I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized An Angry Wind

An Angry Wind

John Wilson Foster
The Adulterous Muse: Maud Gonne, Lucien Millevoye and W.B. Yeats, by Adrian Frazier, Lilliput Press, 320 pp, €20, ISBN: 978-1843516781 Beyond dispute are Maud Gonne’s energy, initiative, charisma, and height. At an eye-catching six feet or more (6’5” is the tallest hero-worshipping estimate I’ve read; Adrian Frazier gives us 6’2”), she was tall but not pointlessly tall, tall beyond utility as Martin Amis claimed of Nicholson Baker. Her height, once she got into her stride, usefully gave her a leg up in a pre-Pathé News, pre-TV era of street politics, of milling crowds, marches, riots and open-air platforms. She was always visible and early came to relish and exploit that visibility (a literal high profile). Adrian Frazier’s new book recreates for me, for the first time, and perhaps without that intention, the sheer physicality of the woman, endlessly on the move from house to house, office to office, country to country (and sometimes lover to lover), cutting a swathe, it seems like, through men shorter than herself and often under her feet, getting between her and the mirage of a free independent Irish republic. She seems to have turned up everywhere in turbulent Ireland from the Land League to the Emergency, a larger-than-life Zelig but far from content with a minor role, instead elbowing her way to centre stage even when she wasn’t invited (which she usually was). Frazier’s portrait of Gonne in its essential commotion is very different from my previous impression of her as a figure whose actions, such as trying to hurl the little streets upon the great, nonetheless had the static quality of heraldry. For Yeats her beauty was a tightened bow and out of nature, unique for her own day. “She lived in storm and strife,” Yeats may write (“That the Night Come”, 1912), but her “high and solitary and most stern” beauty is the frozen image that prevails. The women she was compared to, Helen of Troy, Joan of Arc, Pallas Athene, or embodied, Cathleen ni Houlihan, Deirdre and the Countess Cathleen, reinforced for me this heraldic and essentially symbolic condition in which I came to think of her, suspending my moral and even political judgement. Her photographs are to me of a handsome and impressive rather than beautiful woman, but that is no doubt because standards of beauty change, and in any case her handsomeness is in harness with symbolism rather than sexual…

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