Biographer Brenda Maddox is interested in a very specific element of W.B. Yeats' life--his relationship with his wife--so she employs an unusual strategy for a biography. She begins Yeats' Ghosts
more than halfway through Yeats' life--1917, when the poet is 51. She injects readers into her subject's life just as Yeats' relationship with "George," Georgie Hyde-Lees, is culminating in marriage. Yeats had been in love with another woman, Maud Gonne (reputedly "the most beautiful woman in Ireland"), but George developed what Maddox considers "one of the most ingenious strategies ever tried to take a husband's mind off another woman." Capitalizing on Yeats' fascination with the occult, she revealed herself to be a spirit medium, adept at "automatic writing." Yeats studied the garbled messages George channeled from these "Communicators" and forged the results into his extraordinarily powerful late poetry. As Maddox makes plain, George used her husband's belief in her spiritual talents to control him, "cutting Yeats off from his other occult associates and making him wholly dependent on her." With its strong focus on the interests and obsessions that informed Yeats' work, rather than the poetry itself, this subtly written biography offers a rare insight into the imaginative life of a great poet. --Adam Roberts, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
From his involvement in Madame Blavatsky's Theosophical Society in the 1880s to his experiments with automatic writing, s?ances and mystical literature, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) maintained a lifelong fascination with the occult (Auden would later describe this tendency as "the southern California side of Yeats"). Maddox, author of much-acclaimed biographies of Nora Joyce and D.H. Lawrence, does only a workmanlike job of linking moments in Yeats's verse to specific episodes from his private life (showing, for example, that the mechanical songbird of "Sailing to Byzantium" may have been inspired by a toy duck the poet bought at Harrod's for his son's third birthday). More important to Maddox are Yeats's sexual demons: she untangles various of Yeats's romantic relationshipsAwith Maud and Iseult Gonne; Lady Gregory; his wife, George; and a comely actress or twoAand mulls at length over the consequences for Yeats's later poetry of his vasectomy. But she's most informative when discussing the brilliant autodidact's attitudes toward his own creative process, making liberal use of George Mills Harper's 1992 edition of the notes Yeats made toward his mostly incomprehensible book of spiritualist philosophy, A Vision. While not as comprehensive or brilliant as such other Yeats biographies as Richard Ellman's or R.F. Foster's, Maddox's book nonetheless offers an intriguing glimpse into the dark, sometimes steamy, corners of the poet's singular mind. (Oct.)
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