Cover image for The life of W.B. Yeats : a critical biography
The life of W.B. Yeats : a critical biography
Brown, Terence.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford, UK ; Malden, Mass. : Blackwell, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 410 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Format :


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PR5906 .B76 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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W. B. Yeats is widely regarded as the greatest English-language poet of the twentieth century. This new critical biography seeks to tell the story of his life as it unfolded in the various contexts in which Yeats worked as an artist and as public figure.

Author Notes

Terence Brown is Professor of Anglo-Irish literature in Trinity College, Dublin and a Fellow of the College. He is also a member of the Royal Irish Academy and of the Academia Europaea, and has lectured widely on Irish literature and on Irish cultural history. Among his books are studies of Louis MacNeice and of Northern Irish poetry. His numerous publications include Ireland: A Social and Cultural History (1985) and Ireland′s Literature: Selected Essays (1988). He is also editor of Derek Mahon: Journalism (1996) and Celticism (1996), and was formerly a contributing editor of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing .

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

In this New Age, "the academic world is less embarrassed by the paranormal than it used to be," notes Maddox (Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom). Here are two biographies that focus extensively on the psychic interests of renowned poet and playwright Yeats (1865-1939). Both authors acknowledge that spiritualism was popular around the turn of the century as a reaction against scientific developments, and both highlight Yeats's 1917 marriage to the psychic George Hyde-LeesÄwhich Brown terms "one of the strangest acts of imaginative collaboration in all of literary history," with its emphasis on such practices as automatic writing. Brown (English, Trinity Coll., Dublin; Ireland's Literature: Selected Essays) traces Yeats's "Irish instinct for the spooky" to his childhood in a dysfunctional family. Maddox presents Yeats as an eccentric married to a woman shrewd enough to realize that the survival of her marriage depended on proactively supporting her husband's occult obsessions. (Maddox also looks frankly at the Nobel prize winner's relationships with the many women in his life, including patron of the arts, Lady Gregory; the great love of his life, the revolutionary Maud Gonne; and an assortment of mistresses.) While both books are extensively documented and well researched, Brown's is the more academic and analyzes Yeats's major works to a greater extent than Maddox's study. With its conversational style and flashes of wit, Maddox's work is more accessible to general audiences. Brown's book is recommended for academic libraries and Maddox's for both public and academic libraries.ÄDenise J. Stankovics, Rockville P.L., Vernon, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Appearing in the wake of the first volume of R.F. Foster's W.B. Yeats: A Life (CH, Oct'97) and particularly Brenda Maddox's Yeats's Ghosts (1999), Brown's biography may not receive the attention it deserves. In fact, for general readers and undergraduates, Brown's is the best choice. Calling his book "an interpretative synthesis," Brown (Trinity College, Dublin) makes good use of the extensive literature on Yeats, his writings, and the historical and cultural background against which his life unfolded--and to which his work responded. Brown offers helpful, sensitive descriptions of Yeats's work and the critical response, but his book is even more valuable for its clear, cogent attention to issues of class, nation, ethnicity, and gender. The author draws heavily on Elizabeth Cullingford's work on Yeats and gender (Gender and History in Yeats's Love Poetry, CH, Jun'94), but is curiously silent on Marjorie Howes's Yeats's Nations: Gender, Class, and Irishness (CH, Jun'97). His excellent treatment of the role of the occult in Yeats's intellectual life looks at Yeats's fine balance of credulous enthusiasm and circumspect skepticism. Though careless editing mars this otherwise excellent book (T.S. Eliot is an American "ex-patriot" instead of "expatriate," "stupid straw-pale locks" becomes "stupid-pale locks," to name just two oversights), Brown's excellent biography is highly recommended for all readership levels. G. Grieve-Carlson; Lebanon Valley College

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prologue: Sindbad's Yellow Shore
1 Victorian Cities: London and Dublin
2 The English 1890s
3 Poems 1895
4 Conflicts and Crises
5 Patronage and Powers
6 An Irish Ireland
7 The Strong Enchanter
8 The Mid-Life Mask
9 Darkened Rooms
10 The Lonely Height
11 All Changed
12 Occult Marriage
13 The Weasel's Tooth
14 Senator and Seer
15 Visionary Modernist
16 Home and Abroad
17 An Old Man's Frenzy
18 Stroke of Midnight
Epilogue: Afterlife
Works Cited
Select Bibliography and Guide to Further Reading