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

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9780060174941: Yeat's Ghosts: The Secret Life of W.B. Yeats

Brenda Maddox, the award-winning, world-renowned biographer, looks at one of the towering literary figures of the twentieth century, W.B. Yeats, through the lens of the Automatic Script, the trancelike communication with supposed spirits that he and his much younger wife, George, conducted during the early years of their marriage. The full transcript of this intense occult adventure was not available until 1992 and remains virtually untouched by biographers. The vision papers covered more than 3,600 pages of writing, symbols and obsure diagrams penned by Yeats's wife during their 450 sitting of automatic writing. Maddox finds the scripts to have been a ghostly form of family planning--as well as one of the most ingenious ploys ever used by a wife to take her husband's mind off another woman.

This revealing biography flashed back to Yeats's early years (1865-1900), to the least-examined important woman in his life: his silent, dreamy mother, whose Irish ghost stories steered him into his occultist path. The book then returns to the mature Yeats, to analyze, with new information and a sharp feminine perspective, his public career in Ireland, his sexual rejuvenation operation and his obsession with several younger women--and related them all the triumph of his late poetry.

While much has been written about Yeats, until now no one has managed to convey the humane nature of the man and get behind the "smiling public man" to expose the intense privacy and passions of a powerful and often misunderstood artist.

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Review:

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

About the Author:

Brenda Maddox's work has been translated into ten languages. Former Home Affairs editor of the Economist and media columnist for the London Daily Telegraph and the Times, she is a contributor to the New York Times Book Review, a regular reviewer for the London Observer and Literary Review, and frequent broadcaster on the BBC.

Her 1988 biography of James Joyce's wife, Nora, won the Los Angeles Times Award for biography, the British Silver P.E.N. Award for nonfiction, and the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger and was nominated for the National Book Award. Her 1994 biography of D. H. Lawrence won the Whitbread Biography Award and was nominated for the Critic's Circle Award.

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