cover image Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce

Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce

Colm Tóibín. Scribner, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8517-2

Fans of early modern literature will enjoy this look by novelist Tóibín (House of Names) at the fathers of three of Ireland’s most acclaimed authors. He explores a milieu they shared—the “small Dublin world” of the 19th century—and the many connections among their three families. W.B. Yeats’s grandparents and father knew Oscar Wilde’s parents, and a younger Yeats “would later dine at the house of Oscar Wilde in London.” His father “even met the young James Joyce on the street,” finding him “very loquacious.” Wilde’s father, William, excelled as a physician, as well as an “antiquarian, topographer, folklore collector, and archaeologist.” However, Yeats and Joyce’s fathers, both named John, and respectively a painter and a musician, found little contemporaneous fortune. Despite the focus on fathers, the works of the sons pervade this book, and Tóibín illuminates them with fresh readings. These include Yeats’s poems and Wilde’s prison letter De Profundis (which Tóibín once spent several hours performing aloud from the cell where Wilde was locked up for “gross indecency”), but Joyce’s fiction, filled with references to Yeatses, Wildes, and Joyce’s own family, receives particularly close attention. Originally delivered as a series of lectures, this study balances dexterous narration and Tóibín’s scholarly familiarity with his subjects’ place in Irish political and social history. [em]Agent: Peter Straus, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (Oct.) [/em]