Sylvia Plath's son Nicholas commits suicide

"He had been battling depression for some time," says his sister, Freida Hughes.

Published March 23, 2009 3:29PM (EDT)

Here is a piece of truly sad news: Nicholas Hughes, an evolutionary biologist and the 47-year-old son of writers Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, committed suicide last Monday in Alaska, where he lived and worked studying stream fish. His sister, Frieda Hughes, told the Times of London of her brother's death, adding that "He had been battling depression for some time."

Nicholas was a toddler when his mother, who had written about a young woman's nervous breakdown in "The Bell Jar," and who had separated from Hughes after learning of his affair with Assia Wevill, killed herself by putting her head in an oven. Six years later, Wevill, who had become Nicholas and Frieda's stepmother, killed herself and her own child by turning on a gas stove in a sealed room.

According to reports, Hughes kept the details of Plath's and Wevill's suicides from Nicholas for many years. Hughes didn't address the deaths until his 1998 book, "Birthday Letters." He died shortly after its publication.

Nicholas received a doctorate at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, where he became an assistant professor and an expert in "stream salmonid ecology," according to the New York Times. One of his graduate students told the Times, "Alaska could use more biologists like Nick who still display wonder at the small things around them."

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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