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William Butler Yeats was not only one of the most beloved and honored poets of this century. Playwright, essayist, theatrical impresario, occultist, politician, famously hapless lover--he was also one of the most colorful and complex. Astonishingly, no full biography of Yeats has appeared in many years. Now, Keith Alldritt gives us a lively telling of Yeats's story that puts the poet in the context of his times, from the high Victorian era to the modernism of the thirties.
Alldritt reveals that Yeats was not just "the sensitive introvert who began as the mooning dreamer and after a lifetime seeking philosophical and hermetic wisdom, ended as the learned sage" that Yeats himself and his biographers would have us believe. He shows us a less familiar man: "a dedicated careerist, an ambitious man of determined self-interest, a seeker after social standing, and a combative man with a violent temper that sustained him in many nasty quarrels." Confrontational, scrappy, driven, he was deeply involved in both the political and literary issues of his day. He was instrumental in overturning the English domination of Irish literature and in researching and publishing books on Irish lore and fairy tales. He was the founder, with George Bernard Shaw, of the Irish Institute of Arts and Letters as well as the Abbey Theatre, where he refused to close down Synge's inflammatory play The Playboy of the Western World, despite riots in the street. During his tenure as senator in the Irish Parliament, he fought the Catholic divorce laws. At every level, Alldritt shows us a poet engaged in the world.
Yeats's long, passionate, and physically unrequited love affair with the beautiful Irish nationalist Maud Gonne, which led to some of his most poignant poetry, is brought vividly to life. Also covered in some detail are Yeats's numerous love affairs in the years before his death. Though condoned by his wife, they have not been explored in previous biographies out of respect for her feelings.
Another aspect of Yeats not generally appreciated is his involvement with literary movements outside Ireland and England. He wrote reviews for the Boston Globe; lectured regularly throughout the United States; and spent much time in France, where he was influenced by the symbolist poets, and in Italy, where he joined the Rapallo group led by the quixotic Ezra Pound.
In his years of research, Alldritt visited libraries worldwide. He was given special access to Yeats's private papers in the National Library of Ireland and interviewed many people who knew or are knowledgeable about Yeats, most notably Yeats's daughter, Anne.
Yeats has been called "the greatest poetic imagination of our century." Now Keith Alldritt reveals another facet of his extraordinary persona.
William Butler Yeats was a master craftsman, and one of his most skillful constructs was his own image. He wished to be remembered, above all, as an Irishman and a poet; as a man whose nature had been determined by the almost magical qualities of his childhood in Sligo and whose character had been shaped by the influence of admirable men. There is truth in this depiction of himself, but it is a partial truth only.
In this account, I attempt to go beyond his interior world and to evoke and do justice to those individuals and external forces which in their turn made up part of the dialectic of Yeats's life. Yeats lived at a time of profound changes for the Western world from the high Victorianism of the late 1800s to the advent of modernism in the 1930s. I have attempted to offer a strong sense of Yeats in his social and historical context--to show that an important side of his genius was his deep and often manipulative relationship with the turbulent life around him as with his turbulent life within.
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Keith Alldritt, professor of English at the University of British Columbia, is the author of The Making of George Orwell, The Visual Imagination, D. H. Lawrence, Modernism in the Second World War, Churchill the Writer: His Life as a Man of Letters, The Greatest of Friends: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and three novels. Professor Alldritt is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in Vancouver.
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