The New York Times

Fathers of Geniuses

A GROUP PORTRAIT OF THREE DUBLINERS WHO SIRED THREE OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE’S GREATEST WRITERS.

“Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce”

By Colm Toibin

Illustrated. 253 pages. Scribner. $26.

In the Scylla and Charybdis episode of “Ulysses,” set in the National Library in Dublin, Stephen Dedalus gets into a literary debate that wanders from Hamlet’s father to Shakespeare’s father to the thorny relationship between art and life — a rich subject in any context, but all the richer here, where the reader can confidently assume the life in question isn’t Shakespeare’s or even Stephen’s, but that of Joyce himself.

“A father is a necessary evil,” Stephen asserts, riffing on the rivalries between fathers and sons. “What links them in nature? An instant of blind rut.” Reading this, we skip in our minds from Hamlet to Shakespeare to the tensions between Stephen and Simon Dedalus, before setting the text aside to contemplate the relationship between the author and his own father, John

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