Nicholas Hughes, the son of the late poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, committed suicide last Monday, forty-six years after his mother took her own life. According to his sister, poet Frieda Hughes, the forty-seven-year-old, who hanged himself in his Alaska home, had struggled with depression for some time.
According to the Times of London, Ted Hughes, who held the post of British poet laureate from 1984 until his death, in 1998, had kept from his son the details of Plath's much-publicized suicide until his adolescence. Only shortly before the elder Hughes died did he publish poems exploring Plath's death and the impact it had on his children, in Birthday Letters (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998). Hughes's second wife, Assia Wevill, who was a caregiver to Nicholas, also took her own life, in 1969.
Despite the curiosity surrounding his parents' lives, Nicholas Hughes lived largely removed from the public eye as an evolutionary biologist and an expert in stream fish, an interest he shared with his father, Frieda Hughes told the Times of London. He was unmarried and had no children.
"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," said Frieda, whose poetry collection Stonepicker and The Book of Mirrors is forthcoming from Harper Perennial in May. In a poem, "Childhood Photograph," from the new book, she describes a family picture from the 1960s: "My mother is laughing, / Holding me against the bulge / Of my unborn brother, kitten strangling / In my eager palms."
"Nick wasn't just the baby son of Plath and Hughes and it would be wrong to think of him as some kind of inevitably tragic figure," a family friend told the Times of London.
On the Guardian newspaper's book blog, Judith Flanders today wrote that the notion of Nicholas being the victim of some sort of Plath curse is "repellent. Repellent to those afflicted with depression; repellent to those whose friends or family have been so burdened; even repellent to lovers of poetry."