Mad, Bad, Dangerous To Know: The Fathers Of Wilde, Yeats And Joyce

Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know
by Colm Toibin

From Colm Tóibín, the formidable award-winning author of The Master and Brooklyn, an illuminating, intimate study of Irish culture, history, and literature told through the lives and work of three men—William Wilde, John Butler Yeats, and John Stanislaus Joyce—and the complicated, influential relationships they had with their complicated sons.

Colm Tóibín begins his incisive, revelatory Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know with a walk through the Dublin streets where he went to university—a wide-eyed boy from the country—and where three Irish literary giants also came of age. Oscar Wilde, writing about his relationship with his father, William Wilde, stated: “Whenever there is hatred between two people there is bond or brotherhood of some kind…you loathed each other not because you were so different but because you were so alike.” W.B. Yeats wrote of his father, John Butler Yeats, a painter: “It is this infirmity of will which has prevented him from finishing his pictures. The qualities I think necessary to success in art or life seemed to him egotism.” John Stanislaus Joyce, James’s father, was perhaps the most quintessentially Irish, widely loved, garrulous, a singer, and drinker with a volatile temper, who drove his son from Ireland.

Elegant, profound, and riveting, Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know illuminates not only the complex relationships between three of the greatest writers in the English language and their fathers, but also illustrates the surprising ways these men surface in their work. Through these stories of fathers and sons, Tóibín recounts the resistance to English cultural domination, the birth of modern Irish cultural identity, and the extraordinary contributions of these complex and masterful authors.


Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know
by Colm Toibin

‘A father…is a necessary evil.’ Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses

William Butler Yeats’ father was an impoverished artist, an inveterate letter writer, and a man crippled by his inability to ever finish a painting.

Oscar Wilde’s father was a doctor, a brilliant statistician and amateur archaeologist who was taken to court by an obsessed lover in a strange foreshadowing of events that would later befall his son.

The father of James Joyce was a garrulous, hard-drinking man with a violent temper, unable or unwilling to provide for his large family, who eventually drove his son from Ireland.

In Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know, Colm Tóibín presents an illuminating, intimate study of Irish culture, history and literature told through the lives and works of Ireland’s most famous sons, and the complicated, influential relationships they each maintained with their fathers.

‘A supple, subtle thinker, alive to hunts and undertones, wary of absolute truths.’ New Statesman

‘Tóibín writes about writers’ families…with great subtlety and sometimes with splendid impudence.’ Sunday Telegraph


Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know
by Colm Tóibín

‘There is something interesting and intriguing to be found on almost every page’ Guardian

‘A father . . . is a necessary evil.’ Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses

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In Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know Colm Tóibín turns his incisive gaze to three of Ireland’s greatest writers, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats and James Joyce, and their earliest influences: their fathers. From Wilde’s doctor father, a brilliant statistician and amateur archaeologist, who was taken to court by an obsessed lover in a strange premonition of what would happen to his son; to Yeats’ father, an impoverished artist and brilliant letter-writer who could never finish apainting; to John Stanislus Joyce, a singer, drinker and story-teller, a man unwilling to provide for his large family, whom his son James memorialised in his work.

Colm Tóibín illuminates not only the complex relationships between three of the greatest writers in the English language and their fathers, but also illustrates the surprising ways they surface in their work

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‘Toibin has a hawk-like eye for literary subtleties, and a generosity towards his subjects that is warm and unacademic.’ The Sunday Times

‘Full of insight and intrigue’ Observer

‘Searching, funny, generous’ Irish Times

‘Subtle, witty and often deeply moving’ New Statesman


New Ways to Kill Your Mother
by Colm Toibin

In a brilliant, nuanced and wholly original collection of essays, the novelist and critic Colm Tóibín explores the relationships of writers to their families and their work.

From Jane Austen’s aunts to Tennessee Williams’s mentally ill sister, the impact of intimate family dynamics can be seen in many of literature’s greatest works. Tóibín, celebrated both for his award-winning fiction and his provocative book reviews and essays, and currently the Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia, traces and interprets those intriguing, eccentric, often twisted family ties in New Ways to Kill Your Mother. Through the relationship between W. B. Yeats and his father, Thomas Mann and his children, and J. M. Synge and his mother, Tóibín examines a world of relations, richly comic or savage in its implications. In Roddy Doyle’s writing on his parents, Tóibín perceives an Ireland reinvented. From the dreams and nightmares of John Cheever’s journals, Tóibín illuminates this darkly comic misanthrope and his relationship to his wife and his children. “Educating an intellectual woman,” Cheever remarked, “is like letting a rattlesnake into the house.” Acutely perceptive and imbued with rare tenderness and wit, New Ways to Kill Your Mother is a fascinating look at writers’ most influential bonds and a secret key to understanding and enjoying their work.


House of Names
by Colm Toibin

* A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book of the Year
* Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, St. Louis Dispatch

From the thrilling imagination of bestselling, award-winning Colm Tóibín comes a retelling of the story of Clytemnestra and her children—“brilliant…gripping…high drama…made tangible and graphic in Tóibín’s lush prose” (Booklist, starred review).

“I have been acquainted with the smell of death.” So begins Clytemnestra’s tale of her own life in ancient Mycenae, the legendary Greek city from which her husband King Agamemnon left when he set sail with his army for Troy. Clytemnestra rules Mycenae now, along with her new lover Aegisthus, and together they plot the bloody murder of Agamemnon on the day of his return after nine years at war.

Judged, despised, cursed by gods, Clytemnestra reveals the tragic saga that led to these bloody actions: how her husband deceived her eldest daughter Iphigeneia with a promise of marriage to Achilles, only to sacrifice her; how she seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus; how Agamemnon came back with a lover himself; and how Clytemnestra finally achieved her vengeance for his stunning betrayal—his quest for victory, greater than his love for his child.

House of Names “is a disturbingly contemporary story of a powerful woman caught between the demands of her ambition and the constraints on her gender…Never before has Tóibín demonstrated such range,” (The Washington Post). He brings a modern sensibility and language to an ancient classic, and gives this extraordinary character new life, so that we not only believe Clytemnestra’s thirst for revenge, but applaud it. Told in four parts, this is a fiercely dramatic portrait of a murderess, who will herself be murdered by her own son, Orestes. It is Orestes’s story, too: his capture by the forces of his mother’s lover Aegisthus, his escape and his exile. And it is the story of the vengeful Electra, who watches over her mother and Aegisthus with cold anger and slow calculation, until, on the return of her brother, she has the fates of both of them in her hands.


Prodigal Father
by William Michael Murphy

This work on the life of lovable, brilliant, and distressingly improvident, John Butler Yeats provides an account of what happened to him from day to day over the years. It draws upon letters, associations with Yeats’ living descendants, relevant manuscripts, and other treasures to present a portrait that is not a final treatment or a complete biography, but is intended to provide material for others who wish to study some of the subjects touched upon more deeply. — Publisher description.

Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush
by Colm Toibin, Colm Tóibín

In this remarkable biographical essay, Colm Tóibín examines the contradictions that defined Lady Gregory, an essential figure in Irish cultural history. She was the wife of a landlord and member of Parliament who had been personally responsible for introducing measures that compounded the misery of the Irish peasantry during the Great Famine. Yet, Lady Gregory devoted much of her creative energy to idealizing that same peasantry, while never abandoning the aristocratic hauteur, the social connections, or the great house that her birth and marriage had bequeathed to her.
Lady Gregory’s capacity to occupy mutually contradictory positions was essential to her heroic work as a founder and director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin–nurturing Synge and O’Casey, her battles with rioters and censors, and to her central role in the career of W. B. Yeats. She was Yeats’s artistic collaborator (writing most of Cathleen Ní Houlihan, for example), his helpmeet, and his diplomatic wing. Tóibín’s account of Yeats’s attempts–by turns glorious and graceless–to memorialize Lady Gregory’s son Robert when he was killed in the First World War, and of Lady Gregory’s pain at her loss and at the poet’s appropriation of it, is a moving tour de force of literary history.
Tóibín also reveals a side of Lady Gregory that is at odds with the received image of a chilly dowager. Early in her marriage to Sir William Gregory, she had an affair with the poet and anti-imperialist Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and wrote a series of torrid love sonnets that Blunt published under his own name. Much later in life, as she neared her sixtieth birthday, she fell in love with the great patron of the arts John Quinn, who was eighteen years her junior.

“It is the old battle, between those who use a toothbrush and those who don’t.”
–Lady Augusta Gregory writing to W.B. Yeats, referring to the riots at the Abbey Theatre over Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World


Time Pieces
by John Banville

From the internationally acclaimed and Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea and the Benjamin Black mysteries–a vividly evocative memoir that unfolds around the author’s recollections, experience, and imaginings of Dublin.

As much about the life of the city as it is about a life lived, sometimes, in the city, John Banville’s “quasi-memoir” is as layered, emotionally rich, witty, and unexpected as any of his novels. Born and bred in a small town a train ride away from Dublin, Banville saw the city as a place of enchantment when he was a child, a birthday treat, the place where his beloved, eccentric aunt lived. And though, when he came of age and took up residence there, and the city became a frequent backdrop for his dissatisfactions (not playing an identifiable role in his work until the Quirke mystery series, penned as Benjamin Black), it remained in some part of his memory as fascinating as it had been to his seven-year-old self. And as he guides us around the city, delighting in its cultural, architectural, political, and social history, he interweaves the memories that are attached to particular places and moments. The result is both a wonderfully idiosyncratic tour of Dublin, and a tender yet powerful ode to a formative time and place for the artist as a young man.


Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know
by Colm Tóibín

An intimate study of three of Ireland’s greatest writers from one of its best-loved contemporary voices

‘A father…is a necessary evil.’ Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses

In Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know Colm Tóibín turns his incisive gaze to three of Ireland’s greatest writers, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats and James Joyce, and their earliest influences: their fathers. From Wilde’s doctor father, a brilliant statistician and amateur archaeologist, who was taken to court by an obsessed lover in a strange premonition of what would happen to his son; to Yeats’ father, an impoverished artist and brilliant letter-writer who could never finish apainting; to John Stanislus Joyce, a singer, drinker and story-teller, a man unwilling to provide for his large family, whom his son James memorialised in his work.

Colm Tóibín illuminates not only the complex relationships between three of the greatest writers in the English language and their fathers, but also illustrates the surprising ways they surface in their work.


The Empty Family
by Colm Tóibín

On the heels of his bestselling and award-winning novel Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín returns with a stunning collection of stories—now available in paperback—“a book that’s both a perfect introduction to Tóibín and, for longtime fans, a bracing pleasure” ( The Seattle Times ).

Critics praised Brooklyn as a “beautifully rendered portrait of Brooklyn and provincial Ireland in the 1950s.” In The Empty Family, Tóibín has extended his imagination further, offering an incredible range of periods and characters—people linked by love, loneliness, desire—“the unvarying dilemmas of the human heart” ( The Observer, UK).

In the breathtaking long story “The Street,” Tóibín imagines a relationship between Pakistani workers in Barcelona—a taboo affair in a community ruled by obedience and silence. In “Two Women,” an eminent and taciturn Irish set designer takes a job in her homeland and must confront emotions she has long repressed. “Silence” is a brilliant historical set piece about Lady Gregory, who tells the writer Henry James a confessional story at a dinner party.

Reviewed on the front page of The New York Times Book Review, The Empty Family will further cement Tóibín’s status as “his generation’s most gifted writer of love’s complicated, contradictory power” ( Los Angeles Times ).


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