Monday, March 23, 2009

suicide of nicholas hughes, son of ted

The London-based Times has the very sad news today that Ted Hughes' son Nicholas, an eminent marine biologist, has hanged himself in Alaska at the age of 47. The headline reads 'Sylvia Plath's son commits suicide'. Plath left her two young children, Nicholas and his sister Frieda, in another room when she gassed herself in London in 1963. Ted Hughes' second wife Assia Wevill also gassed herself, with their four-year-old daughter Shura. Nicholas was a fisheries scientist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Unlike the Times piece, an obituary by columnist and author Dermot Cole in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner does not permit the Sylvia Plath tragedy to completely overshadow an account of the personality and work of a lovely-sounding man who had "made lasting friendships in Fairbanks with those who shared his inventive interests in such varied pursuits as stream ecology, pottery, woodworking, boating, bicycling, gardening and cooking the perfect pecan pie. Nick guided many people in the winter to spots along the Tanana to savor the art of burbot fishing through the ice.

"He spent countless summer hours in his research of grayling and salmon in the Chena River, exhibiting all the patience and wonder that defines a great fisherman. One of his innovations was rigging underwater cameras to get a three-dimensional view of the fish feeding in the passing current. Many of the best days of his life were in the company of his partner Christine Hunter, also a biologist. He resigned from the faculty more than two years ago, but continued his research."

Hughes is reported to have been suffering from depression. The Times simplistically writes: "Although there is acceptance that depression can be inherited, there is no known suicide gene that could connect Dr Hughes's death to his mother’s." On Saturday the Guardian's John Crace had one of his mischievous Digested Reads, of Plath's The Bell Jar.

Ted Hughes' own love of fishing, and his close observations of fish, permeate his work. The first Ted Hughes poem I encountered as a teenager was 'Pike'. The poem 'October Salmon' is one of his most acclaimed.

Nicholas's sister Frieda is a successful artist, poet, children's writer and contributor to the press. Her statement on her brother's death, quoted in the Times, says:“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.”

Shortly before his death, he had left his post at the university to set up a pottery at home and “advance his not inconsiderable talent at making pots and creatures in clay”.

When Ted Hughes died in October 1998, the journalist and fisherwoman Annalisa Barbieri wrote an obituary for the Independent entitled: 'Fishing: Farewell to a master of rhythm, rhyme and rainbow trout'. She wrote: "The papers will be full of Ted Hughes this weekend. Ted the literary genius; Ted - Poet Laureate; Ted, ex-husband of Sylvia Plath. But I never knew him as any of these things very much. To me, Ted Hughes was much more interesting than just being a poet. Ted was a fisherman."

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