A Life of Maud Gonne: a broader picture of a difficult and fascinating woman

Book review: Kim Bendheim brings fresh perspectives to bear on Yeats’s filthy rich, anti-Semitic muse

Maud Gonne. Photograph: Keystone/Getty

Maud Gonne. Photograph: Keystone/Getty

For the common Irish reader, the problem with Maud Gonne is that our images of her are already well established. There is Yeats’s troubling muse, who inspired some of the greatest poetry in the English language. Then there is the Joan of Arc of Irish nationalism, who never quite made it to the stake; and the monstre sacré of her later years, firing off letters to the newspapers and organising endless petitions, most memorably, if maliciously, captured in her son-in-law Francis Stuart’s strange masterpiece, Black List, Section H.

The great virtue of Kim Bendheim’s book is that she brings fresh perspectives – non-academic, contemporary and American – to bear on the known facts of Gonne’s life, and taken together they are revelatory. 

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