SEVENTY YEARS 1852-1922: An Autobiography by Lady Gregory

SEVENTY YEARS 1852-1922: An Autobiography

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Playwright, folklorist, antiquarian and, with Yeats, one of the founders and patrons of the Abbey Theater, Lady Gregory is one of the pillars of what became the Irish Renaissance. Her stately home at Coole, Co. Galway, provided a retreat for Yeats when the demands of public men became overwhelming. Lady Gregory was in a unique position to record the literary and national awakening. Yet this ""final"" version of her autobiography is keenly disappointing on almost all counts. Gracious and diligent, she incorporates her correspondence over half a century with Synge, Joyce, Wilfred Blunt, Henry James, Mark Twain, Shaw and a host of others. But the civilized decorum of her exchanges precludes any intimacies. On the Abbey, her greatest accomplishment and hope for an Irish cultural revival, there is very little. A proper Victorian, Lady Gregory seems the very incarnation of the Protestant Ascendancy, secure in the assumption that art and literature stand above the tumultuous factions of Irish politics. She shudders at the depredations of the Fenians--""We poor landlords are. . . resolved to die game."" After the 1916 Insurrection she commiserates with Yeats over the ""Dublin Tragedy"" and ""the death of Pearse and McDonagh, who ought to have been on our side, the side of intellectual freedom."" Yet Shaw, and even Yeats, knew better: the Celtic lore that she had worked so hard to resurrect, sparked the Easter Rising. ""When I see that play I feel it might lead a man to do something foolish,"" Shaw remarked after viewing Yeats' Cathleen ni Houlihan. She shared Yeats' deep antipathy to ""the Crowd."" Despite the luminaries who crossed her path, Lady Gregory's autobiography is parochial and reticent. But the essential paradox remains. A grand dame of the ruling class, she launched a cultural movement which sounded the death knell of the ""British connection.

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1976
Publisher: Macmillan