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This article is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

An Unwilling Biographer Desmond Graham

School exercise books, love letters, a medal, sketches by a child of four and by a poet illustrating his work, a map of the Normandy coast marked 'Top Secret', photographs, books, manuscripts, a hat - the materials of a biography, brought together in an exhibition room at the Bodleian on 6 June 1974 to launch the biography of Keith Douglas. And there, too, about a hundred people, looking at letters they had received in 1944, books with notes from lectures they had attended at Oxford in 1939 or a picture they had last seen on a wall at Christ's Hospital when they were sixteen. Two lovers from thirty years before, started at opposite ends of the exhibition and met in the middle. And at the centre of this extraordinary and truly celebratory occasion was Mrs Douglas, sprightly and smiling at eighty-six, surrounded by what still survived of her son's life; his writings; the thoughts of his readers, among them Ted Hughes who had single-handed restored Douglas to a wider audience through a broadcast, an article and a Selected Poems ten years before; and the friendship and love Douglas had aroused and, in his last year at least, had consciously re-directed towards her as an unspoken bequest.

A couple of months later, unpacking exhibits at Mrs Douglas's flat in Tunbridge Wells, I came across the hat. Douglas had worn it at Oxford about 1940. Unable to resist, I put it on. Mrs Douglas looked up: 'That does not ...


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