Yes. I admit it, okay!? I’m taking an Irish history course and a lot of my posts (ok, just two of them now) have been inspired by class lecture. So there. Deal with it. Irish history: potatoes (or lack thereof), alcohol, oppression, and apparently a lot of sex.
Let’s set the scene, shall we? It’s turn of the century Ireland and instead of being all into political independence (overrated — am I right, Canada?) a lot of artists, writers, and intellectuals are all about reviving Gaelic culture. People are learning to speak Irish, they’re writing Irish poetry, they’re learning traditional Irish dance and theatre and art. They even re-popularized a Gaelic form of football. They were so alternative, so hip. If these people were around in the US today, they’d be living in DUMBO or Williamsburg. Do you catch my clove cigarette-induced drift? These people were the hipsters of 20th century Ireland and they knew it.
But let’s get to the good stuff. The dirty stuff. And to do that, we’re going to have to filter out the weak and get to the hippest of the hip. Yes, I’m talking about magical-society attending, over-sized scarf-toting, dark-rimmed glasses wearing, poetry-writing, espresso-sipping Maud Gonne and William Butler Yeats.
Maud Gonne was English, but she had lived in Ireland for a while and thought that the Irish were sort of being oppressed or whatever so she was like, “That sucks!” and then converted to Catholicism and became a hard-core Irish Nationalist. She moved to France and met a very sexy (married) politician named was Lucien Millevoye (sounds like LUCIUS MALFOY!!!) Even though he was married, separated at the time (but still!), Lucius Malfoy had to get what was his. So he left his wife for good (but not before he and Maud did it a bunch) and they were married. They had two children, but only one survived, the girl, Iseult who, just like mommy, became wrapped up in a couple of literary sex scandals herself. More on that later.
Yeats met Gonne in Paris (where else? so hip.) after her divorce from the mustached Lucien and he instantly fell in love with her. But the feeling wasn’t exactly mutual. He proposed to her at least 4 times in the first few years of their friendship and she coyly (I imagine) refused each time. To Yeats’ horror, Gonne married the Irish Nationalist (and world-class asshole) John MacBride who shortly after supposedly molested Gonne’s daughter, Iseult, then only 11 years old. They were already divorced in, like, 1905, a few years after their “I Do’s” so they weren’t really hanging out together much in 1916 when MacBride was hung for his role in the Easter Uprising of 1916 — and by hung, I mean executed, get your mind out of the gutter.
Yeats, with his ever perfect timing, swooped in right after MacBride’s execution and proposed to Gonne AGAIN! Smooth, Yeats. You don’t want to seem too desperate or anything. Especially since they had already had a brief affair in 1908 after which Gonne wrote him a really nice letter saying the early 20th century equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me. Maybe we should just be friends.” So. Yeats. Apparently not such a good lay.
Well, maybe that was just what Maud thought. Because, guess what, here’s a little bonus factoid for everyone. Although, Yeats was pretty much in love with Maud for his entire life, for about a year, in the late 1890s, he had an affair with a woman named Olivia Shakespear (no, I didn’t spell it wrong, she only has the two e’s.) He knew this girl, Olivia, who was, you guessed it, married with children, who he thought was pretty hot and smart. So he was like, “Well, Maud’s not into me right now, I’ve already proposed to her 4 times, maybe I can get this Olivia chick to come out of town with me for a little bit and we can do it for a while until Maud comes around again.” But he was sort of pussy-footing around and was having sort of a rough time of it getting up the nerve to go make shit happen with her. (So sensitive. So hip.) But when he finally did get over to Olivia to ask her to go away with him, she was like, “Yeats! DUH! I’m totally in love with you, I’ll risk everything — my financial security, my children, my social standing, everything, just to do it with you, you LITERARY STALLION!” So she legally separated from her hubby, not a divorce, and they shacked up together for, like, a year.
But then Yeats went back to Ireland and Maud came back in town and he started to follow her around again with his beautiful, bespectacled, puppy-dog eyes. Olivia lived with her daughter, Dorothy, for most of the rest of her life. And then Dorothy married (drum roll please) Ezra Pound.
Which brings me to a final little tale that makes this story of sex and scandal inter-generational, motherfuckers!!
Gonne’s daughter, Iseult (remember her? I told you we’d come back to her) and had grown up in the Irish freedom fighting circle doing a bunch of badass shit, so it’s not really surprising that she PROPOSED to a 52 year old Yeats when she was just 15. Yeah! She proposed to him! What a badass! And then he turned around and proposed to her, because Yeats was a fucking gentleman, OK? But that whole thing didn’t end up working out because, you know it, it’s gross and he was, like, the only father figure she had throughout her life so it’d sort of be weird if she married him. And Maud wasn’t into it, understandably. But then Iseult had a steamy little affair with (drum roll please) Ezra Pound (!!) before settling down with a young Australian writer 6 years her junior. Her love letters to Yeats and Pound are published and now on my summer reading for fun list. (Holy crap balls! Just look at that link — the book costs $100! Bitch better be juicy.)
So, I don’t know if you noticed, but SHIT JUST WENT FULL CIRCLE.
Shall we review?
Maud Gonne (had an affair with/was proposed to multiple times by) WB Yeats (who had an affair with) Olivia Shakespear (whose daughter) Dorothy (married) Ezra Pound (who once had an affair with) Isuelt (Maud’s daughter, who proposed to) WB Yeats (who was in love with her mother) Maud Gonne.
That’s a lot of scandal for just 6 people. But that’s how bitches were rolllin’ in early 20th century Europe. They were sexy. They were smart. They were hip.
But perhaps most important for this blog, they were D. T. F.