Kathryn Hughes counsels Wilson and his rival Hillier (suspected of being the author of the AN WILSON IS A SHIT Betjeman letter) to chill out.
Suspicion initially fell on Bevis Hillier, a man who gave up 25 years of his life to writing a monumental three-volume life of Betjeman, commissioned by the poet himself before his death. Hillier has strongly denied being the hoaxer, but in any event has a long list of grievances against Wilson, whom he accuses of handing out a deliberately insulting review of the second volume of his book and of leaning heavily on his research without acknowledging the fact. Wilson, in his sprightly way, has responded with some choice bits of venom.
As the whole sorry business suggests, there is no literary spat more hateful than that between two biographers working on the same subject. Novelists may flounce over shortlist tampering, historians may get shirty about mutual accusations of political bias, but biographers will tear each other to death rather than give up their subject to a rival.
I think this stuff is smashing for the whole genre. I can’t remember the last time an article about biography didn’t put me right to sleep. I’d like to see more people prepared to humiliate and perhaps push their peers under a bus over ideas and intellectual ownership. It might cull the herd somewhat. (And just so you don’t think I’m being too high brow in my intellectual elitism: dude’s name is Bevis. Heh heh heh.)