25 March 2009

New information on Nicholas Hughes

The media blitzkrieg surrounding the suicide of Nicholas Hughes has led many to immediately connect it to his mother's suicide in 1963. Ben Hoyle at The Times authored "Death of Ted Hughes 'drove his son Nicholas towards suicide'", a follow-up article to his March 23 news-breaking story.

In this article, he quotes one of Nicholas Hughes's oldest friends, Joe Saxton, in which Saxton's opinion is that it was the death of Ted Hughes - and not that of Sylvia Plath's - that had a direct relationship to Nicholas' mental health troubles, and ultimately his suicide.

While it is certainly more plausible for this to be the "cause" but unfortunately with suicide it is really all a mystery. Which in part has fuelled the conversity for almost five decades surrounding Sylvia Plath's death. Cancer and other causes of death are readily explainable and, to a certain degree, understandable. Suicide is the exact opposite. It is a private decision made for private reasons and no matter whether a note was left or not, Nicholas' reasons were his reasons there is not much more we can say about that. We want to be able to name something - place blame, whatever - in the absence of something concrete or tangible - like a tumor. But it really just makes us all look a bit desparate. I'm not a medical doctor and don't put much stock in psychobabble, but nothing everything is explainable and that is ok.

Mr. Saxton spoke with another friend of Nicholas's in Alaska and, according to the Hoyle article Nicholas was in a rough patch and "he just fell through the cracks in one brief moment". This is actually closer to Sylvia Plath's suicide, as anyone who has studied her final weeks well knows. Plath moved to London in December 1962 and was very busy fixing up her flat, making plans and commitments, seeing friends, and writing really wonderful prose and poetry. And then comes that weekend when she could no longer cope, and she, too, "fell through the cracks in one brief moment".

Ted Hughes, in letters to Keith Sagar, blamed the drug that Plath was put on for her suicide. Of all the theories and rationalizations for Plath suicide, this may fit more than anything else. It is quite possibly the only thing that "changed" in the last week or so of her life. If Nicholas, too, experienced adverse reactions to anti-depressant medication it could also have had an influence on the decision he made on March 16. What a hypocrite I am, trying to explain it!


Catty said...

I think the quote from Mr Saxton about NH understanding what was happening to him and taking steps to fight it off through research and lifestyle changes is far more telling. He loved life and the natural world and he didn't court death. He knew it was happening, he tried to stop it, he couldn't. It hightens the sense of powerlessness. And it rather scares the hell out of me. There but the grace of White Goddess etc etc

ariellegodslioness said...

It seems to me Nicholas chose a quiet life of research & solitude over the more traditional route of marrying, having a wife & kids, etc.
Just like his father, I think his reaction to the hoopla over his mother/father's relationship repelled him enough to STAY AWAY! He has so much of his father's coping mechanisms - the natural world. Inevitably, getting away doesn't make the sadness & loneliness any easier or the illness treatable. For a person who wants to live below the radar, I feel he lived his life with dignity. He must of had a psychotherapist of some sort, right? Now after his death, the world will inevitably has LOTS of say about the quiet, humble Nicholas Hughes....

Anonymous said...

Please, Peter, please do not say that drugs are bad. They CAN be bad. One drug may have a bad effect on one person and be a lifesaver for another person. We don't yet know why.I hope that one day we will.

When a depressed person is put on psychotropic medication, it's so important that they be monitored carefully, by the professionals and by friends and family where appropriate. Suicides can occur especially at this time. Heartbreakingly, some people do "fall through the cracks."

I think it's fine to be wary.Some doctors are gaga about medication when psychotherapy would be much more helpful.But the fact is, there are many people out there managing their lives, being functional, partly because of chemical intervention.There will always be suicide but before medications like this came along in the 60s, the only treatments given to most depressives were electroshock (Sylvia experienced this, and it could be barbaric) and lobotomy. Some progress has been made.

One of the reasons people will NOT seek help is, they've been told the drugs are rubbish. Please don't take all hope away from people when they most need it.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Panther - so as not to further risk alienating myself or offending anyone, the comment in the post was removed. I apologize; I've tried in the past to keep personal opinions* and the like to a minimum on this blog and this was a slip.

*Except, of course, where Harold Bloom is concerned.

Anonymous said...

Not offended, Peter, I know it's a tricky subject. I've recently found out that my own anti-depressants have been playing havoc with my weight and health generally-I've been on them 10 years, been back to the doctor several times, and nothing was ever said about the connection. I didn't know there WAS a connection. That is sloppy prescribing. These drugs can be many things but I think we are all agreed that they are not SWEETS.

Poor Nick Hughes. I understood from Ted Hughes' published letters that their relationship was good and that they were both passionate about fish, rivers and wildlife. What a marvellous thing to share with one's children ! Now I want to picture them together, in Alaska, camping out in the wild and hearing the wolves sing.

Anonymous said...

~What a hypocrite I am, trying to explain it!~

It's only natural, Peter, that we all would like to be able to explain it...to understand what happened. So we tend to want to talk it out....to try and make some sense of it. Probably, for many of us, in the face of Plath's death, it was some consolation to know that her children survived, that they were able to free themselves, to some extent, from the past and go on with their lives. At least, speaking for myself, that's partly why this is so tragically disappointing. One can only imagine how Frieda must feel.

Having a sister myself, and knowing the tragic life Nicholas and Frieda have shared, I can't imagine how he could bring himself to do this, knowing that it would leave Frieda to bear this terrible heartbreak alone.

At the same time, I can't help but feel that Nick's hold on his life must always have been tenuous, in spite of his accomplishments, which were considerable. But everyone loses their parents at some point. Most people, by the time they're middle-aged, which Nick was by the time his father died in 1998 (he was 36), are already independent enough that they can come to terms with the father's loss. Nick wasn't 8 yrs old like Sylvia was when her father died. So, he must have been very fragile emotionally to remain so devastated 10 yrs after his father's death. I suspect that there is something else behind it. We can only speculate.

Personally, I have never been able to understand the suicidal impulse. No matter how difficult, how painful it can be (and it can), there is just too much potential for beauty in this life, in this world, to want to put an end to it. Of course, that's just my opinion. I've never been on medication for clinical depression, so I speak from a position of ignorance in that respect. --Jim Long

Anonymous said...

Jim, all I can say is (and I understand this is often mentioned in suicide notes) the suicidal person really does feel like a burden on everyone else, and that things will only get worse.That is delusional,in most cases. WE can see quite clearly that he has not done Frieda,or anyone else, a favour but maybe he really did believe it. I think the old phrase "while the balance of mind was disturbed" is a rather wise one.

I agree we all lose our parents, and he was not a child when this happened. I'm not a psychotherapist but perhaps Nick's inner child (I know this sounds psychobabbly, sorry for that !) did feel abandoned when Ted died.It sounds like they were soul-mates as well as father and son, a wonderful thing but inevitably painful for the one left behind . . . And as you say, Jim,it's likely there were other factors also.I believe there almost always are.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I just want to say how I appreciate being able to discuss this on your intelligent and very sane forum, Peter. As Jim says, when this sort of thing happens, we tend to want to talk it out. ESPECIALLY if there are no clear answers.

How far we've come, as a society, from the times when suicide was NEVER discussed but was seen as shameful, even wicked. It's still terribly disturbing, and it always will be, but I think you'd have to go a long way nowadays to find someone insisting it was sinful.

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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." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • 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 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: 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.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • 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.