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Book Review: The Fascination Of What's Difficult: A Life Of Maud Gonne

The Fascination Of What's Difficult: A Life Of Maud Gonne by Kim Bendheim

Maud Gonne was a rich debutant in Victorian England who rebelled and became obsessed with Irish nationalism. Maud travelled, claimed to do some spying and was dismissed by the sexist Parnell. Maud wanted to be the Irish Joan Of Arc for attention. So much is unknown about her. She never seemed to learn Irish. So much is guessed at.


Did she actually doante money? Or did she get others to give her money? She had a son out of wedlock by her married French lover. She left him to be raised by another and he died. She met Yeats. She studied the occult. This book needed editing and to be structured better. There was adultery and another lovechild born, her daughter Iseult.


Maud became a journalist and had another lover. Why didn't this have an editor? She dumped her daughter in a convent and went off to free prisoners and write about war and prison reform and engage in rabid anti-semitism. The Dreyfus Affair showed Maud at her antisemite worst. Her daughter was equally rabidly anti-semitic. For the whole Belle Epoque era, anti-semitism was the default mindset. Maud lived in Paris while flitting back to Ireland to playact as the Irish Joan Of Arc.


Maud also engaged in recreational drug use. Yeats' weird obsession with Maud Gonne is noted. Maud Gonne supported the Boers and was a mythmaker aka a liar. She was manipulative. Photos don't show her alleged great beauty. There is no real mention of the suffragette movement – Maud seems to have had no interest in it. Maud was utterly ravaged by time and male expectations and her ill fated marriage to Major John MacBride.


There are mis-spellings and her life tired her out. Maud Gonne rewrote her own history to suit the needs of the present. Her marriage was a nightmare from hell. Maud Gonne converted to Catholicism. Exposition is repeated. Maud Gonne never critiqued the catholic church. Her life and image was a construction. Maud Gonne planned to kill the King of England whilst on her honeymoon. Nobody liked MacBride by the end, not even Maud.


Her son by MacBride created Amnesty. There were claims that MacBride molested members of Maud's household. MacBride's execution for his part in the 1916 rising overshadowed that accusation. Maud and MacBride's marriage was preposterous and complicated. At one point in later life Maud ended up jailed for trying to get into Ireland.


Maud's fame faded and she and her daughter were nazi sympathizers. It is hard to like her. This was okay though the author seems rather obsessed with the question of Yeats and Maud had sex and if they did, how it was for them. The British watched her and wouldn't let her into Ireland but she got in anyway. She would know Nehru and report on World War 1 and still be a rabid anti-semitie after World War 2. She shrugged off 1916 and Yeats proposed to her daughter, which is creepy. Yeats creepiness is not really commented on. This was superficial.


Best Lines:

“Fundamentally unsuited for self-government.”


“Worldwide scourge.”


“Dubious distinction.”


“Medical geography.”


“Woman of fixed purpose-”


“Herediary enemy.”


“Generationally removed.”


“Irresolute character.”


“Rearranging events for public display.”


“Hostile, self-serving.”


“Loved operatic drama.”


“Choices were few.”


“Had a reputaiton for standing in the doorways of tenants' dirt-floor hovels and barring the way to policemen.”


“No money, nor the expectation of inheriting any.”


“Legally helpless.”


“Went for the pathos.”


“Ridiculous spectacle.”


“Implacable forces.”


“To help damn.”


“Clenched fists and eyes full of menace,”


“Bitterly warring factions.”


“Melodramatically promised.”


“Perpetually broke.”


“Devotion like mine (not) be lightly thrown away...”


“Heard much scandal about her.”


“Her unravelling rapid.”


“Morally rather despicable Lucien.”


“Vile, abandoned woman.”


“Having thrown a chair at the chairman.”


“Who for years had dogged her footsteps,”


“Bitter longing.”


“That is not a recognised means of warfare.”


“Class distinctions in Victorian England were strictly maintained by custom, if not law.”


“Men whose attentions she flicked away, as if with a fan.”


“Lady readers.”


“She has hypnotized the world with the falsehood of her greatness; she has made great nations and small nations alike believe in her power.”


“The rising generation.”


“Make that sacrifice to convention...”


“The world should thank me for not marrying you.”


“Earn themselves attention.”


“Bleakly explained.”


“What was socially acceptable in Paris was impossible in Dublin.”


“She is used to going her own way and listens to no one. These are not good qualities for a wife.”


“Will not be happy for long.”


“Detestation.”


“Confesses to a passing tramp.”


“Counter-hissing.”


“Vilified his ex-wife in pungent, searing language.”


“Taboo Victorian topics of conversation.”


“Cruel injustice.”


“Die miserably.”


“Dead father to become a hero.”


“Negative, conspiracy-orientated opinion.”

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