Hayter, Alethea 1911–2006

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Hayter, Alethea 1911–2006

(Alethea Catharine Hayter)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born November 7, 1911, in Cairo, Egypt; died January 10, 2006. Civil servant and author. Hayter was widely recognized for inventing a new subgenre of biography in which she focused on a very brief time period of a few weeks, describing events in great detail. The daughter of a British legal advisor to the Egyptian government, she spent her first eleven years very happily in Cairo. After her father died, she and her family moved to England, where she attended Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and earned a bachelor's degree in 1932. She then worked on the editorial staff of Country Life magazine before the onset of World War II. During the war, she functioned as what she would describe as a very tangential sort of spy for the Postal Censorship department, conducting minor operations in Gibraltar, Bermuda, Trinidad, and London. From 1945 to 1967, she worked for the British Council in such locations as London, Athens, and Paris. Finally, from 1967 to 1971, Hayter was a cultural attaché for the British Embassy in Belgium and then Luxembourg. Retiring in 1971, she remained active as governor of the Old Vic Theatre and the Sadler's Wells Theatre. As an author, Hayter was interested in biography, with her first publication being Mrs. Browning: A Poet's Work and Its Setting (1962). She then had the sudden inspiration to focus her writing on a very specific point in time, describing for readers settings, dress, food, and even the weather occurring during an event in meticulous detail. She assembled such information based on letters, diaries, and other primary research sources. The first book in her newly created subgenre is A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846 (1965). Others in this vein include A Voyage in Vain: Coleridge's Journey to Malta in 1804 (1973) and her last book, The Wreck of the Abergavenny (2002). Despite the critical success of such works, however, Hayter received the most attention for her Opium and the Romantic Imagination (1968), later published as Opium and the Romantic Imagination: Addiction and Creativity in De Quincey, Coleridge, Baudelaire, and Others (1988). Hayter, who also edited De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1971), was particularly praised for her ability to described in horrifying psychological detail the terrible effects of opium addiction. Hayter, who was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in 1970, was also the author of many other books, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1965), the fiction work Horatio's Version (1972), and A Wise Woman: A Memoir of Lavinia Mynors from Her Diaries and Letters (1996).



Times (London, England), January 12, 2006, p. 66.

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Hayter, Alethea 1911–2006

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