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Lady Gregory's Toothbrush [Kindle Edition]

Colm Toibin
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $4.99

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Book Description

‘It is the battle between those who use a toothbrush and those who don’t.’ So wrote Augusta Gregory to W.B. Yeats; she was referring to the riots at the Abbey Theatre over The Playboy of the Western World, and she knew which side she was on. In this remarkable biographical essay, Colm Toíbín examines the contradictions that defined the position of this essential figure in Irish cultural history, The wife of a landlord and MP who had been personally responsible for introducing measures that compounded the misery of the Irish peasantry during the Great Famine, Lady Gregory devoted much of her creative energy to idealizing the same peasantry – while never abandoning the aristocratic hauteur, the social connections or the great house which her birth and marriage had bequeathed her. Early in her writing life, her politics were staunchly unionist – yet she campaigned for the freedom of Egypt from colonial rule. Later she wrote plays celebrating rebellion, but trembled in her bed when the Irish revolution threatened her property and her way of life. Lady Gregory’s capacity to occupy mutually contradictory positions was essential to her heroic work as a founder and director of the Abbey Theatre – nurturing Synge and O’Casey, battling 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. Toíbín’s account of Yeats’s attemts – by turns glorious and graceless – to memorize 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. Toíbín 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 affain with the poet and anti-imperialist Wilfred 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 arts John Quinn, who was eighteen years her junior. Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush is a sharp, concentrated, witty and much-needed reassessment of a major cultural figure who has been oddly taken for granted and often badly misunderstood.

Editorial Reviews


'Biographical portraits are too often nowadays smudged in a surfeit of words... this one is a brilliant illumination' Spectator


'Biographical portraits are too often nowadays smudged in a surfeit of words... this one is a brilliant illumination' Spectator

Product Details

  • File Size: 790 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The Lilliput Press (September 1, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,144 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Arrogance vs. ambiguity June 24, 2006
The tension of the Anglo-Irish, Toibin argues, can be charted in Lady Gregory's own life, as she negotiated the difficult balancing act of a Coole landowner hosting balls for British nobles before going off to her next social engagement, a tea party for the ladies in the local workhouse. Speaking of the latter, the infamous if well-intended Famine-era "Gregory Act" enacted by her family, that pushed off so many from their small plot of land into emigration, ironically making the conditions for those who remained behind in Ireland better off, is delved into efficiently. Toibin, with sympathy but not apology, notes how she, no less than Pearse, Joyce, O'Casey, Synge, Hyde, Gonne, or Yeats during the period from 1890-1925 (for those among the Revival who managed to live through the Rising and the subsequent strife), had to constantly reinvent and embroider and disguise her contested Irish identity. This extended essay, more a monograph than a full-fledged book, briefly sums up the general trajectory of how the rise of the Free State paralled the life and successes of the coterie led in no small part not only by the more prominent and grandstanding Yeats but also by Lady G.

It's not recommended for those who may be unfamiliar with "The Countess Cathleen," for example, or the plays put on by Yeats, her, and their colleagues/rivals for the Abbey Theatre. While a well-chosen list of primary sources and scholarship is appended, no footnotes are given, and Toibin seems to expect his readers to be already familiar with the Irish political, cultural and literary currents of the early 20c. Little description of her writings and no literary analysis to speak of can be found here. Rather, Toibin seeks to uncover what the title of the book indicates: the gap that Lady G.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Candid Historian February 19, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have read just about everything that I've found available (in English) of Colm Toibin. As the list of books has grown, I've come to appreciate his candor and writing skills. I appreciated Lady Gregory's Toothbrush because of this refreshing presentation of history. Toibin's connecting of historical persons was delightful since this doesn't often seem to be done (and done so extremely well) by many other authors. Lady Gregory was a real 'corker' to use a bit of slang, someone I just might have enjoyed knowing. I hope some day to connect with Colm Toibin. If his writing style is anything at all like he speaks, he would certainly be more than a delight as someone with whom to spend time!
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars OK nonprofessional biography January 3, 2007
Toíbín has performed considerable primary research often in the unpublished manuscripts either by or about Lady Gregory, and he combines this work with detailed research into the lives of the writers who were associated first with her husband and later with herself. Indeed, Toíbín's essay is best when he follows his journalistic instincts to collate the scattered information that allows him to enrich our knowledge of Gregory's lesser known social and artistic associations: her husband's friendship with Anthony Trollop, her social encounters with Henry James and Queen Victoria, or her failed efforts to befriend James Joyce.

These strengths notwithstanding, Toíbín is rarely able to discuss Gregory's life without subordinating it to other, often patriarchal, narratives which are portrayed as conditioning her activities; thus, we see her as Sir William's wife, Blunt's mistress, Yeats' long-suffering `helpmeet', Synge's reluctant defender, John Quinn's lover, Robert Gregory's mother, and O'Casey's soulmate. This reluctance to consider Gregory as in herself a subject worthy of direct analysis extends to her career as well: while Toíbín devotes considerable attention to the private love sonnets written for Blunt in the 1880s, in an argument that positions her squarely within a male economy of marital duty and adulterous desire, he largely ignores her successful literary career in the twentieth century. There are exceptions to this general criticism, as in his insightful discussion of her Cuchulain of Muirthemne; nonetheless, the reader has few views of Gregory beyond her social functions as theatre manager, literary patroness, and social dowager.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who uses toothbrushes? December 11, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
Very interesting for a Yeats fan-or someone into Irish history C19-20.
Very well written,as Toibin readers would expect of him.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book April 24, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
My reading of this book was rather personal since we visited Coole Park and the Yates Museum in Co. Galway last summer and have been to the Abbey Theatre several times. Thinking about "The Master" as well, this is the kind of writing that Toibin does best. It is really beautifully executed.
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Reading James Joyce, I've needed more background. This lively biography of a woman with morphing identity held my attention for a close reading in one gulp. A woman who dined with kings and emperors; whose income came from Irish tenants under pressure from eviction; a former Protestant proselytizer, she may have provided indispensable support of the creative and intellectual efforts which forged an Irish national culture.

Toibin's history of Lady Gregory's and Yeats' relationship is a focal point. As benefactor, she bankrolled him. She let him take credit for her writing. They prevailed together in defending their theater productions against censorship.

The dilemmas we perceive may not have weighed as greatly on her. Toibin concludes: “But her eye remained on her goal: to establish Ireland's ancient past as part of its present culture and to produce contemporary Irish masterpieces in an Irish theatre. She put all her steely energy into this and she succeeded, turning a blind eye to the parts of her own heritage that did not suit her purpose. She lived in two worlds: one of them became the Irish Free State and she was proud of that. The other one disappeared.”

This is the first nonfiction book I've read about Ireland. I do not find it requires any previous familiarity with the subject. I found the google and wikipedia functions in the ebook sufficient annotation. The two Yeats poems written about Lady Gregory and Coole were available in free ebook.
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More About the Author

Colm Toibin is the author of four previous novels, The South, The Heather Blazing, The Story of the Night, and The Blackwater Lightship, which was shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize. He lives in Dublin.

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