“A Victorian debutante who became a radical with a flair for self-promotion, Maud Gonne was far more interesting – and complicated – than her renowned beauty as a poet’s muse. With clear-eyed forays into obsession, love, and friendship, Kim Bendheim fleshes out one of the most enigmatic and alluring women in the history of European letters and politics.”

– Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix

“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…Bendheim’s book does not cancel out the images we have of Maud Gonne, but certainly adds to them, giving us a broader picture of this undoubtedly difficult and fascinating woman.”

Michael O’Loughlin, The Irish Times | Read Full Review

2022 Plutarch Award Nominee

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Maud Gonne, the legendary woman known as the Irish Joan of Arc, left her mark on everyone she met.

W.B.Yeats, one of the foremost poets in the English language celebrated her in timeless lyric poetry. She was his muse. But as readers will discover, there was much more to her life than being the inspiration of a twentieth century poet. An actress, journalist and celebrity, a modern media maven, she pioneered the role of women in Irish nationalist politics, before her, an exclusively male preserve.

Kim Bendheim has long been fascinated by Maud Gonne’s perplexing character, and here gives us an intensely personal assessment of her thrilling life. The product of much original research, including interviews with Gonne’s vivid, unconventional descendants, The Fascination of What’s Difficult is a portrait of a powerful woman who, despite her considerable flaws, continues to inspire.

The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart.

— William Butler Yeats,
“The Fascination of What’s Difficult,” 1910

Is there no way to make the past the present,
To wind and unwind it like a ball of yarn?

— Murasaki Shikibu, 
The Tale of Genji