The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914

R. F. Foster, Author Oxford University Press $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-19-510125-6
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.
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997
Release date: 04/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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