Burning the Foxes: The dialectics of Ted Hughes

O'Connor, Daniel
Burning the Foxes: The dialectics of Ted Hughes. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, University of Liverpool.

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This thesis examines the dialectics at the heart of Ted Hughes’s work. There is no single dialectic that forms a master-narrative, but they are all nonetheless structured around Hughes’s idea of man as divorced from his ‘true nature’. This divorce establishes oppositional ideas such as intellect against instinct, man against nature, man against woman and language against truth. I argue that Hughes critiques these oppositional tendencies throughout his career, either by taking sides or trying to find a synthesis between ostensibly oppositional stances. One of these dialectics, intellect against instinct, poses a direct challenge to the act of literary criticism in the form of the foundational myth of Hughes’s poetic career. This is his dream of the ‘burnt fox’, where the fox leaves a bloody paw print on his undergraduate essay as a warning to the damaging effect that such ‘rational’ thinking has on the creative spirit. Part of my purpose in this thesis is to show that, on the contrary, the mode of thinking that Hughes dismisses (including what he calls the ‘tyrant’s whisper’ – Continental Theory) is not only conducive to reading his work, but parallels the kind of thinking that takes place in his poems. As such, the work of Jacques Lacan plays an important role in this thesis in regards to the structuring Hughes’s delineation of the split subject in relation to language and the other. This thesis is not a Lacanian reading of Hughes per se, but finds congruities in their work as a means of addressing Hughes’s poems. Accordingly, Followers of Lacan such as Slavoj Žižek, Eric Santner and Teresa Brennan prove similarly useful in this regard, as each offers ways of thinking that are correlative to Hughes. The chapters of this thesis follow the progression of Hughes’s career. Chapter One investigates his early interest in how man’s relationship with nature can be represented in language through animal symbolism. Chapter Two examines Crow (1970/1) at length, arguing that the collection is the crux of Hughes’s work in that it contemplates almost all of the dialectics that emerge from his understanding of man as divorced from his ‘true nature’. The third chapter follows his poetry of mourning and melancholia during the early to mid 1970s, as Hughes goes from abandoning English altogether in his experiments with Orghast (1971) to creating a vision of the Goddess in the mystical sequences of Gaudete (1977) and Cave Birds (1978). This is followed in Chapter Four by a discussion of how Hughes resolves some of his dialectical thinking by returning to animal and landscape poetry in Remains of Elmet (1978), Moortown (1979) and River (1983). Chapter Five takes advantage of his appointment as Poet Laureate in 1984 and publication of his parable of Englishness, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (1992), to take a slight diversion and address his dialectic of nationhood. Finally, Chapter Six examines how Hughes’s final collection, Birthday Letters, relates back to his poetry of mourning and melancholia (looking at Crow in particular) and ultimately to the central concern of this thesis: Hughes’s dialectical idea of the ‘true self’.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy)
Additional Information: Date: 2012-11 (completed)
Uncontrolled Keywords: literary criticism, twentieth century poetry, Ted Hughes
Subjects: ?? PE ??
?? PR ??
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Engineering > School of Engineering
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2013 12:09
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2022 04:37
DOI: 10.17638/00008393
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/8393