Toíbín has performed considerable primary research often in the unpublished manuscripts either by or about Lady Gregory, and he combines this work with detailed research into the lives of the writers who were associated first with her husband and later with herself. Indeed, Toíbín's essay is best when he follows his journalistic instincts to collate the scattered information that allows him to enrich our knowledge of Gregory's lesser known social and artistic associations: her husband's friendship with Anthony Trollop, her social encounters with Henry James and Queen Victoria, or her failed efforts to befriend James Joyce.
These strengths notwithstanding, Toíbín is rarely able to discuss Gregory's life without subordinating it to other, often patriarchal, narratives which are portrayed as conditioning her activities; thus, we see her as Sir William's wife, Blunt's mistress, Yeats' long-suffering `helpmeet', Synge's reluctant defender, John Quinn's lover, Robert Gregory's mother, and O'Casey's soulmate. This reluctance to consider Gregory as in herself a subject worthy of direct analysis extends to her career as well: while Toíbín devotes considerable attention to the private love sonnets written for Blunt in the 1880s, in an argument that positions her squarely within a male economy of marital duty and adulterous desire, he largely ignores her successful literary career in the twentieth century. There are exceptions to this general criticism, as in his insightful discussion of her Cuchulain of Muirthemne; nonetheless, the reader has few views of Gregory beyond her social functions as theatre manager, literary patroness, and social dowager. Of her thirty-seven works produced during her lifetime, Toíbín discusses only the early drama co-written with Yeats and very briefly mentions three later plays. It is telling that Toíbín devotes ten percent of his work, roughly twelve pages, to the discussion of Yeats' poetry about Gregory or her estate, while spending a mere seven pages on only three works by her: the aforementioned sonnets to Blunt, her Cathleen Ni Houlihan co-authored with Yeats, and Cuchulain of Muirthemne.
Unfortunately, the refinement of Toíbín's arguments is significantly hindered by his failure to avail himself of the important contributions of the last twenty years; indeed, he lists the largely biographical collection Lady Gregory: Fifty Years After (1987) edited by Ann Saddlemyer as the book's only critical source for Gregory's career. Thus, even at their best, his interpretative expositions lack the rigour and refinement that would have come from a familiarity with the recent critical arguments that frequently pre-empt his own. For example, Toíbín's treatment of Gregory's sexual, political, and artistic awakening through her encounter with Wilfrid Scawen Blunt is central to his explanation of her development in the late nineteenth century, yet his work lacks the scope and insight of Declan Kiberd's treatment of this topic in Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation which appeared in 1997. Similarly, though Toíbín may be forgiven for not having consulted John Wilson Foster's thorough discussion of the historical context for Gregory's Cuchulain of Muirthemne, as well as her other translations of medieval Irish narrative, in his Fictions of the Irish Literary Renaissance (1987), the same cannot be said for Toíbín's failure to benefit from the introduction and thorough bibliography in the widely available Selected Writings of Lady Gregory, which appeared in 1995. Although barely one third the length of Toíbín's book, this introductory essay by Lucy McDiarmid and Maureen Waters covers several topics later discussed by Toíbín and skilfully surveys the major biographical and interpretative issues that have concerned recent criticism.