LADY GREGORY: A Biography by Mary Lou Kohfeldt


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A full, creditable biography of Lady Gregory (nÉe Augusta Persse), the widow whose mid-life blossoming into playwright and theater-movement organizer helped fuel the Irish Literary Revival--but strongest on the early, pre-theater years. The twelfth of sixteen children in a County Galway landlord family where daughters were second-class citizens, and somewhat plain to boot, Augusta at 28 had all but settled into spinsterhood, a life of service to her wastrel brothers, and the dull routine of country-estate management when she was rescued by a marriage to Sir William Gregory, a retired colonial officer much her senior. Sir William's death, after twelve years of grand tours and reasonable marital happiness--notwithstanding Augusta's affair with poet/adventurer Wilfred Blunt (wherein she found ""the joys I was so late to understand"")--left Augusta somewhat adrift at 40. She found an anchor at her late husband's estate at Coole in the west of Ireland, fell in with Yeats (with whom her longstanding and apparently platonic relationship was ""as complex, rewarding and limiting as marriage""), and began to collect local Irish folklore. Though Kohfeldt's explanation of the psychological trigger of Augusta's interest in the local people may be questionable (they were ""people who lived like her, not from their center, but from their circumference""), her overall analysis of Augusta's personality seems on the mark: subordination of self to a group (first her family, later the other members of the Irish theater movement); a preference for ""controlled relationships"" (Sir William, Yeats); and, most importantly, a need for continual ""emotional camouflage."" Under cover of ""service,"" Kohfetdt argues, Augusta really aimed (consciously or not) for personal glory and experienced a ""lifelong conflict between what she wanted to do and what she thought was her duty""--a tension that generated all the creative acts of her life. In the theater movement she found her life's work, plus the necessary camouflage: ""a properly subsidiary position from which to manage the whole enterprise."" In Kohfeldt's portrait, Lady Gregory emerges as a many-sided woman whose public career was dazzlingly instructive in ""the utility of those drab virtues within command of the will,"" but whose compulsion to serve others marked ""a child's passionate wish to be centerstage, to be loved."" Persuasive analysis, and worthy of a wider audience than Irish literature specialists--who will probably find the humdrum literary-criticism here dispensable.

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum