Shane Leslie: Sublime Failure

By: Otto Rauchbauer

Publication Date: May 2009

(2 customer reviews)


Shane Leslie (1885-1971) – diplomat; man of letters (novelist, biographer, poet, historian, pamphleteer); Irish, Anglo-Irish and half-American aristocrat; religious devotee; first cousin of Winston Churchill, Irish nationalist, British subject. Using new archival material Otto Rauchbauer of the University of Vienna provides a scholarly context for understanding and appreciating this neglected writer, observer and witness of his turbulent times.

Third baronet of Glaslough, born at Castle Leslie, County Monaghan, old Etonian and graduate of King’s College, Cambridge; a familiar of Tolstoy’s whom he met in 1907 and doyen of New York where as a reader for Scribner’s he discovered Scott Fitzgerald; founder member of the Irish Academy of Letters, Catholic convert and proto-Republican, Leslie straddled many worlds and was a bellwether of Irish and English politics.

As an Irish patriot with allegiances to the Crown, Shane Leslie struggled throughout his life to reconcile his various national and cultural identities. His abortive political career deserves renewed attention.

Including twenty-four illustrations and fifty annotated letters, this book redraws the prevailing picture of the man and presents a fascinating portrait of an age.

‘Otto Rauchbauer has produced a splendid scholarly book, based on a thorough survey of Leslie’s voluminous papers. There are many evocative photographs. It is, perhaps, more a critical study of his work than a biography of the man. An appendix contains an admirably edited selection from the letters that made Leslie renowned as a correspondent.’ – The Independent


OTTO RAUCHBAUER was a member of the English Department of the University of Vienna from 1965 to 2003. In 1993 he set up an archive in Drishane, Castletownshend, Co. Cork, the former house of Edith Somerville. A catalogue of the archive and a biographical sketch were subsequently published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission. He is author of Ancestral Voices and Diskurse und Bilder zum anglo-irischen Landssitz im 20 Jahrhundert.


2 reviews for Shane Leslie: Sublime Failure

  1. Lilliput Press

    “Professor Otto Ruchbauer’s biography on the life of Shane Leslie touches cleverly on the varied career changes pursued by my grandfather and about as well as could be in a single book. Family tales of his second conversion have had to be skated round gently, as has the girlhood frindship and later life confidante connection of his wife with fellow american, Wallis Simpson. Marjorie Ide’s course of ‘boudoir instruction’, given in the Empress Dowager of China’s harem to the ladies escorting Alice Roosevelt during her post-Boxer Rising visit to Peking, went on to play a fundamental part in Shane’s expectations in later physical relationships with women. At the time of his assasination, the Irish leader, Michael Collins, was found to be carrying a love poem written by Shane to Hazel Lavary, a society hostess whose ‘favours’ they shared.
    Also, the background as to how his brother-in-law by marriage, congressman Bourke Cockran, provided Scott Fitzgerald with the inspiration for the Great Gatsby is handled with subtle understatement.
    Generally Prof Rauchbauer avoids being attracted towards the potential bodice-ripper that could have been and diligently sticks to revealing the unique path walked by Shane in the spheres of letters, religion, forestry and factors which comprised the emerging socio-political intelligentsia world of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The complexity of the developing anglo-Irish-American society he knew and wrote about prolifically himself is covered in detail without being over-academic.
    It is a ‘must book’ for anyone interested in the history of Anglo-Irish Trans-Atlantic relations” TLR KING

  2. Lilliput Press

    “In Shane Leslie: Sublime Failure, the biographer has realised his self-declared intention of looking beyond conventional stereotypes and facile generalisations, presenting an insightful picture of a man marked for success by his manifold talents, but repeatedly thwarted in his aspirations, both political and literary, by circumstances far beyond his control; a victim of Ireland’s stormy history, struggling to reconcile conflicting national identities and allegiances, faced with the decline of the social, cultural, political and religious values to which he subscribed, and threatened in his position as a man of letters and amateur (in the best sense of the word) in a strikingly wide range of fields by the emergence of the academic specialist.
    Shane Leslie’s claim to sublimity, however, is grounded not least in his refusal to confess himself beaten in the face of impending failure: when his well-founded hopes of a political career that, in more favourable circumstances, might have paralleled that of his cousin Winston Churchill (on some aspects of whose character the biography also sheds new light), foundered in the wake of developments in Anglo-Irish history, he not only became an acute observer of unfolding events from the unique view-point of an Irish nationalist and Catholic convert of mixed Anglo-Irish-American descent; he also remained active behind the scenes, acting as a go-between and mediator, and making good use of his astonishingly wide network of contacts both secular and ecclesiastic in Ireland, England and the US (among them President Woodrow Wilson as well as prominent members of the Catholic hierarchy). He also – in addition to his many other interests as a Catholic apologist and biographer of notable nineteenth-century churchmen, editor of the renowned Dublin Review, journalist, reviewer (most importantly, perhaps, of Joyce’s Ulysses), critic, literary mentor of F. Scott Fitzgerald and others, translator, lecturer and agent in the transatlantic book and fine arts trade – embarked on a prolific literary career. Without attempting to obscure Leslie’s shortcomings as a writer, Rauchbauer presents a convincing case for a thorough re-evaluation of his extensive oeuvre.
    However, it is not only the literary side of Leslie’s career which deserves renewed attention. His versatility is underlined by the achronological arrangement of the biography into thematic clusters representing various aspects of his inordinately complex, multi-faceted and in some respects contradictory character profile. Rauchbauer’s portrait of Leslie is rounded off by fifty annotated letters which illustrate Leslie’s inimitable style as well as his extensive network of social connections on both sides of the Atlantic and reveal him as a past master of the rapidly obsolescent art of letter writing.
    Meticulously researched, painstakingly documented and relying on a wealth of hitherto unpublished archival material, Shane Leslie: Sublime Failure is a scholarly and yet eminently readable work of a high academic standard. While acknowledging the fact that Shane Leslie’s life was occasionally fraught with scandal (both literary and otherwise), it is much to Otto Rauchbauer’s credit that he eschews the lure of the lurid and steers clear of boudoir stories and salubrious society gossip, showing great sensitivity and tact and a genuine respect for the subject of his biography. Presenting a compelling picture of a fascinating personality set off against the broad canvas of Anglo-Irish-American relations during the first half of the twentieth century, the book will appeal alike to the scholarly community and the interested general reader.”

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Weight 1 kg
Dimensions 156 × 235 mm
Publication Date

May 2009


Hardback, 375pp