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George's Ghosts: New Life of W.B. Yeats [Hardcover]

Brenda Maddox
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

21 May 1999
This study focuses on the private dynamic that existed between WB Yeats and his young wife. Covering the last years of World War I to the end of Yeats's life, the book also refers to his early life and to his mother.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (21 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330376527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330376525
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.7 x 4.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 279,782 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Unusually for a biography, George's Ghosts begins more than halfway through the subject's life, in 1917 with the poet at 51. It is a bold strategy, but it works. There are so many perfectly good biographies of the poet that take the conventional line (Roy Foster's superb The Apprentice Mage covers the early years brilliantly), and Maddox is interested in something particular, Yeats's relationship with "George", Georgie Hyde-Lees, whom Yeats married late in life and who revolutionised his poetry. Yeats was in love with another woman, Maud Gonne (reputedly "the most beautiful woman in Ireland", although its hard to see why judging by the photos included in this volume), and George developed what Maddox considers "one of the most ingenious strategies ever tried to take a husband's mind off another woman."

Capitalising on Yeats's fascination with the occult, she revealed herself to be a spirit medium, adept at "automatic writing". Yeats studied the garbled messages 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 her wholly dependent on her." It is a marvellously complex story, insightfully and subtly written and a fascinating insight into the imaginative life of a great poet. Adam Roberts

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ghostly Past of Yeats' 5 Feb 2004
Brenda Maddox has won an undisputed position as one of our foremost chroniclers of literary lives, most significantly of Nora Joyce in ‘Nora’ and D.H.Lawrence in ‘A Married Man’. Here she brings all her talents to bear on one of the most written about but least understood literary giants of the twentieth century: W.B. Yeats. Many know the public Yeats but few have managed to penetrate to the inner man, or to explore the relationship with his much younger wife, George.
‘George’s Ghosts’ looks at Yeats through the lens of the Automatic Script, the trance-like communication with supposed spirits that 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.
Maddox finds the Script 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.
She also flashes back to Yeat’s early years and to the least examined woman I his life: his silent dreamy mother, whose Irish ghost stories steered him onto his occultist path. The book then returns to the mature Yeats, to analyse, 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 relates them all to the triumph of his late poetry.
While there has been much written about Yeats, no one before has managed to convey the humane nature of the man and get behind the smiling public image to expose the intense privacy and passions of a powerful and often misunderstood artist. Maddox does this with great skill and in ‘George’s Ghosts’ she has written her finest biography to date: a triumph of bravura narrative storytelling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fresh new look at Yeat's Life 8 July 1999
By A Customer
Brenda Maddox has taken advantage of the recent new scholarship on Yeat's and the automatic scripts that meant so much to him as he sought to renew the springs of his poetic inspiration. It is refreshing to see Yeat's through the eyes of his wife and sisters, and to have the occult side of his life brought into proper perspective and focus. My only criticisms are that Maddox can not quite bring herself to 'see' the world through Yeat's and George's eyes and Yeat's himself never quite comes alive in this biography, though I certainly felt I had been given new understandings of his life and works.
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