The Corner

Chip off the Old Block

Nicholas Hughes, whose parents were poet Ted Hughes and poetess Sylvia Plath, committed suicide last week at age 47. His mother had committed suicide in 1963, aged 30 — one of the best-known of 20th-century suicides.

Hughes’s death has brought “genetic atavism” to the fore on human-science websites. This is the tendency of genetic influences to become stronger as we age. The advice traditionally given to young men contemplating marriage was: “Get a good look at her mother.” That advice is sound, in the generality, thanks to genetic atavism.

The New York Times science blog covers genetic atavism here.

The woman for whom Ted Hughes left Sylvia Plath also committed suicide, after murdering the 4-year-old daughter she’d had with Hughes. Matters of responsibility have been much debated. Whatever the truth of the matter, on hearing of that second suicide, Hughes must surely have felt a bit like Mr. Yamaguchi.

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