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Bob Holman & Margery Snyder

Another Death in the Plath/Hughes Family

By March 24, 2009

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Nicholas Hughes was a baby, asleep in the next room, when his mother Sylvia Plath gassed herself in her London kitchen in the winter of 1963. He was only seven when his step-mother Assia Wevill (for whom his father Ted Hughes had left Sylvia) killed herself and her four-year-old daughter by the same method. Now his elder sister Frieda has announced that Nicholas, who grew up to pursue an academic career as a marine biologist, has ended his own life at his home in Alaska, after long suffering from depression.

Sylvia’s death and those of other poets like Hart Crane and Reetika Vazirani have prompted lots of discussion about the connections between poetry and suicide, but Nicholas Hughes’ death cannot be considered a literary or artistic suicide, and leads us more naturally to consider whether suicide runs in families, by either genetic or experiential influence. What do you think?

from The Times (London):
Nicholas Hughes, Sylvia Plath’s son commits suicide,” by Ben Hoyle
“Dr Hughes’s death adds a further tragic chapter to a family history that has been raked over with morbid fascination for two generations.... He was only a baby when his mother died but she had already sketched out what he meant to her in one of her late poems. In Nick and the Candlestick, published in her posthumous collection Ariel, she wrote: ‘You are the one/ Solid the spaces lean on, envious./ You are the baby in the barn.’”
Death of Ted Hughes ‘drove his son Nicholas towards suicide’,” by Ben Hoyle
“Subsequent coverage around the world has homed in on the tragic resonance with his mother’s death in 1963.... However, according to some of Dr Hughes’s oldest friends, it was not until his father, then the Poet Laureate, died from cancer in 1998 that his son began to have serious mental health problems.... For both father and son, their close relationship and their shared sense of wonder at the natural world were vital sources of solace throughout difficult lives.”

from The New York Times:
Son of Sylvia Plath Commits Suicide,” by Anahad O’Connor
“Mr. Hughes was said to have protected his children from details about their mother’s suicide for many years. But in at least one poem he seemed to indicate that Nicholas, who was only 1 at the time of her death, was pained even as a small child, recalling in one stanza how Nicholas’s eyes ‘Became wet jewels/ The hardest substance of the purest pain/ As I fed him in his high white chair.’”

More on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Our reference page on Sylvia Plath, with links to buy her books and recordings
Thinking About Sylvia Plath as the Winter Darkness Comes On (November 2012)
Sylvia Plath’s Ink Drawings (November 2011)
Ted Hughes’ “Last Letter” to Sylvia Plath (October 2010)
Shrines to Ted and Sylvia (September 2010)
Sylvia Plath Speaks in Her Own Voice (April 2010)
A Star Chart for Sylvia Plath’s Birthday (November 2008)
Seeking poems written “after” Plath or Hughes (September 2003)
Ted Hughes’ Secret Memorial: The Poet’s Name Inscribed on a Hidden Slab (August 2003)

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