22 March 2009

Nicholas Hughes, son of Sylvia Plath, dies by suicide

The Times, and other news sources, are reporting the suicide of Nicholas Hughes, the son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

Other news stories: The Telegraph, Los Angeles Times Blog, Fairbanks Daily News Miner, The Guardian, Daily Mail, New York Times, BBC News, New York Press, Evening Standard, Toronto Globe and Mail, USA Today, CNN, ...

At the Guardian Blog, Judith Flanders writes, "Nicholas Hughes's death tells us nothing about Sylvia Plath's poetry".

Erica Wagner contribues an article to The Times, "Obsession with self set limits on Sylvia Plath's poetry".

Nicholas Farrar Hughes
January 17, 1962-March 16, 2009


Maddy said...

this is so upsetting...


Al said...

My thoughts are with Hughes' family. I hope they will get through this. :(

Anonymous said...

but this is a neverending and too much sad curse!

..im speechless. and upset.


P.Viktor said...

So very very tragic. It just seems to add to the legacy - I imagine that is how many people will see it, though they may not want to admit it. I cannot imagine that life was ever easy being the son of Plath and Hughes. To have your parents as such public property must have been terrible. A great loss.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you for your comments. This is very sad - one might say shocking - news.

Rest in peace.

Plath wrote several poems about Nicholas, or which feature Nicholas. Three of these are "For a Fatherless Son", "Nick and the Candlestick", and "Balloons". Nicholas's birth undoubtedly influenced "Three Women" as well. The experience of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood was intense and full of inspiration for Plath. Her own suicide gets a shameful amount of attention given the quantity of life, joy, and happiness that is present throughout her creative works.

angelictenderbutton said...

When you lose a parent to suicide without ever TRULY knowing her it's easy to see how his choice to exit life like this can be made. My heart aches for Frieda & family right now, she is the only one left...to carry on with these horrific burdens the rest of her life. May she be the epitome of a phoenix bird & rise above these fierce flames! Is Warren still alive????

Anonymous said...

What is truly frustrating are the headlines to this story, which aren't surprising and are thus quite predictable. Nicholas Hughes was Ted Hughes' son, too!

Anonymous said...

I am shocked. This is sad sad news...

Jungle Jim said...

I am very saddened to hear of Nicholas' death.

Like his mother, Nicholas will be forever young.

Rabbi Helmstrov said...

I knew the moment I read news of Nicholas Hughes' death that it would be seized upon as a chance to revive the grief struggle and ultimate heroism of his mother's life and death, that his death would be 'owned' by those still cloyingly wedged in the Plath phantasia, and in much the exact way that his life was possessed by it, forcing him to move far away, to isolated ground, and to take up his father's hobby with renewed focus and expertise..... this implied demonisation of Ted Hughes grates, that his son's death was so widely reported as 'son of poet Sylvia Plath...', like it's somehow still un-PC to even acknowledge the man who raised him, and who (following last years publication of his letters) is now so clearly on record as having struggled and sacrificed so much of himself to protect his children's privacy and autonomy, but who ultimately failed. If any story is to be told of his death following on from his parents experience, it is this, and not the despicable notion that Sylvia Plath's son tried in vain to paddle his way through the great tides formed under his mother's pen.

I, of course, feel greatly for Frieda and for his friends and family, and yet I also admire her goodness and grace in describing his life on his terms. He was a good man, a loyal friend, a marine biologist, an expert on fisheries, and a highly skilled potter. This is the news of his death, and while anybody who has read Ted Hughes' poetry, criticism and letters will detect the man's grace in his daughter's remarks, they will also know precisely what kind of impact those partisan distortions of Sylvia Plath's 'memory' will have had on her children's life.

There are many people who find Ariel harrowing, extraordinary, deeply affecting and startlingly immoral, but are simply too scared to say it in the face of the Plath phantasia.

For those who will make connections with his mother's life, I would plea to you to, for a small moment, extend your sympathetic imagination in the direction of those she left behind, and envisage growing up knowing your mother had killed herself when you were 1, had written how your remaining parent had failed her (and by extension, yourself), having ended a poem entitled 'Nick and the Candlestick' with the lines: 'In you, ruby. / The pain / You wake to is not yours.', to have written for you, as in her 'For a fatherless son' of his being aware of the 'absence ... like a /Death tree, color gone.' redeemed by her having found in his young face something exclusively resembling her own. 'It is good for me', as if to concede to her infant son that 'tribute', to dissociate him from his remaining parent, to characterise his smiles as seeming to be like 'found money'. I for one can only admire the man's courage and strength of character to have made such a success of his life and to have left such a contribution. In a time, just weeks after the Julie Myerson affair, it is perhaps apposite for those who rail for literary Truth, to stop and wonder exactly what kind of truth is being told.

Comments like those of Margaret Drabble, or headlines like these that depict his life as that of brave krill to an unknown heroic whale only serve to mire his life and his parent's relationship in deeper confusion, and to condone the willful destruction of his mother.

I would also ask that the more lazy members of the commentariet, desperately scavenging around for something to say on the matter, avoid any sloppy fatalistic generalisations about the inheritance of a suicidical tendency. Apart from the fact that Ted Hughes spent much of his life trying to shield his children from this connection and the Plath phantasia that carried it with such force, that Nicholas ultimately may have gone to Alaska to escape it, it remains that the effort would ultimately have been in vain.

Imagine how disturbing it would be for people who have experienced suicide in their families, have struggled to rebuild their lives on positive foundations, only to then read these articles about Sylvia Plath's son? A member of my congregation whose father committed suicide when they were 12 has admitted to me already how unsettling this has been. I would expect a little more thought, a little more responsibility, and a little more research of the facts before publishing remarks such as 'He tried to survive her' and declaring that 'Plath was heroic, in her struggles to create light and art from darkness, and so, I must and need to feel, was he.' Must and need you feel like that?

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you, Rabbi Helmstrov, for your very thoughtful posting. I am glad that you visited the blog and found it worth your time to reply.

Rabbi Helmstrov said...

By way of clarity, the headline I was referring to was this one here http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/Americas/2009/March/Nicholas-Hughes-Suicide-Adds-New-Chapter-to-Mother-Sylvia-Plath-s-Legacy.html

I should also apologise for the rather hasty tone I used in my post. I enjoy this blog very much and intend my comments to be read as addressing to some of the reflections I have read in newspapers and literary journals.

Laurie said...

One of the reasons I am staying away from 'article surfing' is because I imagine as stated by the Rabbi that the mainstream media is probably out of touch when it comes to the evolution I think the Plath/Hughes literary legacy has taken. The rabid accusations towards Ted are a minority now. Cooler and more thoughtful heads prevail and both sides are being weighed, considered and judgements more rounded. If a sensationalized reporting of Nick's death is prevalent, it is only reflective of lazy journalism and not indicative of current reality. Just because they say these things, doesn't make it so. I think that is a larger message to consider.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I live in the US where we are free to express our thoughts and
webmasters do not cringe just because one poster is a Rabbi...Thanks for deleting my post, a 20 minute waste of my time. I shall not visit this site again.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Anonymous - I am sorry to see you go. The only comments ever to be deleted were from someone in Spain whose language was offensive and had nothing to do with Sylvia Plath or the post on the blog.


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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.