Friday, June 26, 2009

At long last, a reader! (Part 3: Francis Stuart)

The not-so-good and not-so-great, number 15

This completes Malcolm's response to Anonymous. It also brings forward a name fit for flaying further down the alphabetic order.

Henry Francis Stuart’s death in February 2000, at the age of 98, was an awkward echo of much Irish unpleasantnesses.

He was born in Australia, to two recent emigrants from protestant Antrim. The father conveniently committed suicide (or died of alcoholic poisoning), in a lunatic asylum, so mother and child returned to Meath.

Many would suggest that the son inherited the father’s instability.

Stuart: disturbed youth

Exported to boarding schools in England, Henry Stuart academically under-performed; but acquired an interest in poetry; and, proclaiming himself a Bolshevist, began a political journey from one extreme to the other.

By the end of the War, aged 16, he was back in Dublin. His mother remarried, and the step-father was, to say the least, unsympathetic.

Any intention of entering Trinity College went by the board. He adopted his middle name, and fell in with Iseult Gonne, eight years his senior, with whom he eloped. Aged 18, Stuart converted to Catholicism; and regularised his relationship with Iseult.

Stuart: failed husband

It needs to be remembered that Iseult Gonne (right: a sketch by her mother), herself illegitimate, had been molested as an infant by her mother’s husband, John MacBride (Yeat’s drunken vainglorious lout, who had done most bitter wrong/ To some who are near my heart), was courted by WB Yeats (her mother’s occasional lover), and had a series of entanglements with her Bengali teacher, Ezra Pound, and her cousin, Toby Pilcher. Stable relationships were not the norm in this ménage. Stuart was accused by his mother-in-law (with Yeats invited in as “arbiter”) of brutality to Iseult: when the Stuart’s first child, Dolores, died of spinal meningitis, he refused to mourn.

The Gonne inheritance worked in other ways. In the Irish Civil War, Francis Stuart was interned as a republican (1922-24). His first book of poems was published on his release, and deemed good enough for a prize from the Royal Irish Academy. Stuart, now flitting between Dublin and London (where he roistered with Liam O'Flaherty), devoted much of his time and energy to drinking, horse-racing and a string of lady friends. Two further children came from the marriage to Iseult (a son, Ian, and a daughter, Katherine/Kay, whom Dublin rumoured to be fathered by Yeats).

Maud Gonne made the Stuarts a present of Laragh Castle, at Glendalough. There Stuart tried to run a chicken farm, and to write. There ensued a series of forgettable novels, with a common theme of strong, serene, spiritual women bringing comfort, consolation and redemption to troubled, guilty men.

The Gonne circle

The unanswered question concerns to what extent Maud Gonne, her daughter Iseult, and her son-in-law Stuart took their anti-British hostilities into active pro-Nazism.

In the '30s the Gonnes (the triple portrait, left, is by William Mulhall) became close acquaintances of Helmut and Elizabeth Clissmann. Clissmann worked for the Abwehr, and allegedly was sponsoring Irish-German academic exchanges: he engineered Yeats receiving the Goethe Plankette in 1934 (the more we learn of Yeats's "Do not make a politician out of me", the more peculiar it becomes). Clissmann ran the Ireland desk for the Nazi Party Auslandorganisation. Another intimate of the Gonnes was Eduard Hempel, head of the German Legation in Dublin between 1937 and 1945.

Clissmann, on the request of Iseult, was directly responsible for Stuart's German trip in 1939. Shortly before Stuart returned to Berlin in January 1940, to take up his post at the University, he had a meeting with the IRA high command (who had had their link to Germany disrupted by the confiscation of secret radio gear). Stuart was carrying dispatches from the IRA to the Abwehr.

Subsequently the Gonnes sheltered Nazi agents in Ireland.

Stuart in Nazi Berlin

At the outbreak of War, in 1940, Stuart deserted his family, to teach in Berlin. He was now an admirer of Hitler: as late as 1995 he said:
I did see Hitler, and in hindsight obviously I was wrong, as a kind of contemporary Samson, a superman who would tear down the whole political and social system in England and Ireland.
In Berlin Stuart set up with a student, Gertrude Meissner, and made over a hundred broadcasts for the Nazis.

At the end of the War, he was arrested by the French in Austria. The Irish authorities studiously ignored his requests for a passport (which was the point of Malcolm's earlier reference), so he lingered in incarceration at Freiburg until 1946. Still with Meissner, first in Freiburg and then removed to Paris (where he associated with Sam Beckett), he produced a couple of self-exculpatory, autobiographic novels derived from his wartime experiences. Days after the death of Iseult, Stuart married Meissner in London (1954): by now Gertrude had become “Madeleine”, the dutiful hand-maiden.

After a further series of repetitive, unsuccessful novels, in 1959 Stuart and “Madeleine” set up house in the County Meath. There he laboured on Black List Section H, finally published in 1971: this is (for a particular audience) as successful a piece as any of his writings.

With that small achievement, he moved to a Dublin suburban bungalow. Colm Tóibín indicates that Stuart was closely involved with Andy Tyrie and the Belfast para-miltary UDA at this period. Madeleine died in 1986, and soon after Stuart remarried, this time the artist Finola Graham, his junior by over forty years (and whose CV pointedly omits any reference to Stuart).

Thereafter Stuart troubled the obituarists only occasionally.

Stuart, anti-semite?

Aosdána, the Irish Arts Council, elected him one of their seven Saoithe (“wise men), the Irish literary pantheon. Stuart did a 1997 inverview for a Channel 4 programme, A Great Hatred, which was predicated to Irish anti-semitism. The interview produced a typical Stuart quotation:
The Jew was always the worm that got into the rose and sickened it. Yes, but of course I take that as praise. I mean all those so-called healthy roses, they need exposing – many of them are sick.
This renewed interest in Stuart's wartime activities. A delicious literary/political spat ensued. The poet Maire Mhac an tSaoi, herself daughter of Seán MacEntee, one of the founders of Fianna Fáil, and wife of Conor Cruise O'Brien, took exception to Stuart's election, and campaigned for his expulsion (when she lost, she honourably resigned her membership and her pension from the fund). Stuart was saved from expulsion from
Aosdána by Anthony Cronin doing a line-by-line exposition of his work. A Kevin Myers article in The Irish Times prompted Stuart to sue for libel and win damages (Brendan Barrington's book, noted above, suggests Myers had some strong grounds).

Stuart, nihilist

Perhaps the shrewdest judgement is that of Tóibín, originally for the Irish Independent:
Stuart (and indeed H) would become a Republican, even though the politics meant nothing to him; and later in the 1930s when liberal opinion (and indeed most other opinion) considered Hitler’s Germany to be a place of evil, he would go there, he would live there during the war, he would broadcast to Ireland, and he would know what the consequences were going to be. And all this, his novel Black List, Section H makes clear, had nothing to do with politics, with anti-semitism or fascism, or Nazism, but arose from something darkly and deeply rooted in his psyche – the need to betray and be seen to betray. It arose from something else too – a passionate belief that every organised structure, and that includes liberal democracy, is rotten.
The End?

He removed to the County Clare, where Finola Graham has a house, and died in an Ennis hospital. He was buried in the same coffin as his cat, which pegged out at the same time. Sphere: Related Content

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