What is the Truth? Under the North Star and Season Songs seriously. For me, they represent something close to pure delight and, in that simple sense, real vision.
I suppose that's why the biographical aspect of the whole Hughes/Plath phantasmagoria gives me a headache. There's something essentially cheerful and life-affirming about TH that it misses. Mind you, it could well be that I'm just one of the infantile adults that Hughes joked he wrote Season Songs for.