Irish literary geniuses and their fathers: three compelling portraits that measure just how far the apple falls from the tree.
Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce weren’t just three of the greatest writers of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. As Irish-born novelist and critic Tóibín (Humanities/Columbia Univ.; House of Names, 2017, etc.) demonstrates, they also suffered serious daddy issues. If Wilde had exalted notions of his own class and intellect, consider that his father, William, was a man of extraordinary accomplishments: doctor, voluminous writer on travel, medicine, and folklore, archaeologist, and statistician. He was also knighted by the queen and lived as he wished. Neither he nor Oscar’s mother, Jane, followed the rules. If Oscar shared their “sense of nobility and their feeling that they could do whatever they wanted,” it didn’t always work out as well for him. William suffered a bruising moral scandal but basically emerged unscathed; his son, decades later, wouldn’t fare so well. Yeats’ father, John, was a painter who couldn’t finish a painting, even the self-portrait that consumed his final years. Sons William and Jack took the negative example to heart, taking pride “in finishing almost everything they started.” Joyce paid homage to John Stanislaus Joyce in the very last line of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.” The older man was perpetually drunk, broke, and abusive; his son deserted him in life and redeemed him in art. “He allows him,” Tóibín writes, “to be the man he is with his friends rather than with his family.” Joyce said of Ulysses, “the humour of [it] is his; its people are his friends. The book is his spittin’ image.”
A short but entertaining, thoroughly engaging study on the agony of filial influence.