The Adulterous Muse: Maud Gonne, Lucien Millevoye and W.B. Yeats

Maud_gonne_cph-3b21750John Wilson Foster at The Dublin Review of Books:

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.

more here.