Yeats's Ghosts: The Secret Life of W. B. Yeats

Brenda Maddox, Author, Brenda Maddox, Introduction by HarperCollins Publishers $32 (474p) ISBN 978-0-06-017494-1
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 relationships--with Maud and Iseult Gonne; Lady Gregory; his wife, George; and a comely actress or two--and 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.)
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 528 pages - 978-0-06-098504-2
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