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Yeats’s Legacies

Warwick Gould

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Maud Gonne’s Fictional Affair: ‘A Life’s Sketch’1

John Kelly

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  • 1 Note—Further information may have been gathered since this article was prepared for publication. If (...)
  • 2 The Weekly Freeman’s Summer Sketch Book, 15 July 1889, 10. National Library of Ireland, call mark I (...)
  • 3 Freeman’s Journal, 19 November, 7. Zincography was a process of producing images on zinc plates coa (...)

1Maud Gonne is better known for her political rhetoric than for wistfully romantic short stories, and even the discovery that she ventured into fiction, other than her autobiography A Servant of the Queen, comes as a surprise. The evidence that she did is provided by a rare copy of a ‘Summer Sketch Book’, published by the Weekly Freeman’s Journal on 15 July 1889, to which she contributed ‘A Life’ s Sketch’.2 The Weekly Freeman’s Journal had begun issuing these bi-annual supplements the previous December and they were to continue until December 1894, although the summer versions ceased after 1890. An ambitious attempt at a popular literary and artistic magazine for the holidays, they sold for sixpence in broadsheet newspaper format. The first issue was advertised without undue modesty as the ‘most attractive and best got-up Christmas Number ever published in Ireland’, boasted that it would contain ‘Thirty-Six Splendid Coloured Etchings’, and be produced by ‘the New Zincograph Process’, while the literary contributions were trumpeted as ‘Poems and Stories by some of the Best Writers of the Day’.3

  • 4 Katharine Tynan (1859–1931), later Hinkson, poet and novelist, was a close friend of WBY and she he (...)
  • 5 John Augustus O’Shea (1839–1905), the ‘Irish Bohemian’, was born in Nenagh and educated at the Cath (...)
  • 6 Douglas Hyde (1860–1949), poet and translator, co-founder of the Gaelic League (1893) and first Pre (...)

2In this opening number these included the poets Katharine Tynan and Rose Kavanagh, both of whom had featured with Yeats in Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland, as well as Rosa Mulholland, who was part of the same literary circle.4 Prose writers were represented by John Augustus O’Shea (who had inadvertently supplied Yeats with the source story for The Countess Cathleen), Edwin Hamilton (‘the renowned Irish Humourist’), Michael McDonagh, and f. a. Fahy, all of whom were regular contributors to Irish weekly and monthly magazines and enjoyed a flourishing local reputation.5 Members of this cohort were to reappear frequently in subsequent numbers, where they were joined by, among others, Douglas Hyde, Hannah Lynch, James Murphy, Eugene Davis, the politician David Sheehy, and the first historian of the Irish Literary Revival, w. p. Ryan.6

3The initiative for the Sketch Book series almost certainly came from Rose Kavanagh, who compiled and edited the first four numbers until her death in February 1891. She had already edited the popular juvenile Irish periodicals the Shamrock and the Irish Fireside, contributing to the latter a regular feature, ‘Uncle Remus to his Nieces and Nephews’, which she transferred to the Weekly Freeman (and the Sketch Books) after the Irish Fireside folded in 1889. She was a close friend of John and Ellen O’Leary, as well as Katharine Tynan and, indeed, Maud Gonne, who invited her to stay with her in Paris, although her premature death prevented this.

  • 7 Justin Huntly McCarthy (1856–1936), writer and politician, was the son of the journalist, novelist, (...)

4It was she who accepted ‘A Life’s Sketch’ for publication in the first summer number of the magazine, subsequently advertised as ‘Literature for the Seaside and the Country’. In format and contributors, this second Sketch Book closely followed that of the earlier Christmas number, with seven full-page illustrations, fifteen coloured pictures, and poems and stories by Katharine Tynan, Rose Kavanagh, Justin Huntly McCarthy,7 John Augustus O’Shea, and Edwin Hamilton, as well as Maud Gonne.

5At first reading ‘A Life’s Sketch’ may seem merely Mills and Boon with water, but it presents some intriguing aspects. Not the least of these is how strangely aberrant it is in its context. The plangent story of a doomed love affair between an upper-class English heroine, who ends up married to George, a ‘hard materialist’ British Army officer, and Langton, a former public-school chap turned artist, it sits uneasily, even bizarrely, amid the Irish patriotic poems, Irish historical tales, and rollicking Irish comic sketches in the tradition of Charles Lever and Samuel Lover which dominate the rest of the volume. Had Gonne been driven merely by the desire for publication and a determination to join the Irish literary club, she might easily have chosen some incident in nationalist history for her theme which would have articulated her new and unfolding political aspirations. That there is no Irish angle at all in the story indicates that these aspirations were as yet still far from established, and that in any case they were secondary to more personal entanglements and perplexities.

6In this sense, it is not only the non-Irish theme of ‘A Life’s Sketch’ which differentiates it from the other contributions to the magazine. The first-person narrative and the confessional form give it a subjective and private intimacy that also contrasts with its companion pieces. It is, as its title suggests, an autobiographical sketch in which the dying heroine reflects upon the signal passionate event of her life, but it raises the question of just whose life, no matter how briefly, is being articulated. Ostensibly it is that of Iseulte, a young English gentlewoman, now unhappily—or at least indifferently—married, who in her dying days is recalling an idyllic relationship with a soulmate, encountered, as she maintains, ‘too late’. Late, certainly, but not too late, in that with more courage she could have broken off her engagement to George, and consummated her affair with Langton. The opportunity of life’s happiness, she reflects, ‘presents itself once, and if neglected never returns again’.

  • 8 Uncle William Gonne (1830–1892) to whom Maud Gonne devotes the whole of Chapter IV of SQ. He was bo (...)
  • 9 Adrian Frazier, Adulterous Muse (Dublin, 2016), 19.

7A similar opportunity had recently presented itself to Maud Gonne, in strikingly similar circumstances, but she, unlike her heroine, had not ‘neglected’ it. In other respects, too, there is conspicuous overlapping between authoress and character. Like Iseulte, Maud was a young English gentlewoman, prone to illness, whose love affair had recently played out against an Auvergne landscape. Like her heroine, Maud Gonne was an orphan: her mother had died when she was still an infant, and although her father lived until 1886, he had been absent in India, Austria, Russia, and Turkey for most of her childhood. During this time she had, like Iseulte, been farmed out to live with a series of uncongenial relatives, epitomised by her Uncle William Gonne, to whom she devotes a whole chapter of her autobiography and who exerted a more oppressive influence on her youth than even A Servant of the Queen would suggest.8 As Adrian Frazier has recently pointed out, she ‘spent six years in London between the various big homes of her aunts and uncles while her father moved from post to post in his military career’.9

  • 10 Both Troyat and Vernay are situated in the Auvergne, a volcanic area in the Massif Central in south (...)
  • 11 SQ 63.
  • 12 Charles Hubert Millevoye (1782–1816), was a poet, elegist and translator, who bridged the period be (...)

8Other parallels present themselves. In the summer of 1888, the ailing Maud Gonne was advised by her doctor to take the waters and the air in France, and chose to go to Troyat in the Auvergne, a spa situated among hills and mountains, with scenery similar to the town of Vernay as described in her story.10 On Iseulte’s first visit to Vernay she is accompanied by her old nurse, just as Maud Gonne had travelled as a young girl to France with her revered nurse, Mary Ann Meredith, although on the fateful visit to Troyat, her ineffective, indeed compliant, chaperone was her great aunt Mary. It was in Troyat rather than at a railway station that she met her Langton, Lucien Millevoye, fifteen years her senior and, like Langton, ‘a tall dark man’. As described in A Servant of the Queen, Millevoye and a friend engage her and her aunt in conversation as they sit along the promenade. Rain comes on and the aunt invites the two men back to the hotel. The rain turns into a spectacular thunderstorm and as Maud Gonne watches it alone on the terrace she is joined by ‘the very tall Frenchman’ who ‘put his arm around me and kissed my dripping wet arm’.11 Over the next weeks they became almost inseparable, in an intimacy resembling that of Iseulte and Langton in the story with perhaps one exception. Although Millevoye told her that his grandfather, Charles, had been a poet,12 their conversation, as recalled in A Servant of the Queen, centred on politics rather than literature, and it is tempting to discern at least the faint shade of Yeats in Iseulte’s recollection that Langton ‘used to read his favourite poems to me, with that musical voice of his. It was he who first taught me to care for literature’.

9The landscape of Vernay is similar to that of Troyat, but has a more symbolic function in the story, contrasting the natural unbiddable romantic passion of their encounters with the later falsities of social convention: ‘We used to sit for hours under the trees, here, where we are sitting now; only then it was a tangled little wood, instead of this trim garden, with its artificial rockeries and sham waterfalls’. Certainly their rides into higher terrain, the ‘rugged cliffs and rocks thrown up in strange fantastic shapes by some old volcanic disturbance’ hint that human emotional disturbances may be not so extinct.

  • 13 Algernon Swinburne’s epic poem Tristram of Lyonesse comprises 4488 rhyming pentameters arranged in (...)

10This is also suggested by Maud Gonne’s choice of name for her heroine (as later for her illegitimate daughter by Millevoye). During an early visit to her rooms in January 1889 Yeats noticed a copy of Algernon Swinburne’s epic poem Tristram of Lyonesse, published a few years before, which retells the medieval story of the ill-starred adulterous lovers, named Tristram and Iseult in this version. Although with added episodes in which Tristram visits Brittany, Swinburne’s plot follows the recognised tradition in which Iseult of Ireland is obliged to marry King Mark but carries on her affair with Tristram and finally dies embracing his mortally wounded body.13 In Maud Gonne’s story Tristram/Langton dies too far off for such a liebestod, although the ‘Sketch’ might be seen in its entirety as a onehanded lover’s death in which Iseulte travels to expire if not with her lover at least embracing his memory.

  • 14 ‘Presences’, VP 358.

11Which begs the question of how far Iseulte and Langton are lovers in the full sense. At the, if we may so term it, climax of the story, alone on an idyllic summer’s afternoon ‘Langton’s eyes fixed on me with an expression I can never forget. In that one look our souls met, never again to be parted. With a little sob, I stretched out my hands to him; he held them tightly for a moment, his face was very pale, then he turned abruptly, and we went down the hill path together’. Hardly Lawrentian, or even Swinburnian, the scene has nevertheless a sexual tension, if abbreviated tension, and goes as far as the Weekly Freeman’s Summer Sketch Book would have permitted or its Irish readership perhaps wanted. It also, in its emphasis on the soul rather than the body, suggests the ‘spiritual marriage’ with which she held Yeats at bay and which he came to look upon in ‘Presences’ as ‘that monstrous thing | Returned and yet unrequited love’.14 But in her affair with Millevoye Maud Gonne did requite: she heeded her father’s admonition to fear nothing, not even death, and endorsed his Nietzschean belief in the power of the will. The evidence suggests that she and Millevoye became lovers in Troyat, and continued their relationship in London in the late spring of 1889. Probably when she wrote this story, and certainly by its publication, she knew herself to be pregnant

  • 15 SQ 27.
  • 16 Thomas David Pilcher (1858–1928), the son of a property speculator, joined the 5th Battalion of the (...)
  • 17 Divorce papers, 4 July 1911. PRO XC3613.

12If the story is, then, partly self-portrait it is even more a self-projection, in which Maud Gonne fictionally explores at a crucial emotional and political—and indeed biological—turning point in her life the choices which she might have made but did not. Unlike Iseulte she did not, for instance, marry King Mark/George, although she might easily have done so. In 1886, reunited with her father in Dublin, and pleased to be mistaken for his bride,15 she was surrounded by eligible young army officers, one of whom she might have been expected to marry. That this did not happen may have had much to do with her complicated relationship with her father, which led her to prefer the company of Generals and senior officers, and eventually to fall in love with the older Millevoye. But if she did not marry a subaltern, her younger sister did, and was already engaged to him when ‘A Life’s Sketch’ was published. ‘George’ has many of the characteristics of Thomas David Pilcher, who married Kathleen Gonne in December of 1889. After serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers at Rawalpindi, he was posted back to England and on 31 January 1889 Yeats was entertained by Maud Gonne’s attack on him over dinner about British rule in India.16 Given this association, the story becomes almost prophetic. Like Iseulte’s husband, Pilcher (who had a brother named George) grew into a ‘hard materialist’, the divorce petition drawn up by Kathleen and her lawyers in 1911 alleging that ‘from the earliest days of the married life’ his ‘indifference neglect and other conduct’ was of an ‘habitual and constant a character’. In his case, his preferred diversion was not so much fishing in Norway as playing polo in England: in the summer of 1909, when his wife was pregnant and very unwell in Woolwich, Pilcher, who had remained living in London, ‘treated her with the utmost neglect and indifference’, and ‘when he came to Woolwich it was chiefly to play polo and not to see the Petitioner’. Like George, who in the story is described as having a voice ‘so loud it jars’, he also had a distressingly noisy manner and after the birth of their third child, when Kathleen was again extremely ill and in desperate need of peace and quiet, ‘was utterly indifferent to the Petitioner’ s state of health and regardless of the necessity for quiet used to shout his orders to the stables and to the servants in and about the house in a loud voice which he made no attempt to subdue although requested to do so’.17

13By the time the story was published the choice of marrying a young British officer was no longer open to Maud Gonne, even had she wished it: her illegitimate son Georges was to be born in January of the following year. Nor was her liaison with Millevoye merely emotional. Her discussions with him, as she reports them, were obsessed at first with his plans for recovering Alsace-Lorraine for France and then with his urging her to give up her determination to be an actress. This was not so difficult since her first attempts to join a professional company in the spring of 1887 were so repugnant to her that she had a nervous breakdown. His second injunction, that she should become an Irish Joan of Arc, presented rather more problems since at that time she had no standing with Irish nationalists. On the contrary, as the Colonel’s Daughter she was a representative in Dublin of the senior echelon of the British establishment, a position she had been content to occupy over the previous four years.

  • 18 Adrian Frazier, Adulterous Muse, 37–78.

14Thus ‘A Life’ s Sketch’was written not merely at a cross-roads in her emotional but also her political life, a fact which helps to account for the English tone of the story, but which is obfuscated in her unreliable autobiography, A Servant of the Queen, not written until she was in her seventies and only published in 1938. There her adventures in the late 1880s are concertinaed together, often out of order and with few reliable dates to anchor a sometimes breathless narrative of domestic and political rebellion, conversion to Irish nationalism, romantic intrigue in the south of France sealed with an anti-British pact, near abduction and rape in Greece, japes in Constantinople, an allegedly world-changing secret mission to Russia, subversive concerts in Dublin, and evictions in Donegal. Adrian Frazier has recently made an admirably thorough attempt to disentangle the sequence of these events and to distinguish the facts from the fanciful flights and economical truths in Maud Gonne’s narrative.18 To tease out the ambiguities in her stance before and while she was writing ‘A Life’ s Sketch’it is worth following up these investigations by examining in detail her activities in the years 1885 to 1890, particularly as they applied to Ireland.

  • 19 Freeman’s Journal, 20 September 1888, 5. Her sanctimonious letter, dated ‘Sept 19th’, read: ‘I encl (...)

15As has been suggested, not the least intriguing aspect of the story is its place of publication, a magazine dedicated to Irish poetry, fiction, and humour. The choice to publish was part of her up-until-now largely cultural rather than political adoption of an Irish identity. Until she intervened in the Barrow-in-Furness by-election in August 1890, and attended Land League meetings in Co. Kildare later that month, Maud Gonne’s one overt political act had been to subscribe in early autumn 1888 to the National Indemnity Fund, a crowdfunding initiative to defray Parnell’s legal expenses in his action for libel against The Times. And lest her fairly modest contribution went unnoticed among the rest, she wrote to the Freeman’s Journal on 19 September of that year to draw attention to it and to associate herself self-righteously with the National Indemnity’s aims.19

16She had become familiar with Ireland as a child, while her father was Brigade Major at the Curragh Camp from 1867 to 1874, and this period included an idyllic summer at Howth. She did not return until more than a decade later when her father, now Colonel Thomas Gonne, was appointed to serve on the Staff of the Army in Ireland from 31 January 1885; over the next two years, her mother being dead, she was to act as his social hostess in Dublin. The appointment came at a significant juncture in the Colonel’s career. In 1878 he had been promoted to the post of Lieutenant-Colonel in command of the 17th Lancers, a crack cavalry regiment, but was unable to accompany his men to fight in Africa in 1880 because of a serious wound in the thigh, accidentally sustained while he was testing revolvers with his musketry instructor. Since he was incapacitated, the Lancer’s former colonel was asked to rejoin as commander in his place and proved such a success that he remained at its head. It seems that Gonne’s injury had in any case rendered him unfit for active service and in April 1881 he was appointed military attaché in the British Embassy at St. Petersburgh, being transferred a year later to a similar post in Constantinople. Although these were important postings, he felt that they were dead-ends and that, as a result of a gratuitous accident, he had been passed over and even forgotten by the army.

  • 20 Bridport News, 7 November 1884, 2.
  • 21 Ibid. The situation in Egypt, and its client state the Sudan, was a growing embarrassment to Gladst (...)

17He began to look around for other openings and in October 1884 offered himself as a candidate for the Liberal Party in Bridport, a pleasant country town in Dorset. He pitched his manifesto to a crowded meeting of the Bridport Liberal Association on 30 October at the conclusion of which a resolution adopting him as the candidate of the association was, according to the Bridport News of 7 November, ‘carried unanimously with loud acclamation followed by cheers’.20 That an army officer, who had seen active service, was standing as a Liberal when, as he himself reminded his constituents at a later meeting, ‘the army was Conservative’ was in itself unusual, but his manifesto (‘which was frequently interrupted by enthusiastic applause’) helps to establish more precisely his political position. He ‘avowed himself above all things a loyal follower of Mr. Gladstone, and could promise his unwavering support to the Government in all the great questions which were now in debate’. One of these ‘great questions’ was the position of the House of Lords, which, with its inbuilt but unelected Conservative majority and its powers of veto, the radical wing of the Liberal Party was eager to abolish. Gonne took a more moderate stance: ‘He was strongly of opinion that a second chamber was essential to the efficient and well matured legislation, but believed that the House of Lords required reform in order to enable it to perform such a function properly’. He went on to ‘several side questions’, and was particularly concerned with Imperial affairs, speaking at ‘some length on the Egyptian complication, the troubles in South Africa, and on affairs in India and the East. Our present position in Egypt was, from a military point of view, a source of weakness, and it was a great misfortune that the destruction of Hicks Pasha’ s army prevented our withdrawal from that country’.21

  • 22 Ibid., 5 December 1884, 4. A gifted linguist, Gonne had been Hindi translator for his regiment and (...)

18Gonne returned to Bridport on 28 November 1884 to deliver a long lecture to the Liberal electors on ‘Afghanistan and the Indian Question’, in which he denounced British Jingoism, advocated a more sympathetic appreciation of cultural and religious sensibilities in Afghanistan, and insisted on the necessity of making Indians part of the governance of India: ‘Was it not sound policy to give the natives of India such a position that they would have everything to lose and nothing to gain from revolution from without or within? Mr. Gladstone’ s policy was the only one which would bring it to pass that a Russian threat would bring no danger to British India’.22

  • 23 Dorset County Chronicle, 6 November 1884, 12.
  • 24 Bridport News, 5 December 1884, 4.

19The Conservative Dorset County Chronicle described Gonne on 6 November 1884 as ‘a fluent speaker and one well up to foreign affairs. He is not a Radical but a Moderate Liberal, whatever that peculiar personage might be’.23 From all this, it is evident that his attempt to become a Liberal m. p. was in earnest and enthusiastically supported by the local party. There were two reasons why he did not finally stand for election. Barely a month after the Colonel’s unanimous adoption by the Bridport Liberal Association Gladstone introduced the Redistribution of Seats Bill into the House of Commons. The purpose of the Bill was to balance the numbers of electors between constituencies in the light of the extension of the franchise by the Third Reform Act, which had just become law. The redistribution was radical and nowhere more so than in Dorset, where parliamentary representation in all six boroughs was abolished and merged into four county divisions, Bridport becoming part of West Dorset. All bets on the selection of candidates were now off, a situation that Gonne acknowledged at the end of his lecture on Afghanistan and India, telling his audience that ‘he should regret that the acquaintance which had been so happily begun would be so speedily finished between them. Still he was not quite certain that would be the result. He had not been asked, but he might hereafter be asked, to represent the county in which this borough would be merged (hear, hear). If so he should esteem it one of the happiest moments of his life and he should feel satisfied of this, that at all events he should have their support’.24

  • 25 Among the many papers which reprinted the paragraph was the West Somerset Free Press of 14 February (...)

20At this uncertain juncture a crucial promotion changed Gonne’s career path. In early January 1885, while his Dorset candidature was still in the balance and after three years of comparative neglect, the army advanced him to a staff position and appointed him to the significant post of Assistant Adjutant Quartermaster-General of the Dublin District. It was not only he who felt the fairness of this. The World, in an article that was syndicated in newspapers throughout the country, spoke, it claimed, for the public when it welcomed a ‘somewhat tardy act of justice’ that had ‘been done by the Horse Guards in giving a staff appointment to Colonel Gonne, formerly in command of the 17th Lancers’.25 Whether Gonne now withdrew his candidature in West Dorset, or whether he was deselected in any case is not known, but it turned out to be a fortunate outcome: the seat in its new configuration returned a Conservative at the next General Election in 1885, and has remained a Conservative stronghold to this day.

  • 26 SQ 43.

21The candidature of Colonel Gonne in Bridport lends credence to Maud Gonne’s claim in A Servant of the Queen that shortly before his death ‘he told me he had made up his mind to leave the Army and stand as a Home Rule candidate’.26 He may also, as she states, have shown her the election address he intended to use, based presumably on the one he had delivered in Bridport which pledged allegiance to Gladstone and advocated recognition of the political and cultural aspirations of colonial subjects. Since then Gladstone had been converted to Irish Home Rule, and so the Colonel’s new manifesto would certainly have broadened to include and endorse that.

22The Bridport address also provides an insight into the political discussions that the Gonnes would have held in these years when, prior to her radicalization by Millevoye, Maud seems to have shared her father’s ‘moderate Liberal’ position. She certainly had no qualms about associating herself with the British establishment, appearing regularly at Castle dinners, receptions and balls. Even her cultural interests remained firmly under official loyalist auspices. In 1886 her main artistic venture was to appear in Caste, the popular realist drama of misalliance by Thomas William Robertson. This amateur production was a well-meaning if paternalistic public relations exercise by the British garrison in aid of the Dublin unemployed during a severe economic recession, and permission to mount it, in the Great Hall of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, from 27 to 31 March, was given by His Serene Highness Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, Commander of the Forces in Ireland, who also agreed, with the Lord Lieutenant, the Countess of Aberdeen, and Lieutenant-General Lord Clarina, Commanding the Dublin district, to act as a patron of the entertainment. The Company, directed by Colonel Malet of the 16th Hussars, was largely made up of officers drawn from the various regiments stationed in Dublin and army wives or relatives, and took the name ‘Her Majesty’s Servants’. Maud Gonne was thus identifying herself as a servant of the reigning queen some time before transferring her allegiance to ‘queen’ Kathleen ni Houlihan.

  • 27 Daily Express, Dublin, 29 March 1886, 6.

23The plot of Caste involves a young aristocratic army officer, Captain George D’Alroy, marrying the beautiful but working-class ballet girl Esther Eccles, much to the disgust of his mother, the Marquise de St. Maur, before being ostensibly killed in India. His bride and their child fall upon hard times after the money he has left her is squandered by her ne’er-do-well workshy father, but just as things are at their blackest the hero unexpectedly turns up, reports of his death having been greatly exaggerated. Given her age at this time, one might have expected Maud Gonne to be cast as one of the two junior female leads, the long-suffering Esther or her feisty sister Polly, but in fact she appeared as the class-conscious and austere Marquise. A friendly review in the Dublin Daily Express commented that ‘Miss Gonne, as the Marquise, exhibited without obtrusiveness all the required hauteur and dignity of the cold, highly-bred, pedigree-proud, mother’, but noted that she ‘looked most attractive, albeit scarcely matronly enough’.27

  • 28 The Irish Times, 3 December 1886, 5.

24And then on 30 November 1886 Thomas Gonne unexpectedly died of typhoid fever at the Royal Barracks at the premature age of fifty-one. An impressive military funeral procession took place on 2 December, ‘the most imposing that has been seen in Dublin for many years’ according to the Irish Times of the following day, which brought his body to North Wall for conveyance to England and interment.28 His horses, brougham, and equine tackle were sold by auction on Christmas Eve, and his antique and modern furniture on 14 January of the new year. Maud and her sister had departed Ireland by way of Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) on the evening of the funeral, and there was no reason why either of them should ever return.

  • 29 SQ, 59.
  • 30 In SQ (59–60) Maud Gonne erroneously identifies this as a translation of Ernest Legouvé’s and Eugèn (...)
  • 31 SQ 60.

25Kathleen Gonne hardly ever did, and Maud did not go back until the early autumn of 1888. But much happened in the intervening eighteen months, some of which informs the biographical underpinning of ‘A Life’s Sketch’. The influence of Thomas Gonne’s moderate Liberalism was replaced by the more radical nationalism of Millevoye. He suggested in Troyat that her aspiration to be a great actress should be subsumed into the aim of becoming an Irish Joan of Arc. The idea was tempting, and not merely because she was besotted with and manipulated by him. Her single attempt to become a professional actress in 1887 had been arduous and potentially embarrassing, a contract with an undistinguished stock company touring secondary British towns with what she describes in A Servant of the Queen as an ‘abominable melodrama’.29 Her attempts to dignify the repertoire by the addition of Heartsease, a play based on Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias was perhaps a gesture towards Bernhardt, but the English version was so watered down and sanitized as to be already out of date.30 First staged in June 1875, its author, the chess-playing dramatist James Mortimer, got round British censorship by converting Marguerite from a courtesan to an actress whose only sin is that her profession causes social embarrassment to her lover Armand’s family. The tragic ending is however retained: the heroine, like Iseulte, dies prematurely of consumption and the scene may have influenced the donnée of Maud Gonne’s story. The experience of days and nights of rehearsals in draughty halls and with perhaps seedy fellow actors seemingly threatened Maud Gonne with a similar fate. It was certainly a long way from her Dublin experience of personating the Marquise de St. Maur alongside Mrs Somerset Butler, Captain Morrison and Major Burn of the 18th Hussars. In the end she couldn’t hack it; she had to withdraw from the company through illness and fork out a large sum for breach of contract. ‘Was it really a disaster?’ she mused in her autobiography, ‘Things have a way of turning out so differently from what one expects. … If I had gone on the stage, it would have taken me away from Ireland’.31

  • 32 Ibid., 86–87.

26At this time she was not yet back in Ireland but she returned there in the early autumn of 1888 to set about becoming the Irish Joan of Arc. Not the least of her problems in such an enterprise was that she was not Irish and no one in Dublin thought that she was. In fact, her main value to the nationalist movement for some years was precisely that she was an Englishwoman and a Protestant. John O’Leary, who refused to take her political ambitions seriously, abominated her support for the Land League, and made fun of her sentimental idealization of the Irish people, welcomed her because, as she recalls in A Servant of the Queen, he was trying to get new recruits for Ireland ‘especially from the Unionist element from which he wanted to form an intellectual backing for the Separatist movement’. At their first awkward meeting, Michael Davitt was suspicious of her and many others in the Irish Party suspected that she was a British spy.32 Even where nationalists were more welcoming, she found that she was barred from their organizations and clubs because she was a woman. In this ambiguous situation she decided to hedge her bets. She made overtures to Irish nationalism while keeping her acting options open by giving recitations at a number of concerts and by ensuring that her contacts with Dublin Castle kept in good repair. She even seems to have resuscitated the idea of becoming a nurse like her cousin May.

27This ambiguity is not registered in A Servant of the Queen, where time is conflated to produce a narrative of rapid engagement with nationalist politics and an Irish identity, but it silently informs ‘A Life’ s Sketch’, which can be read as a farewell to her English life and potential English destiny. An instructive example of the way she accelerates and exaggerates the progress of her Irish mission in A Servant of the Queen is her description of the ‘Concert of Irish Music’ she put on with Ida Jameson. The Concert was designed to épater la (West British) bourgeoisie, by presenting ‘nothing but Irish music and poems by Irish authors’, and would daringly dispense with playing the British national anthem at its close.

The Concert was a great success, every seat booked out. All my old Dublin friends were there, to welcome Tommy’s daughter, and my new friends, John O’Leary, Willie Yeats and the Contemporary club, and the general public interested in Irish music. From an artistic point of view the concert was irreproachable. … I recited Todhunter’s lovely poem, ‘The Banshee and Dark Rosaleen’. To the clamorous encores accorded to Ida and myself, who, because of our novelty, were the great attractions, we gave only rebel songs and rebel poems. The gallery was enthusiastic, but I was amused to see, through a hole in the back cloth, the puzzled looks of many in the expensive seats.

  • 33 Ibid., 93.

Next day we had great Press notices, but letters, and I think, even a leading article in the Irish Times, commented indignantly on the omission of God Save the Queen, an unheard of thing at any Dublin concert in those days. I replied, and a regular letter controversy arose.33

  • 34 Freeman’s Journal, 5 November 1888, 6.
  • 35 Daily Express, Dublin, 5 November 1888, 4.
  • 36 Freeman’s Journal, 5 November 1888, 6.

28The concert was held in the Antient Concert Rooms on 3 November 1888, but most of the account that Maud Gonne gives of it is inaccurate. The concert was not ‘booked out’, the Freeman’s Journal commented on 5 November that the hall, ‘though not exactly crowded, was sufficiently well attended to do the city no discredit’.34 It is possible that John O’Leary attended, but her ‘new’ friend Willie Yeats certainly did not, for the very good reasons that he was in London and had not yet met her. She did recite John Todhunter’s recently published poem ‘The Banshee’, but not ‘The Dark Rosaleen’, which in any case is by James Clarence Mangan. Most of the singers and reciters got encores, and the most enthusiastic reception was not for Maud Gonne or Ida Jameson but for Charles Kelly’s rendition of a. p. Graves’ ‘Father O’ Flynn’. ‘Father O’ Flynn’, written by a convinced Unionist, is a comic not a political song, and the claim that ‘we gave only rebel songs and rebel poems’ is wholly misleading as is the claim that the fashionable part of the audience were ‘puzzled’ by the programme. Over half the items were taken from Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies, some of which exhibited a genteel patriotism, acceptable to a Unionist audience. Many of the poems by Moore did not even involve patriotic subjects at all, as, indeed, ‘The High-born Ladye’, which Maud Gonne also recited at the Concert and which has a ‘death and the maiden’ theme. Other performances were of traditional airs from collections by Bunting and Petrie, and an aria from William Vincent Wallace’s romantic opera Maritana (which has a Spanish, not an Irish, setting). Far from puzzling the audience because of its uncompromising ‘rebel’ content, the reviewers saw it as pandering to popularity, the staunchly Unionist Dublin Daily Express presuming that the ‘programme was compiled with an evident consideration of popular taste, being composed altogether of Irish selections’,35 while the nationalist Freeman’s Journal, perhaps thinking of the over-abundance of Moore, advised ‘that it might be better at concerts on the plan of that of Saturday evening to introduce a little of the classical music of other nations. The Irish items, instead of losing, would gain in effect by the contrast, and the danger of monotony would be avoided’.36 Nor, despite Maud Gonne’s circumstantial evidence, did anyone so much as mention the absence of the national anthem: there was no leading article in the Irish Times and no controversy.

  • 37 SQ 94.
  • 38 The Irish Times, 11 December 1888, 7.
  • 39 Revd. Charles Edward Tisdall (1821–1905) was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and ordained in t (...)
  • 40 Daily Express, Dublin, 4 March 1889, 3. The first part of The Progress of Madness; or, The Irishman (...)

29Maud Gonne goes on to allege that she was ‘inundated with requests to recite at Workmen’s clubs and Literary societies’,37 giving the impression that she immediately embarked on a campaign of cultural propaganda among the workers and advanced nationalist, and, indeed, that she plunged at once into the political task of opposing evictions. In fact, this process took far longer than she implies, and most of the concerts at which she went on to perform were far from working-class events. Twelve days after the ‘Concert of Irish Music’ she appeared in a ‘Grand Concert’ in aid of the Dublin Orthopedic Hospital and under the patronage of Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar. This comprised largely of French and Italian music, with Maud Gonne reciting Thomas Davis’s poem ‘Nationality’ and from the Potion Scene in Romeo and Juliet (IV. iii). These two items became her performance pieces of choice, and she repeated them at a ‘Grand Amateur Concert’ on 8 December, where, as the Irish Times reported, ‘Miss Maude Gonne, who is an accomplished elocutionist, was received with great applause when, presenting herself in costume which may be described as classic, she recited a short poem by Davis, entitled “Nationality”. Her voice is attractive, her action graceful, and her reading that of a student who was in full sympathy with the composition of the Irish poet. Her recitation of the Potion Scene from “Romeo and Juliet” was not less excellent, and repeatedly she bowed her acknowledgements to the audience for the manner in which they testified to their appreciation of her elocution’.38 She had taken lessons from an Irish actor, and joined the Dublin Elocution Society, founded by the Revd. Charles Edward Tisdall, a Unionist and Protestant clergyman, who had been one of the best tenors in Ireland and was now a much sought-after reciter.39 Given this effort and the pains she put into her recitations, and the frequency with which she appeared, it seems that despite Millevoye’s urging her mind still ran on the stage as a possible career. Moreover, her performances, although recitations, were noted for their dramatic delivery and the quality of her striking costumes. The Dublin Daily Express of 4 March 1889 reported that at a recent Public Recital under the auspices of the Association of Elocutionists ‘Miss Maud Gonne’s costume recital of “The Progress of Madness” was an impressive, picturesque, and finished piece of acting. She is a clever and very prepossessing young lady, and is likely to make a name as a reciter of dramatic scenes in the near future’.40

  • 41 See the Leinster Express, 4 May 1889, 9. Among the others listed as attending were the Baroness de (...)
  • 42 Mem. 61.

30If she was keeping her acting options open, she also kept up her acquaintanceship with the Castle. On 26 April 1889 she attended the Mullaboden Pony Races and Sports, at which the Stewards included the Marquis of Drogheda and the Baron de Robeck, with the Earl of Clonmell acting as Starter. Fellow guests included the Lord Lieutenant as well as Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, and the cream of Dublin high society.41 Her presence at this grand horsey event recalls Sarah Purser’s admonition to Yeats that ‘Maud Gonne talks politics in Paris, and literature to you, and at the Horse Show she would talk of a clinking brood mare’.42 But the possibility of keeping her options open was closed a few months later, when in the early summer of 1889 she found herself with child. The consequences of this discovery, and of her affair with Millevoye more generally, lie behind ‘A Life’ s Sketch’, which is a farewell to her English identity.

  • 43 Leinster Leader, 23 August 1890, 2.
  • 44 Ibid.
  • 45 Ibid.
  • 46 Ibid.
  • 47 Ibid.
  • 48 Ibid., 4.

31She was not in Ireland when her story appeared in the Summer Sketch Book. She does not appear to have returned there until August 1890, over a year later, although, despite her condition, she visited London in October 1889 to tend to her ailing sister. By the time of her return it is clear that she has opted for Irish Joan of Arc over international actress. The stage gives way to the platform and the art of recitation to the artifice of rhetoric, and she begins to claim an Irish identity and genealogy. But the farewell to her English identity, foreshadowed in ‘A Life’ s Sketch’, proved easier to bid in fiction than it was in real life. Ironically, it was her very Englishness that made her valuable to the Irish national cause. One of her first overtly political acts in Ireland was to join an English delegation to bear witness to agrarian demonstrations on the O’Kelly Estate at Clongorey in County Kildare. Wholesale forcible evictions had taken place there from 1883 and numbers had escalated in 1888 and 1889, augmented by the arrest and persecution of masons and carpenters brought in to build huts for the dispossessed tenants. The Land League had taken up the tenants’ cause and brought the landlords’ inhumanity to the attention of the national and international conscience. In this process, the arrival of an English delegation, which included Maud Gonne and Edward Morton, a Radical Liberal and Secretary of the British Home Rule Union, was of great symbolic value and the Leinster Leader reported on 23 Aug 1890 that despite rainy weather ‘the people of Clongorey and its neighbourhood’ afforded ‘a suitable welcome’ to the ‘visit of English sympathizers to Clongorey… who took so kindly an interest in their affairs’.43 The battling local priest, Father Kinsella, who had defied both the Vatican and the British authorities in his support of his downtrodden parishioners, and been imprisoned for his efforts, announced publically that he was glad ‘to welcome our friends from England, who come to show their sympathy with our poor people here in Clongorey. They have seen to-day with their own eyes the state of things that has been created amongst us by tyrannical landlordism, and they are in a position of being able to explain to their countrymen and countrywomen how the Irish people are circumstanced’. He went on to emphasize the value of English public opinion and influence in ameliorating Irish agrarian conditions, and at the conclusion of his speech John Maloney, Chairman of the Newbridge Commissioners moved the resolution ‘That we return our heartfelt thanks to the visitors amongst us to-day, who bring to our suffering and homeless people a message of hope from the great English democracy’. J. P. Bermingham, Chairman of the Naas Commissioners, drew attention to a more immediate benefit of the visit, noting that ‘the police had been instructed … to bring only their batons to this meeting, and not their rifles (cheers). The police were ashamed to show their usual methods in presence of their English visitors (cheers). They were on their best behaviour when they came in contact with English people. The people should be extremely grateful to Miss Gonne (cheers)’.44 Maud Gonne, ‘who received a most enthusiastic reception’, was clearly embarrassed that her English parentage and upbringing, not to mention her cut-glass English accent, had unaccountably led to her being mistaken for an Englishwoman, tried to equivocate. She announced herself ‘an Irish woman’, but one who had ‘been a great deal in England, and I feel that I may speak to a certain extent for the English people’. She declared that she well knew that the English democracy ‘is with us in our hopes and aspirations, and not only has the Tory Government and its method of governing Ireland been condemned by every civilised country in the world, but the great English democracy has condemned it and has doomed it, too (cheers). Once the English democracy knows, and it does know it now, the wrongs that have been inflicted in its name on the people of this country, its indignation is aroused, and they say they will not allow Ireland any longer to continue to suffer in this way (cheers). That voice of indignation is growing louder and louder every day until its swell will overwhelm the vile Tory Government, and extend the privilege of equality and liberty alike to the people of Ireland as well as of England, and give us the recognition of our nationhood (loud cheers)’.45 The crowd was well-disposed to the claim of this striking young woman, the Colonel’s daughter with a posh English accent, to be Irish but did not really believe it. At one point in her address when she was extolling the fortitude of the people in withstanding landlord tyranny, a voice called out ‘Anybody would know that you had an Irish heart (renewed cheering)’.46 An Irish heart in its support and sympathy, but not quite an authentic Irish identity, and when J. T. Heffernan in a final speech thanked her and Morton, he disregarded her assertion of Irishness: ‘You heard from them the message of hope which they were commissioned to convey to you and the expression of their desire, and the desire of the vast majority of the English people, that the tyranny practised in this country should cease for ever’.47 It was the position adopted in an editorial in the Leinster Leader of the same day: ‘On two dozen Sundays at least within the past two years the police turned out in force, prepared to shoot or stab all and sundry who would attempt to sympathise with the poor people of Clongorey. Three or four English names, however, sufficed to evaporate their valour …. The police came without their rifles. They made no demonstration. It is a message of hope to the Irish people that English visitors come amongst us to inquire into the condition of the country, and that they leave with a heartiness and an anxiety to redress the wrongs which examination [of] the spot convinces them are not sham grievances, as they are represented’.48

32It was to take many years for Maud Gonne to establish or fabricate an Irish identity, and it continued to be a matter of dispute, especially at times of public scrutiny, as during her divorce case. These were years which lay beyond the publication of ‘A Life’s Sketch’, written at a time when the process of her personal and political redefinition had just begun.


Maud Gonne

  • 49 The quotation is from Charles Baudelaire’s poem ‘Le Masque’ (‘The Mask’), which appeared in the sec (...)

“Elle pleur, insense parcequelle a vecu
Et parce qu’elle vit”

33Yes, Nina, before I die, I would like to tell you the story of my life. You have often asked me, but I felt I could not tell even you, though you are always so good and patient with me. But now the approach of death seems to render everything easy.

34After all, there is not much to tell, Nina, darling. Remember, take care that you do not throw away your life’s happiness. To every one, I believe, the opportunity presents itself once, and if neglected never returns again; but we never profit by the experience of others. The price of that experience is often heavy, but cost what it may, we must buy it each one for himself.

35My chance of happiness came to me here in this very place, just ten years ago, but it came too late. Now, you know why, when they told me I was dying, I insisted on coming here; it was not, as they thought, that I clung to the hope that the waters would cure me. God knows I do not want to live! But I longed to see once again the place where I had been happy.

36But it is all changed since then; I hardly recognise the little mountain village, with its clear springs, which at that time but few doctors had found out, and which the fashionable world had never even heard of. It was so beautiful and peaceful then; now there are more hotels than cottages. There is the Casino, the theatre, the band, the usual noisy, chattering crowd; but the quiet restfulness of the place is gone.

37Ten years ago I was very young, not seventeen, yet I was already engaged to George. Poor George! these years have changed him, too. It has not been all his fault, that from a gay, thoughtless boy he has grown into the hard materialist he is now; the society of a fretful invalid, like myself, must have been very trying; but, at least, he has consoled himself, and now, while I am dying, he is away in Norway fishing. There, see how unjust I am! He does not even know that I am very ill. I would not have him told; I wanted to have the last few days alone, at rest. His voice is so loud it jars me, and I could not bear to see him here.

38You know, Nina, that I was an orphan, and was brought up by an aunt, who found me very much in the way, and was most anxious to get me married, so that I should not interfere with her own daughters, who were just coming out.

39It was during my first London season that I met George. My aunt urged me to accept him. She did not hesitate even to tell me what a burden I was to her. I was anxious to escape from the dependent position I was in. I even persuaded myself I loved George. Poor fool! what did I know of love? What does any girl know of it?

40Well, we were engaged, and life became a succession of balls, parties, and fêtes, for George was proud of me, and wished me to be seen everywhere. Our wedding was fixed for the summer, but I was always delicate, and long before the end of the season I became so ill that the doctor said I must leave London at once, and recommended the waters and the mountain air of Vernay. George had just received orders to return to his regiment, which at that time was stationed in Scotland, and my aunt could not leave her family, so it was decided that I was to go to Vernay alone under the care of my old nurse.

41How well I remember the morning at the railway station. George, noisily fussy and anxious about me, sending porters in every direction to fetch me things I did not want; suddenly he rushed off, and after a few minutes returned, accompanied by a tall, dark man, whom he introduced to me as an old school friend, who by a lucky chance he had just caught sight of; he was starting for a sketching tour in the Auvergne, and at once promised to look after me on the journey, and see me comfortably settled at Vernay. “You will take care of her for me, Langton, won’t you?” said George, with an important air; he was such a child in those days, and I was his last new toy.

42Ah, Nina, how shall I describe to you the weeks that followed. At first, I was so weak that I took but a languid interest in all that went on, only I knew that I was perfectly happy; happier than I had ever been before. Day by day I got stronger; Langton was always with me, he was so kind, so gentle. We used to sit for hours under the trees, here, where we are sitting now; only then it was a tangled little wood, instead of this trim garden, with its artificial rockeries and sham waterfalls. He used to read his favourite poems to me, with that musical voice of his. It was he who first taught me to care for literature. Or we would take long drives together through the yellow cornfields, or higher still where the road would wind among rugged cliffs and rocks thrown up in strange fantastic shapes by some old volcanic disturbance.

43It was on one of these drives (I was almost well then, and could walk about again quite easily), we had left the carriage by the roadside, while we climbed a little higher to see the view. The scene was, indeed, wonderful; miles and miles of country stretched around us without a single habitation in sight. In the far east a faint haze hung over the Jura mountains; over the whole the cloudless blue of the sky and the glorious afternoon sunshine. A few sweet mountain flowers grew at our feet, a bird was singing in the air; involuntarily I turned, and found Langton’s eyes fixed on me with an expression I can never forget. In that one look our souls met, never again to be parted. With a little sob, I stretched out my hands to him; he held them tightly for a moment, his face was very pale, then he turned abruptly, and we went down the hill path together. All the way back to Vernay we never spoke, but as he helped me out of the carriage, “Goodbye, Iseulte”, he said, “goodbye: I must go tonight”.


44I have not seen him since. He went to India, and I married George. Last year I heard of his death. Now, darling, you understand why I am so happy to be dying, for I know that we shall meet. Death is less cruel than life! and I am so tired.


1 Note—Further information may have been gathered since this article was prepared for publication. If you would like to find out if any further information has been discovered that may help your own research, why not write to the author at Apart from anything else, feedback is always welcomed.

2 The Weekly Freeman’s Summer Sketch Book, 15 July 1889, 10. National Library of Ireland, call mark Ir 05 W5. The story is 1177 words long.

3 Freeman’s Journal, 19 November, 7. Zincography was a process of producing images on zinc plates coated with gallic and phosphoric acid. This was a cheaper method of reproduction than lithography, but it was hardly ‘new’, having been developed in the 1830s, and the advertisement probably refers to a form of photozincography, which allows the printing of large and accurate images on to zinc from photographic negatives.

4 Katharine Tynan (1859–1931), later Hinkson, poet and novelist, was a close friend of WBY and she helped him, with others, to edit Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland, published in May 1888. She contributed poems and stories to a wide range of Irish, British and American periodicals. Rose Kavanagh (1859–1891) published numerous poems and stories in the Irish Monthly and other Irish and American periodicals. WBY’s obituary article ‘Rose Kavanagh’ appeared in the Boston Pilot on 11 Apr 1891 (LNI, II8–24). Rosa Mulholland (1841–1921), daughter of a Belfast doctor, spent a good deal of her early life in the west of Ireland. Charles Dickens encouraged her early attempts at writing and she contributed to his Household Words and All the Year Round as well as numerous Irish publications. Although she wrote some poetry, she is more noted as a prolific novelist and short-story writer; and like Tynan and Kavanagh, her work is Catholic and national in sentiment. In 1891 she married John T. Gilbert (1829–1898), who founded the Dublin Public Record Office and was knighted in 1897.

5 John Augustus O’Shea (1839–1905), the ‘Irish Bohemian’, was born in Nenagh and educated at the Catholic University, Dublin. He became Paris correspondent of Richard Pigott’s Irishman, and thereafter worked for the Standard for many years. As ‘a poor student in an attic’ in Paris he had translated ‘Les Marchands d’Ames’ from Leo Lespès’ Les Matinées de Timothée Trim (Paris, 1865), and published it in the Shamrock. Yeats anthologized it as ‘The Countess Kathleen O’Shea’in Fairy and Folk Tales, giving as his source ‘what professed to be a collection of Irish folklore in an [untraced] Irish newspaper’, and later used the plot for his play The Countess Cathleen, believing it to be based on authentic Irish folklore. Edwin Hamilton (1849–1919) won the Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for Poetry at TCD in 1872 and went on to write a number of humorous stories, plays, and comic operas, including the pantomime, Turko the Terrible, recalled in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Michael MacDonagh (1860–1946), journalist, historian, and writer of short stories, was born in Limerick and after some time on a local paper moved in 1882 to Dublin and the Freeman’s Journal. In 1887 he was posted to London to cover debates in the House of Commons and in 1894 was poached by The Times to become its parliamentary correspondent, remaining with the paper until 1933. Besides filing reports on politics, he also wrote stories and articles on history and literature. As well as these ephemeral pieces, he published substantial works of history and biography, often based on original sources and personal experience, including The Home Rule Movement (1920), William O’Brien (1928), and Daniel O’Connell (1929). Francis Arthur Fahy (1854–1935), poet, song-writer, and humorist, was born in Galway, where his father lived on Sir William Gregory’s estate. After joining the Civil Service he moved to London where in 1883 he helped found the Southwark Irish Literary Club. Later he became a member of the Irish Literary Society, London, and president of the London Gaelic League. He contributed poems and sketches to a number of Irish periodicals, sometimes under the pseudonym of ‘Dreoilin’, and is best known for his poem ‘The Ould Plaid Shawl’. His Irish Songs and Poems was published in Dublin in 1887.

6 Douglas Hyde (1860–1949), poet and translator, co-founder of the Gaelic League (1893) and first President of Ireland (1937–1945), was at the forefront of the attempt to revive the Irish language and to preserve Gaelic folklore. He was for many years Yeats’s link with the oral traditions of Gaelic Ireland. On 16 December 1888, according to his diary (Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde [1974], 95–7), he met ‘the most dazzling woman I have ever seen: Miss Gonne, who drew every male in the room around her. She was wonderfully tall and beautiful. We stayed talking until 1.30 a. m. My head was spinning with her beauty!!’ He saw a good deal of her over that winter and in February and March 1889 tried to teach her Irish. Hyde’s contributions to the Sketch Books included ‘The Death Knight’ and ‘The Burial and Resurrection of Paddy Beirne’. Hannah Lynch (1862–1904), novelist and member of the Ladies Land League, wrote novels and stories based on the Fenian movement. She lived for a large part of her life on the Continent and died in Paris. James B. Glynn Murphy (1839–1921) was born in Co. Carlow and became a schoolmaster. He was appointed Principal of the Public Schools at Bray, Co. Wicklow, in 1860, and later served as Town Clerk of Bray and Professor of Mathematics in the Catholic University as well as in Blackrock College. He published a great number of action-packed historical stories and novels, most of which went into several editions. His bestknown works included The Forge of Clohogue (1885), Hugh Roach, the Ribbonman (1887), and Lays and Legends of Ireland (1912). Eugene Davis (1857–1897), journalist and poet, was born in Clonakilty, Co. Cork, and educated by his father, a distinguished teacher of Classics. Intended for the priesthood, he was sent to the Irish Colleges of Louvain and Paris, but turned instead to writing, adopting the pen name ‘Owen Roe’, and contributing nationalist poems, literary articles and translations to the Shamrock. After leaving the seminary, he wrote for the Irishman before joining the Paris office of United Ireland, from which he edited an underground version of the paper when it was suppressed in Ireland in December 1881. Machinations by the British Government led to his expulsion from France in February 1885 on political grounds; he moved back to Ireland where he became literary editor of the Nation and provided details of Richard Pigott’s activities in France to help Parnell in his successful libel case against The Times. In 1889 he published A Vision of Ireland and Other Poems, but following the amalgamation of the Nation with the Irish Catholic in July 1891, he emigrated to America, where he joined the Boston Pilot, married a wealthy widow, and died prematurely in Brooklyn at the age of forty. David Sheehy (1844–1932), parliamentarian and writer, was born in Co. Limerick. He studied for the priesthood in Paris but returned to Ireland to enter the family’s milling business. He joined the IRB and was the Parnellite candidate for Galway South from 1885 to 1900, during which time he emerged as an energetic adherent of the agrarian Plan of Campaign. He supported the Anti-Parnellite faction after the 1891 split in the Irish Party and later, as a close friend of William O’Brien, acted as secretary of the United Irish League, a movement dedicated to land redistribution. He was M. P. for South Meath from 1903 to 1908 (having defeated Parnell’s brother for the seat) and was closely allied with John Dillon in the reunited Irish Party. Joyce mentions him in this connection in Ulysses, and in the ‘Wandering Rocks’ episode Father Conmee genteelly begs ‘to be remembered’ to him through his wife. William Patrick Ryan (1867–1942), journalist and novelist, was born in Co. Tipperary, but emigrated to London in 1886 and became a journalist. He was an enthusiastic member of the Irish Literary Society and served as Sir Charles Gavan Duffy’s private secretary until they fell out over the management of the New Irish Library scheme. In 1894 he published The Irish Literary Revival, the first history of the cultural movement, in which he wondered whether Yeats had ‘ not really done his best work, or if there is, or will be much in his poetry of the enduring kind’. After falling foul of the Catholic hierarchy in 1905 while editing the Irish Peasant, he returned to London in 1911 to join the Daily Herald, remaining on its staff until his death. His novel The Plough and the Cross (1910) is a thinly disguised account of the fights over the Irish Peasant, while The Pope’s Green Island (1912) is a critical examination of religious, political, and social forces in contemporary Ireland.

7 Justin Huntly McCarthy (1856–1936), writer and politician, was the son of the journalist, novelist, and sometime leader of the Anti-Parnellite faction of the Irish Party, Justin McCarthy. He spent his childhood in Liverpool, London, and New York, and was educated at University College, London. His first book, An Outline of Irish History from the Earliest Times, appeared in 1883 and in June 1884 he became Irish Party MP for Athlone, as well as publishing the very successful England under Gladstone. In the November of that year The Candidate, the first of his many plays, was a smash hit in London. In 1885 he was again elected as an Irish MP, this time for Newry, and he combined his parliamentary career with the composition of numerous stories, novels, translations, and a substantial historical study, Ireland since the Union (1887). As well as contributing to the Sketch Book series at this time, he also wrote extensively for the Parnellite weekly United Ireland, and he was the last of the seceding nationalist MPs to abandon Parnell during the schism in the Party in early December 1890. He did not stand again for Parliament, but moved to London where he churned out a rapid succession of historical novels and where his historical plays achieved great popular success.

8 Uncle William Gonne (1830–1892) to whom Maud Gonne devotes the whole of Chapter IV of SQ. He was born in Portugal into a family of wealthy importers of port wine and in due course became head of the firm in London.

9 Adrian Frazier, Adulterous Muse (Dublin, 2016), 19.

10 Both Troyat and Vernay are situated in the Auvergne, a volcanic area in the Massif Central in south east central France. Its extinct volcanoes, rivers, and forests would have provided Langton with striking vistas for his landscape drawing, while its restorative hot springs made it attractive to invalids like Iseulte. Maud Gonne presumable chose to set her story in the small commune of Vernay rather than Troyat to distance it from any obvious autobiographical associations, but whereas Iseulte’s first visit seems to correspond to Vernay as it was, a ‘little mountain village, with its clear springs’, by the time of her return it has a stronger resemblance to Troyat with ‘the Casino, the theatre, the band, the usual noisy, chattering crowd’.

11 SQ 63.

12 Charles Hubert Millevoye (1782–1816), was a poet, elegist and translator, who bridged the period between eighteenth-century classicism and the Romantics, and who enjoyed a respectable literary reputation in his day. His only son, Charles Alfred (1813–1891), was Lucien Millevoye’s father.

13 Algernon Swinburne’s epic poem Tristram of Lyonesse comprises 4488 rhyming pentameters arranged in a prelude and nine cantos. It was published as Tristram of Lyonesse and Other Poems by Chatto & Windus in 1882.

14 ‘Presences’, VP 358.

15 SQ 27.

16 Thomas David Pilcher (1858–1928), the son of a property speculator, joined the 5th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers in 1879 and served in India, 1888–1889. On 31 January 1889, shortly after his return to England, Maud Gonne entertained him to dinner at her rooms in Ebury Street, London, with her sister Kathleen and Yeats, who found it ‘pleasant’ to hear her attacking Pilcher ‘on English rule in India’ (CL1. 137). Her father’s acquaintance and sympathy with India would presumably have provided her with effective ammunition in the discussion. Pilcher married Kathleen Gonne in December of that year but they divorced in 1911 and two years later he married Mrs j. c. L. (Millicent) Knight-Bruce in Bombay. By that time he was a successful career soldier, having distinguished himself in the South African War and being advanced in 1907 to the rank of Major General.

17 Divorce papers, 4 July 1911. PRO XC3613.

18 Adrian Frazier, Adulterous Muse, 37–78.

19 Freeman’s Journal, 20 September 1888, 5. Her sanctimonious letter, dated ‘Sept 19th’, read: ‘I enclose £2 as my subscription to the National Indemnity Fund. It is the duty of all Irishmen and women to show their sympathy and admiration of those who so nobly maintain the struggle against wrong and oppression. Faithfully yours, Maud Gonne’. Three weeks later she enrolled as a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language, by now a rather sclerotic organization shortly to be eclipsed by the Gaelic League.

20 Bridport News, 7 November 1884, 2.

21 Ibid. The situation in Egypt, and its client state the Sudan, was a growing embarrassment to Gladstone’s Liberal administration. Although eager to extricate Britain from both countries, in February 1883 it had sent a hopelessly inadequate expedition to the Sudan under William Hicks, ‘Hicks Pasha’ (1831–1883), an ex-Indian army officer, to help the Egyptian army put down a popular rebellion led by the Mahdi. Hicks’s forces were annihilated at the battle of El Obeid in early November and the following February General Gordon was sent to superintend the withdrawal of what remained of the British and Egyptian forces. He disobeyed orders and found himself trapped in Khartoum in a siege which lasted for 317 days and which was still in progress as Gonne was delivering his speech. Given Gordon’s insubordination, the Government had been reluctant to send him assistance, but were forced to do so by popular demand. The relieving force under General Wolseley reached Khartoum on 28 January 1885, two days too late, and the opprobrium over the delay and Gordon’s death contributed towards the defeat of the Liberals in the General Election held later that year.

22 Ibid., 5 December 1884, 4. A gifted linguist, Gonne had been Hindi translator for his regiment and his familiarity with the language would have informed his enlightened sympathy for Indian culture and outlook.

23 Dorset County Chronicle, 6 November 1884, 12.

24 Bridport News, 5 December 1884, 4.

25 Among the many papers which reprinted the paragraph was the West Somerset Free Press of 14 February 1885, 1, where many of Gonne’s potential electors would have read it: ‘A somewhat tardy act of justice has been done by the Horse Guards in giving a staff appointment to Colonel Gonne, formerly in command of the 17th Lancers. His luck was hard. But recently appointed to the command of his regiment when it was placed under orders to take part in the Zulu War, he was badly wounded the leg while trying revolvers …. The result of this deplorable accident was that Gonne could not embark with the 17th; its former colonel, Drury Lowe, rejoined it on purpose to command it in the field, and from that moment dates his upward progress, till he galloped into Cairo in 1882 at the head of the cavalry advance. Gonne, with better luck, might have been in his place’.

26 SQ 43.

27 Daily Express, Dublin, 29 March 1886, 6.

28 The Irish Times, 3 December 1886, 5.

29 SQ, 59.

30 In SQ (59–60) Maud Gonne erroneously identifies this as a translation of Ernest Legouvé’s and Eugène Scribe’s Adrienne Lecouvreur, a play based on the life of the eponymous eighteenth-century French actress. It was in fact Heartsease, a version of Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias by the American-born dramatist James Mortimer (1833–1911). His reformation of Marguerite from courtesan to actress may explain the confusion with Adrienne Lecouvreur.

31 SQ 60.

32 Ibid., 86–87.

33 Ibid., 93.

34 Freeman’s Journal, 5 November 1888, 6.

35 Daily Express, Dublin, 5 November 1888, 4.

36 Freeman’s Journal, 5 November 1888, 6.

37 SQ 94.

38 The Irish Times, 11 December 1888, 7.

39 Revd. Charles Edward Tisdall (1821–1905) was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and ordained in the Church of Ireland in 1846. He became a Doctor of Divinity in 1859, was appointed Chancellor of Christ Church Cathedral in 1862, and in 1865 began his incumbency of St Dolough’s in Dublin, an office he held for over thirty years. He was a staunch Mason, a committed member of the Conservative and Unionist Party, and an advocate of temperance. Besides his religious and parochial duties he was possessed in his younger days of one of the best tenor voices in Ireland and he remained an elocutionist of the first rank. He was the star attraction of numerous concerts, and his recitations from Shakespeare and Dickens in particular drew packed audiences not only in Dublin but throughout Ireland. In 1886 he helped found the Society of Elocutionists, and was elected its first President, although it fell into abeyance after his retirement.

40 Daily Express, Dublin, 4 March 1889, 3. The first part of The Progress of Madness; or, The Irishman Insane (Newcastle, 1802), a mock-epic satire in rhyming tetrameter couplets by T. Houston, tells how an Irish immigrant, Patrick Connor, is falsely arrested for trespass and poaching by the splenetic and anti-Irish Squire of Wray, tried before the gluttonous and ignorant magistrate Drivelers, and, despite the prisoner’s eloquent and passionate appeal to Justice and the Rights of Man, committed to a lunatic asylum run by the quack Dr Curl. In the second part, Connor, finally released from the madhouse, tries to sue the Squire of Wray but, although the case clearly unmasks the bias and stupidity of Drivelers, and the medical ineptitude of Curl, the court finds in favour of the wealthy and influential squire.

41 See the Leinster Express, 4 May 1889, 9. Among the others listed as attending were the Baroness de Robeck, Colonel Hon c. f. Crichton, Colonel Gough, Colonel r. f. Rynd, Mr h. e. Linde, Major R. St. L. Moore and party, Mr and the Misses Henry, and Mr D. Mahony. The paper reports that an ‘excellent luncheon was served to all comers’.

42 Mem. 61.

43 Leinster Leader, 23 August 1890, 2.

44 Ibid.

45 Ibid.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid., 4.

49 The quotation is from Charles Baudelaire’s poem ‘Le Masque’ (‘The Mask’), which appeared in the second edition of Les Fleurs du Mal in February 1861, and should read ‘Elle pleure insensé, parce qu’elle a vécu! Et parce qu’elle vit!’(‘She weeps, fool, because she has lived | And because she must live on’). The poem, dedicated to the sculptor Ernest Christophe, is subtitled ‘Allegorical Statue in the Style of the Renaissance’, and the first part celebrates the voluptuous beauty of a statue by Christophe. When the poet examines it more closely he is shocked to discover that its divine body culminates ‘en monstre bicéphale!’ (‘in a two-headed monster’). He quickly discovers that the double heads comprise a sly, smiling mask and an authentic head, which is crying. In the final section the poet asks why she, a perfect beauty, should weep, and the answer provides the epigram to the poem: she is in tears because she is living.


John Kelly is an Emeritus Research Fellow at St John’s College, Oxford, and the Donald Keough Professor in Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He taught English and Irish Literature at Oxford University from 1976 to 2009, and has written extensively on nineteenth-and twentieth-century literature. He is General Editor of The Collected Letters of w. b. Yeats, Vol. 4 to which was awarded the Cohen Prize by the Modern Languages Association. His co-edition, with Ronald Schuchard, of Vol. 5 will be out in 2018. He has also edited and introduced a 12-volume series of Irish fiction, poetry, and essays of the nineteenth century, under the title ‘Hibernia: State and Nation’. His w. b. Yeats Chronology appeared in 2003.


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