Wisdom of Two: The Spiritual and Literary Collaboration of George and W.B. Yeats

Wisdom of Two: The Spiritual and Literary Collaboration of George and W.B. Yeats

Wisdom of Two: The Spiritual and Literary Collaboration of George and W.B. Yeats

Wisdom of Two: The Spiritual and Literary Collaboration of George and W.B. Yeats

Synopsis

Georgie Hyde Lees, who married W. B. Yeats in the autumn of 1917, has for many years occupied a secondary or even marginal position in most studies of her famous husband. She has been depicted as a poor choice for romantic partner, political comrade, or literary collaborator. While often thanked in acknowledgments pages and regarded as a minor editor or secretary, she usually receives only footnote status in literary analyses. Most often, she has been cast as an amateur spirit medium or, less generously, as a manipulative perpetrator of an elaborate mystical and sexual hoax out of which arose Yeats's philosophical treatise A Vision and a raft of poetry, plays, and other literary works. Yet George Yeats co-wrote the automatic script and co-created the "system" of cosmic geometry, based on a dialectics of desire. Coming to terms with the "system" is vital to understanding the late work of the poet, yet a thorough critical study of the Yeatses' "incredible experience" has never been written. Harper, one of few scholars who is intimately familiar with the large mass of documents, provides the first such study. She analyzes the thousands of pages of published and unpublished papers, the particularities of their unusual composition, the finished literary works that depend upon them, and historical contexts such as the spiritualist movement, automatism (including its relation to communications technology), sexual politics, and war. Wisdom of Two airs critical and theoretical issues that are vital to understanding the Yeatses' spiritual, literary, and dramatic collaboration.

Excerpt

The library of W. B. and George Yeats was housed for many years at the home of their daughter, the painter Anne Yeats, in Dalkey, a quiet suburb of Dublin that is now famous for its celebrity-studded exclusivity. Books and papers lined three walls of the room, and a picture window looked into a garden lit with bright flowers and the island's continually changing sky. the collection no longer has this setting; it has been bequeathed to the National Library of Ireland. Scholars cannot learn now what I studied there, while I was ostensibly on scholarly missions but in fact, I now think, conducting research into a sense of wonder, forgetting various doubts in the presence of Anne Yeats's delight in the world and how it might be expressed. I hope that this study retains some of that wonder.

I have wondered about the woman whose handwriting dominates the automatic script from my childhood. My father and mother spent most of the years I was growing up working with the Yeatses' occult papers, composing and compiling various books and articles along the way, and I tagged along, and then gradually helped with the Vision papers as the mass of folders and notebooks in the house of Michael and Gráinne Yeats in Dalkey became filing cabinets full of photocopies, typed transcriptions, the dissertations of four graduate students, computer files, and finally the four volumes of a scholarly edition. My progress through high school, college, graduate school, and the years since has had as a backdrop many hours sitting in my father's study, with its own three walls of books and one of plate glass looking out at a lush patch of north Florida woods, squinting through a magnifying glass at some indecipherable word or other, copying a diagram on to a page of typing paper (or, later, into a graphics file), noticing how 'automatic' one script or even one response seemed as opposed to another, reproducing the straight lines that indicated refusal to answer a question, and matching up pages of numbered . . .

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