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. Despite the threat of social ostracism, she had several children out of wedlock. She was an independent woman who charted her own course.
Maud Gonne was also a life-long anti-semite. Even after the full horrors of the Second World War were known, she never expressed sympathy for the millions 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 differentiate Irish history and literature from England’s. She converted to Catholicism in order to marry the Irish Catholic hero of the Boer war, 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 political prisoners, who she argued, should have the same rights as common criminals: to get exercise and to be visited by their families.
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 vivid, unconventional descendants, The Fascination of What’s Difficult is a portrait of a powerful woman who, despite her considerable flaws, continues to inspire.