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The Life of W. B. Yeats (Wiley Blackwell Critical Biographies) 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0631182986
ISBN-10: 0631182985
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Editorial Reviews Review

At this point in literary history, any biographer of W.B. Yeats is up against some stiff competition. Most of the late Richard Ellmann's work on the poet is, alas, out of print. But to judge from its first installment, R.F. Foster's double-decker life looks to be a monumental accomplishment, while in the recent Yeats' Ghosts, Brenda Maddox casts a cold (and discerning) eye over her subject's erotic life and supernatural predilections. Now comes The Life of W.B. Yeats by the Irish scholar Terence Brown. His book is very much a critical biography, attending more to the perfection of art than the perfection of life (while gracefully conceding that neither in fact exists). So there's relatively little frolicking around in the poet's boudoir à la Maddox. Still, Brown has a gift for conveying the texture of Yeats's life, selecting just the right details from what is now a copious historical record. Here he delivers a fine snapshot of the poet paying court to chain smoker Iseult Gonne after having been spurned by her notorious mommy:

In August 1917 Yeats had visited Maud and Iseult Gonne in Normandy where he renewed his suit for Iseult's hand. She was moody, sickly from over-indulgence in cigarettes, flirtatiously affectionate but no more inclined to marry Yeats than she had been the previous summer. Her mother he found surrounded by the usual menagerie which included a laughing parrot whose forte was peals of hysterical laughter.
Still, Brown is strongest on the poetry itself, which he methodically mines for fresh insights. And he's refreshingly open to scolding his subject when he falls short of his own gargantuan talents (even Responsibilities, which most Yeatsians consider a breakthrough into the poet's major, post-Celtic Twilight phase, gets some flack from Brown: "The several poems in which Yeats celebrates Irish beggary as a metaphor of the spiritual freedom the Irish materially minded moneyed class so signally lacks, are without purchase on much beyond the literary salon's version of mendicancy"). There are times, to be sure, when the author's prose bogs down a bit, and he's hardly aided by the publisher's eyeball-punishing type size. Yet Brown's Life of W.B. Yeats remains an enlightening account of how one Irish poet in particular did learn his trade--to a degree that most of his fellows are still struggling to match. --Ingrid Broun

From Library Journal

In this New Age, "the academic world is less embarrassed by the paranormal than it used to be," notes Maddox (Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom). Here are two biographies that focus extensively on the psychic interests of renowned poet and playwright Yeats (1865-1939). Both authors acknowledge that spiritualism was popular around the turn of the century as a reaction against scientific developments, and both highlight Yeats's 1917 marriage to the psychic George Hyde-LeesAwhich Brown terms "one of the strangest acts of imaginative collaboration in all of literary history," with its emphasis on such practices as automatic writing. Brown (English, Trinity Coll., Dublin; Ireland's Literature: Selected Essays) traces Yeats's "Irish instinct for the spooky" to his childhood in a dysfunctional family. Maddox presents Yeats as an eccentric married to a woman shrewd enough to realize that the survival of her marriage depended on proactively supporting her husband's occult obsessions. (Maddox also looks frankly at the Nobel prize winner's relationships with the many women in his life, including patron of the arts, Lady Gregory; the great love of his life, the revolutionary Maud Gonne; and an assortment of mistresses.) While both books are extensively documented and well researched, Brown's is the more academic and analyzes Yeats's major works to a greater extent than Maddox's study. With its conversational style and flashes of wit, Maddox's work is more accessible to general audiences. Brown's book is recommended for academic libraries and Maddox's for both public and academic libraries.ADenise J. Stankovics, Rockville P.L., Vernon, CT
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Wiley Blackwell Critical Biographies (Book 12)
  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (January 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631182985
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631182986
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,745,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Paul on November 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
The Life of W. B. Yeats is an excellent book, so far as the reader will take it. The book is written in very thick, intellectual language, which fits a lot of information in each chapter, enough usually to fill a small booksworth. The book tends to be vague on dates, but very well describes whats going on in Yeats's life at certain time periods, and how he is reacting to it. It does not explain the poetry the best, but the book does leave an excellent sense of the person.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By kanisa on October 24, 2013
Format: Paperback
The author simply doesnt understand the spiritual exploration which was the basis of ALL of Yeats poems. THe poet's world view informed all his work and was inseparable from his lifelong quest for the spiritual reality ( for so he believed it to be) that lay behind all religions, all mythologies, as well as the folk traditions of the Irish country people. It is not possible to understand Yeats' genius if one is snide and condescending about theosophy and other movements which Yeats took seriously and found valuable. I don't know why none of his biographers ( all quite mediocre intellects) can't simply put aside their own prejudices and judgements and enter into the poets world. But they don't and thus this book, like Ellman's, is not worth reading. Read the poems, reads Yeats' plays and letters, dont waste your time on this dog barking at a king.
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