Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lady Gregory An Irish Life by Judith Hill

Lady Gregory An Irish Life by Judith Hill  (2011, 616 pages)

"Mancin's portrait of Augusta Gregory,
'Greatest since Rembrandt:, according to John Synge:
A great ebullient portrait certainly,
But where is the brush that could show anything
Of all that pride and that humility".

Lovers of one the finest poets ever to live, William Butler Yeats owe a great debt to Lady Augusta Gregory for her patronage of his work.   She took a great deal of stress of day to day life from Yeats and allowed him to focus on his writings.  If this was all Lady Gregory did the literary world and Ireland would owe her a great debt to her.    It is not easy to see at first the great importance and the amazing accomplishments of Lady Gregory.   She lived intentionally in the shadow of men, she never really quite rose above her patrician Anglo Irish roots but she brought about the rebirth of the Irish theater, was an avid student and preserver of West Irish folk ways, an excellent writer and in addition to being the patron of Yeats she helped John Synge struggle with his personal issues and the public reception to his plays.   I am convinced now Synge is clearly the third most important modern Irish writer behind Joyce and Yeats.    Based on Hill's superb biography I do not think Synge would have had the strength, based on his health and personal issues to go on writing if it were not for Gregory who was a kind of buffer between he and Yeats.   If Yeats and Synge helped create modern Irish identity and built the pride of the nation, Lady Gregory was there making sure it happened.

Augusta Gregory (1852 to 1932-County Galway, Ireland) was born into affluent Anglo-Irish family, with six thousand acres.   Their ancestral home was burned down during the Irish Civil War.   At age 25, she married Sir William Gregory, thirty five years her senior and a former governor of Ceylon.   He was a fairly recent widower and he wanted a "serviceable and appropriate wife" and Augusta and her family were not displeased by a match with a very wealthy  older man.   Through the marriage she became Lady Gregory and from Hill's book I cannot imagine every calling her anything other than "Lady Gregory".

Hill's biography is perfect.   She greatly respects her subject, as she should, but she is not blind to her imperfections.   Lady Gregory was more than a bit elitist, she liked to be the lady of the manor dispensing charity to her tenants, she enjoyed the company of the brilliant men like Yeats and Synge and a cynic could say she bought their  company and forced them to pay attention to her for access to her money.   Hill is forthcoming about the two extra-marital romances in Lady Gregory's Life.   I was fascinated by Hill's description of the time her and her husband spent in Egypt.      Cairo was the exotic east in the late 1800s and it opened visitors to forbidden at home pleasures.

Hill also tells us a lot about the management of the Abbey Theater.   I was fascinated to learn about her thoughts on Maud Goone (she did not like her for Yeats at all) and I was happy to see her acceptance of Yeat's wife, George.   It appears Lady Gregory did not have much of an interest in the occult but she did not criticize those in her circle with strong preoccupations in this area, including Yeats.

W. B. Yeats wrote a very famous and beautiful poem about the death of Lady Gregory's son Robert in World War I. "An Irish Airman Foresees Hus Death" and Hill helped me to understand the background behind this masterwork.

Lady Gregory An Irish Life is a great biography and a work of serious art.   Those interested in Yeats and Synge for sure will love and profit from this book.   It will also be fascinating for those interested in the social history of Ireland, the Irish theater, and the relationship of the sexes in the period.    We also learn a good bit about the troubled lives of her brothers, the lives of her children, grandchildren and daughter-in-laws.

Hill has written a long enough book to tell us a lot about Lady Gregory's life and times.  I started this book with a preconceived notion that Lady Gregory was just a wealthy woman buying some literary attention and Hill accepts the negative aspects of her behaviour and character.   I closed the book with sense of gratitude to Gregory for what she did for Yeats and Synge and to Hill for allowing me to see beyond my preconceptions.

Lady Gregory An Irish Life by Judith Hill is biography at the highest level of art and perspicuity.     It is very well documented and there is an excellent bibliography.   This is a very interesting look at the life of a fascinating woman.   Some may scorn her for her deference to men but she was a product of her time and upbringing and you will close this book with a great deal of respect for a brilliant, very creative and amazingly strong woman.   She was also deeply cultured and I enjoyed learning about her reading life.   Hill tells us enough about the politics of the period to help us under the social background of the events she depicts.

This book is must reading for those interested in the history of Irish Literature.

Hill is a well known historian of Georgian era architecture.

Mel u
The Reading Life

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hello there! Just two days ago, I finally mustered enough courage to make my very first book blog. So, yeah, though I know I sometimes write crappy reviews about a certain book that I have read, I still couldn’t help but blog about them :) So I’m looking for a fellow Filipino book blogger wherein I can share some of my book rants with. :)

If you have the time, please do visit my blog:

Thanks in Advance!

Much Love,