Saturday, July 10, 2010

Notes towards ...

The not-so-good and the not-so-great, number 21: "Lia Clarke"
A long time, some eight months, since Malcolm had one of these. And this one is in need of considerable and continuing effort. This, then, is merely marking a bit of territory for further exploration.
It began with a post from Casualbets on Politics.ie:
I'm trying to find out more about Lia Clarke, someone I hadn't heard about before today. She was born in 1889 in Drogheda - in 1901 She was in school in Waterford - I can't find her in the 1911 census. Apparently she was a playwright/author (possibly also suffragette) who married the poet Austin Clarke around 1920 - the marriage apparently lasted only ten days, but he spent a year in a mental hospital recovering from it. She later moved to Nassau Street in Dublin and wrote for the Irish Press. She may have been involved in a pro-nazi fringe group during World War 2. She died in 1943.
I'm very interested in finding out more about here, and in particular her early life and who her parents were.

Augustine Joseph Clarke

The obvious point of reference there is Austin Clarke (1896-1974), who was going to be Ireland's next great poet after Yeats. Indeed, for any Irish poet of that generation, the Yeatsian legacy was near-impossible to shrug off. One might wonder if Yeats did not inversely (ahem!) return the compliment by his selection for The Oxford Book of Modern Verse. Those 500 pages included swathes of Oliver St John Gogarty (a mate), and Lady Dorothy Wellesley (more than a lady-friend), but nary a sniff of Wilfred Owen, Hugh MacDiarmid ... or Austin Clarke.

However, back to the main event

Clarke was the archetypal admixture of brilliant student and fragile post-adolescent. This from Amy L. Friedman in The Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture (1999: the hot-link is a later updated edition), page 114:
As a middle-class Catholic the gifted Clarke studied Gaelic and English literature at University College, Dublin. His early adulthood was tumultuous; after rapidly earning his BA and MA, a year in a mental hospital after a nervous breakdown in 1919, a 10-day unconsummated marriage in 1920, and the loss of his University College lectureship in English (due to a registry office instead of church marriage), Clarke fled to England. His exile lasted 15 years while he worked as a journalist and book reviewer, with a second, contented marriage to Nora Walker. He returned to Dublin in 1937...
Therein lies much of the scandalous curiosity.

What that doesn't quite spell out amounts to:
  • the age difference between Clarke and his first wife, and what the attraction was;
  • his reluctance to consummate, which elsewhere is attributed to an ultra-Catholicism acquired from a domineering mother; and his subsequent loss of faith, which both inspired much of his later work and allowed his second marriage to work;
and
  • (lest Malcolm, a Trinity-man, allow us to forget) the rigid mind-set that made University College, Dublin, a far-from-free-thinking enclave of orthodoxy and reaction.
Moreover, we are still totally in the dark about Miss Comyn/Cummings, and for the rest of her life "Mrs Clarke".

What Malcolm didn't do next

He did not reach for the Dictionary of National Biography. This was because he assumed that Austin Clarke was so obviously Irish he would not qualify. He overlooked the generous, even imperialistic sweep of the DNB (and the barely-justified assertion of British nationality on those born in Ireland before 1921). This, as we shall see, was a mistake.

Instead, Malcolm pursued those clues given by Politics.ie, especially this cribbed from a catalogue of Whyte's the auctioneers, of Molesworth Street:
Novelist, playwright, art critic and psychic medium, Lia Clarke (1889-1943) was a woman of many parts. Born Cornelia Comyn (or Cummins) the daughter of Nicholas Comyn of Balinderry, Co. Galway, her mother’s family were Blakes from Co. Cork, from whom she inherited a private income derived from her grandfather’s business as a glass maker. She was raised in Waterford by an aunt’s family, the Jennings, but later moved to Dublin, where she became involved in literary and theosophical circles. Possibly it was her experiments in automatic writing that interested Æ, who has captured her here with an inspired yet far away expression. In 1920 she married Austin Clarke, but the marriage lasted barely a fortnight. She later settled in Nassau Street, where she wrote articles for the Irish Press. A later portrait of her, by Gaetano de Gennaro, sold through these rooms (27 May 2006, lot 135); a photograph of her appears opposite.
That "later portrait of her" (dated 1940) is shown at the head of this post. The artistic interest and merits of the pencil sketch, above, are slight: because it came from the hand of AE, George Russell, it sold for €4,800, twice the estimate.

More to the point, the provenance is The sitter's family by descent. Hmmm ...

The DNB authoritatively states ...

That DNB entry is by Mary Shine Thompson, her only contribution to the entire oeuvre. Here is the significant paragraph:
In autumn 1917 Clarke was appointed assistant lecturer in the department of English at University College, Dublin. As civil unrest intensified, his mental health deteriorated and in March 1919 his mother committed him to St Patrick's Hospital, where he was confined for over a year with severe depression and physical breakdown. Before his hospitalization he had met Cornelia Alice Mary Cummins (1889–1943), daughter of Edward Cummins, a bank manager from Drogheda, co. Louth, and his wife, formerly Winifred Blake. A well-educated older woman with a small private income who had lived abroad, Cummins established a career as a journalist who also published short stories and poor-quality verse under the pseudonym Margaret Lyster. She was considered eccentric, even mad; violently antisemitic, she harboured strong Nazi sympathies in later life. She and Clarke married secretly in a register office in Dublin on 31 December 1920, but the union was probably unconsummated and lasted less than a fortnight. About 1928 Clarke instigated unsuccessful divorce proceedings.
Hostile stuff, but then it is part of a profile of Austen Clarke.

... violently antisemitic, ... strong Nazi sympathies

Malcolm can guess where that's coming from, and leading to: that clique around Madame Maud Gonne.

Sure enough, that's where Malcolm located her in the late 1930s. On such occasions, Madame Gonne is always a good place to start: the Irish Army's highly-efficient G2 Intelligence Unit opened one of its earliest files on her.

One of Madame Gonne's Hun contacts was Oscar Pfaus, who was deputed to make contact with the IRA at the time of the 1939 "declaration of war". Pfaus was officially the Hamburg chief of the Fichte Bund (in English: "The Union for World Veracity"). In the Fichte Bund's interpretation, the world's evils, including Irish partition, were the consequence of the all-embracing Jewish conspiracy. Madame Gonne's world-view conveniently coincided.

Meanwhile Joe Fowler was operating a book-shop out of 34 Wellington Quay, from where, around August 1939, was published a small pamphlet by Lia Clarke. Gonne sent this to Pfaus, who had it translated into German and given wider distribution.

Clarke's pamphlet was nominally on behalf of "The Celtic Confederation of Occupational Guilds": this fictional "front" was presumably an attempt to be relevant to the still-fashionable vocationalism of Quadragesimo Anno of 1931. Clarke seems to gloze hard Nazism under the guise of Mussolini's corporatism and his improvisations upon Rerum Novarum. The particular contemporary relevance is the 1938 Manifesto della razza/"Charter of Race").

Clarke's argument is crude anti-semitism, deriving from a statement by a certain Mr Magee (who he?) that Irish culture, as popularly-conc
eived, was:
noting more than a pattern of Jewish and Freemason interest dressed up in green clothing.
She went on to urge support for Hitlerite Germany, not omitting the usual reference to and citation from Sir Roger Casement.

Cornelia Cummins/Lia Clarke/"Margaret Lyster" had links to the Maud Gonne set from, at least, 1917. There is, on line, The Book of Saint Ultan, produced
as charity & vanity for the new children's hospital (fewer than three dozen printed pages, and going on half the weekly wage for a working-class Dubliner). The contents page:

Which puts "Margaret Lyster" among some very distinguished company, indeed. The give-away is the name at the top of that list: Alice Stopford Green, later a pro-Treaty senator, who ran an artistic coterie out of her home, 90 St Stephen's Green (where she also sheltered the likes of Michael Collins). Another Trinity connection: R.B.McDowell, the Junior Dean, knocked off her brief biography in 1967.

Terminus ad quem?

And that, for the moment, is as far as Malcolm has gone.
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