Maud Gonne, the legendary woman known as the Irish Joan of Arc, left her mark on everyone she met. She famously won the devotion of one of the greatest poets of the age, William Butler Yeats. Born into tremendous privilege, she allied herself with rebels and the downtrodden and openly defied what was at the time the world’s most powerful empire. She was an actress, a journalist and an activist for the cause of Irish independence. Ignoring the threat of social ostracism, she had several children out of wedlock. She was an independent woman who charted her own course.

Yet Maud Gonne was also a lifelong anti-semite, someone who, even after the horrors of the Second World War, could not summon sympathy for the millions of Jewish children murdered by the Nazis. A believer in the occult and in reincarnation, she took what she called “dream drugs,”(hash in tablet form) with Yeats to enhance visions of mythic Irish heroes and heroines, to mark out Irish history and literature apart from England’s.  In mid-life, she converted to Catholicism in order to marry the Irish Catholic war hero Major John MacBride.

Much of her adult life was spent working for amnesty for Irish political prisoners, after Great Britain suspended Habeas Corpus for “Irish terrorists,” a policy continued by the newly formed Irish Republic.She lobbied tirelessly to improve conditions in prison for these human rights prisoners, as they became known.

What motivated this extraordinary person? 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 equally vivid, unconventional descendants, The Fascination of What’s Difficult is a portrait of a powerful woman who, despite her considerable flaws, continues to inspire.

Maud’s Life, Family, & Exploits

Discover why Maud Gonne is one of history’s
most interesting & complex women.

Maud’s Early Years

Kathleen was Maud’s little sister by two years. The two were close and corresponded throughout their lives in different countries. They were fond of each other’s children.

From Tongham to Paris

Maud in Paris as a teen had been groomed to appreciate the finer arts of making oneself look beautiful by her great aunt, the Countess of Sizeranne.

Dreams of Theater

In Royat, she met Lucien Millevoye, the right wing French politcian and her romantic partner for over a decade. She dreamed of theater, but chose being an actual heroine over being one on stage.

Later Years

Throughout her long life, Maud treasured her relationships with the animals in her life: dogs, horses and birds.

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