“A father…is a necessary evil,” according to Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses. But Colm Tóibín would hazard a guess that James Joyce genuinely felt this way about his father. This is just one nugget of truth from Tóibín’s latest non-fiction Mad, Bad, Dangerous To Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce (Scribner). Not only is this book an incredibly revealing and thoroughly researched secondary source, but it is also lyrical and personal.
Tóibín begins his tale with a walk through the infamous city of Dublin and remarks on the historical sites from Sweny’s chemist of Ulysses to Oscar Wilde’s childhood home and to many more important landmarks. Immediately, the reader is transported to Dublin and can smell the city, feel the stones beneath their feet and feel the history around them. The interest is peaked, and if that wasn’t enough, Tóibín goes into his biographies of each famous Irish author’s father with a deeply personal anecdote tying himself to each writer.
With Oscar Wilde, he begins with his personal experience reciting De Profundis from inside Wilde’s jail cell and uses this deeply intimate experience to launch his discussion on the author, his relationships with country, people and his father. For W.B. Yeats, Tóibín begins with a meeting between himself and W.B. Yeats’ son, Michael, which leads to a look at some of John B. Yeats’ (W.B. Yeats’ father) sketches and his famed and unfinished self-portrait. This launches Tóibín into thoughts on the power of a gaze and it’s reoccurrence in the poet’s writings as well as John’s artistry. As for James Joyce, Tóibín needed to look no further than the author’s writings and portrayals of fathers.
Not only does Tóibín create an entire world within the city of Dublin where all these prominent families intersect but he does so with authorial confidence. Though the three fathers of the three popular writers could all take the charge of this book, Tóibín remains firmly in place as the narrator and curator of this specific depiction of these men. While Tóibín’s latest is grounded in the past, it is freshly personal and stylistic.
Anyone who has ever had an interest in Dublin’s history, these authors or Tóibín himself should pick up this non-fiction masterpiece.
Mad, Bad, Dangerous To Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce is now available to purchase.
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ABOUT COLM TOIBIN:
Tóibín is a best-selling author who is most well-known for his novel-turned-film Brooklyn and The Master. He has penned 11 works of fiction, eight works of nonfiction and two plays. His latest nonfiction release is Mad, Bad, and Dangerous To Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce is available now. Tóibín resides in New York and Ireland and is the Chancellor of Liverpool University. Follow him on his website.