Signe Toksvig’s Irish Diaries 1926-1937
‘Superb – These diaries are a challenging blend of lyricism, loneliness and the telling detail. Toksvig emerges as a passionate, generous and gifted writer.’
– Brendan Fleming, Irish University Review
Although both took an active part in the cultural life of Ireland during the 1920s and 1930s, Danish writer Signe Toksvig and her novelist husband, Francis Hackett are now largely forgotten. Signe Toksvig’s Irish Diaries form a detailed record of their ten years living in Ireland and give a fascinating, composite portrait of a free-thinking modern woman and of her artistic struggles.
Her observations and reflections preserve memories of individuals and events, her work, and her times. More interestingly, perhaps, they reveal an honest picture of her emotional and personal life, her hatreds and attachments, her sporadic feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Distanced by background, declassed by education – yet occupying an inside position among Irish literary circles – Toksvig, through her Irish Diaries, illuminates an era of literary constraint, censorship and clerical control. Leading figures who emerge from these pages include Desmond FitzGerald, Frank O’Connor, Sean O’Faolain, Lady Desart, Sean Keating, Seumas O’Sullivan, Estella and Bethel Solomons. Visitors from abroad include Philip and Ottoline Morrell, Edward Garnett, Desmond McCarthy and Alvin Johnson, editor of The New Republic.
The Diaries, quarried from holdings in the Royal Library, Copenhagen, are skilfully edited and annotated by Lis Pihl. An appendix of unpublished material includes accounts of visits to Waterford and Cork in the early 1920s, impressions of Michael Collins and James Stephens, and drafts for some short stories.
Signe Toksvig’s Irish Diaries are an engaging read as well as a rare source for students of Anglo-Irish and European literature and ideas. They will be of interest to all who are concerned with Ireland between the wars.
SIGNE TOKSVIG (1891-1983) emigrated with her family from Denmark to the USA in 1905. Receiving a BA from Cornell in 1916, she became associate editor of The New Republic in New York, where she met Francis Hackett, the Irish writer and literary critic. They married in 1918. In 1926, after some years of freelancing in Europe, they settled in Ireland at Clonsharragh Lodge, an old rectory in Duncannon, Co. Wexford, later moving nearer to Dublin, to Killadreenan House in Newtownmountkennedy, Co. Wicklow. They left in 1937 spending the Second World War in the USA and returning to Europe to settle eventually in Holte, north of Copenhagen. Toksvig’s major published writings – all written in English – include four novels, The Last Devil (1927), Eve’s Doctor (1937), Port of Refuge (1938) and Life Boat (1940), and two biographies, The Life of Hans Christian Andersen (1933) and Emanuel Swedenborg, Scientist and Mystic (1949).
LIS PIHL lectures in English language and literature in Copenhagen, and has a longstanding involvement with Irish studies; she is the author of textbooks on Anglo-Irish literature and a translator of modern Irish short stories.