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Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know, written and read by Colm Tóibín.

'A father...is a necessary evil.' (Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses)

In Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know, Colm Tóibín turns his incisive gaze to three of Ireland's greatest writers, Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats and James Joyce, and their earliest influences: their fathers. From Wilde's doctor father, a brilliant statistician and amateur archaeologist, who was taken to court by an obsessed lover in a strange premonition of what would happen to his son; to Yeats' father, an impoverished artist and brilliant letter writer who could never finish a painting; to John Stanislus Joyce, a singer, drinker and storyteller, a man unwilling to provide for his large family, whom his son James memorialised in his work. 

Colm Tóibín illuminates not only the complex relationships between three of the greatest writers in the English language and their fathers but also illustrates the surprising ways they surface in their work.

©2018 Colm Tóibín (P)2018 Penguin Books Ltd

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Fathers and Sons

The book Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know is made up of a collection of lectures which Colm Toibin originally gave in Georgia USA. This makes it particularly suitable for audio, especially when read by the writer himself. At first I was rather irritated by Toibin’s gentle, super-reverential, conspiratorial voice, but I became drawn in, mesmerised by the Irish cadences and the feeling of intimacy which his voice creates between author and listener, and between listener and the family dynamics he creates so vividly as he probes the father-son relationships.

The fathers of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and W.B.Yeats all in their different ways were eccentric, highly creative, gifted, flawed – and, like Byron, ‘mad, bad, dangerous to know’. Toibin’s immersion in James Joyce’s work is total as he explores Joyce’s depiction of his father, mainly in Ulysses and Dubliners, where Joyce recreated an insightful, forgiving version of the pitiful, fearful drunk Joyce senior was in reality.

Oscar Wilde’s father William was a pioneering eye and ear surgeon with a phenomenal hunger for learning. Having been almost ruined by sexual scandal, he was dead at 61 – and in Reading Gaol when Oscar Wilde wrote of his own life in In Profundis, his father was written out of it, despite their obvious similarities.

W.B.Yeats' father, a gifted but largely unrecognised artist, exiled himself to New York in old age in flight from Ireland and his successful son, never to return but spending years exchanging hundreds of love letters with Rosa Butt whom he had known in his youth and whom would never meet again.

The whole download is only six hours and would certainly repay second and even third listenings as it is so densely and rewardingly packed.