- Paperback: 704 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1St Edition edition (December 17, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192880853
- ISBN-13: 978-0192880857
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.6 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,004,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Apprentice Mage, 1865-1914 (W.B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. 1) 1St Edition Edition
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There are several biographies of the great Irish poet to choose from, and the one you'll prefer depends on how much biography you want. Subtitled "The Apprentice Mage, 1865-1914," this is the one for completists (though they'll have to wait for Volume Two to get through Yeats's death in 1939). The author, a noted Irish historian, renders Yeats's life almost day to day, giving a particularly lively sense of the helter-skelter nature of his early years and a nice depiction of his tumultuous engagement with the Abbey Theatre. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In a poem ("The Choice") written in his late 60s, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) asserted that "The intellect of man is forced to choose/Perfection of the life or of the work." Previous studies (notably those by Richard Ellmann, Denis Donoghue and A. Norman Jeffares) have concentrated on the work. In a significant departure from that approach, Irish historian Foster (a professor at Hertford College, Oxford, and biographer of Lord Randolph Churchill and Charles Stewart Parnell) focuses on what Yeats did rather than on what he wrote. Raised in genteel poverty in Dublin, Sligo and London, Yeats was largely self-taught. Beginning in his early 20s he threw himself into various unconventional pursuits?the occult, the theater and Irish nationalist politics?with feverish energy, moving restlessly between Ireland and England. While projecting an otherworldly air, early on Yeats took to heart Oscar Wilde's dictum that "a man should invent his own myth," and Foster shows how his "great talent for managing publicity" figured in the construction of his own artistic image. Driven by an almost ruthless need to dominate events, Yeats imposed himself at the center of cultural, literary and political controversy, making important friends (and enemies) in all walks of life. This meticulously researched "authorized" biography, prepared with the cooperation of Yeats's children, lets the facts speak for themselves and bears out T.S. Eliot's later observation that Yeats was "one of those few whose history is the history of their own time, who are part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them." Illustrations not seen by PW. (Apr.) FYI: Foster's biography is dedicated to the distinguished Irish historian F.S.L. Lyons, who at the time of his death in 1983 had been working on a biography of Yeats for nearly ten years. Foster drew on Lyon's extensive research notes but acknowledges that this book is very different from the one Lyons might have written.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Where Foster comes into his own however is when an episode or situation is arrived at which holds particular interest for the reader. In my case these were his relationship with Maud Gonne, the staging of 'Playboy of the Western World', and the Lane gallery controversy. I knew of these from reading other books on Yeats, and Foster gives far more detail than other sources, and thereby makes it possible to develop understandings of Yeats' behaviour that I did not have previously. In particular the nature of his differences from Gonne, his differences from Gregory, how his dedication to the cause of Irish culture consisted, like Milton's in seventeenth century England, in asserting tolerance. Yeats strode above the conflict between the truth expressed in Synge and the morality of the Catholic church, and brought down universal criticism on his back for doing so.
Much easier to read are Ellman, and I also recommend Judith Hill's biography of Lady Gregory. Also you won't find any systematic approach to Yeats' poetry here, for reasons Foster explains in his introduction. What you do find however is exhaustively compiled information on Yeats's social, cultural and to some extent political life to a greater degree than you can find anywhere else.
This is not an easy book. Foster recounts Yeats' life in what is sometimes excruciating detail, covering every movement and literary battle the poet undertakes. Moreover, as he does so he assumes the reader's familiarity with both the background of late nineteenth century Ireland and the members of the Irish literary community. People appear in his narrative with little introduction, creating a confusing jumble of names that limits the appreciation of their role in Yeats' life.
Such problems aside, this is a first-rate biography. Foster does a great job examining Yeats' life, in a text that while long is never dense. His coverage of Yeats' occult interests is particularly good, as is that of the poet's involvement in nationalist causes - both integral aspects of his poetry. Foster's argument that Yeats' involvement in the mystical was a reaction to the declining position of Protestants in Ireland, an effort to cope with the sense of dislocation by asserting psychic control, is a compelling one that helps to fit more of his poetry into its contemporary context. Foster helps this process; while he asserts that his biography is about what Yeats did rather than what the poet wrote he does offer a perceptive commentary on aspects of Yeats' work, which helps us better appreciate the connection between the man and his writings. Thanks to this, we have a book that is essential for understanding such a complicated literary figure and the role he played in his times.
After a while though, the book tends to bury Yeats in a mass of trivia that include everything from the menu at one of his literary dinners to the prices he charged for his lectures. This level of detail could be enlightening if Foster stopped for breath more often to tell us why these things are important. Too often though he keeps his head firmly down with the ants, cataloging the day-to-day intrigues of a very complicated life without linking them to any kind of larger interpretation of Yeats's personality or development. Instead, Foster spends his 500+ pages introducing new names at the rate of one or so per page, most of them disappearing by the end of the chapter never to be heard from again. We get the intrigues of various Irish nationalist factions, potted bios of minor figures on the Dublin and London art scenes, humorous sketches of Yeats's fellow-travellers in his sundry mystical societies. It was hard to see Yeats after a while with all these minor figures crowding the stage.
If Foster does have an interpretation of his own, as far as I can tell it's a revisionist one. Where Ellman or Jeffaries saw Yeats's life as a drama of painful self-creation, Foster sends to see an ambitious man on the make, an aggressive networker who wasn't beyond bending the truth if it helped his own advancement. Even his life-long passion for Maud Gonne, one of the key sources of his poetry, was, according to Foster, in part a self-conscious realization that a great poet needed a great passion to write about. In trying to bring Yeats back down to earth, I think Foster overcompensates by making him more canny and worldly than the sexual naivete, table rapping, faery talk and aesthetic posturing of these years suggest. Worst of all, Foster shows almost no interest in Yeats's poetry, the reason we're reading the biography in the first place. I put down the book admiring Foster's energy and mastery of such a huge anthill of facts, but I couldn't shake the feeling that a lot less would have told us a lot more.