English and Drama blog

30 October 2013

Keith Sagar and Ted Hughes

I was very sad last week to learn of the sudden death of the literary critic and poet, Keith Sagar (1934-2013). Keith’s literary interests were wide ranging but I think he will perhaps be best known as a critic of D.H. Lawrence and Ted Hughes.

The British Library has a large and varied Hughes collection which includes the archive acquired from Carol Hughes in 2008, letters to Hughes’s sister Olwyn dating from the 1950s and 1960s, and a collection of correspondence between Hughes and Sagar which was acquired in 2001.

The correspondence between the two men spanned nearly three decades from 1969 to 1998. In his introduction to an edition of the correspondence which was published by the British Library last year Keith explained that he first wrote to Hughes in 1969 after a car accident prevented him from being able to attend a reading which the poet gave in Manchester. Hughes replied to Keith’s letter and so began a correspondence and a friendship which continued until Hughes’s death. Hughes favoured a cooperative approach to his work and often sent examples of his work in progress to Keith and other friends for comment. Keith in turn asked Hughes for his opinion on his literary and critical output.

I know from my own experiences of cataloguing Hughes’s archive that he was very well read on subjects as diverse as environmental science, shamanism, folklore, fishing and Shakespeare, all of which feed into the richness of his literary output. We can see in their correspondence that Keith was not afraid to point out to Hughes that some of his more obscure references might not be quite as clear to his less well read audience. Aside from literary criticism the men wrote about more personal matters from nature to holidays and the achievements of their children.

On a personal note Keith was always generous with his formidable knowledge of all things Hughesian and a great help when I was working with the Library’s Hughes collections. He will be greatly missed and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.


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