- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; 1st Edition edition (October 30, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1476785171
- ISBN-13: 978-1476785172
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ Free Shipping
+ Free Shipping
+ Free Shipping
Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce Hardcover – October 30, 2018
|New from||Used from|
See the Best Books of 2018
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for the best books of the year in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
PRAISE FOR MAD, BAD, DANGEROUS TO KNOW:
"Three compelling portraits... a short but entertaining, thoroughly engaging study on the agony of filial influence.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A vivid and knowledgeable depiction of nineteenth-century cultural life in the Irish capital…Tóibín portrays three giants of Irish literature and their city in a new and clarifying light.”
—Booklist, (starred review)
“Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know offers richly drawn portraits of fathers and sons, illuminating the influence rippling between generations…As charming as it is illuminating, Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know provides a singular look at an extraordinary confluence of genius.”
"This gentle, immersive book holds literary scholarship to be a heartfelt, heavenly pursuit.”
—Thomas Mallon, The Washington Post
"Juicy, wry and compelling... an entertaining and revelatory little book about the vexed relationships between these three pairs of difficult fathers and their difficult sons.”
—Maureen Corrigan, The Wall Street Journal
“Both odd and wonderful…you will be…evocatively entertained, especially if you fancy Dublin, as Tóibín clearly does…Dublin’s streets, pubs, libraries and shops, for Tóibín, are lively with ghosts.”
—Claude Peck, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"These famous men and the fathers who helped shape them come alive in Tóibín's retelling, as do Dublin’s colorful inhabitants.”
“An engaging study of influence, ambition, love—and their discontents.”
—Brian Dillon, 4Columns
About the Author
Colm Tóibín is the author of nine novels, including The Blackwater Lightship; The Master, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Book Award; The Testament of Mary; and Nora Webster, as well as two story collections. He is the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University. Three times shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York.
Try the Kindle edition and experience these great reading features:
Showing 1-4 of 4 reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Sir William Wilde was the father of Oscar Wilde, but Tóibín begins the essay with a discussion of Oscar Wilde’s two-year imprisonment at Reading Gaol, during which Wilde wrote De Profundis in the form of an angry letter to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, whose father, the Marquess of Queensbury, played an instrumental role in causing Wilde’s sodomy conviction. We eventually learn about Oscar’s father William, a doctor, archeologist, statistician, and man of learning who straddled England and Ireland.
William’s life was at least tangentially touched by the longstanding conflict between Dubliners who advocated independence and Home Rule and those who opposed separation from England. William is almost tangential to the essay, which tells us at least as much about William’s friends and acquaintances as it does about William. Much of the essay’s interest comes from its description of a time in which “revolutionary fervor in Ireland was ill-fated, half-hearted or part of a literary rather than a serious political culture.” William’s life is a good deal less interesting than Oscar’s, although he did manage to work a scandal into his High Society life involving a scorned and vindictive lover.
John Yeats is the most interesting of the three fathers that Toibin profiles. Toibin compares John to the father of the novelist Henry James: “they sought self-realization through art and general inquiry.” (John earns a gold star from me for his belief that Henry James’ novels are unbearably tedious.) Unfortunately, self-realization doesn’t pay the bills.
To the dismay of his wife, John Yeats abandoned the study of law to pursue a career as an artist. He was never satisfied with his paintings and generally began them anew each day, a habit that impaired his ability to earn money. He could only paint portraits of people he liked, another “infirmity of will” (his son’s assessment) that made it difficult to earn a living.
As a father, John Yeats was “exasperating but also inspirational.” John seems to have been most notable for wielding the Irish gift of gab. He lived the last 15 years of his life in New York, writing splendid letters and gaining American admirers while depending on his famous son to satisfy his debts. Tóibín admires John's ability to write “sentences of startling beauty,” but it is difficult to know what to make of him. John Yeats felt a passionate longing to be something more than he ever became; he lived in imagination more than reality. In the end, his correspondence reveals him to be too self-centered to be a successful father, husband, or lover.
The discussion of James Joyce’s father differs from the first two portraits. We often see John Stanislaus Joyce as James Joyce fictionalized him in stories and novels. In actual life, John ran up unmanageable debt (a common theme among three men Tóibín examines), had a serious problem with alcohol, and was a miserable father. Toibin gleans these facts from various sources, including My Brother’s Keeper by James’ brother Stanislaus, whose anger at their father is palpable.
Yet James, unlike his brother, resisted the temptation to be angry, finding ways to reimagine his father in his fiction. James’ stories often depict his father as his friends see him, not as his children knew him. John is portrayed in Ulysses as Simon Dedalus, “a complex figure of moods, an unsettled rather than a solid presence in the book.” That seems to be an accurate description of all three men.
I’m not sure what this volume tell us, except that difficult fathers sometimes produce sons who are capable of literary brilliance. Tóibín has demonstrated his own literary genius over the years, and while this work of nonfiction doesn’t display the depth of his fiction (it’s difficult to be stuck with facts when imagination offers a richer environment), it is worth reading for its insight into a time and place that produced such vital writers.
Though the three men were very different from each other, Tóibín writes, “They created chaos, all three of these fathers, while their sons made work.”
Tóibín begins with perhaps the most accomplished of them, Sir William Robert Wills Wilde, who he describes as a polymath --- a surgeon, statistician, writer and amateur archaeologist who could talk about any subject in depth. Oscar’s mother, Jane, was a poet and folklorist who later defended herself in a libel suit brought against her by a woman who had accused Sir William of seducing her. It was a scandal at the time that was only dwarfed by Oscar’s own scandal some 20 years later.
If Sir William was accomplished (though ultimately nearly bankrupt), John Butler Yeats was a delightful and witty companion who turned down the opportunity to be a distinguished barrister in order to paint. He lived with his son and daughters in Dublin until 1907 when he moved to New York on a whim, and where he spent the last 15 years of his life. The insightful, imaginative letters he wrote while there (which are liberally quoted here) have sealed his reputation as a master of the form.
John Stanislaus Joyce had the most complex relationship with his son, who modeled Simon Dedalus in ULYSSES after him. For the last 19 years of his life, he didn’t see James, who was living in Paris. Still, after his death, James wrote to T. S. Eliot that “I was very fond of him always, being a sinner myself, and even liked his faults.” His younger son, Stanislaus, wrote bitterly about those many faults, chief among them being his abusive drunkenness.
All three fathers disappointed their children --- and all died in penury --- but each gave his son both a touch of genius and, at least from Tóibín’s telling, a remarkable linguistic legacy.
Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley
Those who enjoy Dublin and are interested in the wellsprings of Irish literature will find this short book by Colm Toibin worthwhile.
Along this general literary path, I would also recommend "Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir" by John Banville.
Yay, my first Colm Toibin non-fiction and about the fathers of Wilde (William), Yeats (John Butler) and Joyce (John Stanislaus), no less. Toibin does research while walking through areas in Dublin that still speak volumes about the personal lives of these authors and their fathers, even reading De Profundis in Wilde's cell in Reading Gaol. He describes William Wilde as a great, musing traveler after years as an ear & eye doctor and knighted for contributing to the Irish census, yet plagued by slanderous pamphlets for his former ward, Mary Travers; John Butler Yeats as a storyteller or 'talker' and "the painter who scrapes out every day what he painted the day before” before moving to New York in 1907, still relying on his son's dime to keep himself afloat; James Joyce and Stanislaus admiring their father, John, yet staying away from him and writing about their lives in their father’s household, while he was sometimes steady, other times drunk and prone to violence.