The Fascination of What's Difficult

sub-heading:
A Life of Maud Gonne

"The fascination of what's difficult Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent Spontaneous joy and natural content Out of my heart."

- William Butler Yeats

"The Fascination of What's Difficult."

- 1910

"With clear-eyed forays into obsession, love, and friendship, Kim Bendheim fleshes out one of the most enigmatic and alluring women in the history of European letters and politics."

- Florence Williams

"The great virtue of Kim Bendheim's book is that she brings fresh perspectives – non-academic, contemporary and American - to bear on the known facts of Gonne's life... Revelatory."

- The Irish Times
$22.00

Adding to cart… The item has been added
  • 200 pages
  • Illustrated with black-and-white photographs
  • Paperback ISBN 9781682192061
  • E-book ISBN 9781682192092

about the book

Maud Gonne, the legendary woman known as the Irish Joan of Arc, left her mark on everyone she met. She famously won the devotion of one of the greatest poets of the age, William Butler Yeats. Born into tremendous privilege, she allied herself with rebels and the downtrodden and openly defied what was at the time the world’s most powerful empire. She was an actress, a journalist and an activist for the cause of Irish independence. Ignoring the threat of social ostracism, she had several children out of wedlock. She was an independent woman who charted her own course.

Yet Maud Gonne was also a lifelong anti-semite, someone who, even after the horrors of the Second World War, could not summon sympathy for the millions murdered by the Nazis. A believer in the occult and in reincarnation, she took mescaline with Yeats to enhance visions of mythic Irish heroes and heroines, and in mid-life converted to Catholicism in order to marry her husband, the Irish Catholic war hero John MacBride.

What motivated this extraordinary person? Kim Bendheim has long been fascinated by Maud Gonne's perplexing character, and here gives us an intensely personal assessment of her thrilling life. The product of much original research, including interviews with Gonne's equally vivid, unconventional descendants, The Fascination of What's Difficult is a portrait of a powerful woman who, despite her considerable flaws, continues to inspire.

About The Author / Editor

Kim Bendheim is a poet, performer, and writer. Her byline has appeared in The Forward, The Nation, The Chicago Tribune, Ladies Home Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Bomb magazine, which published her poetry. A cum laude graduate of Harvard University, she received two Masters degrees: one from New York University (where she studied Irish literature and history), and one from the City College of New York (where she studied poetry). She lives in New York City.

Read An Excerpt

....In 1892 she traveled to Portland Prison, the grim prison on an island off the coast of Dorset, England. The prisoners quarried stones to build the Portland breakwater. The stone wall had been built to protect the massive buildings against the implacable forces of wind and tide. In this bleak outpost, the Irishmen were allowed one twenty-minute visit every four months. Since the prisoner's families lived far away and had little or no income without their men, there were no visits. Many had seen no one from outside the Portland Prison since their incarceration a decade earlier.

"It was exactly like the cage of wild animals at the zoo", she wrote in her memoir. Like the evicted families in Donegal, these men admired their beautiful, empathetic visitor. She gave them hope, predicting when each would be released and in what order. For some, like Dr. Thomas Gallagher, arrested in 1883, it was too late. He had gone insane and, once released, spent the remainder of his life in an asylum. Maud settled another prisoner, James Cunningham, arrested in 1885, into the care of Bowie, her old nurse. According to a story in United Ireland, Maud was hugely responsible for shaping public opinion about these "forgotten" men, and helped secure their release: "The movement of sympathy with Irish wrongs which Miss Gonne has created in France is still a growing and gathering power. A few months ago the number of articles in the French papers upon Miss Gonne and her work had reached 2,000". The inventive Yeats, her suitor, was the source for that number, sending it in a letter to a writer and editor friend who included it in the United Ireland article. It is impossible to verify that claim.

Regardless of the actual number of articles about her and her work, with Millevoye's help Maud generated fantastic publicity for the Irish political prisoners she visited. For instance, Le Gaulois gave her a front-page story where she was quoted as saying, "While thieves and assassins are liberally given [permission] on determined days, for their parents and friends to visit, our poor Irish who have committed no other crime than to demand with a loud voice, the emancipation of their country are sequestered, isolated and stopped from all commerce with their fellow human beings". The obviously smitten reporter described Maud's expressive eyes as being "changeable like the sea, at times turquoise blue, at others grey like steel", and described how when telling the story of the men in Portland prison, "her voice trembled and her eyes filled with tears".

in the media

The Fascination of What's Difficult

sub-heading:
A Life of Maud Gonne

"The fascination of what's difficult Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent Spontaneous joy and natural content Out of my heart."

- William Butler Yeats

"The Fascination of What's Difficult."

- 1910

"With clear-eyed forays into obsession, love, and friendship, Kim Bendheim fleshes out one of the most enigmatic and alluring women in the history of European letters and politics."

- Florence Williams

"The great virtue of Kim Bendheim's book is that she brings fresh perspectives – non-academic, contemporary and American - to bear on the known facts of Gonne's life... Revelatory."

- The Irish Times
$22.00

Add to Cart

Adding to cart… The item has been added

about the book

Maud Gonne, the legendary woman known as the Irish Joan of Arc, left her mark on everyone she met. She famously won the devotion of one of the greatest poets of the age, William Butler Yeats. Born into tremendous privilege, she allied herself with rebels and the downtrodden and openly defied what was at the time the world’s most powerful empire. She was an actress, a journalist and an activist for the cause of Irish independence. Ignoring the threat of social ostracism, she had several children out of wedlock. She was an independent woman who charted her own course.

Yet Maud Gonne was also a lifelong anti-semite, someone who, even after the horrors of the Second World War, could not summon sympathy for the millions murdered by the Nazis. A believer in the occult and in reincarnation, she took mescaline with Yeats to enhance visions of mythic Irish heroes and heroines, and in mid-life converted to Catholicism in order to marry her husband, the Irish Catholic war hero John MacBride.

What motivated this extraordinary person? Kim Bendheim has long been fascinated by Maud Gonne's perplexing character, and here gives us an intensely personal assessment of her thrilling life. The product of much original research, including interviews with Gonne's equally vivid, unconventional descendants, The Fascination of What's Difficult is a portrait of a powerful woman who, despite her considerable flaws, continues to inspire.

About The Author / Editor

Kim Bendheim is a poet, performer, and writer. Her byline has appeared in The Forward, The Nation, The Chicago Tribune, Ladies Home Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Bomb magazine, which published her poetry. A cum laude graduate of Harvard University, she received two Masters degrees: one from New York University (where she studied Irish literature and history), and one from the City College of New York (where she studied poetry). She lives in New York City.

Read An Excerpt

....In 1892 she traveled to Portland Prison, the grim prison on an island off the coast of Dorset, England. The prisoners quarried stones to build the Portland breakwater. The stone wall had been built to protect the massive buildings against the implacable forces of wind and tide. In this bleak outpost, the Irishmen were allowed one twenty-minute visit every four months. Since the prisoner's families lived far away and had little or no income without their men, there were no visits. Many had seen no one from outside the Portland Prison since their incarceration a decade earlier.

"It was exactly like the cage of wild animals at the zoo", she wrote in her memoir. Like the evicted families in Donegal, these men admired their beautiful, empathetic visitor. She gave them hope, predicting when each would be released and in what order. For some, like Dr. Thomas Gallagher, arrested in 1883, it was too late. He had gone insane and, once released, spent the remainder of his life in an asylum. Maud settled another prisoner, James Cunningham, arrested in 1885, into the care of Bowie, her old nurse. According to a story in United Ireland, Maud was hugely responsible for shaping public opinion about these "forgotten" men, and helped secure their release: "The movement of sympathy with Irish wrongs which Miss Gonne has created in France is still a growing and gathering power. A few months ago the number of articles in the French papers upon Miss Gonne and her work had reached 2,000". The inventive Yeats, her suitor, was the source for that number, sending it in a letter to a writer and editor friend who included it in the United Ireland article. It is impossible to verify that claim.

Regardless of the actual number of articles about her and her work, with Millevoye's help Maud generated fantastic publicity for the Irish political prisoners she visited. For instance, Le Gaulois gave her a front-page story where she was quoted as saying, "While thieves and assassins are liberally given [permission] on determined days, for their parents and friends to visit, our poor Irish who have committed no other crime than to demand with a loud voice, the emancipation of their country are sequestered, isolated and stopped from all commerce with their fellow human beings". The obviously smitten reporter described Maud's expressive eyes as being "changeable like the sea, at times turquoise blue, at others grey like steel", and described how when telling the story of the men in Portland prison, "her voice trembled and her eyes filled with tears".

in the media