THE UNCROWNED QUEEN OF IRELAND: The Life of ""Kitty"" O'Shea by Joyce Marlow


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Marlow certainly doesn't try to disguise her prejudices: Captain O'Shea is depicted as a complaisant cuckold, a scoundrel who was quite prepared to overlook his wife's liaison with Charles Stewart Parnell, the great Irish leader, just so long as she provided a generous and regular pay-off and he received preferment within the party. Katharine--she was never called Kitty except by her enemies--and Parnell, on the other hand, deserve the titles of ""King"" and ""Queen"" which they bestowed on one another. Marlow diligently takes us through Parnell's brilliant career in the miasma of Irish politics and the Home Rule agitation of the 1880's, but it is the love affair, ""one of the consuming passions of history,"" even if it was also the worst kind of Victorian soap opera, which is her true concern. Parnell, so proud and disdainful in public life, addressed Katharine as ""Queenie"" and ""Wifie'? and Was the most devoted and humble of lovers; Katharine who bore him three children, skillfully juggled the sensibilities and the vanity of Willie O'Shea for ten years even though her affair with Parnell was one of the worst-kept secrets in England. When, in 1889, O'Shea finally sued for divorce, the soap opera abruptly turned to true tragedy: a howling pack of Victorian moralists toppled Parnell from the leadership of his party; Gladstone reluctantly severed the alliance that was to have ushered in Home Rule. Parnell and Katie married and two months later he was dead. Marlow does her best to build up Katie as an independent, generous and passionate heroine but the truth is that little was known about her before her ill-starred meeting with the ""uncrowned King of Ireland"" or after his death. Marlow laments for Parnell, destroyed by Irish jackals and English hypocrites, but she takes both his fervid love letters and his sudden shattering death at face value, never pausing to ask if there was something psychologically preordained in Parnell's extinction at the summit of his successes. Still this is sure to have considerable appeal since there aren't many love affairs that alter the destiny of a nation.

Pub Date: July 14th, 1975
Publisher: Saturday Review/Dutton