(Malcolm’s article appeared in The New York Review of Books, 2/11.)


by Jonathan Bate

Harper, 662 pp., $40.00

On page 313 of his biography of Ted Hughes, Jonathan Bate paraphrases a racy passage from the journal Sylvia Plath kept in the last months of her life:

On the day that she found Yeats’s house in Fitzroy Road, she rushed round in a fever of excitement to tell Al [Alvarez]. That evening, she noted in her journal with her usual acerbic wit, they were engaged in a certain activity when the telephone rang. She put her foot over his penis so that, as she phrased it, he was appropriately attired to receive the call.

We assume that Bate is paraphrasing rather than quoting Plath’s entry because of the copyright law prohibiting quotation of unpublished writing without permission of the writer or of his or her estate. As Bate wrote in The Guardian in April 2014, in an angry article entitled “How the Actions of the Ted Hughes Estate Will Change My Biography,” the estate had abruptly withdrawn permission to quote after initially enthusiastically approving “my plan for what I called ‘a literary life.’”


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