Nicholas Hughes, Son of Sylvia Plath, Commits Suicide

Nicholas Hughes, a marine biologist and academic, hanged himself at home 46 years after the suicide of his mother, the poet Sylvia Plath. He was 47.

Plath gassed herself at home in 1963, after sealing Nicholas and his sister Freida Hughes off in the room next door. Her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, had recently left her for Assia Wevill, another poet's wife, and Plath was struggling to make ends meet amid a harsh winter. Writes the Times of London in its excellent obituary:

Ted Hughes was hounded for the rest of his life by feminists and Plath devotees who accused him of driving her to her death by his infidelity.

In March 1969, six years after Plath's death, Wevill gassed herself and her four-year-old daughter in a suicide apparently modeled on Plath's.

Nicholas Hughes has recently left his post at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks to make pottery in his home studio. The evolutionary ecologist had been battling depression "for some time," according to his sister Freida Hughes. From her statement:

His lifelong fascination with fish and fishing was a strong and shared bond with our father (many of whose poems were about the natural world). He was a loving brother, a loyal friend to those who knew him and, despite the vagaries that life threw at him, he maintained an almost childlike innocence and enthusiasm for the next project or plan.

If the grisly deaths of Plath and Wevill sparked questions about the propensity of poets toward suicide, Nicholas Hughes' death highlights the ongoing debate over how genetics and suicide might be linked; the expert quoted by the Times emphasized the importance of "what's happening in the here and now" over any biological factors.

Hughes reached the age of 47 and became a professor, having clearly found at least some of the emotional shelter his mother wished on him. She wrote of him in Nick and the Candlestick, "You are the one/ Solid the spaces lean on, envious./ You are the baby in the barn."

[Times of London]

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