Hayter, Alethea (Catharine) 1911-

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HAYTER, Alethea (Catharine) 1911-

PERSONAL: Born November 7, 1911, in Cairo, Egypt; daughter of William and Alethea (Slessor) Hayter. Education: Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, B.A., 1932. Religion: Church of England (Anglican).

ADDRESSES: Home—22 Aldebert Terrace, London SW8 1BJ, England.

CAREER: Country Life, London, England, member of editorial staff, 1934–38; held wartime positions in Gibraltar, Bermuda, Trinidad, and London, 1939–45; British Council, London, assignments in London, Athens, and Paris, 1945–67, representative and cultural attache with British Embassy for Belgium and Luxembourg, 1967–71. Governor, Old Vic Theatre; Governor, Sadlers Wells Theatre, 1974–92.

MEMBER: Society of Authors (member of committee of management), Royal Society of Literature (fellow), PEN.

AWARDS, HONORS: W. H. Heinemann Award, Royal Society of Literature, 1962, for Mrs. Browning: A Poet's Work and Its Setting; Rose Mary Crawshay Prize, British Academy, 1969, for Opium and the Romantic Imagination; named Officer, Order of the British Empire, 1970.


Mrs. Browning: A Poet's Work and Its Setting, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1962.

A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1965.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Longmans, Green (London, England), 1965.

Opium and the Romantic Imagination, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1968, published as Opium and the Romantic Imagination: Addiction and Creativity in DeQuincey, Coleridge, Baudelaire, and Others, Crucible (Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England), 1988.

(Editor and author of introduction) Thomas De Quincy, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Penguin (Harmandsworth, England), 1971.

Horatio's Version, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1972.

A Voyage in Vain: Coleridge's Journey to Malta in 1804, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1973.

(Editor and author of introduction) Edward FitzGerald, FitzGerald to His Friends: Selected Letters of Edward FitzGerald, Scolar Press (London, England), 1979.

Portrait of a Friendship: Drawn from New Letters of James Russell Lowell to Sybella Lady Littleton, 1881–1891, Michael Russell Publishing (Salisbury, England), 1990.

(Editor) The Backbone: Diaries of a Military Family in the Napoleonic Wars, Pentland Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1993.

Charlotte Yonge, Northcote House (Plymouth, England), 1996.

The Wreck of the Abergavenny, Macmillan (London, England), 2002.

Also author of introduction and notes for Confessions of an English Opium Eater, by Thomas De Quincey, and Melmath the Wanderer, by C. R. Maturin, both for Penguin. Contributor of articles and reviews to Times, Country Life, Ariel, History Today, Times Literary Supplement, and New Statesman.

SIDELIGHTS: "The definitive account of narcotics and literary creation is Opium and the Romantic Imagination, by Alethea Hayter," wrote John Sutherland in the London Times. In the book Hayter describes a number of literary episodes in which narcotic drugs such as opium and laudanum were thought to have influenced the works of notable writers. Walter Scott is said to have dictated The Bride of Lammermoor while gravely ill and taking large doses of laudanum. Similarly, Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone was said to have also been dictated under the influence of laudanum taken to relieve the acute pain of gout. "Kubla Khan," Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous poem, "composed itself in his mind during three hours of drugged slumber, with a volume of Purchas His Pilgrimage on his lap," Sutherland remarked. Upon awakening, the poet furiously transcribed the words in his mind, but upon returning to his pen and paper following an interruption, the remainder of the work had dissipated along with the effects of the drug.

"So many acid-heads and speed-freaks have come lurching through Huxley's Doors of Perception in search of poetic inspiration," a New Republic critic wrote, "that it is good to have a book that unsensationally traces the effects of opium—the daddy of all 'consciousness-expanders'—on a previous generation of romantics. With the exception of that shaky pillar of rectitude, Wordsworth, every major and most minor English romantic writers at least dabbled with opium, Miss Hayter maintains, and two of them—Coleridge and De Quincey—wrote eloquently about their addictions." Her major theme in Opium and the Romantic Imagination, according to the New Republic reviewer, is that "opium will not of itself supply the imagination with anything that was not already dormant there. At best the poet may think it has done so."

Geoffrey Grigson mentioned, in his review for the Listener, another of Hayter's conclusions that "opium might—to begin with—prolong sensations normally evanescent. Coleridge's laudanum above the Dead Sea of the Bristol Channel and Colbone's inky ravine perhaps helped him, says Miss Hayter, to prolong reverie, his sleep, at any rate of the external senses, into the writing down of 'Kubla Khan.'" Opium and the Romantic Imagination makes clear, as a Time reviewer explained, that "for most of the 19th century's mind blowers, opium meant laudanum, an alcoholic solution of the drug used as a common painkiller, Laudanum was cheaper than beer and regarded as scarcely more harmful…. Under such names as 'Mother Bailey's Quieting Syrup' and 'Venice Treacle,' it was prescribed for children more or less as aspirin is today."

In Opium and the Romantic Imagination Hayter also suggests, based on recent scholarship in the field, that the long-accepted stories of powerfully imaginative works being created under the influence of narcotics might be exaggerations at best, and complete fabrications at worst. In his review of the book, Sutherland questioned why so many readers and critics have believed the stories. "Probably because we love the idea of the magical creation," Sutherland concluded in the London Times, "though common sense tells us that it must be as hard to write well under the influence of opiates as to drive well under the influence of alcohol." In the end, the Time critic noted, "Alethea Hayter makes obvious, all writers have to face the banal truth that confronts everyone: in art, as in life, there are few long-term shortcuts."

Hayter's biography of prolific Tractarian writer Charlotte Yonge, named for the author, is "well-informed and approachable," and "a quick, pleasant, and reliable overview" of the works of a writer about whom little substantive scholarship exists, noted Claudia Nelson in Victorian Studies. "The book's purpose is that of an introduction: to inform readers without talking down to them," commented Alison Shell in the Review of the Charlotte Mary Yonge Fellowship. In ninety-one pages, Hayter provides a chronological outline of Yonge's life and career,a discussion of major themes and approaches in Yonge's work, and an analysis of her texts, techniques, and posthumous reputation. "Hayter's scholarship is fully manifest in her power of picking the telling detail," Shell remarked of Charlotte Yonge, noting that "it is only real experts who can write short books." Hayter's "unpretentious, accessible, and elegantly written introduction will help the process" of restoring general and scholarly interest in Yonge, Shell observed, concluding that the book's "very existence indicates that Yonge is now part of the literary canon."

"Here is that rare thing, a small and perfect book," London Independent writer Claire Tomalin wrote of Hayter's The Wreck of the Abergavenny. On February 5, 1805, more than half of the 402 persons on board the East India Company ship Earl of Abergavenny perished when the vessel was mercilessly crushed against the coastal rocks of Portland Bill and sunk in a severe storm. The wreck was the fault of an incompetent local pilot who ran the vessel onto the infamous Shambles Shoal off the Dorset coast of England. More than 260 crew members and passengers—men, women, and children—died in the wreck, and even though the top of the ship's masts could still be seen above the waterline after it sunk, the valuable cargo of silver coins was lost as well. Those who were able clung to the exposed rigging through the fierce and bitterly cold night before being rescued the next day, although many died of hypothermia after reaching shore. "Nowhere is Hayter's tale more exciting and harrowing than in the stories of individual tragedy and survival," stated Bess Roman in the London Independent on Sunday.

The captain of the Earl of Abergavenny was John Wordsworth, brother of poets Dorothy and William Wordsworth. John died in the wreck, swept off the ship's deck by a mighty wave, and "the effect of the disaster on the poet and his family at Grasmere, where the first news arrived on February 11, was immense," wrote Grevel Lindop in the Times Literary Supplement. First came tremendous grief, perhaps fueled by guilt. John had been considered "a slightly inferior sibling: less talented, less articulate, more deeply loved because he could be condescended to," wrote Ruth Scurr in the London Times. Hayter "shows how residual guilt, a shadowy sense of having undervalued their brother entwined with William and Dorothy's grief and inspired their eulogies of him." After failed attempts to write about his brother, William Wordsworth "saw Beaumont's painting of Peele Castle in a storm with a shipwreck" and composed "Elegiac Stanzas Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, Painted by Sir George Beaumont" in memory of his brother, wrote A. S. Byatt in the Manchester Guardian.

Apart from the tremendous loss of a beloved sibling, a large portion of the Wordsworth family's net worth was lost with the Earl of Abergavenny, because nearly a third of the silver cargo belonged to them. John had made a handsome profit smuggling opium from Bengal to Canton, "a standard perquisite of the company's captains," Lindop noted. "The notion of the Wordsworths as drug barons, like the universal and unashamed exploitation of patronage and nepotism within the Company, requires a certain effort of historical imagination, and a virtue of Hayter's book is that it provides enough context to make this possible without dissolving the alien flavour of this past moment." Lindop commented. John Wordsworth was undoubtedly a capable captain, Hayter reported, who earned his post on the ship. "And once a post was got, you were expected to work it for what it was worth, in a system where private enterprise was rampant," Lindop remarked. Captains were expected to augment their nominal incomes by taking on passengers and additional cargo. Modern standards cannot be used to judge John Wordsworth, Hayter noted. "By the standards of his day, John Wordsworth was a man of integrity, an upright honourable citizen," she wrote.

"In Hayter's hands, something extraordinary happens" with the story of the Wordsworths' tragedies and fortunes, Scurr observed. "Elegant Alethea Hayter more or less invented the biographical form which is a close study of a brief period in the life of an individual or a group," Byatt wrote, and it is that intense and concentrated scrutiny that she gives to the Earl of Abergavenny's demise and its immediate aftermath. "There are no footnotes," observed Lucasta Miller in the London Sunday Times, "yet in structure and style this study is beautifully crafted and a pleasure to read." With The Wreck of the Abergavenny, Hayter "has made a small and original masterpiece," Tomalin remarked, "and it should not go unnoticed that she celebrated her ninetieth birthday some months before it was published." In the book, "we are shown the poignancy of interlocking lives," commented Andrew Motion in the Financial Times, "and reminded that it is often the details of a great event (or a significant time) which give us the deepest insights."



Books, fall, 1988, review of Opium and the Romantic Imagination, p. 9.

Book World, March 2, 1969.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), November 23, 2002, Francis King, review of The Wreck of the Abergavenny.

Financial Times, October 12, 2002, Andrew Motion, "Casualties of a Cruel Sea," p. 5.

Guardian (Manchester, England), January 30, 1997, Susannah Clapp, "I Wish I'd Written," p. T015.

History: The Journal of the Historical Association, June, 1995, Emma Vincent, review of The Backbone: Diaries of a Military Family in the Napoleonic Wars, p. 310.

Independent (London, England), September 28, 2002, Claire Tomalin, "Storm Warning; A Disaster at Sea Darkened the Romantic Poet's Vision," p. 26.

Independent on Sunday (London, England), August 17, 2003, Bess Roman, "The Naval Hero Whose Heart Belonged to Dove Cottage," p. 19.

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, summer, 1971, M. Rieser, review of Opium and the Romantic Imagination, pp. 567-568.

Listener, December 12, 1968.

London Review of Books, June 13, 1991, review of Portrait of a Friendship: Drawn from New Letters of James Russell Lowell to Sybella Lady Littleton, 1881–1891, p. 18; January 27, 1994, review of The Backbone, p. 7.

New Republic, February 15, 1969.

New Statesman, October 11, 1999, Toby Mundy, "High Hopes," p. 56.

Nineteenth-Century Literature, December, 1991, review of Portrait of a Friendship, p. 434.

Notes and Queries, September, 1989, J. D. Gutteridge, review of Opium and the Romantic Imagination: Addiction and Creativity in De Quincey, Coleridge, Baudelaire, and Others, p. 405.

Punch, December 4, 1968.

Review of English Studies, November, 1963, Kenneth Allott, review of Mrs. Browning: A Poet's Work and Its Setting, pp. 422-423.

Review of the Charlotte Mary Yonge Fellowship, winter, 1996, Alison Shell, review of Charlotte Yonge.

Spectator, November 21, 1992, review of A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846, p. 39; December 14, 1996, review of Charlotte Yonge, p. 63.

Sunday Star-Times (Wellington, New Zealand), October 26, 2003, Iain Sharp, "Watershed Event," p. E33.

Sunday Times (London, England), September 8, 2002, Lucasta Miller "Clinging to the Wreckage," p. 42.

Time, May 30, 1969.

Times (London, England), November 2, 1998, John Sutherland, "The Myth of the Stoned Genius," p. 20; November 27, 2002, Ruth Scurr, "Brotherly Loss," p. 20; August 16, 2003, Sophie Ratcliffe, "A Poet's Pain," p. 19.

Times Literary Supplement, August 21, 1992, Lindsay Daguid, review of A Sultry Month, p. 4; November 26, 1993, Richard Holmes, review of The Backbone, p. 36; September 20, 2002, Grevel Lindop, "Ill-fated Vessel!," p. 6.

Victorian Studies, summer, 1997, Claudia Nelson, review of Charlotte Yonge, pp. 712-714.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1969.


Guardian Online, http://www.guardian.co.uk/ (September 7, 2002), A. S. Byatt, "Clinging to the Wreckage."

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